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Feb-04-2010 15:30printcomments

'Spiritual Warrior' James A. Ray Charged With 3 Counts of Manslaughter

How The hopes and expectations Of Spiritual Materialism are shaping many lives.

James A. Ray
James A. Ray

(LAGUNA BEACH) - "Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8:31-32

Many Americans are shaking their heads and “Tsk-tsking” about the avoidable deaths of three people who attended self-help guru James A. Ray’s retreat in Sedona, Arizona last October. Who knows where the grand jury manslaughter indictment of Mr. Ray will lead, but one thing is for sure: He’s got enough in the bank to fend off the accusations, funds provided by his incensed supportive entourage. And the "if it bleeds it leads, film at 11" media will go into a feeding frenzy mode.

With about 50 people total in that makeshift sweat lodge, another 18 were treated for burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest or kidney failure, look for them to seek their own trials and punitive damages. This will become a veritable cottage industry for Gloria Allred and other celebrity ambulance chasers that will also become rich off the publicity and legal fees. Look for phony populist Nancy Grace to cry, dab her make-up with her hanky, milk it dry on her show.

It may sound harsh, but what exactly did these New Age sycophants who willingly participated in this brainwashing seminar and ceremonies, intended to toughen them up, believe they signed on for? How was this supposed to help them gain strength in any form? They forked over $9,695 (marked down from $10,000) per person for a 5 day assemblage to assist them in achieving the life they felt they deserved: A life of not just spiritual but fiscal wealth and advantage too.

Were they duped by seeing this man promoted, glorified on OPRAH, “Larry King Live”, the Today Show? Or his appearance in the grossly simplistic and really stupid 2006 film “The Secret?”

I know that I’m supposed to feel sorry for the dead and injured, be compassionate towards their families, but these were for the most part middle age adults who if they could afford that much for a metaphysical nudge should have read the label on what they gullibly bought: Promises and hope, two things they could “purchase” anywhere really.

These types of events, wrapped in quasi-spiritual trappings like ersatz Native American and Asian philosophies, are not really new. Get rich quick schemes have always fascinated many in Western cultures, and in a shallow-minded, materialistic, capitalistic culture like ours facilitators like James Ray are like Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” There’s never been a shortage of suckers, people who like the quick fix and cut corners to get where they’re going, as PT Barnum noted. Cheap and fast, that’s how we like things, intrinsic or extrinsic.

Go back to the whacky film 10 years before that, when in 1977 “Semi-Tough” was released. A thinly-veiled send-up of Werner Erhard and EST, locking people voluntarily in a room until they “Get it,” some urinating on themselves due to being prohibited from even a bathroom break, audiences laughed at the absurdity.

Inexplicably, that lesson didn’t sink in, for many who watched it howling are now subsequently paid customers for successors like Rajneesh, Mahara Ji, L. Ron Hubbard, Dr. Phil, Wayne Dyer, one might even add the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle, the list goes on and on. Buy their books and tapes, attend their lectures, become the futuristic Nietzschean ideal, the “übermensch.”

Greed is not only good, it’s as American as Mom and apple pie. Add into the mix the simple fact that we like things instantaneously. Whether it’s a take-out window at a Taco Bell or our microwave TV dinners, as Jim Morrison said “We want the world and we want it now. NOW!”

Being a relatively young country, basically in our juvenile stage of development is no excuse for demanding immediate gratification, but Americans seem to believe that whether it’s wars, the economy, or spiritual growth, instant-everything is our subtext, it’s come to be an expected entitlement.

“Enlightenment Light” is what these self-acclaimed masters peddle, less calories in this case means with less effort, just put your soul (and Master Card/VISA) into their hands for a few days and VOILA! Experience both the Oneness of Nirvana and the bank account numbers of Donald Trump, step right up!

This flies in the face of our most precious religious and philosophical traditions. The wisdom of the Essenes, of Jesus Christ, of The Talmud, of Lao-Tzu (Patriarch of Taoism), of Siddhartha Gotama (Shakyamuni Buddha) or Socrates, Zoroasterians, you name it, all come from long term commitments and sweat, yes sweat. These traditions don’t claim to be easy and effortless, their core values simple to achieve, and definitely the wisest people among them arguably never charged a crass penny for their thoughts, now did they?

