Yesterday James Arthur Ray was sentenced to 2 years for negligent homicide in the deaths of three participants at his "purifying" sweat lodge ceremony in 2009. This was part of a "Spiritual Warrior Retreat" that people payed $9.000 apiece to attend.
Ray is a motivational speaker and best-selling self-help author who has appeared on Oprah and Larry King TV shows. He was profiled in Fortune Magazine, claiming that he had sold more than 10 million books and DVDs aimed at helping people become spiritually and financially wealthy.
In his tearful apology to the victims' families at his sentencing, Ray said, "I’m so sorry. And I know that nothing I could say or do is enough. There’s not one single day that passes that I don’t relive the moments of that night in my life, asking what I missed, what I could have done differently. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that anyone was dying or in distress. I wish to God I would have. I would have stopped immediately.” Here's a video:
How could he not know that people were in distress? Did he miss the fact that two of the 50 particpants were unconscious and several others were disoriented?
Obviously, he chose to ignore th0se warning signs - and this wasn't the first time. There are reports of his previous events, where people fell unconscious, broke bones, and incurred other injuries. One participant committed suicide, according to this court document.
Charlatans are gaining ground
These kinds of tragic events used to be associated with fringe cults. But as the internet has become a universal marketplace, charlatans and hucksters attract huge audiences of followers, who spread "the word" throughout their own social networks.
When "The Secret" book and movie came out in 2006, I was amazed at how many of my friends and acquaintances were falling for this drivel and preaching it to others. The so-called "philosophers" and "metaphysicians" who appeared in the movie all had extensive reputations as marketers and salespeople. And the snake oil they were selling made millions. (I'm not posting a link because that would only add to the website's Google ranking. But you can easily find out more by searching online for "the secret.")
Unfortunately it takes a tragedy to point out that uncredentialed hucksters have no business messing with people's minds.
But also unfortunately, the furor will probably fade away, as it did after 10-year-old Candace Newmaker was suffocated during a so-called "rebirthing" process.
And then the next "breakthrough" method will entice others who are searching or desperate for help, to pay thousands of dollars for unproven risky treatment.
What do you think can be done about this? Your comments are welcome.