Arizona Update: Three Dead, Thanks To James Arthur Ray

The participants are speaking, telling what occurred that day,
Sharing stories of their puzzlement and grief;
But the dissonance believers feel, is giving Mr. Ray
The impenetrable armor of belief.

How could people die for nothing? How could all this be a scam?
All my money, all my effort, all my pain?
When a Faithful True Believer is the heart of what I am,
Then a sacrifice must always lead to gain.

While the victims fell unconscious, Mr. Ray stood at the door,
Telling people they were going to have to wait—
It’s a difficult experience, but that is what it’s for,
And the attitude you take will choose your fate.

So the blame fell on the victims, and their weakness was the cause,
I’ll survive it if I only just believe—
And I’ll praise the New Age guru, cos he pointed out our flaws,
As the victims’ friends and families now grieve.

The New York Times has a followup article on the deadly Sedona sweat lodge ceremony run by Oprah’s darling James Arthur Ray. I had written on this earlier, and I hate to say that my analysis was pretty damned close–victims are being blamed, Ray is being lauded, excuses are being made.

It must be a horrible thing, to know that you paid a lot of money, went through a lot of trouble and pain, to be lied to and endangered by a cult leader. So, of course, that can’t be what happened. The article should be used as the new textbook example for cognitive dissonance. It sounds like it was just horrendous:

Midway through a two-hour sweat lodge ceremony intended to be a rebirthing experience, participants say, some people began to fall desperately ill from the heat, even as their leader, James Arthur Ray, a nationally known New Age guru, urged them to press on.

Investigators looking over a sweat lodge at a retreat center near Sedona, Ariz. Three people died after an event there this month.

“There were people throwing up everywhere,” said Dr. Beverley Bunn, 43, an orthodontist from Texas, who said she struggled to remain conscious in the sweat lodge, a makeshift structure covered with blankets and plastic and heated with fiery rocks.

Dr. Bunn said Mr. Ray told the more than 50 people jammed into the small structure — people who had just completed a 36-hour “vision quest” in which they fasted alone in the desert — that vomiting “was good for you, that you are purging what your body doesn’t want, what it doesn’t need.” But by the end of the ordeal on Oct. 8, emergency crews had taken 21 people to hospitals. Three have since died.

Mr. Ray has been accused of standing by the exit, intimidating people who wished to leave:

Mr. Ray, who is based in Carlsbad, Calif., did not respond to requests for comment. At a public seminar in Denver on Tuesday, he was interrupted by two men who shouted, “Tell them the truth!” and: “You control people! You stood in front of the door and refused to let people leave.”

The men were escorted from the meeting, and people burst into applause for Mr. Ray. “I, too, want answers and am cooperating with authorities,” he said. He asked for a moment of silent prayer for those who had died.

Read that again. The applause was for Mr. Ray. Not for the two man standing up to him. Leon Festinger was right. But, of course, it gets worse:

The deaths have not shaken all of Mr. Ray’s supporters. “He sets up the stage for people to change their lives — he gives you the tools,” said Meredith Ann Murray, a real estate agent in Bellingham, Wash. She attended a 2007 Spiritual Warrior retreat, where she spent three hours in a sweat lodge. Mr. Ray let people come and go as they pleased, she said. Ms. Murray said she had had a “huge breakthrough” in the sweat lodge that helped her overcome claustrophobia.

She also described a game — enacted again at the retreat this month — in which Mr. Ray wears white robes and plays God, ordering some participants to commit mock suicide.

Mr. Ray, I’d like you to meet Jim Jones; Jim Jones, this is Mr. Ray. I think you two will have a lot to talk about.

The Times article saves the biggest slap in the face for last:

Dr. Bunn and others said that by the end of the final round in the sweat lodge, at least three people were unconscious. Mr. Ray’s employees, called the Dream Team, threw water on people as they emerged from the structure, which was about 24 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet tall.

The events have left Dr. Bunn distraught and angry. Dr. Bunn said that as she was crawling out of the tent, weak from exhaustion, she found Ms. Brown, her roommate at Angel Valley, not moving. “I think Kirby was barely gasping her last breaths, and that’s what I was hearing as I got out of the tent.”

On a conference call Mr. Ray held last week for sweat lodge participants, Dr. Bunn was shocked to hear one recount the comments of a self-described “channeler” who visited Angel Valley after the retreat. Claiming to have communicated with the dead, the channeler said they had left their bodies in the sweat lodge and chosen not to come back because “they were having so much fun.”

Dr. Bunn had a less charitable view: “They couldn’t re-enter their bodies because they were dead.”

“The Secret” is all about blaming the victims. But damn…

Embedded video from CNN Video


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