This is simply a variation on a theme, reflect ye righteous ones upon mega-church Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. He implored his congregation in the last 72 hours of 2009 to hit the financial panic button, make up a $900,000 church budget deficit. He declared donations fulfilling that overhead deficit would constitute a miracle.

He received almost $2.5 million, but few took him to task for the obvious: Miracles are for sale, being peddled in ways that Jesus himself would probably question or object to. Apparently, Rick Warren doesn’t believe that rich men can’t go to Heaven, but then again neither does Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Jerry Falwell and the rest of the unprincipled pack.

Yet Americans hold tight to the concept that wealth and spiritual awareness are not mutually exclusive events. They see enlightenment and big bucks as synergistic, can’t they have their minor satori AND eat it too? The pyramid as a metaphor, as a visual aide regarding capitalism, keeps most of the people at the bottom, only a few in the rarified air of the apex. And so too these gurus sit at the top of their own MLM heap. No wonder they smile a lot!

Governmental oversight and accountability being called for by organizations like Americans Against Self-Help Fraud, actually don’t address the real causal factors. You have on one hand self-help gurus who really just want to help themselves to people’s money and amenable suckers, lining up to hopefully get into the grift, stuff their own pockets.

Like Mr. Ray, their MO is to allege they achieved enlightenment as a result of being directly given mystical, esoteric knowledge and secret teachings from a poor naked sage in the (a) Andes, (b) Himalayas, or (c) Sierra Madre of Mexico, etc. etc. So their snake oil is based upon your participation in some kind of ennobling, cosmic, metaphysical conga line.

These Western culture zeitgeist entrepreneurs are popping up like weeds in the spring, and in economically tough times they proliferate. These fools who are ready, willing and financially able to have their enlightenment served on a silver platter are paying dearly for that platter and don’t seem to mind that it’s really a golden parachute for the bogus masters they fawn over. Attend their lectures, buy their books, it’s really cool and hip to be part of the movement.

Peruse the web and you’ll see oodles of these endeavors, and growing up in Southern California I’ve seen them all. They usually have supporting staffs composed of a yoga teacher, a nutritionist, a financial counselor, etc., all with fancy-schmancy titles or names they’ve given themselves, degrees from obscure, virtual (online) universities. They look and act the picture perfect of health and prosperity---Which is what they’re selling you, the hope, the waking dream that you’ll get these things too if you just follow their recipe---Oh, and give them lots of your money at subsequent mandatory, equally expensive “tune-ups,” did they mention that?

No amount of government regulation can save people from themselves. If potential devotees analyzed the warning label on these people like they now do the ingredients in their food things might change. Caveat Emptor is the first mantra that should be heeded.

By relying upon these self-help gurus we've become spiritually lazy to match our couch potato physical sloth.

Turns out that the truth might set you free, but it’s going to cost you a bundle, maybe even your own life.

To learn more about James Ray:

NY Times: Sweat Lodge Leader Is Indicted in Deaths

ABC News: Ray 'Accepts Responsibility' but That 'Doesn't Make It a Crime,' Lawyer Says

Wikipedia entry on James Arthur Ray

Roger Butow articles on


'Odd Man Out'Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow, a professional environmental consultant. Written exclusively for the Salem-News, it's intended as the next evolutionary step on the path of an eco-warrior.

Roger is a Southern California native who spent his formative years as a racial minority: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer on the mean streets of the LA Harbor area. Running from gangs eventually trained him for his high school and collegiate track and cross-country career. Going to college part-time, disqualified for a student deferment, when his draft notice arrived in a fit of machisimo he joined the USMC in 1965, eventually attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing.

Once honorably discharged, he resumed his college studies, majoring in philosophy. He dropped out in early 1972 when an opportunity to travel in Europe inexpensively for 6 months was too good to pass up. Upon returning, he and his former wife ended up in Laguna Beach, and though the marriage didn’t last his love of the place is in its 38th year.

