Whatever investigators and courts ultimately decide about three deaths and a number of alleged injuries in a "sweat lodge" program at his Arizona New Age retreat, the guru James Arthur Ray has no plans to abandon his mission. And to judge from the positive reaction of many prospects, the risk might even make the program look more attractive -- no pain, no gain and all that. (There's a theory that as technology makes motoring and other activities safer, some people compensate by craving new risks.) According to the Los Angeles Times,
Though shaken by the deaths, Ray has quickly returned to the road, teaching his secrets of success even as he uses them to cling to his own.
"I've taught that we're all going to have adversity and we can't run from it," a somber, teary-eyed Ray said Tuesday night at the beginning of his free recruitment session in Denver. "I've certainly learned a lot in the past 10 days."
Some weren't aware of the Sedona deaths until Ray addressed it. But Lyle Guthmiller, 44, a heating and air conditioning technician, said it didn't dissuade him from considering signing up for one of the retreats. "When you're pushing the limits, unfortunately, things can happen," he said. "I'd rather live that life than be a couch potato."
Self-help gurus--and their disciples--have exasperated skeptics for over a century, at least since the debunkers of the Russian-born spiritualist Helena Blavatsky, whose Theosophy movement has survived its early detractors to become a presence on the Web. Even negative publicity keeps leaders in the news, and weren't many of the founders of today's great religions denounced in their own time as charlatans?
Video in particular favors today's prophets, with their often spellbinding performances, over less charismatic naysayers. Ray was featured on the Larry King show, as the self-help critic Steve Salerno notes with dismay in the Wall Street Journal. Even accomplished investigators of alleged occult phenomena like the magician James Randi, who offers $1,000,000 prize for proof of the paranormal, can't expose the advice of motivational speakers in the same way. One of Randi's blog contributors does have an illuminating account of a post-tragedy appearance by Ray. It should not be so surprising that Ray and his followers have taken the offensive; over 50 years ago, a Chicago end-of-the-world movement was not dissolved but galvanized into action after its Armageddon deadline passed, helping inspire the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance.