One thing I learned during the James Ray sweat lodge trial was that you can't rely on mainstream media to report the unvarnished truth about the man's character or his crimes. If the recent Piers Morgan puff piece proved anything, it's that CNN is not so much a news organization as it is a PR venue for criminals. But then, the media has always been an enabler for the rogues gallery behind The Secret, ignoring one financial misdealing after another.
But there is a record. It's scattered across teh internets on blogs, zines, and message boards. The latest installment can be found on The Verge, who not long ago brought us Scamworld. In The Death Dealer, Matt Stroud offers a crash course in what went so horribly wrong on that awful day in Sedona. He also delves into Ray's autobiographical details, separating fact from fiction.
In Harmonic Wealth Ray describes sitting in the front row of his father’s church as a child. There he first heard that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." He describes how angry he felt, how that Biblical verse made him question his family’s situation — even question God. His parents didn’t have money to buy nice clothes, or own a home — they had to live next to the church. Rather than pay a barber, his mother would cut his hair. From his upbringing he concluded: "Here’s what I know: it’s a sin to be poor." That belief stayed with him for the rest of his life.
"I was the kid with the big Coke-bottle glasses and buckteeth who everyone made fun of," Ray writes, painting himself as a stereotypical nerd, mocked for his gangliness and lack of athleticism. Later, a classmate told the Arizona Republic that, like much of his "rags-to-riches" biography, Ray’s tale of an impoverished, socially outcast childhood contained embellishments if not outright lies. He dressed well and carried himself with confidence, said the former classmate. "It depends on what you call poor, but his dad made more than my family made."
Yes, Ray has both under and over estimated his net worth throughout his career -- his financial picture has always been more narrative than balance sheet driven. But more to the point, it's a sin to be poor?! Words matter. To Ray, poverty and illness are not simply unfortunate, they're spiritual failings -- even indicators of moral turpitude. Except, somehow, when it's Ray who's in financial trouble.
For a man who knows "how the universe works" Ray's fortunes, on every level have fallen, yet Piers Morgan mysteriously deduced that his misfortune would make him a still better self help leader.
Ray is recasting himself as something even more frightening than a wannabe shaman and purveyor of pop spirituality. The more I think about his recent appearance, the more disturbed I am. Ray's disdain for Christian poverty consciousness aside, he has never stopped being a preacher's son. There have always dog whistles aimed at a Christian audience and his latest reinvention is no exception. Twice by my count he told Piers Morgan that his four years of struggle felt like forty. What kept popping into my head was Jesus Christ Superstar:
Listen surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?
My husband heard a different tune. Moses led his people through the wilderness for forty years. It wouldn't be the first time he obliquely compared himself to Moses, as Matt Stroud points out.
In Harmonic Wealth Ray describes taking a self-imposed exile from his wealth because "a warrior doesn’t have or need anything." He began "by seeking out a wise kahuna in Hawaii and a Peruvian shaman." He writes unspecifically of his studies, which culminated in 2005 with an epiphany at the summit of Mount Sinai. "I was the only one there all night long, shivering from the cold on top of the mountain, and hovering over a tiny candle flame. This is where it all came together for me," he writes, "where the final pieces of Harmonic Wealth and the quantum physics material I had studied for over a decade took form for me in a kind of rapid download into my journal." According to his book, in the same cave where Moses received the Ten Commandments, James Arthur Ray received his own universal laws.
And how long was Moses at Mt. Sinai? That would have been forty days and nights.
The only thing more nauseating than Ray's self-pity over deaths he caused are the veiled allusions to martyrdom, sacrifice, and acquired wisdom.
Watch him. Watch carefully as he flounces about with his new Jesus coif and revisionist mythology. And just remember that, as the Salty Droid reminds us, we are watching, too. The bloggers, the authors, the survivors, the grieving families. We are watching. And we keep records.