Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Sweating It Out with Spiritual Salesmen

The fall of ‘09 gave us a glimpse of another cultish
movement gone bad: this time in an Arizona sweat lodge;
apparently people have lost faith in the real deal led by
Native Americans who’ve done this long and responsibly.
The lesson was a painful one for the sweat lodge tragedy.

In these hard times, people somehow find money to throw at multiple gadgets for texting and tweeting, FaceBook-ing, YouTub-ing and iPhon-ing, along with “apps” to access the latest stupid celebrity blog or photos of people the rest of us don’t know and don’t care to know–complete with their cats and canines, past and present.

It is notable that all the above can be rolled up into one very expensive little toy if desired. And when the next incarnation of pocket tech promises something else inane, money again will be no object. Whatever happened to the Recession?–or was there ever one: very expensive cars are shamelessly hawked during pro football on TV; multi-million dollar McMansions are still snapped up; and trips around the world remain de rigueur.

But you really know the wolf is a long way from the door when the very impressionable, who seem always to have tons of discretionary cash, will spring $10K for a few days at the feet of quite un-spiritual doofuses. James Arthur Ray, the genius behind the sweat lodge tragedy, has talked the naive out of their dough with all kinds of schemes, under the guise of helping them to “create wealth” in finances, relationships, and mental, physical and spiritual well being. In truth, such would require a true renaissance man, which he clearly is not; what he is, is a risk-taker with other people’s lives.

All such scams have a connection to money, chiefly the transference of yours to the guru. Ray’s self-promotions include the creation of “Harmonic Wealth” in his role as a “personal success strategist”–all of which is gobbledy-gook for a con man. People who in their supposed sophistication wouldn’t trust faith-healers and the televangelists we’ve come to know and loathe, will trail a guy like Ray who’s just a direct descendant of the old snake-oil salesmen. Now and then he sheds his expensive threads to sweat-lodge it with anyone who has more money than sense: an all-round fun fellow.

What must tick off the Native Americans who’ve dutifully protected the Sweat Lodge tradition observed by early Colonists to America, is that hacks like Ray dishonor and betray the practice in many ways–including charging exorbitant fees to participate. Roger Williams of Colonial fame noted in those days that natives used the lodges to purge body and skin and as a means of warding off the French flu.

Their descendants, as we might guess, eschew material gain and invite non-natives to join them in its proper observance for free. Ironically, Ray may have gained all that he knows about the tradition just that way, and for nothing, before making sweat lodges but another arm of his business enterprises.

Ray also found this to be a very cost-efficient way to fleece people, since his meager investment in each amounted to a make-shift tent housing hot rocks doused with water to create sauna-like conditions. Other requisites are darkness (hence no electrical expense), and persons gullible enough to post Ray’s fee.

Sadly, he greedily crammed in over 60 registrants, which in traditional practice should be no more than 12-20, and the result was tragedy. But do the math: $10K times 65 equals $650,000 or nearly $5500 an hour, and that includes sleep-time–a handsome enough return to make other self-help gurus, well, “green” with envy. No wonder that shortly after two people died (with a third to come) he was in a California Ritz Carlton drumming up suckers for another such uplifting “experience.”

His immediate response to an investigation into the Arizona incident was refusal to cooperate or to be interviewed; I didn’t know you could do that but these are strange times.

Since days immemorial there have been those either so fearful of life, in such a hurry for success, greedy, gullible or all the above, that they are willing to believe that someone, somewhere, has all the answers to life. It is also a truism that people who read supermarket tabloids deserved to be lied to–a blanket caveat that covers those who listen to Ray and his ilk.

The lesson of Rev. Jim Bakker’s infamous Heritage Park religious circus was: never trust a religion that has a water slide; the same goes for salesmen with overcrowded tents for sweat lodges.

I’ll say Amen to that.

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