Tuesday, August 03, 2010

They walk among us.

The following email arrived from a visitor who'd read SHAM and was moved to share a wrenching family experience. I'm running it, with just a bit of narration/editing, as one of our semi-regular "guest columns":

"Several decades ago it was fashionable for college students and media celebrities to dabble in Eastern religions (e.g., the Beatles' Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation). Others followed (e.g., Indian gurus Swami Muktananda and Sri Chinmoy), representing that they were God incarnate. Many unsuspecting souls were recruited into their cults and psychologically damaged, some irreparably."
Howthe writer goes on to musedid this happen? "Have we been invaded by boatloads of Hindu mystics who set out to undermine Western culture by playing mind games with our youth?" He then answers his own hypothetical:
"Of course not.

"Five years ago my wife and I liberated my daughter from a small proto-cult whose leader was a charismatic Indian professor at her college. She is now in recovery from nightmares, flashbacks, trance-like states and other demons induced by 13 years of brainwashing. She no longer believes that her soul is condemned to an eternal cycle of reincarnations in Hindu karma hell. With psychotherapy and the love of her family, she is being restored to health and mental wholeness beyond our expectations.

"Earlier this month I attended [a] conference on Psychological Manipulation, Cultic Groups, and Harm. It was an eye-opener for me to witness the profound suffering borne by victims of all sorts of cults, both ex-members and relatives of loved ones in cults. This is an enormous problem that is largely unrecognized by the general public, but all too real to those affected. Steve, please consider doing some investigative journalism on this phenomenon and, hopefully, writing a book to expose these charlatans."
I doubt that I can meet the challenge issued in that last sentence, but I certainly will look into this further and report back. I can honestly say I have no idea how widespread this phenomenon is, though during my professorial years, I did encounter a number of interesting quasi-religious types, often tenured profs from the philosophy department, who boasted quite an avid following among female students
in particular.

Let me also say in postscript that the dividing line between religion and modern-day self-help, where one bleeds over into the other, ranks among the grayest of life's gray areas, and is a prime reason why I'm dubious that anti-SHAM legislation with any real teeth to it can ever be enacted. In the past, we've had some success against cults...but only some. We shall see what comes out of the trial of James "I Am God" Ray (assuming that ever happens), among other things.

24 comments:

Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life said...

Basically anytime someone wants more than $20 to dispense spiritual advice it's a scam.

Just publish a book... why do there have to be groups and meetings and encounters and events and experiences that all cost $ and $$ and $$$ and $$$$? That's a scam.

Anonymous said...

And a $cam.

roger o'keefe said...

What is it about this garbage that otherwise intelligent people fall for it? I don't understand this at all. The poor guy's daughter was after all in college. I guess they don't teach critical thinking skills there anymore. Maybe that should be the "exit exam" each year as you move along in your college career. If there's evidence you fell under the spell of cultish nonsense you flunk out right then and there.

Steve Salerno said...

Roger: I think you have a bit too much faith in the average person's ability to bring his (or her) emotions under the dominion of his rational component. I also think you may be looking at this a bit too narrowly. I don't know if you are a particularly religious man--and I'm not asking or expecting you to tell me--but our friend Bill Maher would ask the same question of Catholics and Jews that you ask of our anonymous contributor's daughter.

Dave Q. said...

With the use of extremely sophisticated techniques, honed for decades, snake-oil salespersons of myriad types over-ride everything but the most finely-tuned critical thinking skills. It might actually be presumptuous to say that colleges truly teach these skills, in any capacity, anyway.

Do I smell 'blame the victim'?

Dave

Jenny said...

Speaking of cults, I am not sure why this video is making the rounds again now, but therein lies suggestions of another "cult" called nationalism. I am talking about George Carlin's take on the "owners" of America. It borders on being a paranoid rant but also contains grains of truth. How easy it is to fall under the spell of people who offer us ways out of our misery. It is no wonder disillusioned people are so easily swayed.

What is the alternative, the American Way? Just what is that, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Not that I am advocating any sort of crime against speed cameras in my previous comments, and I don't drive either. I am merely pointing something out.

Anonymous said...

"...Others followed (e.g., Indian gurus Swami Muktananda and Sri Chinmoy), representing that they were God incarnate...." You are the master of spinning things to suite your opportunistic self promoting SHAMblog. The gurus you mentioned and most that you did not mention also represented that WE WERE ALL God incarnate.... and that needs to be included to discuss the context of what those traditions spouse. The way you manipulate snippets of information to create controversy and outrage in the readers is cheap, and the height of irresponsibility and poor education and poor journalism in my opinion.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 12:13: I hope you won't dismiss this as a "cheap" shot, but you really should spell-check (or at least proofread) your comments before posting, because the lack of such prudence has given rise to some comical mistakes.

That aside, I have two other comments. 1, this is a guest column by a guest contributor. This is a free blog that generates almost no income for me, and I do not (and cannot) vouch for the authenticity of everything said by contributors. Your argument about the "God incarnate" thing is really with him.

2. We all "spin" things to bulwark our arguments, but the difference here is that almost all of the meaningful, objectively verifiable evidence is on SHAMblog's side. It's like I once said to a critic of mine during a TV debate: "There is a huge difference between your writing a book saying that there are 500-pound hamsters hiding in everyone's kitchen, and my writing a book saying that there aren't 500-pound hamsters hiding in everyone's kitchen. One of us has reality on his side."

Anonymous said...

typos will be the death of me one day!! 1. my bad :-) 2. the history of mankind is one where almost every person and grouping of persons thinks that THEY in their wisdom have reality (Or God) on their side, and is ready to fight it out with others to prove it, no?

