137. Religious Cults Expert Provides Context to Spiritual Experiences

Cult expert Joe Szimhart discusses how genuine spiritual experiences can be exploited by religious cults.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Joe Szimhart.  During the interview Mr. Szimhart explains how religious cults use spiritual experiences to their advantage:

Alex Tsakiris: We can explain away spiritual experiences with materialist science, but that doesn’t really hold up very well, or we can look at the explanations cults give, and we know that can lead to some harmful behavior… so, from your experience, what should we do with these spiritual experiences?

Joe Szimhart: The key words are “stop and think.” And that’s something that people don’t want to do. To break it down and think about it and analyze it, you tend to lose what it is. Cults tend to tell people that the only thing between your heart and God is your head, my contention is that if that experience is as real as one feels it is, it’s not going to go away upon analysis. In fact, it can be strengthened if the analysis holds up the context of the experience.

Alex Tsakiris: I want to make sure that you’re not denying or trying to explain away that people are having these spiritual experiences. Do you believe there is such a thing as a genuine spiritual experience?

Joe Szimhart: Yes, to put it in one word. To back that up, I’ve had them myself. And to back it up even further, I’m a practicing Catholic. Now, a lot of people are very surprised when they hear that about me, but I have looked at its history and I understand all that’s wrong with it. I don’t deny any of that. But a Catholic has certain beliefs in miracles and all that sort of things and the Communion of Saints… it’s an article of faith.

Alex Tsakiris: Why would you offer up to us this strange little tidbit that as a Catholic it’s an, “article of faith”?  Why would any of rational, logical person go there?  I’m a believer in spirit and spiritual experiences as are you, but I don’t take anything as an article of faith.

 

Joe Szimhart: Being involved in Catholicism, I have to be very agile. In fact, some of my approaches, my personal approach to Catholicism could border on heresy. I don’t know. So it’s very difficult. It’s not easy. It’s an adult problem, you know? There are no clear, absolute answers to this, whether you’re a Catholic or not.

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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Joe Szimhart to Skeptiko. Joe is an expert on cults and has been counseling, lecturing, and helping people with cult-related issues since breaking away from a New Age sect in the 1980s. Joe, welcome to Skeptiko.

Joe Szimhart: Yeah, glad to be on, thanks.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I’m just really excited to have you on. It’s a totally different topic than anything we’ve talked about before but it’s just fascinating to me in so many different ways. It touches on so many things that we’ve talked about. In a rather strange way it leads back to some of the conversations we’ve had with some of the leading researchers and scientists on human consciousness.

I first ran across your name and your work, if you will, when I was researching J. Z. Knight, the leader of the Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and the person behind that super-popular New Age science movie from a few years ago, What the Bleep do We Know? Can you tell folks a little bit about your interview that is on your website with Jeff Knight?

Joe Szimhart: Jeff, of course, was J.Z.’s third husband, I believe. In any case, he met her around 1980, when he was a young equestrian and was selling a horse and she was buying a horse. At the time, she had just got on the market, on the West Coast especially, with channeling this entity that she claimed that she met in 1977. She was doing these sessions in Richard Chamberlain’s living room at the time and a lot of notables in the area and some movie stars came to experience her channeling Ramtha and having Ramtha talk to them.

She invited Jeff to this. Ramtha and J.Z. told Jeff that J.Z. and he were soul mates, that there was a destiny between them. Jeff had never seen anything like this and he got swept up in the movement and was on the front stage for quite a few years with her, until they divorced in 1987. So I got to know Jeff and we talked quite a bit. I interviewed him one of the times I was out on the West Coast, a few years before he died. He had contracted AIDS. He was openly gay all his life, but confused about that issue when he was married to J.Z. Knight.

Alex Tsakiris: And what the video reveals is just striking and very damning for J.Z. Knight and the Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, right?

Joe Szimhart: Just as a foreword, as an exit counselor, someone who examines cultic organizations, I look for levels of harm or good. I mean, there are such things as good cultic formations in human society. These things have been around for probably as long as we’ve been a social creature called human.

The way I examine these groups is according to the knowledge or belief system, according to the conduct of the leader and the members, or their behavior. And then again, according to governance. How do they govern themselves and how does that governance affect society around them? So you look at those ways of expression and then determine what level of harm is being done and to whom.

