Dec 16, 2016

A Second Look at James Ray Documentary

CNN will be re-airing Enlighten Us this Saturday evening at 9:00 (check local listings), so if you missed it, you have another opportunity. As I wrote here, I don't think it's good, or fair, but it is worth seeing. I've been doing a little more digging into the odd bits of media coverage surrounding its television debut, because I was left with lingering questions about the director's choices and perspective.

One of the main things I've learned is that there really isn't a lot of interest in this documentary or in James Arthur Ray, as demonstrated by the dearth of coverage. The debut in the Tribeca Film Festival got a little coverage, but not as much as you might expect. I did find a smattering of new material, however. CNN pimped the television debut with some interviews, and, like the documentary, they're worth seeing if only for Ray's unconscious self-reveals.

I also rummaged up a few articles. The most in-depth piece I could find is in People magazine. People is owned by Time Inc., which is part of Time Warner, which owns CNN.

In all these interviews, Ray paints himself as a victim of the legal system, but explains that Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman weren't victims at all. They were heroes. He's kind of heroic himself and hopes his ability to survive all he has suffered can serve as an inspiration to struggling people everywhere. He's taken responsibility, though. He's definitely taken responsibility.

“My work was never on trial,” he says. “The tragedy was on trial. The jury found absolutely no shred of evidence of intentional misconduct or harm. It was a tragic accident, and it was determined to be negligent, and because three people died, it was determined to be criminally negligent.”

So "it" – the "tragedy" – was on trial and found guilty, not Ray. I guess it was the tragedy that was convicted of negligent homicide and went to prison?

Dec 8, 2016

CNN Ignores Victims in James Ray Doco

The year 2016 has been dubbed "post-truth" by the Oxford English Dictionary, "an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’." Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Exhibit A) Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray.
The CNN produced documentary is slick, compelling, and far more revealing than its subject probably intended, but it is also very nearly fact free. Director Jenny Carchman wove together media footage and personal interviews without commentary. The lack of narration, which can be a very effective documentary style, meant, in this case, that one outrageous falsehood after another went unchecked. The passive narration was particularly troubling, given that the victims' families were completely excluded.

Jean Brown, sister of the late Kirby Brown, was quick to respond to James Ray's lies about her sister and her family, posting the above video the day the documentary aired. (see above) It is unfortunate that she was not given the opportunity to do so in the documentary itself. And it was not for lack of trying. As discussed here, both Jean and her mother Ginny took it upon themselves to contact the director, but Carchman evinced no interest.

Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman, were little more than footnotes in this story of their gruesome deaths. Make no mistake. This documentary is entirely about how their deaths affected the man who caused them.

Nov 28, 2016

CNN to Air James Ray Documentary

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Set your DVRs, folks. CNN will air Enlighten Us, the James Ray documentary of dubious quality I wrote about here. The details can be found on the CNN website.

ENLIGHTEN US: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray, directed by Jenny Carchman, will premiere Thursday, Dec. 01 at 9:00pm and 11:00pm Eastern on CNN/U.S., with limited commercial interruption, the network announced today.  ENLIGHTEN US made its world debut at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April and also screened at Telluride Mountainfilm in Colorado and Tallgrass Film Festival in Kansas.

The film explores the story of the motivational speaker’s meteoric rise, fall, and attempt to return to the $11 billion personal growth industry following his conviction for negligent homicide in the deaths of three of Ray’s clients at one of his events.  The film explores the origins of the self-help industry, what followers of the industry are looking for, who is offering answers to those followers, and why some are willing to risk so much for that guidance.

In other news, Ray doesn't want to be a convicted felon anymore. Connie Joy has learned that he is petitioning the court to set aside the verdict that put him in prison briefly, for the small matter of killing three people.

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Oct 9, 2016

FLDS Defends Religious Freedom and Felonious Rapture

Gaming the food stamp program was the free exercise of religious faith, FLDS attorneys argued in court this week.

Members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church charged in a massive food stamp fraud and money laundering scheme are arguing a religious freedom right to "consecrate" their government benefits to their church.

The results of the hearing in federal court could make or break the government's case against the polygamous church and some of its top members. Federal prosecutors have charged 11 FLDS members, accusing them of ordering faithful members to hand over food stamps to the storehouse, to do with as they wished. The U.S. Attorney's Office has claimed the scheme exceeds $12 million in taxpayer money, and some of it went to purchase luxury cars or was spending cash for leaders.

. . .

The "Law of Consecration" stems from early Mormon teachings about united orders, where people give what they have to the church and it is doled out according to needs. A retired Mormon history professor testified on Tuesday that what the FLDS Church preaches is no different than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught in the 19th century.