Disgusted by chronic sewage spills and toxic urban runoff pollution that triggered constant beach closures in his area, he formed “Clean Water Now!” in 1998. Local surfers, skimmers and divers were pissed off, but there wasn’t a cohesive, unified and aggressive group response, zero leadership or activism facilitated by the Surfrider Foundation or Sierra Club regarding water quality impairment issues. You can write to Roger at:


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Roger von Bütow February 12, 2010 4:05 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. Curtis, or Dr. Curtis, or whomever-in-the-"F" word you think you are....I forgot to sign the posting that says ANONYMOUS. That was me. Your most recent posting on Feb. 11 is IDENTICAL to the previous one which is IDENTICAL to the same one you've posted at about 20 different websites. I think you're in the ANTI-Self Help Guru business, using my article and my bosses at S-N to promote yourself. In fact, I think that the people who engaged me in dialogue and support "est" have a lot more going for themselves than pitifully redundant, unimaginative deja vu YOU! Get a freaking life dude, and go away, just go away. How can anyone reading your repetitious drivel respect such blatant and crass solicitations? You're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Sorry readers, but if you won't tell the bugger to "sod off," then Odd Man Out will. That's Gonzo journalism, don't pull punches or hold back when the crazies try to take over the Salem-News Asylum.

John Curtis February 11, 2010 6:24 am (Pacific time)

It's easy to vilify Mr. Ray and applaud his arrest! Now, at least, he will be tried in court and made to face the consequences of his actions... but what of the REST of the self-help "industrial complex?" I respectfully submit that we (consumers and producers of self-help) establish the “Association of Self-Help Professionals” or whatever name seems most appropriate to elevate the professional and protect the public. All that is lacking now is the motivation and leadership. If you consider yourself a self-help expert OR if you are a consumer of self-help products, I urge you to consider working together to turn the Sedona Sweat Lodge deaths into a legacy that salutes the virtuous work of the earliest self-help experts like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carneige, honors the efforts of legitimate, self-help professionals of today, and turns the deaths of those who died in the Sedona Sweat Lodge... Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore into a legacy for the betterment of the self-help profession and society. Any help you can provide in this regard would be greatly appreciated! John Curtis, Ph.D. Americans Against Self-Help Fraud "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it" - George Bernard Shaw

Roger von Bütow February 10, 2010 11:45 am (Pacific time)

Howard: You're welcome and congrats on finding a great long term personal relationship with your wife! I know most blogs get into a kind of mean-spirited mode, perhaps writer and commentators become so polarized that it gets ugly and we lose our sense of humanity....I'm trying to do it a little different to avoid that. I think showing psychological vulnerability is not only courageous but a lot more naked than physical nudity. And hopefully you and others understand that the Beatles Song rings true: ONCE THERE WAS A WAY TO GET BACK HOME. There's nothing wrong in that, we're biologically driven to nest, maybe as a species we need to comprehend that we're not that far from our primordial necessities. We call ourselves "Civilized," but that's a mental construct betrayed by our still violent, atavistic, simian-brained selves. And good luck in the Shakespeare gig. Real research isn't as linear as we'd like it to be, even in the electronic age. Peace.

Howard Schumann February 10, 2010 8:48 am (Pacific time)

Roger - thanks very much. It is very kind of you to say that. I respond to many blogs on this issue and on another thorny subject, the Shakespeare authorship debate (a can of worms) and I can really say that this is my first experience of someone really listening. You are a true investigative journalist. It is very rare. I did not take the est training looking for love just like one does not go to a doctor or dentist to find love, just treatment to ease the pain. I definitely got more than I bargained for. Not only did many of the problems I’d been struggling with for most of my life begin to clear up but I met another participant in the training whom I married two years later and just last month we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.

