• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Throw a Chicken in the Air

The British Daily Mail has explored Madonna’s faith in Kabbalah, or, as the tabloid inevitably puts it, her attachment to “a sinister cult”. Apparently there is a certain amount of expense involved for members of the Kabbalah Centre, London, including a tithe of 10% of one’s income. And if that’s not bad enough:

[Guy] Ritchie’s own blind adherence to the strictures of the controversial ideology has exacted a toll on his once glittering career.

Clearly, when people put their religion before their career or accumulating cash, the only explanation must be brainwashing!

Naturally, no one from the Kabbalah Centre is interviewed for the piece, or any academics, although we do hear a lot from Rick Ross. We also get the Chief Rabbi’s take:

Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has publicly disassociated the Jewish faith from the London Kabbalah Centre because of the claims of abuse and profiteering.

Well, Sacks is very good at issuing excommunications. Some of us remember his characterization of Rabbi Hygo Gryn, a Holocaust survivor and popular British figure, as a “destroyer of the faith” after his death simply because Gryn’s Reform tradition accepted some of the Biblical scholarship that has been fairly mainstream for the last hundred years or more.

The Mail does, however, provide interesting accounts of what the group believes:

They variously assert that through the ‘positive flow of energy’ believers can heal themselves and stop the ageing process…

More bizarre still is their declaration that negative energy can be absorbed by swinging a chicken above the head.

Plus, Richie gave up shooting because

the souls of dead pheasants might come back to haunt him.

As well as this there is, of course, the famous water, sold at £2.80 ($5) a bottle. All of which, the paper notes, has led to Jewish commentators labelling the Centre as “McMysticism”.

But why is the Mail coming on so strong? The paper’s basic formula is reactionary politics mixed with New Age “inner self” stuff. It regularly serialises books by the likes of Graham Hancock, and I recall the paper giving a lot of space to Michael Drosnin’s Bible Code. Drosnin, who claimed to find secret codes in the letters of the Torah, was following the lead of a particular practice in Jewish mysticism, although in a rather debased way. But then, I suppose, the Mail was cashing in, so that particular example of Jewish “McMysticism” was just fine.

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