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A meditation on Beth Green

January 6, 2010 - 12:08 pm

Before Beth Green and I began our telephone interview about her spiritual organization The Stream profiled in this week’s CityWeek, the intuitive counselor insisted that we begin with an “opening.”  She explained that we should take a moment of contemplation in order to connect to the higher consciousness.

After about 30 seconds of silence, she intoned: “Dear God, let what we do today be for the highest good of all. Let it help support struggling humanity to find itself through us.” Another 30 seconds passed and I had to ask, “Is that it?”

It was and we embarked on an hour-and-a-half-long interview about her beliefs, her organization’s financials, her home and the columns she’s begun writing for SDNN.com. It was a fascinating interview and she’s a friendly lady with a soothing voice. She’s candid, well-spoken and often funny. And she said from the get-go she understood my story could reflect negatively on her and The Stream’s devotees, The Source’s will be done.

In turn, I explained that in interviews I strive to understand my sources in their own terms. Reviewing my story, I anticipate that some will see that as contradictory to what appeared on the page. Green seemed especially concerned in follow-up emails and phone calls that the story would not fully express the depth of The Stream’s belief system. That is true for all stories of course—an article about, say, a health-care bill can never be exhaustive whenever there’s a word count or, indeed, page count (how does one exhaustively analyze 2000 pages of legislation?). This does not mean a story cannot be thoroughly researched and it’s the journalists job to capture the essence. I promised to and did include the things she said were needed to qualify her statements.

This morning, members of the group began posting comments on the story, adding further information about their spirituality. I would recommend reading them.

Since The Stream focuses so heavily on intuitiveness, I feel it appropriate to add a few personal thoughts to the discussion.

As CityBeat associate editor Kelly Davis pointed out to me, Green’s New Age beliefs seem to draw heavily from Buddhism. I think Green would agree: Statues of the Buddha are prominently displayed around Streamhaven, the group’s main facility, and in her videos. Green speaks often of a greater, all-encompassing consciousness and the need to let go of one’s ego, both tenets of the Buddhist paradigm.

I can’t say I disagree with this premise. I’m not religious or spiritual, but I do appreciate that the laws of physics and matter and ideas do constitute a greater whole and that part of the nature of man is to come to terms with his/her place among it all. I’ve subscribed mostly to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s position of self-reliance ever since I heard Garrison Keillor recite the operatic ending to the thinker’s The American Scholar on NPR. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds. The study of letters shall be no longer a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence. The dread of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defence and a wreath of joy around all. A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.

Emerson is specifically speaking to the American writer’s need to redefine himself outside the conventions of European literature, but he applied the same principles to religion in his Divinity School Address, when he told the graduating class not to follow organized religion or seek guidance from religious leaders or bibles, but to strive to connect to the greater picture from within themselves.  Emerson even went so far as to suggest that Jesus Christ was no messiah, but rather just a man who was in touch with existence, and he scorned modern religion for making it about worshiping Christ rather than following his lessons.

Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, ‘I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or, see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.’ But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and the following ages! There is no doctrine of the Reason which will bear to be taught by the Understanding. The understanding caught this high chant from the poet’s lips, and said, in the next age, ‘This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you, if you say he was a man.’

and later

All who hear me, feel, that the language that describes Christ to Europe and America, is not the style of friendship and enthusiasm to a good and noble heart, but is appropriated and formal, — paints a demigod, as the Orientals or the Greeks would describe Osiris or Apollo.

The positive bit at the beginning of the first quote seems to be very in line with Green’s core beliefs. Emerson argued that each person should reach out to the greater power directly, rather than through a medium, though he clearly thought there was a benefit in listening to certain wise leaders.  Maybe Green should count as one under his definitions, but I think that Emerson would recommend caution when it comes to some of Green’s rituals and exercises.
Green said to me that she believed she and I had similar roles: “My job,” she said, “is to help people see the things they don’t want to look at.”

That’s my story. Some might consider the way I begin the story as a shock opening, but it wasn’t as if I went digging for that clip: When I visited the site last Wednesday for the first time, that was the opening of the day’s video. After our interview, Green insisted she didn’t compare herself to the Buddha and Jesus, but then went on to compare herself to them yet again. Clearly our definitions of comparison are different: When she puts herself in the same sentence as Buddha and Jesus, by name, and suggests she connected to the same higher vibrational frequency as those two, I call that comparison.