Roger von Bütow February 9, 2010 5:03 am (Pacific time)

Howard: Thanks. Really, seriously. We're not as far apart as our earlier banter reflected. What you've written takes courage considering you left your real name. It take chutzpah to show vulnerability, I give you kudos for the raw openness you exhibit. You came to feel loved, supported, and aren't those the integral ideals of what we call "HOME"? From my life experiences and the ones shared, I find the phrase "dysfunctional family" redundant! So as an adult, contrary to that phrase "You Can't Go Home Again," you and some of your chosen est-family found the loving acceptance you either got as a child or at least yearned for, i. e. HOME." For me, maybe for many others reading this, loving and feeling loved are what makes the pain and suffering of life bearable. I think I learned something from you Howard----I have never sought that sense of love in the manner you and others who seek it in these venues have. So perhaps I'm not inclined towards an appropriately compassionate response when trying to comprehend the WHYS and WHATS of these self-help groups. A sense of belonging, a chance to re-wire one's thinking and emotional responses, rearrange one's life, if it results in individuals becoming more functional in an increasingly crazy society can't be all bad. In the land of the psychotic, the neurotic man is king. We're living in an anxiety-ridden time, ecomonically and environmentally, the specter or auspice of nuclear winter hovering in the background yet more probable than ever. These days, being neurotic is the formal, historical normal. :+) :+) :+) I do suspect that your est-experiences might be a function of your inherent potential, so in your case you seem to have actualized it. Maybe these groups have by-products we all need to be made aware of. Good for you.

Howard Schumann February 8, 2010 3:49 pm (Pacific time)

To clear up the mystery in your mind, Werner changed his name because he had left his family when he was a very young man and did not want to be tracked down. He chose a German name because it was the farthest from Jack Rosenberg that he could think of. As far as the Skeptic's Dictionary is concerned, I think it tries to be balanced, however, the notion that the est trainers were "abusive" is totally false. To begin with, keep in mind that the training began in 1971 when people were new to the ideas presented. There was a lot of resistance to change. People were skeptical as I was but by the morning of the second day when people were given the opportunity to leave with a full refund, only a handful ever did. As far as the trainers yelling, well the trainers did yell. To encourage people to shift ingrained and non-productive thought patterns and behavior in the course of two weekends required a lot of attention getting. It was clear right from the beginning that people’s act was running their lives and they needed to be shaken so that the loving, open, communicative being could emerge. It was also pretty clear that the ground of being of the training, where the trainers were coming from, was love and support. It did not take a genius to figure that one out after the first twenty minutes or so. Those who clung to the notion that they were being attacked by some fascist apparatus were clearly those who could not receive support, misread it as an affront, and had their lives run by paranoia and fear. Underneath the yelling was a profound respect for the power of human beings to live a satisfying and fully productive life in which they were able to give and receive love. I have never in my adult life experienced such total love and support as I did during the two weekends of the training. Est was "revolutionary" in that people's lives could be turned around in the space of two weekends as opposed to sitting for months and years on a psychiatrist's couch, often with little tangible results. As any new technology or any new way of looking at things, many people (mostly those who never took the training) did not understand what was being attempted and blew minor things out of proportion in order to discredit it. That is still going on today but it is a testament to the enduring power of the work that after almost forty years, the program is still being offered to millions of people around the world with great success.

Roger von Bütow February 8, 2010 5:51 am (Pacific time)

Here's some further reading for those who have a healthy skepticism gene still in their DNA, it gives lots of background/historical info regarding Werner Erhard (NOT his real name, not even close to IT) and est...One must wonder if he completely invented his name to sound exotic and foreign, a sure sign of a sham shaman:

Roger von Bütow February 7, 2010 12:18 pm (Pacific time)