As far as addressing the What the Bleep movie, I would put what you call science in that movie in quotation marks. It’s a form of knowledge but not necessarily knowledge that passes the scientific method test. There’s a lot of eccentric and paranormal claims in that film, What the Bleep do We Know? It was produced and put together by Ramtha followers, which was unknown to many people that saw the group, and they wondered who this weird lady was that was on the show. Some people had no idea who Ramtha was when J.Z. appeared as Ramtha on the show, answering questions.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me pull you back if I could for one minute because this Jeff Knight thing I just really want to nail that down for a minute in terms of the Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and J.Z. Knight and folks who aren’t familiar with it. He has two or three points that I think are just particularly damning against the idea that J.Z. Knight is for real.

Joe Szimhart: One of the things that Jeff expresses in that interview is what Erving Goffman states as backstage reality when you study groups. You can’t just take a group at face-value by reading their brochures and talking to members that say it’s a great experience and please come to our show. In any kind of theatre like that, and I look at what we call cults or these social gatherings that are eccentric in our society a form of theatre.

As Goffman points out, there’s always a backstage reality that the average public and the average reporter isn’t going to see. Also that the average member and also the leader of the group doesn’t want people to find out. But Jeff was backstage with J.Z. and that’s what he talks about in this interview. He saw her, for instance, reading books that later came out when she’s channeling Ramtha. The information’s coming from Ramtha now.

He had experienced her channeling other entities, for instance, an entity named Charles from the 19th century who knew about horses supposedly and would channel information. No one following the group knew that J.Z. did that sort of thing privately. There’s a host of things about her behavior regarding money and greed, that kind of thing which sort of fleshes out what was going on.

And especially for him now we have to ask the question, “Why did you stay in so long when you saw this was going on?” Well, he did what most group members do in that they justify why they are there. They learn to rationalize the system despite this confirmation of their beliefs and facts within the system from the outside or ex-members. This is called cognitive dissonance. When we have a strong belief, it’s much more painful to change that belief than to keep it. So we tend to justify our beliefs.

And the ironic thing is, the more intelligent we are inside one of these groups, once we’ve adapted and we’ve contracted with our souls, the follower, to devote ourselves to a path, that intelligence can actually keep us in the group. You can find more reasons to stay in, in other words. Arguments become more strict and boxed-in.

So the human mind is quite flexible but once it’s put into a particular kind of belief system-it’s called brainwashed-or under a form of mind control. Mind control is nothing more than policing our own thoughts and that’s exactly what Jeff was doing all those years even though he saw things that were wrong.

It took stepping outside the group, meeting someone outside the group, reading information outside the group. It stretched his mind again and stretched it to the point where it no longer fit within the constricted views that he had and the rationalization melted away. He became a much healthier, reasonable human being as a result of that that could make a decision as to whether that was real or not. He decided it was not real anymore. I don’t know if that helps but that’s how I explain that.

Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s great. The one point in there that I was fishing for because it really struck me is the financial part of it. Here’s a guy who was an expert in horses, that being Jeff, and he saw Ramtha using him to acquire horses and then she’d resell them after suckering people in with this idea that she had read that this horse was a reincarnation of some great, noble horse or a noble warrior or something like that. Purely and just rather transparent scam deal to kind of make money. That’s something he had particular expertise in and could see through.

Joe Szimhart: Right. Jeff was able to show, once he woke up from the whole thing-and it is like waking up from a spell of sorts. Like Dorothy clicking her heels and coming back from the Land of Oz, he knew that the only horse that had any value throughout that whole thing was one that he picked, not Ramtha.

The horses that Ramtha picked, according to the Arabian horse market, which knows horses, weren’t that valuable. And yet some of these people were paying 10 or 20 times as much as the horse was worth, who Ramtha matched up with the horse. That was what the scam was about and that’s why there was a Cease and Desist order issued by the State of Washington for her to stop using Ramtha to sell horses.

Alex Tsakiris: Right and again, there’s just so much to pull apart. Let me get into the stuff that I really find most interesting and most challenging because I think it cuts both ways. As we were talking about a minute ago, my initial interest in this was not at all about the cult or about J.Z. Knight. I didn’t even know who she was. I was just interested in some of the ideas of the scientists and that was my angle. From that, I guess I branched off into becoming interested about this interaction between science and spirituality.

I think it’s something that you touched on which I find just fascinating and that’s we have to acknowledge that people do have these profound spiritual experiences. And then at the same time, they’re trying to make sense of these spiritual experiences in an ordinary world and that can really kind of create some problems, can’t it? And it can also even open them up to if there’s someone who helped facilitate those spiritual experiences it can certainly open them up to believing whatever else that person says because they see them as the person who brought that spiritual experience to them.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve seen in that area?