Sep 20, 2016

The Enemy Within the Codependent Heart

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BBC America has been celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek by playing full, uncut episodes of the original show. I must confess that it dominated my television screen for an entire weekend. I think I may have even begun to convince my teenage daughter of its genius.

A standout episode for me is "The Enemy Within." Captain Kirk is split in two after a transporter accident. His "strange alter-ego," his dark half, becomes a sentient Kirk look-alike. But, no one sees this Mr. Hyde materialize on the platform moments after a very normal appearing Kirk has left the transporter room. He goes about functioning much as our internal shadow does, with neither Kirk, nor anyone else aware of his existence. Yet, a drunken, rampaging lout, who looks a lot like Captain Kirk, begins acting out his worst impulses.

Kirk's better half seems at first to be in every way the Kirk they all know – the split-off shadow like some foreign monster, "a thoughtless brutal animal" that the apparently normal Kirk would rather live without. But, it rapidly becomes clear that this calm, reasonable Kirk has lost some key components of his personality. He's indecisive. His instincts are dulled. "Good" Kirk is unqualified for command.

Eventually, the disowned shadow does what it will do. It overpowers the weakened, good-natured Kirk and takes command. It takes all that's left of his strength and support from his crew for the saner Kirk to confront and embrace his dark nature and reintegrate it.

"I've seen a part of myself no man should ever see." 
~ Capt. James T. Kirk

Aug 11, 2016

FLDS Still Slippery as Feds Build Case

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Five years after its leader was incarcerated for sexually abusing his very young "brides," the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints may finally be in serious trouble. As I wrote here, a federal case was brought against sect leaders for defrauding the food stamp program, while letting the genuinely needy sect membership starve. The case appears to have thrown the FLDS into disarray.

Lyle Jeffs, who was the church's acting leader, used olive oil (presumably paid for with illegal food stamps) to slip out of his ankle monitor and escape. He remains at large – or on a "repentance mission" if communiques from Warren Jeffs are to believed. The fugitive Jeffs was stripped of his authority by the incarcerated Jeffs, and replaced with another Jeffs, Nephi. 

Prosecutors would like to see the key defendants behind bars awaiting trial, as they have all been caught meeting against court order, and illegally carrying out Warren Jeffs's mandates.

Warren Jeffs ordered John Wayman and Seth Jeffs to meet with others in Hildale, Utah, several times in late July, the U.S. Attorney's Office says in a court filing Monday. They were told to make a plan to interview all members of an elite group within the sect known as the "United Order" to determine if they should be re-baptized and re-confirmed as members, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors filed the new evidence in an attempt to persuade a judge to keep Wayman and Seth Jeffs behind bars. They were re-arrested last week for violations of their release provisions.

"The evidence, including the defendants' past conduct, well establishes that when the dictates of their prophet conflict with an order of the court, the defendants will follow their religious leader in contravention of the court's order," prosecutors wrote.

Jun 21, 2016

Bill Donohue Crows Over Defeat of Church's Victims

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The Catholic Church and its lobbyists appear to have defeated the Child Victims Act in New York State, and Bill Donohue's victory lap is offending pretty much everyone.

The gloating head of the Catholic League on Monday ripped into the “victims’ lobby” he says is out to “rape” the Catholic Church over the issue of child sex abuse.

. . .

“The bill was sold as justice for the victims of sexual abuse, when, in fact, it was a sham,” Donohue wrote.

He blasted the legislation as ”a vindictive bill pushed by lawyers and activists out to rape the Catholic Church.”

Yes, that's right. He accused people who were raped by Catholic clergy of trying to rape the Church.

Donohue has a long history of saying shockingly offensive things about the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, minimizing these crimes, and even accusing victims of being "gold diggers."

Jun 16, 2016

Mary Magdalene: Penitent Prostitute or Illuminator?

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Pope Francis has taken a big step, by elevating the commemoration of Mary Magdalene to a liturgical Feast. He should take the greater step of clearing her of criminal charges.

In a letter announcing the change, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Arthur Roche, writes the decision means one “should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy.”

. . .

“The Holy Father Francis took this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to signify the importance of this woman who showed a great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” writes Archbishop Roche.

He also notes Saint Magdalene was referred to as the "Apostle of the Apostles" (Apostolorum Apostola) by Thomas Aquinas, since she announced to them the Resurrection, and they, in turn, announced it to the whole world.

“Therefore it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same grade of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the General Roman Calendar, and shines a light on the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.”

What Pope Francis has not said: that Mary Magdalene was never a prostitute and that her depiction as one has enshrined attitudes about female sexuality that have been more damaging to women than her lack of recognition as an apostle ever could.