Jeff: There is a back story to my DJ reference. When I came aboard, after reviewing DJ's column history, I sent him and the In-Salem-News-Asylum staff a promise that I'd leave the deep end of the intellectual/philosophical pool to DJ and the other most excellent staff members. Although I got as far as my last semester of a Master's program in philosophy at a Cal-State University, seemed that my biological niche was the enviro-advocate department.... I called it the kiddie (children's shallow) end, and I admit not having children myself I am a 64 year old surfer in permanently arrested development! That Arizona story struck a chord of outrage that I was driven to comment upon, breaking my promise to stay in my own promised forest. One of my struggles with my own country is its tendency to accept fantasy over fact, the superficial over the real. Sam Shepard's recent book, "DAY OUT OF DAYS" is one wanderer's similar reflections on our internal landscape as he travels around viewing various, seemingly disparate but similar places. Self-help groups are almost non-existent in most of the world, so to me causal factors are critical in their genesis and what I'll cynically call evolution. Many claim a ZEN-like experience, really extensions of the Alan Watts schtick. Read DT Suzuki, the eminent Japanese historian, and he has a lot of criticism regarding AW. And if someone spends the time to research, zazen is not about acquiring material possessions, so it's as if the groups who claim Zen lineage allege you can use a spoon to accomplish something traditionally only a knife can perform. And for those who claim, like AW, that posture, breathing, etc. aren't necessary, that Zen should evolve, thousands of years of yogic/Buddhist experience contradicts, refutes that. DT Suzuki went further, said proper meditation couldn't happen in a distractingly frantic, gimme-gimme-gimme, noisy environs like America. Karate, which requires some of the same Zen elements/disciplines was like that for my friends. They went to Japan to get their black belts, lived it for 2-3 years. I trudged my way up to a brown belt in both Shotokan and judo in Long Beach, but they had a more unique, immersed experience. Sorry, but DJ is right about many idiosyncratic things regarding the USA, unconscious bias, like the fantasies I mentioned. This drives us to agendas focused on approval and meaning. Small groups or mentors dispense, bestow approval and help those who feel different/alienated to "come home," to be accepted. So programs like est, LifeSpring, Landmark, whatever, they confer meaning....We, as a culture still seem to be uncertain about what we're about! There's another book worth reading: THE HIDDEN BRAIN by Shankar Vedantam that does a better job than I ever could. PS: I hope everyone treasures the S-N venue. At least it has SOME egalitarianism in it, whether the comments de-evolve in bitterness or not, I actually appreciate the dialogue. French Philosopher Blaise Pascal (if memory serves) likened these things as rally or practice tennis with friends. Get out the ideas (balls), bang 'em around for a while, put 'em back in the bin, and no hard, angry residual feelings. Any discussion can be seen as exercise. Obviously, S-N readers are whack for mental gymnastics. We should all be pleased that we live in a part of the world where no one is kicking in our doors for expressing those opinions. That's one of the things I raised my hand and offered up my life for when I became a Marine.

Jeff Kaye~ February 7, 2010 6:47 am (Pacific time)

Hahhahahahahahahaha! Sic the snipers on Daniel. I don't know if DJ reads all this stuff (like I do) but, damn that's funny. Thanks for the good laugh, Roger. Seriously, I needed that. I'm constantly amazed at the way people misconstrue conjecture and take offense when none is profferred. But it does make for some comedic repartee! Touche, I say. (I don't have a key for the accent over the e, but I'm sure Daniel does) ;-}

Roger von Bütow February 6, 2010 1:08 pm (Pacific time)

Please go to this WIKIPEDIA link for Semi-Tough: Now scroll down, especially focus on the "Parodies of Self-Improvement, New Religions" section of that posting. Next, for those who still don't understand what I wrote, please take a class in CONTEXT. If you're going to challenge me, denigrate or undermine my opinions (which is all I claim they are) then maybe EST-ers haven't become "clear." on basic informational transmissions.....In the CONTEXT of my comments, I merely directed people to some EXAMPLES of movies/books that discussed this topic. Or do I need to give you the hyperlink to an online dictionary that explains both CONTEXT and EXAMPLE? Cherrypicking (picking out only that which supports your biases), or should I be writing "nitpicking" because you are a convert doesn't progress dialectics. Maybe you should look that up too under Siddhartha Gotama, Krishnamurti, and the most obvious Socrates. Hard to have dialogue when you're pre-disposed in a defensive posture. On second thought, go hassle Daniel Johnson. He loves this type of sniper-attack stuff that challenges nuances or even makes stuff up to keep the dispute moving. And Daniel, you're welcome for the additional traffic!

