The more details that come out about sweat lodge fanatic and "spiritual guru" James Arthur Ray, the more he reminds me of David Koresh. They were both charismatic leaders who convinced people through deceptive rhetoric that they should follow in their footsteps -- even though they were taking those impressionable believers straight into bankruptcy and danger.
The latest riveting tidbits are coming from an ex-follower of Ray, who describes the man she used to worship as charming and persuasive to the max -- until she started to realize that what he was preaching was majorly unsafe. And did we mention crazy?
Okay. We've got a magnetic leader. New-agey philosophies. A bunch of swayed followers. Lies. Risky behavior. Danger. Death (three people in an Arizona sweat lodge were killed while trying to do ridiculously unhealthy things at insanely high temperatures). Let's be real. This guy was just as much the head of a cult as Koresh. Sweat lodge = Waco.
On a much smaller scale, of course, if you're counting the number of followers who died. But will the lost souls among us ever learn? Why do people keep running around after these dudes who are obviously drunk with power and hallucinating something fierce? They're reckless dictators who love playing God, feeding their own egos, and making boatloads of money off their little lambs. So what's the appeal? Are we that weak and insecure?
Yes, yes we are. But there is hope -- for some of us. Take one of Ray's former charter members, Connie Joy, who came to her senses and realized what a crock the man was just in time. She says she and her husband cut ties with him only two weeks before the Sedona, Ariz., mess, so when those people were killed she wasn't the least bit shocked. She says she tried to warn her hallowed leader and the others in Ray's World Wealth Society (to which Joy and her husband reportedly paid a mind-blowing $75,000 in dues) that what they were doing was very, very wrong. Nobody listened.
"I was done. I was more than done. I was feeling sick and I'm thinking to myself, wait a minute ... This is not okay," Joy said in a recent interview.
Now she can't help wondering whether she could have done more to prevent what happened. The answer is probably not. Crazy leaders like Ray, who she says was "a hard man to defy," are stubborn and act as though they're under the influence. Ditto those who buy into their BS. It's almost impossible to convince a whole bunch of people under a spell that they're all idiots and they should quit each other, pronto.
And there's just something about human nature -- some flaw, maybe? -- that makes us want to believe that someone out there has all the answers, someone can save us, someone is worthy of our full-blown admiration and devotion. And strangely, when we think we've found that someone, we can be blinded into forking over all our savings and going to all sorts of lengths to be just like that person we've put on a pedestal. Sometimes, we even convince ourselves that parading around after that someone is worth dying for. But sometimes, like Joy did, we wake up from the brainwashing just in time to break free.
Have you ever been taken in by someone dangerous?
Image via kevin dooley/Flickr