I don’t watch Oprah and I try to avoid New Age books, particularly the ones that tell me how I can attract wealth by using my mind to alter reality, because “thoughts create the world.” New Thought isn’t particularly new anymore–it’s been around since the mid-nineteenth century and it spawned both Christian Science and Charles Filmore’s Unity Church, which in turn has spun off a number of New Age stars, like Marianne Williamson. New Thought is also the progenitor of Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking and Divine Science. Emmet Fox came out of New Thought–his Find and Use Your Inner Power and The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life were big bestsellers in the first half of the last century, as was Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. Hill’s catchphrase was “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” As William James wrote in Varieties of Religious Experience, Mind Science may be bad philosophy and more than a little vulgar, but it seems to work for some people, who credit it with seemingly miraculous cures from terrible diseases, an improved attitude, and a sense of mastery in the marketplace.
James Arthur Ray’s books Practical Spirituality: How to Use Spiritual Power to Create Tangible Results, The Science of Success: How to Attract Prosperity and Create Harmonic Wealth Through Proven Principles, and his forthcoming The Seven Laws of True Wealth: Create the Life You Desire and Deserve seem to fit right into this paradigm, except that he jazzes it up with a lot of the trappings of Eastern and, to his grief, Native American religion. Ray is the guy who held a weekend retreat (that he charged $9695 for) that closed with a sweat lodge ceremony that proved fatal for two of its participants. He stands likely to be indicted for negligent homicide at the very least (as of yesterday, Arizona’s Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh was treating the case as a homicide investigation).
Joseph Bruchac, author of The Native American Sweat Lodge: History and Legends, told CBS News that the number of participants in the lodge was “appalling.”
“If you put people in a restrictive, airtight structure, you are going to use up all oxygen,” he said by phone Saturday from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “And if you’re doing a sweat, you’re going to use it up that much faster.”
Judging from Ray’s website, he is a first class charlatan, a huckster par excellence. But does he lead a cult?
Yesterday The Examiner.com posted the transcript of a conference call James Arthur Ray held with survivors, and suggested that
it evidenced signs of cultic “mind control” or “coercive persuasion.”
The call started with Greg (a staff member) explaining the purpose of the call was to bring closure to the retreat and to give James Ray a chance to interact with everyone. Next, Greg introduced Katie Carlson as an international follower of James Ray and strongly urged everyone to seek guidance about this tragedy with her, even though she is not certified as a counselor. I’d like to repeat that because of the crazy factor – he urged people to consult someone who is in no way certified in the fields of therapy. Why would he refer trauma victims to a non-professional to cope with this tragedy? Because James Ray and his staff kept stressing the importance of turning to others in the James Ray community for support, or as James Ray kept referring to his followers “Harmonic minded individuals”. This is a huge warning sign of cult activities – turning to unqualified people for help only because they are members. Cults focus their members inwards in an attempt to cut off outside influences.
I read the transcript and found it really distasteful–but rather than cultism per se what I saw was egomania, grandiosity, and a really unsubtle effort at damage control. Ray is trying to inoculate himself against civil law suits; he is also attempting to influence future witnesses in the criminal case that will likely be brought against him, by inducing Stockholm Syndrome ex post facto. My gut sense is that Ray has the personality profile of a Cult leader but doesn’t precisely lead a cult. But there’s a fine line, and ugly rumors are beginning to be aired; as the police investigation proceeds, we’ll probably learn a lot more about him than he’d like us to know. His World Wealth Summit is being held in San Diego this weekend. I wonder how many people will attend?