In an e-mail, Green took this position:

I admire your devotion to getting to the truth in this article. As I said during our call, it would have been difficult for people to have imagined snow if they lived at the equator and there were no cameras. Equally, it is difficult for people to understand realms of consciousness outside their direct experience. Infrared and ultraviolet rays are not visible to the naked eye, but they have an impact, and now we have the instruments to measure them. The same will someday be true of higher vibrational energies.

In other words, I cannot understand because I cannot detect higher vibrational energies.

As a journalist I feel I do tend to see the legitimacy in opposing views, whether it’s religious or extremist. In interviewing Neo-Nazis, I’ve often come to empathize with their frustrations and understand the logic of their beliefs, as much as they are antithetical to my own. I understand that I can be susceptible to suggestion, and that makes it all the more important to delve deep and debunk.

If a journalist is to be intuitive: I reached out to the universe for this story, and the universe called back batshit and bullshit. This is an organization revolving around one woman, which actively recruits overeaters, drug addicts and those suffering from mental health problems. Green claims to hear a divine voice that speaks in actual words and she also sees visions. Her spirituality justifies all negative consequences by claiming they are all part of a greater plan. People who point out problems with her beliefs are just unable to connect to the higher vibrational frequencies. Combine that with the money involved and the devotion The Stream’s followers express and this, to me, has the potential of being dangerous. That’s the tack I took and why I had cult experts ring in.

Feel free to peruse The Stream’s website and Green’s books and, in the spirit of Emerson, decide for yourself the merit and validity of her claims.

Writer’s note: I have adjusted minor points of language in this post regarding the terms “higher vibrational energy” and “reality” which may have been previously unclear to the reader.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2010 - 7:26 pm 7:26 pm

    I think “batshit” and “bullshit” are exactly right.

    You might also add schizophrenic, fraud, and hoaxster.

    It’s NOT “harmless”. It’s seriously wrong, damaging to vulnerable people who substitute this pablum for real help, and clearly quite lucrative.

    Thanks for writing the story. We need more journalists willing to call things by their proper names.

    She wanted more exposure? Well, she needs even more.

    Good job shining a light on this deluded roach.

  2. Rosie Rivetor permalink
    January 7, 2010 - 6:02 pm 6:02 pm

    Having read the article, the resulting comments and the author’s blog I must say the rush to tie this organization to a convienient little lable is astounding. What is the difference between saying a prayer before a meeting and taking a meditative moment out to “open”? It is different yes, but alarming I’m not so sure. And, if giving money, following a person and singing the praises of their methods qualifies as a cult than you have to add Jenny Craig, South Beach, Billy Graham, Tony Robbins, and a host of others to the list of cult leaders. Evangelism y by definition is a cult due to the blind faith, the tithing and the following of its leaders yet it is the most widely accepted fraud in this country. I don’t know anything about this group but from the angry comments on this blog and the author’s obvious bias against the philosopy and methods they use, it looks like witch hunting is alive and well in this country.

  3. January 7, 2010 - 7:15 pm 7:15 pm

    As I report in the story, Ross did not call them a cult while Szimhart did,but would not call them harmful. I don’t think in this story I was striving to label this organization anything. Instead, I was looking into an organization that it is putting itself out there, beginning to gain media attention and using social media. That’s a lot of attention, all positively biased. It only makes sense to research them critically. What I found was certainly newsworthy and made for, I hope, an interesting and thought-provoking story.

    By your comment, I can tell your thoughts were provoked and, therefore, I succeeded. I seem to have failed with this post in explaining that I have no bias against the philosophy or methods. I believe in each should follow one’s own path, but be wary of organized religious or spiritual organizations along the way.

    All the leaders you mention are personality-driven movements and controversial, without a doubt. And Rick Ross’ resource library certainly has a lot of information on the likes of Billy Graham (http://bit.ly/6JYcnO) and Tony Robbins (http://bit.ly/69xV66). If you know of a group similar to those in San Diego, please do tip me off and I’ll look into them.

