Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Move to France, escape the apocalypse

The United States has more than its fair share of wackos.  Maybe it's a side effect of our freedom; if you're free, you're given license to believe whatever ridiculous version of reality you choose to.  It's no particular surprise to me that Scientology, Heaven's Gate, the Oneida Community, the Branch Davidians, the Aryan Nations, and the Westboro Baptist Church are all American creations.  (Of course, given the beliefs of the Islamic fundamentalists, it's not like we have exactly cornered the market, either.)

What's unfortunate is that the US is becoming a major exporter of loony apocalyptic wingnuts.  If you don't believe this, allow me to direct your attention to the picturesque little town of Bugarach, France, population 200.

Bugarach, near Carcassonne in southwestern France, has become the unwilling epicenter of a doomsday cult that buys the whole December 21, 2012 nonsense, but is also connected to the Ramtha cult of J. Z. Knight.  Never heard of Knight, or Ramtha?  Let me tell you a little about  her, and it.

Knight, appropriately enough, was born in Roswell, New Mexico.  She currently lives in Yelm, near Mt. Rainier, Washington, where she runs "Ramtha's School of Enlightenment."  Who is Ramtha, you might ask?  Ramtha is, according to Knight, a "35,000 year old Lemurian enlightened mystic" who Knight is able to "channel."  Lemuria is, of course, the continent that used to be in the Indian Ocean, connecting Madagascar to India, which was destroyed in the same cataclysm that swamped Atlantis.  When Ramtha was alive, the Atlanteans and the Lemurians were at war, and Ramtha escaped to the Indus Valley, thus avoiding death when both lands were destroyed.  There he became a great teacher, mastering out-of-body experiences, and after death his disembodied soul wandered the Earth until it found a person wise enough to channel him, and selected Knight.

Interestingly, when Knight is "channeling Ramtha," she is never able to answer concrete questions such as "what languages were spoken, back in Paleolithic times?  What was the social structure like?  How do you know you lived 35,000 years ago?"  When asked those sorts of questions, she deflects them as "focusing on inessentials," and reverts to her central message, which has five parts:
  • You are god.
  • Consciousness and energy create reality.
  • Make the unknown known.
  • Conquering yourself is the only justifiable battle.
  • Send J. Z. Knight large quantities of money.

You'd think that anyone making these sorts of claims would be referred for psychiatric evaluation, but this being Americans we're talking about, Knight immediately became famous and attracted hordes of followers.  She was instrumental in the creation of the 2004 movie What the Bleep Do We Know? which set a record for being the longest continuous stream of woo-woo bullshit ever filmed.

What, you might ask, does all this have to do with Bugarach, France?   Well, the deal is that the Ramtha people have jumped on the bandwagon of the Mayan end-of-the-world people, and have decided that Bugarach is going to be the only place on Earth that survives the apocalypse.  The explanations for this vary, but include that Bugarach has a "magnetic field," that it is a holy site for the aliens, or that it contains a portal to another world.  So wingnuts of a variety of stripes have been descending upon Bugarach like locusts to a wheat field.  Just the Ramtha people alone have set up six settlements nearby.

Jean-Pierre Delord, the mayor of Bugarach, is dismayed.  "At first, we treated it as a joke," he said in an interview with Figaro.  "But now, we're taking it very seriously.  What if on the big day, ten thousand people try to assault the village?  Already we have found a strange statue, surrounded by crystals, cemented to a rock near here.  They are trying to turn our village into some sort of Solar Temple.  Enough is enough."  He has ordered a local battalion of French legionnaires to practice maneuvers in the area, presumably to ready themselves to deal with the wackos should they get restive.

Of course, given the way nutjobs think, this has only further convinced them that Bugarach is The Holy Place.  Why, else, would Delord have called in the legionnaires?  It's clearly because he's part of the conspiracy to keep them away from The Holy Place.

I find the whole thing disturbing.  I'm a firm believer of freedom of speech, and also freedom to believe any damnfool thing that you want to, as long as you don't try to force it on me (and don't mind my laughing at you).  And so far, the Ramtha loonies and the other mixed nuts that have arrived in Bugarach don't appear to be trying to convert the populace.  But what if they are ruining the quality of life of the residents by their mere presence?  I recall when another group of wackos, the Rajneeshies (devotees of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, he of the fleet of 74 Rolls-Royces), literally bought the town of Antelope, Oregon, descended upon it in such numbers that they had a majority, and changed its name to Rajneeshpuram.  Fortunately for the residents of Antelope, Rajneesh was shortly thereafter charged with fraud and tax evasion and was run out of the country.

A pity we can't do that with J. Z. Knight, but she's a US citizen and so we're stuck with her.  She's still blathering on about Ramtha, and people are still, astonishingly enough, believing her.  And now, her followers are making life miserable for people in a little village in France.  There ought to be some kind of law that countries have to deal with their own crazies, and they could all be sent back here, hopefully under heavy sedation.  But given that there's no such helpful piece of legislation, the people of Bugarach are simply watching, and waiting, until December 2012 approaches.  At that point, I hope the legionnaires are ready, because I think it's going to get ugly.

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