Joe Szimhart: In terms of harmful cults, cults that end up looking harmful after some time, well, let me back up. A lot of the Bible sects and New Age groups and other mass therapy type groups, they somehow get people to experience something in the organization. It could be through a meditation technique; it could be through chanting; it could be through group dynamics. But in any case, people have some kind of an “Aha!” experience or dream or they feel the Holy Spirit or they get a chill up their spine and think it’s the Kundalini acting.

All kinds of things can happen during these extraordinary events and they seem mystical. And they are very personal. Now, if you go back to William James, there’s nothing wrong with an experience like that. It is what it is and you have to go from the experience when you examine it. You can’t say it doesn’t exist. You can’t say it has no value because it certainly does. But then you have to ask, “What next? What’s happening next after that? What’s the behavior?”

As many researchers have pointed out, including I.M. Lewis in his book, Ecstatic Religion and his study on Shamanism, he shows that when a person has an ecstatic experience they will immediately look to their social environment or their immediate environment to make sense of it. And that’s where the so-called influence begins to take place.

If I was someone who went to Lourdes in France, for instance, and went to the Catholic shrine there and had a healing experience, well, I’m going to turn to the Catholic Church probably, to help me answer the questions I have about this mysterious event that took place, even if I’m not Catholic. If I am sitting in a channeling session by some entity and suddenly I feel golden light around me and I’m actually more at peace and universal than I ever have in my whole life, I’m going to apply that experience to that group and begin to sort out how I can continue that because I don’t want to lose my experience.

So that’s generally how this works. The same thing if you’re in a tent meeting and there’s a Bible revival going on and suddenly you feel whatever they’re talking about as the Holy Spirit, you will identify yourself with that group. That’s a marker in someone’s life and it’s inexplicable. We can call it endorphins; we can call it…

Alex Tsakiris: But wait. Before we call it endorphins or anything else, I think we’re now at the crux of the issue because we can call it endorphins and we can fall on the side of explain it away with materialistic science which if we really look at the explanations there, they don’t really hold up very well, either.

Or we can look at the explanations that you’re talking about and we know that they can lead to some really unfortunate and harmful behavior in terms of associating those experiences or sorting them into a certain way that people want us to. So that really is the challenge, isn’t it? I mean, from your experience, what do we do then with these experiences?

Joe Szimhart: The key words are “stop and think.” And that’s something that people don’t want to do. To break it down and think about it and analyze it, you tend to lose what it is. It’s like taking a very interesting insect that you see in nature and watching it and enjoying it and then taking it into the lab and pinning it down and chloroforming it and taking it apart. Well, you’ve lost the insect. You’ve lost the experience. That’s what people are afraid of when you think too much about these things.

Cults tend to tell people that the only thing between your heart and God is your head, and they also use words like, “The monkey mind will get in the way. It will keep jumping around and analyzing things and won’t stay still long enough to really take in the wholeness of the experience.” My contention is that if that experience is as real as one feels it is, it’s not going to go away upon analysis. In fact, it can be strengthened if the analysis holds up the context of the experience.

That’s what you’re actually analyzing. You’re not analyzing the experience per se, because it is what it is. You’re analyzing the context. One thing that I look at with people when I work with them is, is there something called mystical manipulation going on? Can this type of experience be engineered? Are you a highly suggestible subject that can have these kinds of experiences induced by the environment? All these questions come up.

Alex Tsakiris: Those are certainly interesting questions to contextualize, like you’re saying, the experience. But let me back up here because I’m not sure that we’re on the same page about the experience itself. That’s what we’ve really focused on a lot here. I want to make it clear at least where I’m coming from because I’ve found another side to this and another angle which is there’s a strong pull on the side of the scientific and our cultural norms to explain away these experiences, even in the face of overwhelming scientific data.

The one that we talk about most on here because it’s easiest to talk about and easiest to get at the data is the near-death experience because it’s been verified. It’s been published in every medical journal from The New England Journal of Medicine to The Journal of Psychiatry and Psychology and it’s widely accepted that it is a genuine unexplainable, in our current medical knowledge, experience. Once we get past that hurdle then we have to accept that these people who are experiencing this, they do have all the characteristics that we would identify with a spiritual experience. It transforms them. It’s meaningful. It connects them with this higher power, da-da-da-da.

And all that is just a way of saying I want to make sure that you’re not denying or trying to explain away that people are having these spiritual experiences. Without regard to what they mean or what they are or analyzing them, which I’m all for, but I do believe there is such a thing as a genuine spiritual experience.