Anon 12:13

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 12:13, oh, I agree with you totally there. As many have said, there have been more horrendous things done in God's name than likely for any other single purpose.

Anonymous said...

But not just "God on their side" or religious self rightiousness , which is easy for most of us to identify and discuss, but also the position that most people blindly have, that THEY have "reality on their side" in response to your comment "One of us has reality on his side"

Anon 12:13

RevRon's Rants said...

Anon 12:13 - There's a significant difference between those on opposing "sides" when one side's arguments are based upon commonly observable, quantifiable and quantifiable data. Vitale's typical defense of the indefensible, "What if it works," simply doesn't stand up to empirical evidence that there is no evidence - much less, proof - that "it" does.

RevRon's Rants said...

"What is it about this garbage that otherwise intelligent people fall for it?"

Otherwise intelligent people fall for garbage all the time. Evidence the belief by some that our current economic troubles were a purely Democratic creation, and even an outgrowth of the Obama administration. Appeal to some people's fears and doubts, and you can convince them of darn near anything.

Anonymous said...

RevRon's Rants

Would every single person and culture and time period agree on what you are calling "commonly observable, quantifiable and quantifiable data" and "empirical evidence" is?

Might there not be instances where someone would argue that they have provided you with "commonly observable, quantifiable and quantifiable data" and "empirical evidence" where you counter that "no that is not" "commonly observable, quantifiable and quantifiable data" and "empirical evidence", and both of you stand your ground and take the position that YOU obviously have reality on your sides and that the other is a spaced out knucklehead?

Anon 12:13

RevRon's Rants said...

Anon 12:13 - I guess the difference would be each individual's definitions of "quantifiable, qualifiable, and commonly-observed."

Some children cling to the existence of the tooth fairy as meeting these criteria, since they have observed their own actions and the measurable results of those actions. What the child - and a significant number of adults - fail to comprehend is that there are factors beyond the data they have observed which produce the results. To an objective observer, such leaps in logic disqualify the assumption of direct cause & effect.

The SHAM hucksters fall back on the "what if it's real" argument, rather than providing evidence to support their notions of reality. That way, they are - in their eyes, at least - relieved of the responsibility for supporting their claims.

Steve Salerno said...

Using the widespread acceptance of something as evidence for its being absolute truth is a tricky business; the classic example, of course, was the general belief in a flat Earth. However, we've come a long way since 1492. And without a consensus wisdom of some sort--rooted, ideally, in the best evidence and best practices of experts in each given realm--we are hopelessly adrift in a sea of meaninglessness and, in fact, lack even a common language with which to appraise reality.

Anonymous said...

Steve

"And without a consensus wisdom of some sort--rooted,"

The situation, as I see it, is that most everyone thinks and argues that THEY have the "consensus wisdom of some sort-" on their side.

AND has man yet to develop "a common language with which to appraise reality"?? I wish that there was such a language on earth. I don;t hear it or see it. I see common languages from tribe to tribe and that is it, but even in those tribes,it is questionable as to whether or not they are even on the same page IMO.


Anon 12:13

Anonymous said...

Is it reasonable to generalize that the regular contributers who visit this blog the most have a common language with which they appraise reality with? And that they understand each other with that language and that allows for a certain type of dialogue and agreement on certain things? Is it unreasonable to say that as a group, this group thinks that they have a "consensus wisdom of some sort" on their side? My point is that that seems a little too convenient to me, allot too convenient actually and, makes this group just like every other group of people who argue the same.

The flat-earthers are ready to kill for their reality and the not-flat-earthers are ready to kill for theirs. With no side admitting that they are caught in a 'my reality is the real reality' trap = most of the problems plaguing mankind.

Anon 12:13

Steve Salerno said...

(I'm starting to get a sense of philosophical deja vu here...)

RevRon's Rants said...

Given that we have hard documentation that the earth is, indeed, not flat - in the form of actual photographs and physically-established measurements, the flat-earthers' arguments are effectively disproved, and their insistence upon clinging to a disproved theory is shown to be nothing more than a contrarian position, promoted for the sake of being different. In its essence, the drive to promote an unsupportable (by empiric data and measurement) theory is typically founded in the need to make one's self feel "special" when one lacks the talent or resources to do so otherwise. Thus, the self-esteem movement creates and defends "what if" absurdity as being superior to actual knowledge and the progress it offers.

Anonymous said...

RevRon's Rants

I am confused at where you went with the flat earth metaphor and somehow pulled in the self-esteem movement and something about what if? Going to leave it there. I am a high school drop out and can't follow your intellectual process. If I was smarter I am sure I could, but, skipping off classes and going to the park or the mall was more attractive to me then attending or doing homework assignments.

Anon 12:13

RevRon's Rants said...

If anon 12:13 was indeed the author of the last comment attributed to him/her, I have to say that it had to be the lamest mechanism for abandoning a logically indefensible position that I've seen. "Poor me... I'm just too dumb to understand, much less respond."

On the other hand, if it was an exercise in sarcasm offered up by someone attempting to ridicule the original 12:13, he/she doesn't really need any help on that front. Taken in that context, however, it was pretty funny.

Anonymous said...

RevRon's Rants,

I could not follow you where you were taking the discussion. I made the conclusion that there was an intellectual gap and that is why I fall short rather then bluffing my way through the exchange.

The only "lame mechanisms" in this exchange are your reframing of others words, your second guessing others, and your insults towards others.

Anon 12:13