From Abracadabra to Zombies
Some questions for a mega lottery winner
13 March 2011. I recently received an unsigned letter from someone I'll call "Jim" who tells me that his mother won a mega lottery ("in the 8 digits") five years ago when Jim was 18. From this fact, if it is a fact, Jim has drawn several conclusions that I'd like him to reconsider.
First, a little background according to Jim:
I'm an African American male, and I was raised in a broken home: food stamps, odd jobs, hand-me-down-clothes, etc. The only thing that made my family survive (and by family, I mean me and my mom and brother) is the new age philosophy that my mother believed in and the large amount of new age literature that my mother would print off the internet at the library.
Jim then goes on to describe how his mother played the lottery religiously, lectured him repeatedly on the law of attraction, and often said things like "I live an abundant life through the grace of the universe's divine plan."
My mother was working two jobs, and still had time to pray for four hours a day to "attract abundance," as she called it, through the lottery preferably.
When he was 15 Jim told his mother that he was tired of hearing her New Age spiel and it was obvious that "it did not work." After she won the lottery, he changed his mind and now wants me to know that it really does "work."
I thank God every day that I was born with a mother who was so courageous and daring. I'm in tears right now remembering the winning day. I was in some ecstasy mind frame for the next five months. It was like living in a Disney movie.
By "it" works, Jim wants me to understand that New Age beliefs work. He tells me that I am wrong in criticizing David Hawkins, a psychiatrist-cum-guru who claims, among many other things, that he has proof that applied kinesiology (AK) is a reliable "lie detector" and can be used to determine the truth or falsity of any statement. I've written elsewhere of Hawkins that he
developed a "scale of consciousness" and uses AK to determine how "enlightened" a book or person who wrote the book might be. Hawkins claims he's calibrated The Skeptic's Dictionary at level 160, "which is that of sophomoric egotism." Only 15% of humanity calibrate at above 200, according to Hawkins, so I'm in good company. By 'consciousness' Hawkins means some sort of developing spirituality. When you score between 700-1,000 you have reached "enlightenment." George W. Bush calibrates at 460, according to Hawkins, which is in the range of intellectual genius. (Need I add that Hawkins holds spirituality in high regard and has very conservative political values?) Hawkins goes so far as to claim that the Wikipedia article on him would calibrate at 400, instead of 200, if it removed the links to my criticisms. (Hawkins has had the Wikipedia article on him removed, as well as all the discussion pages that once included these inane calibrations. The German language version still has the article.)
Of Hawkins, Jim says "I'm now 23, and read his books daily." Jim goes on:
I would like you to realize that the law of attraction and stuff like that does save lives, it does change lives, and it is real. I don't plan for you to take it seriously, but it would be nice if you did. At least for a week. You might surprise yourself. We ARE souls, and we CAN change our reality with positive thinking. I know this for a fact, and you will someday too, in this life or the next.
He concludes all this from his mother winning the lottery after 18 years, which enabled her to lift her family out of poverty.
My first question for Jim is Would you be saying these things if your mother hadn't won the lottery? My guess is that Jim would still be skeptical if he had not experienced what he and his mother consider "a dream come true" or "her prayers answered." My second question is Do you really think the universe's divine plan was for your mom to win the lottery? Does this mean that the thousands whose lives were destroyed in the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan recently were obliterated intentionally by the universe's divine plan? Doesn't it seem more likely that the causes of both your mother's fortune and the misfortune of those in Japan were due to more mundane causes? Millions play the lottery every day. Don't you think that thousands of them pray and hope and believe in New Age notions like the law of attraction? Yet, they will die before they win the lottery. Does that prove the law of attraction is bunk, as you once believed? Is it possible that you are rationalizing your mother's behavior? Many more poor people are gambling and losing than are winning. Their families suffer because of it. They justify their wasting of valuable family resources by using the same kinds of positive-sounding expressions your mother used. Their continued losses don't affect their attitude because they have hope that tomorrow will be different. Many probably look to people like your mother to justify their hope. Yet, you must know that most of those people will never win the lottery or have any sort of similar good fortune. Do you deny that, as Spinoza put it, "good and evil fortunes fall to the lot of pious and impious alike"?