Howard Schumann February 6, 2010 9:46 am (Pacific time)

Mr. von Butow: Certainly your use of the film's distortions in the context of your article (whether Werner thought it was funny or not) implies that this is the type of program people should stay away from. Otherwise, you would have had no reason to use it. I do not wish to debate the merits or demerits of est or any other organization of this kind apart from stating that, in my experience, the goal of these programs was to transform people so that they could experience themselves and the people around them fully, with love and with joy. The fact that over a million people participated attests to the fact that, in the main, people got value from them and shared that with people they cared about.

Larry Sommers February 6, 2010 8:56 am (Pacific time)

I think it is dangerous to lump all personal development programs together; in the same way history has shown us that it is dangerous to lump anything together, people, programs, politics etc. There are plenty of valuable programs that are conducted with a great deal of responsibility. I happen to agree with the other commenter who did the real est training. I did it too and I also saw Semi-Tough at that time. It was a funny movie and a great parody but that was as close as it came to what actually happened. There actually were plenty of bathroom breaks and I never saw someone pee on themselves. If the entire field of personal development is maligned in a rush to judgment, it would be a shame because despite the irresponsible charlatans, there is much value to be gotten out there.

Roger von Bütow February 6, 2010 6:00 am (Pacific time)

Herr Schumann: Please re-read the section on the movie I mentioned, SEMI-TOUGH....That was a satire, and it was the film that parodied Werner Erhard, not me, including devotee members locked in an auditorium, with (if memory serves) a woman peeing in her own pants, who then exclaims "I get it!" or something similar.....So if you have a beef, hassle the director of the film if he's still alive, at least until HE "gets it." Perhaps EST doesn't quite clear minds as it claims, nor give it's followers critical reading skills. And PS: Werner Erhard saw that film, was amused and asked the makers of it to sit down with him. So apparently you're more "pissed" than him!

Howard Schumann February 5, 2010 9:57 pm (Pacific time)

I cannot speak about Mr. Ray because I know little about his program other than what has been sensationalized in the media. I do know Werner Erhard and est very well, having worked with Werner (not for him) for 7 years. Your picture of people being locked in a room and urinating on themselves is totally false. There were regularly scheduled bathroom and food breaks scheduled in such a manner to not distract from the hard work of the training which consisted of people looking at their lives and gaining enormous insight. Please do not repeat stuff that you heard, lies that people start to believe after hearing them repeated so often. The est training was the most valuable course I have ever taken and tremendously enhanced the quality of my life and that of my family.

Anonymous February 5, 2010 6:59 pm (Pacific time)

Mr. Curtis, I'm not sure what credentials you have to use the John Curtis Ph.D. could you please provide YOUR bona fides, where and in what field did you procure your doctorate? What is your present field of practice that allows you to invoke a sobriquet, an element of implied expertise? I make this request because you're openly soliciting business from this site, doing what enviros call "piling on," and after browsing the web I discovered that you have the EXACT SAME COMMENT VERBIAGE posted on other sites related to Ray's name, directing folks to your $$$-making endeavor. I assume as you use the .COM it is a business, now isn't it? And if you have a FBN or corporate structure, IRS number, please give me the State and/or city in which you work, plus your partners names please. What's more of a curiosity is the proposition (or is it supposition), the leap of faith that accrediting someone makes them legitimate. Who or what assemblage gets to decide or bestow this accrediting? A professional is just someone who gets paid for their services, that's not very definitive....Using that pretzel logic perhaps we wind up with hookers as physical therapists, or perhaps call them psychologists giving mentally-related therapy to " recreationally challenged men"? The public could be led astray as it is now, no one protected but with a false sense of security. Your website says "NO CHARGE," but then it reads: " AASF operates with minimal expense and is funded through the support, generosity and donations of individuals. All proceeds go to support website operations, education, information sharing and research to educate the public about various self-help practices. If you join today during the inaugural, sign-up period, you'll become a member of AASF at no cost or obligation and gain all the benefits of a paid MEMBERSHIP (a $29 a year value) at no cost which includes" and blah blah blah So when do these people who sign up have to actually pay, and how did you establish $29 as the value of a membership to a one-man band business? C'mon John, inquiring minds want to know.

