The Evil Eye in the Public Eye
Remember back when Madonna was a Catholic? How come that never caught on as a wonderful new eye-opening religious experience? For those who aren't aware because they've been in some kind of a media-free cave and haven't ever accidentally wandered over to Defamer or been to a dinner party, Madonna became involved with the Kabbalah Centre a number of years ago.
If you've ever wondered why Madonna wears a piece of red string around her wrist, that's why. If you've ever wondered why she was adorning herself with phylacteries in the James Bond video clip, that's why. If you were even vaguely curious as to why Britney Spears was purporting to be "spiritual" a while back, before she was talking about how great it was to fuck while pregnant, then you'll not be surprised to know that she was friends with Madonna who, in case you've missed the entire point of this paragraph, has become involved with Kabbalah.
"...Only a select few righteous individuals and scholars such as Moses, Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton have studied Kabbalah... Until now."
--Getting Kabbalah newsletter, June - September 2005.
Kabbalah vs Kabbalah Centre
So Kabbalah has become known as: "You know, that religion that Madonna is now." This is funny because when I was growing up it was very much just a part of a religion. Particularly Judaism. Even more particularly it was only for men over 40. Of course there were women who wanted to practice Kabbalah too and good luck to them. The reasons there were these restrictions on Kabbalah were because it was meant to be a mysticism so profound and forceful that there were very definite dangers of going insane if it was used incorrectly. If you have an image in your mind of some kind of Jewish peyote then you're close.
Recently these two brothers, the Bergs, and one of their wives (I'm guessing they have one a piece), decided that it would be a great idea to make Kabbalah accessible to everyone. They were, it will come as no shock to anyone, Americans. The USA, as everybody knows, discourages the practice of any kind of activity that may cause insanity... Unless there's a buck to be made.
This is where the Kabbalah Centre fits in. There's one across the road from where I'm staying in San Diego. I thought I'd go in and ask them a few questions. What is it about, how did it start and what is with the red string?
The red string is many things to the people at the Kabbalah Centre. The women who explained it to me told me that it was protection from the evil eye and that it was supposed to stop good people from doing bad things. "So it's kind of like a What Would Jesus Do band," I suggested, to help me better understand. "Exactly, it helps us remind ourselves that a man and a god should behave in the same way," came the reply. The way she answered implied more about humility and compassion than wrath and vengeance than is obvious from the reading. I guess I was hoping that the answer would involve some kind of explanation about Jesus not having anything to do with Kabbalah.
The answer I was given gave me more of a clue as to the nature of this new Kabbalah movement than ever before. One of the people at the Kabbalah Centre had to take a phone call and left me alone with a woman who, if I had to guess from her ethnic appearance, would have been born a Catholic. It turns out I was right.
In Sickness and in Health: A Guide to Religion Shopping
Angela, which may have been her name had I asked, had been very sick a number of years ago and was sure she was going to die. Even when she was better she was never really better. She started thinking about the point of life and whether or not it was worth living.
Angela had been born a Catholic but her family didn't hold it so closely anymore. Her mother practiced an Asian mysticism now and she was left with nothing to believe in. When she was sick, Angela lost her job and had to give up her house. She now had nothing to believe, nothing to live for and nothing to keep her there out of pure habit. She began searching.
Christianity, by which I took to mean some level of Presbyterian/Baptist form as opposed to the form she already knew, was her first port of call. It didn't work out. Then one day, while in the neighbourhood just like me, she decided to drop into the centre, just like me.
She found out about the energies and the light and discovered that the bad things, like her illness, homelessness and unemployment, were a result of her infliction of some kind of negative energy in the past. She can't remember what, where, why, or even if it was in this life, but it must be the case. This is what the Kabbalah teaches.
There are meditations in the Kabbalah Centre's take on the practice. These involve 72 names of God, as defined in one of the Kabbalah Centre's books The 72 Names of God. They're written in Hebrew but a knowledge of Hebrew is not required because one is only supposed to scan the text. This, as you can imagine, opens up the practice to many more people than ever before.
Angela explained the nature of the energies to me. There are seven energies that we can harness right here where we are. These are the seven levels of the chakra, according to her. Similarly there are three more energies above us. These, of course, are the father, son and holy spirit.
Religious Tech Support
I stress that I don't know if this is what the Kabbalah Centre teaches or if it was just Angela's interpretation. I do know that the Centre charges $US270 per series of classes. The classes are required to proceed to higher levels within the Kabbalah Centre. The classes are also available online at a much cheaper rate and if there are any problems you can call their "customer support centre".
Angela told me how wonderfully helpful their customer support centre was. She mentioned the word "customer" several times making it seem less and less like a religion the more she spoke about it. Maybe the intention is to make it less like a religion but it also sounded less spiritual.
I left the Kabbalah Centre with one basic message: the price of spirituality is quantifiable and measurable in dollars. What would Jesus do? Well, I doubt he would have charged for teachings. I also doubt he would have organised a call centre.
-- "Hello, Jesus Hotline, how can I help you who have sought to help yourself?"
-- "Yes, I'm having some trouble 'getting' humility."
I just don't see it.
Evil is an Anagram of Live (and other poignant moments)
On the other hand, Angela seemed so happy that it's hard to fight against the feeling that maybe the Kabbalah Centre is doing good work regardless of the founders' intentions. After all, the things they teach are based as much in blind faith as much as any other religion. That red string I mentioned? It can't just be any string but particularly string which is meditated on at the tomb of Rachel. I find its power just as plausible as the idea of transubstantiation.
The visit to the Kabbalah Centre raised a very important question for me: If a person is happy because they have found something that one believes will harm them more than help them over time, what responsibility does one have? If the person would be miserable right now if not for the thing that will ultimately hurt them, then where does that judgment fall?