    In one of the comments on the original story, a member of The Stream posted by accident an email from the executive director. This ED has clearly seen the commentator’s draft and is editing the message to meet what was decided upon in a meeting. I do not think the comments you’ve read are honest reactions to my story, but groomed and organized responses.

    As for Fred Williams, he’s like that in all his blog comments. He’s alllll over SDNN.com.

  4. January 7, 2010 - 9:32 pm 9:32 pm

    I think Dave picked an easy target and I would characterize his article in the same way. Easy. Take your journalistic pistol (it’s clear you were out to nail these guys from the headline go), spin 360 and fire. 98 percent chance, in California, you’ll hit someone likely to be involved in something that could easily be characterized as a cult.

    To state you have no biased is insulting to your readership. The article is so clearly out to get these people. Not a sentence devoted to considering why groups like these persist, what people find of value in them (seriously considered), the origins of their derivative belief systems, monetization of belief or how such organizations mesh with our Capitalist systems, how these mechanisms are used and abused (by corporate churches, for example)….

    I’d love to see you take on bogus corporate churches like The Rock and such, but you’d likely be hit with a defamation lawsuit before you could even go to press.

    Yes, an easy target. Next, and a bit more depth please?

    • January 7, 2010 - 9:54 pm 9:54 pm

      Reporters don’t write their own headlines, dude.

      • January 7, 2010 - 10:39 pm 10:39 pm

        Justin #2: Actually, Justin #1 is right. I did write that headline. But the headline was “Stream of consciousness,” which would’ve been appropriate even it was a puffball feature. He’s probably talking about the sub-hed, which I also wrote.

        Justin #1. Before we came to any decision on writing a story, we spent hours researching Green’s materials (scanning books, reading her various web sites, watching videos, viewing slideshows) and reviewing her public records (IRS filings, Assessor’s office records, boards of Nursing and Behavioral Health databases). It took a lot of advance work before deciding it was newsworthy, so I wouldn’t call it easy.

        But I think you misread the issue about bias. I am not, as Rosie stated, biased against any bottom-line philosophy or spiritual practices. I am biased against anyone advertising miracle solutions. It’s perfectly appropriate for a journalist to be skeptical from the get go whether the subject is a politician, a corporation or a spiritual organization.

        Was my piece exhaustive? No. For example, I left out that she donated money to Dennis Kucinich’s campaign. It’s a 1,200-word article that tells the untold story of who is behind a series of columns, written by Jesus, on a news website. My title is not “staff sociologist,” and what you propose is nothing short of an academic essay or a book-length project. Is such an endeavor a good idea? Sure.

        I’ll have a longer piece on a different subject two Wednesdays from now that I think will be closer to the more in-depth report that you’re looking for.

  5. January 10, 2010 - 12:27 am 12:27 am

    Dave, you wrote:

    “As for Fred Williams, he’s like that in all his blog comments. He’s alllll over SDNN.com.”

    Wow! Someone actually reads what I write.

    But there are a few (okay, very few) places where I’m actually nice, complimentary, and supportive.

    Honestly, I do try to be consistent. If I think something is bullshit, I say so. If I think something is brilliant, I give a compliment.

    Unfortunately, (and maybe this is purely a result of personal bias), I find far more bullshit than brilliance in San Diego today. I wish it were otherwise. It’s much more satisfying complimenting someone on a job well done than criticizing (again and again) the same old crap we’ve been force fed over the years.

    Twenty years ago, I was the biggest optimist in the world. I really thought we were on the right track, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, expansion of freedom, and a city that was going to lead the country.

    Then we squandered our wealth on baubles like stadiums, wasted our time and attention on “gurus” selling pablum masquerading as wisdom, and allowed once proud media institutions to become shills for the elite.

    What can I do? Put on a happy face while I watch my city, state, and nation spiral down the toilet?

    Alas, I must protest, however pathetically, that we’re going in the wrong direction. I’m sorry if I come off as nothing more than a curmudgeon…but that’s my honest perspective.

    Maybe I’d be happier if I just stopped reading the news altogether…certainly that’s what my girlfriend keeps telling me.

    • January 10, 2010 - 10:30 am 10:30 am

      Oh, I didn’t mean any offense, Fred. I was just trying to say that I don’t speak for you. You speak for yourself–and often.

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