John Curtis February 5, 2010 3:01 pm (Pacific time)

It's easy to vilify Mr. Ray and applaud his arrest! Now, at least, he will be tried in court and made to face the consequences of his actions... but what of the REST of the self-help "industrial complex?" I respectfully submit that we (consumers and producers of self-help) establish the “Association of Self-Help Professionals” or whatever name seems most appropriate to elevate the professional and protect the public. All that is lacking now is the motivation and leadership. If you consider yourself a self-help expert OR if you are a consumer of self-help products, I urge you to consider working together to turn the Sedona Sweat Lodge deaths into a legacy that salutes the virtuous work of the earliest self-help experts like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carneige, honors the efforts of legitimate, self-help professionals of today, and turns the deaths of those who died in the Sedona Sweat Lodge... Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore into a legacy for the betterment of the self-help profession and society. Any help you can provide in this regard would be greatly appreciated! John Curtis, Ph.D. Americans Against Self-Help Fraud "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it" - George Bernard Shaw

Roger von Bütow February 5, 2010 2:20 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you all, sometimes a 1/4 Native American, former philosophy major (anthropology minor) focused on Asian cultures and traditions (me) just needs to vent. I've spoken with many of these devotees recently, I resent their claim that they're in a tradition they really know nothing about. I ask them certain questions about the sacred texts or books they allege their system is based upon---They've never read them. They go to yoga to "hook up," that is find a "Friend With Benefits." My writing is in fact permeated by Buddhist and Taoist influences...I call myself a "pantheist" which is how my father described himself. I would add that I don't begrudge folks the opportunity to test themselves as Tony Robbins suggests----The sweat of the Asian sages came from discipline and effort, and I sincerely believe that (like HunterThompson) the only way to find the edge (of one's limits) is to go over it! I guess we could posit that poor people don't have the time and/or money to indulge themselves, hence they have no possibility of being roped in. But these are the humble folks who probably donated $5 they really couldn't afford to keep Rick Warren's sinking boat afloat. The outrageous arrogance of calling his personal stimulus package a "miracle" is obscene. Maybe it's the pollutant- laden smog around here that gives rise to the plethora of toxic predators like this? They sell people opulence in the tough times, but this is a zero sum game, in the case of some self-help gurus it's winner-take-all, as in all or as much of your money they can get until it runs out. Corrupting positive spiritual pursuits, moral bankruptcy, pun intended.

John Scott Ridgway February 5, 2010 9:34 am (Pacific time)

I majored in Anthropology with an emphasis on cults. Brainwashing techniques are so prevalent that no one notices them... until it is too late.

Jeff Kaye~ February 5, 2010 5:24 am (Pacific time)

Roger, I enjoyed the deviation from your normal environmental theme. These cases are mostly comical, but sometimes tragic, as in the case of Jonestown, South Africa, where over 900 people were convinced that drinking poisoned Koolaid was Kool. Or that spaceship cult in California that likewise committed mass suicide to "meet their maker" on a spaceship, asteroid or some such bunk. "If the lie is big enough and repeated often enough, people will believe it." (paraphrased from the Austrian mass-hypnotist, Adolf Hitler) The end is near, so you might as well send all your money (that you were going to give to some crazy cult figure) to (at least they'll put it to good use - spreading the truth - rather than the manure of televangelists and politicians)

A Common Internet Surfer February 4, 2010 11:49 pm (Pacific time)

A very well written article. Holds back no punches and tells it like it needs to be told. Well done Mr. Butow.

Ellen Daniel February 4, 2010 4:32 pm (Pacific time)

Will this crazy stuff ever end? I can't help but scratch my head in wonderment over the decisions of otherwise thinking individuals, going along with things like this, it is a sad and utter tragic story.

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