Sunday, October 25, 2009

3 deaths in the name of "New Age" are infinitely too many, but who can stop it?

I'm by no means an expert on much of anything, but there are some things that I can emphatically say are wrong without having to be an expert. Somewhere Richard Dawkins and a gaggle of moral philosophers are chuckling, but I digress...

In case there were not enough reasons to doubt the authenticity of New Age spiritualism, this week came
the deaths of three seemingly healthy individuals that had been duped by a guy that appears, frankly, to be full of crap. For the Wikipedia version of the story, click here.

James Arthur Ray's website screams kookiness. I'm not going to link to it because I don't want to increase hits to his website by default, but rest assured Google makes it very easy to find. Here's an actual quote from his website:

Throughout his life, James Arthur Ray has studied and been exposed to a wide diversity of teachings and teachers – from his collegiate learning and the schools of the corporate world, to the ancient cultures of Peru, Egypt and the Amazon. Armed with this comprehensive and diverse background in behavioral sciences, coupled with his experience as a successful, entrepreneur, and an avid thirst for spiritual knowledge, James boasts the unique and powerful ability to blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life.

You read that correctly. This man took diverse knowledge that has been long unknowable or too complex or "hidden" or what have you, and combined it into a "easy-to-access formula" for "true wealth".

Not seeing the red flag? Here it is: anytime a guy (or gal) decries having unlocked an ancient secret, or cured cancer, or otherwise solved some intensely sexy mystery and only they know the simple answer, rest assured they are 1) selling something and 2) are hoping you believe them. How many "miracle" cancer cures have failed over the years?

For example, this dude appeared in the The Secret, the beloved-by-Oprah piece of crap that the weak minded have latched onto in place of hard work and careful planning. Give a human a cure-all and they'll pay whatever you demand. James Arthur Ray seems to be no exception. I only wish he'd applied The Secret to keep his marks safe in the Arizona desert last week.

After subjecting his subjects to days of fasting and "spiritual" meditation and cleansing, he fed them a breakfast buffet and stuck them in a sweat lodge (the genesis of which is a mystery, according to the blame-shufflers in Ray's camp). Unfortunately there was not appropriate medical supervision by Ray's staffers and three lives were lost.


Here's a comment from one of the retreats participants that should shed some light on the issue:

A woman identified as Barb told the callers that a channeler at the retreat last Friday said the deceased had an out-of-body experience during the sweat lodge ceremony and "were having so much fun that they chose not to come back."

Really? Or is it possible that these "Spiritual Warrior" goons didn't know what they were doing and didn't act in a manner conducive to preserving human life? Is it not possible that caution was thrown to the wind in order to give "a show" to the participants, hoping they would spread positive word of mouth and return with new individuals in the future? Judging from the way these sort of New Age retreats are run (generally speaking), I have my suspicions there was some sad ignorance at work in this situation.

There needs to be some sort of oversight over the cranks that operate in the margins of naturalism and medicine and science. There should be a requirement that trained medical professionals are present at all times during these dangerous retreat activities. Furthermore, the leaders of these retreats should be bonded and held personally responsible for the activities that take place while participants are under their guidance. These dudes shouldn't be able to hide behind corporate shields and blame-shifting to continue practicing their crap. Plain and simple.

Let me be clear: my heart goes out to the families of the victims of this crime. The Yavapai County Sheriff's office is investigating the deaths as homicides. Hopefully some justice will come from this senseless tragedy.

These are the dangers present from New Age and hardcore naturalism and homeopathy when left unchecked (not to mention Christian Science and other religions that are anti-medicine). Kooks operate in the margins and speak to the uninformed or the unskeptical or the desperate, and sometimes legitimate care is foregone (i.e., Westernized medicine and treatment) in favor of unproven, "woo-woo" cure-alls that have no more effectiveness than sugar pills.

For that Barb woman to say the victims were "having so much fun" during their out-of-body experiences that they didn't want to come back is childish, naive, asinine, and cold. Does she honestly believe the families of the victims will believe that garbage, or at least take any comfort in it?

But true believers will never admit their beliefs are flimsy at best and dangerous at worst. Scientists and medical professionals need to take a stand and encourage oversight over this New Age bunk, before it can claim any more innocent lives in the name of "holistic" total wealth cure-alls and, I'm afraid, buying the cult's ringleader a new summer home and luxury auto.