Apr 22, 2016

CNN Still Soft-Soaping James Ray

A magician never reveals his secrets... unless he's a down on his luck, ex-con, trying to mount a comeback, and you stick a camera in his face.

Sometimes I miss New York. This is one of those times, because this week's debut of Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray at the Tribeca Film Festival is an event I'm actually sorry to miss, if only for stunning reveals like the above. You want to see how I played my followers like fiddles? Watch my hands, as I subliminally conduct your thoughts and feelings. See? ACTING!!!

This is not to say that it's a great film. I'm hearing not very good things about its effectiveness in conveying the horror of James Ray's actions, or holding him to account. For starters, the families of his victims were never even contacted by the filmmakers, so their voices and continuing concerns are notably absent. According to The Verge, Virginia Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown, took it upon herself to contact the director, Jenny Carchman, and met with her over lunch. Kirby's sister Jean Brown's calls were unreturned, and Carchman declined to interview any family members on film. Ginny has posted a letter under the auspices of SEEK Safely, Inc., the organization of which she is a founding member.

We were disturbed to see clips of Ray “at work” before and after his incarceration serving as an infomercial for his comeback. The film failed to look critically at the tactics Ray had used prior to his incarceration and continues to use that put his customers at risk of emotional, financial,and physical harm; the film even omitted important facts such as the suicide of another attendee at a Ray event just months prior to the three deaths in Sedona. Many of these tactics, such as encouraging participants to share about personal trauma in a group setting, are commonly used in the unregulated selfhelp industry and are exactly the sorts of “red flags” SEEK wants to alert consumers to.

When asked at the end of the film how and why Sedona happened, Ray’s declares, “Sedona had to happen. It was the only way I could experience and learn… A test of character. I think I did ok.” Unfortunately, the people who were injured and traumatized, and especially those who died, are not so “ok."

Apr 8, 2016

FLDS, Foodstamps, and Fraud

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Federal charges against FLDS leadership have opened a new window into Warren Jeffs's oppressive, ongoing regime. The imprisoned child molester is still very much in control and, while his followers are suffering, they are not doing so equally. While rank and file members have been forced to subsist on beans, sharing in the pain of their incarcerated "prophet," they were also directed to apply for food stamps, which they were directed to turn over to church leaders. The government benefits are enjoyed by the privileged few, while the majority starve.

Lyle Jeffs and 10 other church members, including another Jeffs brother, Seth, were accused in a federal grand jury indictment of conspiring to cheat the federal government -- and qualified recipients -- of millions in food stamp benefits. Families who qualified for federal assistance were told to turn over their food stamp debit cards and take what they needed from a warehouse of pooled resources called "the bishop's storehouse."

As a result, the federal government alleges, some families subsisted on beans, rice and toast, while high-ranking church members were able to serve more expensive meat, turkey and seafood. The government also alleges that the Jeffs brothers and others laundered money by swiping food stamp debit cards and ringing up "ghost" purchases at church-friendly businesses. The laundered cash allegedly was used on big-ticket items such as a Ford F-350 pickup truck ($30,236), a John Deere tractor ($13,561) and $16,978 in paper products.

In addition, another $250,000 allegedly was spent on printing costs for Warren Jeffs' self published, 854-page book of jailhouse revelations, "Jesus Christ, Message to All Nations."

Mar 21, 2016

Religious Literacy: Midterm

I have been taking this class through Harvard edX on religious literacy and enjoying it very much. It's also been taking up a lot of my writing time, so in lieu of a blog post, I thought I'd post the Midterm I recently posted to the classroom. The assignment was to apply the cultural studies method to a contemporary article, relevant to my cultural context. I chose this article for analysis. The questions posed are in bold. It's a little brief, because there was a word limit. My first draft was about twice the length, but oh well.

1) Does the article represent the religion or religions in question as internally diverse?

Yes and no. The authors specify that the focus is biblical literalists, including "Evangelical and fundamentalist churches, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and other conservative sects." They distinguish these sects from "liberal, progressive Christian churches with a humanistic viewpoint, a focus on the present, and social justice."

There is no acknowledgment of diversity among Evangelical sects and LDS, and that not all are rigidly "conservative." For example, the authors claim that these groups "focus on the spiritual world as superior to the natural world." However, there are Evangelical movements with a strong focus on ecology and "stewardship" of the natural world.

Aside from the caveat about “liberal” sects, they are not represented in the article. There are no examples of benign or positive influence in other Christian sects. Yet, they make many generalizations about the destructiveness of Christianity and religion, writ large, rather than confining these assessments to these "conservative" Christian practices.

