Disowning James Ray #2

January 13, 2010

[Update: Probably best to look at Part 1 before trying to wade through this. Note also  the comments from Jonathon Ellerby.]

This is the second part of a look at the way the self-help industry is responding to James Ray. I will continue to do this, picking out particular authors, with the prediction they will avoid explicit criticism. The entire industry is centered on the idea that they are special and deserve an exemption from normal standards of morals and common sense. Yet they also want to distance themselves from Ray.

This post will necessarily be a bit detailed, following the twists and equivocations necessary to pretend to criticise Ray, while not actually criticising Ray.

Ok, so author, speaker and self-titled spiritual teacher Jonathon Ellerby feels personally slighted by criticism directed at his profession due to that unfortunate business of James Ray killing three people. He doesn’t deem it necessary to mention the fourth death – Ray managed to cover that one up for a while, so why would Ellerby want to hinder his careful work?

I made a few polite suggestions in part #1, about how his profession could react if it wanted to avoid further abuses and deaths. This part will look a bit more closely at Ellerby’s article.

He pulls all the standard idiotic New Age tricks and demonstrates just how devoid of ethics, self awareness, and common sense he is, as well where his real interest lies:


….while complaining that the self-help industry is being unfairly and “immaturely” criticised…..and then attack the medical profession and skeptics.

He begins:

A large focus is on the danger of spiritual-gurus and extreme self-help practices. Feeling a great sadness at this misrepresentation of the self-help industry…

It seems to me that focussing on the danger of extreme self-help practices  is perfectly in order. Why do you think  that is a misrepresentation of the industry? Also, some  spiritual teachers feel great sadness at the needless deaths of four of your fellow spiritual seekers. But ok, maybe other things touch you than most people. At least you are honest about that.
I have spent some timing digesting the criticism and seeking its merit.

Aha, then you have digested the criticism, good. That’s a promising sign. There must be plenty to digest after these horrific incidents.

And its merit is…????

In the same sea of thought I was then hit by another wave, a PBS documentary…

Woops a quick change of theme. That was unexpected. I guess the digested criticism and its merits will be discussed shortly?

No. Instead he blunders on to say something about a TV show (???) which gave

…clear and consistent evidence shows that at least 70% of people today who are healing from one emotional challenge or another are doing so successfully and with the aid of the self-help industry only.

This absurd statistic is obviously either misheard from the TV show, or it is gathered by fraudulent statistical means. As Ellerby mentions no references, I will assume that it excludes the mentally ill, includes people with minor complaints, and is probably extrapolated from a poorly selected and very small sample. Or it’s just made up.

He then objects to a claim that AA is evidence based, unlike the self-help industry. He argues AA has anecdotal evidence only. What on earth this has to do with James Ray is anyones guess. Anyway, the disjointed raving lurches on:

We have evidence because it works, but it was not created on ideas that were scientifically discovered. It’s a spiritual movement plain and simple.

This is a plain and simple moronic statement.

We have evidence because it works. That kind of “evidence” is called anecdotal evidence. If it is not collected in a controlled, replicable, blinded study from a sizable randomly selected sample, you do not have “evidence”. Such redefining of important words is exactly the kind of bullshit that your industry is rightly criticised for.

…but it was not created on ideas that were scientifically discovered. It’s a spiritual movement plain and simple…

Well, that sentence has words in it, but what the hell do they mean? I guess he is implying that ideas that are “not scientifically discovered” -whatever that means – is somehow exempt from needing to show they work. Well, plenty of scientific ideas are not scientifically discovered. A flight of intuitive fancy might lead to an innovation on a submarine, but they will test it to see if it works before making grandiose claims for it or risking peoples lives with it.

Ok, so spiritual people don’t weant to do all this uncomfortable testing, controlling and converting their raw data into evidence. Fine. They don’t need to. But then they are also exempt from claiming they have evidence.

Got that, Mr Ellerby? (Didn’t think so.)

Apparently, if self-help uses ideas or techniques that are thousands of years old, that doesn’t qualify as evidence or credible.
Correct! It doesn’t count as evidence, not even as anecdotal evidence. Pity Ellerby was trying to be ironic there. Otherwise he would have clocked up his first factual statement.

TV and print journalists also love to point out that spirituality and self-help are an $11 billion dollar a year industry – as if people shouldn’t pay for books, CDs, yoga classes, stress-management courses and so on.

That is a really really really dumb statement. You claimed to have “digested” the criticisms, yet you seem to have no idea what they were. Nobody has questioned having to pay for books. They have been complaining because one of your number killed four, hospitalised dozens more and none of you takes it seriously.

Then he goes on to complain it is a double standard that athletes, doctors and lawyers etc get paid huge amounts without getting criticised. Well they do get unfairly criticised – by you, for example. (See below.)

And who was the last athlete to cook people to death?

When a self-help teacher is involved with deaths, injuries or scandals, a huge portion of our media and society are quick to turn to judgment and blame, as if the entire self-help community is the same – there is nothing mature or reasonable about that kind of stereotyping.

The US media coverage I have seen from here in Germany (ie, on the internet) has been surprisingly restrained. True, they have given sympathetic coverage to the victims and their families, but they have also given time to creeps like Chopra, Bob Procter and others trying to cash in and look concerned.

If you feel you are being stereotyped then there is something you can do about it: stop acting according to type, and

Address the issues!

That means clearly state the criticisms which have been made – yes, those ones you claim you digested – and then….and this is the tricky part,

answer them

Say which ones you think are fair, and then which ones you think are not — and give reasons.

But instead Ellerby employs a standard New Age emergency procedure to deflect criticism:

Attack someone else

And as always, the favourite target is the medical profession. And the means are, as always, poorly researched, unfair and hypocritical.


A Double Standard: Defining Credibility, A Medical Example

The medical profession’s count of deaths through negligence is high and probably understated. Some doctors cover up their negligence.

Well, Jonathon Ellerby got his own death count for James Ray’s groups wrong. and supported Ray’s own cover up. That fact sums up his attitude perfectly.

But back to Ellerby’s double standards claim.

All I can say about your statistics is that that there is no comparison of costs and benefits – rendering the statistic meaningless.

And doctors who cover things up break the rules. When Ray covered up Colleen Conaway’s death, which rule did he break? When you don’t even bother to mention her death, which standard of decency and honesty have you failed to meet according to the standards of your profession?

As an author, speaker and self-titled spiritual teacher, I absolutely feel that the aspersions and cynicism about self-help are unfair and reactionary.

Yes, and immature. Umm, about those deaths and the criticisms you have digested – you want to say a bit about them yet?

Consumers need to be wiser…
Aha! How? You are in the best position to know what they need to look out for. But he doesn’t say.

…teachers need to show credibility…
Now that would be a start, wouldn’t it. How about starting the ball rolling by addressing the criticisms.

…and media needs to recognize that they are very often the first to put self-help teachers on the pedestals which mislead people in the first place.
So the media put Ray on a pedestal “in the first place”?

Shifting the blame. Ray put himself on a pedestal and the media gave him non-critical advertising. And how should they have criticised him?

He doesn’t say.



  1. […] brings us to the James Ray problem. I’ve dealt a couple of times here with the difficulty people have had protecting the LoA, while simultaneously claiming […]

  2. I’m a bit confused about your problem with this guy saying that AA is a spiritual movement, the success of which has been determined based solely on anecdotal evidence. You seem to be in agreement on the subject, and rightly so…

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