Another question I have for Jim is this: Is it possible that your mother winning the lottery was just luck? Is it possible that spirit, consciousness, or divine plan had nothing to do with it? If you credit some sort of New Age energy with bringing your mother's abundance, must you not also credit New Age energy with bringing death and destruction to those harmed by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and other natural forces? If so, isn't this just another way of saying whatever happens, happens?
Jim assumes that his mother winning the lottery was a good thing. It lifted them out of poverty. Are the rich happier than the poor? Sure, given our choice, most of us would choose wealth over poverty, but there are some facts that shouldn't be ignored. We don't need to speculate about energies, a universal consciousness, spirits, or any such thing to know that there is scant empirical evidence that making people rich will necessarily make them happy. Jim will not find in the literature of positive psychology support for the belief that wealth is a key to happiness. Of course it's true that very poor people for whom every day is a struggle just to survive, will benefit greatly by getting enough wealth to pay for good shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, education, and job training. But wealth can sometimes lead to great unhappiness. I recommend a Google search on “how winning the lottery ruined my life.” Another question I have for Jim is: Do you see that whether a life is "blessed" or not can't be determined until it's over? Is it unrealistic to think that somebody who recently came into some wealth was able to fulfill the dream of a lifetime and take a trip to Japan, only to be annihilated shortly after arriving in the country?
You may have heard of the Taoist parable of the farmer:
The story has many variations but one goes something like this: A farmer's best stallion gets loose and runs away. His neighbor consoles him and says this is bad. The farmer says, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?" The next day the stallion returns bringing with him three wild mares. The neighbor congratulates the farmer on his good fortune, but the farmer says again: "Who knows what is good and what is bad?" The next day the farmer's son falls off one of the wild mares and breaks his arm and his leg. The neighbor offers his condolences, but the farmer says again: "Who knows what is good and what is bad?" The next day the army comes to the farm to conscript the farmer's son for war service, but since the son is now an invalid, the army leaves him with his father. The neighbor gets it now and says: "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
It is also true that delusions can be beneficial. The millions of poor people who play the lottery and have a generally optimistic attitude despite the fact that reality slaps them in the face on a daily basis are sustained by their hope and unrealistic beliefs.
Jim wrote me that he knows that “anecdotes aren’t evidence,” but it seems that his whole life is now being directed by one anecdote. It is easy to understand how such a life-changing experience as winning more than $10,000,000 would have on a person. And it is unlikely that anything I say will change Jim's mind. The association between belief that abundance will come by the grace of the divine universe and the winning of the mega lottery has been made, and the strength of that association is probably too great to be broken by facts and mundane observations such as I have made here.
I may not be able to put a dent in Jim's belief in the law of attraction, or the teachings of David Hawkins about consciousness and energies, but I beg him to reconsider his faith in Esther Hicks and her claim to channel "source energies" by matching her vibrations to those of some spirits she calls "Abraham." If you are unfamiliar with Hicks and her husband, look at the following video that Jim advised me to view:
Surely, Jim, you see that Esther could be faking this takeover of her voice by "source energies." Do you think her messages are profound or insightful? Do they provide anything that we haven't heard before or can get elsewhere from people on our planet using just their natural brains and mouths?
Jim concluded his e-mail to me with the following plea:
I know that being skeptical can help one find the Truth by weighing different beliefs against each other to find objectivity. It is worth it to take a leap of faith once in a while. I never would have done it, and I'm glad my mother did. Really glad. Dreams do come true! LIFE IS MAGICAL! please, I know that anecdotes are not evidence, but just put doubt aside for once in your life. It's worth it.
All of us have to put doubt aside once in awhile, Jim. Very few things in life are certain. No matter how much evidence we pile up in support of a position, there always remains room for error and an element of uncertainty. I took a leap of faith more than forty years ago when I got married. It was the best leap I ever took. I agree that life is magical, but I find my magic in mundane things like playing catch with my grandkids or walking through the ruins of the Roman forum with my wife. I was not rich growing up, but my life was magical all the same. I've been fortunate to have gone to some fine schools and to have developed a love of learning. Every day I learn many new things and hope to continue doing so until the day I die. The world around you is magical. I find nothing magical or educational in the claims of David Hawkins or Esther Hicks. I've studied people like them for many years and have concluded that they are either frauds or deluded. I don't deny that they are successful, nor do I deny that they bring comfort and hope to many people such as yourself. I think there are better guides, however. I hope that someday you find them.
* AmeriCares *