To say that some religious expressions are “more toxic than others” implies that they’re all at least somewhat toxic. This broader implication is not supported in the text. While there is acknowledgment of the internal diversity of Christianity, the authors do not present a balanced portrait of that diversity.

Feb 6, 2016

Satanists Silence Phoenix City Council

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The Satanic Temple has struck another blow for the First Amendment, by effectively silencing the Phoenix City Council. Rather than allow Satanists to exercise their Supreme Court determined right to give the invocation, the council has opted for a moment of silence.

To recap, in May of 2014, the Supreme Court made a decision on Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed for religious invocations in city government meetings. As discussed, this could create some discomfiture for members of any community who do not share in the predominant religion, but have no choice but to listen to a prayer celebrating that religion. Justice Kennedy's written decision, at least, opened the door for that pain to shared, in that such bodies cannot discriminate against minority religions. This has allowed for such things as this lovely Pagan invocation to be read in Florida... and for the ensuing backlash.

Through that same narrow doorway, now comes the Satanic Temple. Rather than allow Satanists a seat at the table, the Phoenix City Council has done away with invocations entirely.

Followers of the Satanic Temple, a group promoting religious agnosticism, had been scheduled to give the prayer at the council's Feb. 17 meeting. News of the planned Satanic invocation became public last week and went viral almost instantly. Council members said constituents and others inundated them with comments.

That outrage was in full force Wednesday as more than a hundred people filled seats at the council's meeting, many opposing the Satanic invocation. The emotional testimony went on for more than two hours.

Jan 28, 2016

Richard Dawkins and the He-Man Woman-Hater's Club

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Richard Dawkins may have finally gone too far. (Not the first time I've said this, I know.) After his most recent Twitter feud, he's found himself disinvited by the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism. It seems they've finally noticed that he's a raging misogynist. Some of us caught on to this problem a little quicker. Skepchick blogger Rebecca West gives a rundown of this latest fiasco here.

In short, he retweeted a video from a men's movement ideologue called Sargon of Akkad, which mocked and attacked a feminist activist. Even when it was made clear to him that the woman is being terrorized with rape and death threats, and that she was doxxed, his reaction was to double down. This red-haired feminist was just too mockable for him to let it go. She's so obviously the wrong kind of feminist. Dawkins, by the way, is the right kind. He really understands what women should want in life, and is more than happy to explain it to us until we get it into our pretty, little heads.

In particular, he's very clear about what Muslim women should want. He'd like to start a feminist revolution for them, and he'd like to start with their clothing. That this isn't what Muslim feminists are concerned about doesn't seem to phase him. And so goes the other Twitter war, in which Dawkins finds himself these days. In the since deleted tweet, he explains how a "good Muslim" woman comports herself.

Jan 26, 2016

Bikram Loses Million Dollar Law Suit

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Minakshi Jafa-Bodden has prevailed in her lawsuit against yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury, as previously discussed here.

A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, to pay about $924,500 to a lawyer who alleged that he sexually harassed her while she worked for him and that she was fired after she began investigating claims that he raped a yoga student.

Attorney Minakshi Jafa-Bodden said in her lawsuit that she suffered gender discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment during her time working for Choudhury.

. . .

Jurors deliberated for about a day before returning with a unanimous verdict in favor of Jafa-Bodden, said Mark Quigley, who along with attorney Carla Minnard represented Jafa-Bodden.

“Jafa-Bodden faced retaliation and intimidation when she refused to stay silent about witnessing illegal behavior,” Quigley said in a statement released after the jury's decision Monday afternoon. “This verdict sends an important message, that speaking out when you see signs of sexual abuse is the right thing to do.”

Jan 13, 2016

Pottermore Snuffs Candlelight Vigil – UPDATED

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Update: Pottermore Ignores the Tragic Loss of Alan Rickman

As I wrote here, the once great site known as Pottermore fell to the Death Eaters and Dolores Umbridge appears to have taken over the security of their social media. A once vibrant, atmospheric, and interactive site has become a slick, but substance-free marketing blog for Warner Bros.

Last week many former members of the original Pottermore turned out on the site's Facebook page, and under a tedious post about the cinematic version of the whomping willow, they staged a candlelight vigil in memory of the once great site and in hope of its return. One by one they lit candles and placed them at Platform 9 3/4.

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Jan 11, 2016

Graham Hancock on Revising Archaeology

In this recent interview, Graham Hancock discusses findings at sites like Göbekli Tepe and Gunung Padang and how they challenge the prevailing archaeological narrative. He also discusses evidence that meteor debris may have caused a global cataclysm, one that could account for Plato's story of the lost civilization known as Atlantis. It's a good interview and worthwhile overview of his new book Magicians of the Gods.

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