Joe Szimhart: Yes, to put it in one word. To back that up, I’ve had them myself. And to back it up even further, I’m a practicing Catholic. Now, a lot of people are very surprised when they hear that about me, but I was born into the faith. I left it for 20 years and I re-entered it. People ask, “Why? How can you do that? Look at that Church. Look at its history.” Well, I have looked at its history and I understand all that’s wrong with it. I don’t deny any of that.

But a Catholic has certain beliefs in miracles and all that sort of thing and the Communion of Saints and there’s plenty of Catholic-like in any religion, in fact whether it’s Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant, testimonials of experiences with beings on the Other Side.

Mormons, for instance, one of their ways of proving their faith is to have a testimonial or a witness that they’ve been visited by an ancestor, like a ghost of a grandmother or some great figure in the Church. That gives them their proof. That’s their proof that their religion is real because obviously, under analysis when you look at it historically, it really looks pretty thin. The evidence that Joseph Smith ever found golden plates and translated those things, that part doesn’t hold up. But the experiential part does for the Mormon.

Alex Tsakiris: But Joe, you kind of led me right into the Roman Catholic thing with you when I think it is surprising and I guess I am going to have to push you a little bit on that to explain it because you seem to me to offer up the same contradiction that we’re talking about. Right, Mormonism in terms of its historical accuracy is just ridiculous. It doesn’t hold up to common sense…

Joe Szimhart: Especially if you watch the Southpark episode when they look at the Mormon’s faith.

Alex Tsakiris: [Laughs] They do.

Joe Szimhart: And they’re quite accurate.

Alex Tsakiris: They are. Dum-de-dum-dum-dum.

Joe Szimhart: And the same when they look at the Catholics. They’re quite accurate about what goes on in there.

Alex Tsakiris: Right. So why would you offer up to us this strange little tidbit that you did that as a Catholic it’s an article of faith blank. Fill in the blank. Why would any of us rational logical people, and I’m a believer in spirit and spiritual experiences as are you, but I don’t take anything on an article of faith. Since I’m in this group. Since I call myself whatever, I therefore have to believe these things. Why wouldn’t we want proof in whatever way we determine proof being meaningful for us? Why wouldn’t we want proof of anything we believe?

Joe Szimhart: Well, because we get in trouble when we believe false ideas or false experiences and there are such things as false-in the sense of I can tell any number of stories of people I’ve met who had incredibly powerful experiences, let’s say with someone like Sri Chinmoy when he was alive. He was well-known as an East Coast guru with a lot of heavy-weight followers in his time.

After they’d leave him or after they got to know him and left him, they had to re-evaluate that powerful experience they had with him in another world or the holy feeling they had around him. And it sets into question all experiences like that for sects and ex-members. So they struggle with this sort of thing that we’re talking about now.

When you leave a group like that, can you ever again believe in what is a holy experience or join something like the Catholic Church which is filled with all this kind of stuff? Well, the answer is yes, you can, but you’re not going to be the same person you were when you were naive about that sort of thing and didn’t know how to contextualize it or how to work with it in terms of the context you’re in.

Even within the context, let’s say within the Catholic Church or any Church, how far do you carry that belief? How far will you let that organization carry you based on that belief? Where do you draw the line? These are difficult questions. They are what I call “adult” questions. These are what happen when we mature in a faith. We become adults in those faiths and we’re a lot more careful about being led around by other people’s experiences or advice or doctrine or dogma.

Being involved in Catholicism, I have to be very agile. In fact, some of my approaches, my personal approach to Catholicism could border on heresy. I don’t know. So it’s very difficult. It’s not easy. It’s an adult problem, you know? There are no clear, absolute answers to this, whether you’re a Catholic or not.

Alex Tsakiris: I guess again I come back to the question, why do we need that group? Let’s make it personal. Why do you need that group? Why do you need Roman Catholicism as a label for whatever it is that you believe? Aren’t you to a certain extent falling into the same problems that we have with groups?

I think as you mentioned before, there’s a lot of good things that come out of groups and our association and all that, but why do these groups have such power over us? And why does Catholicism draw you in when you really kind of know there’s some hypocritical, contradictory, unresolvable issues with the doctrine and the dogma?

Joe Szimhart: Well, you can broaden the whole question into Christianity in general.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, I would. [Laughs]

Joe Szimhart: Yeah, yeah, a lot of people would, and you know, was there ever a version that had a God child? Was that borrowed from some kind of a pagan myth and inserted into the Jewish experience that Jesus ever lived?

Alex Tsakiris: At least-let’s just touch on that. It was certainly a repetition of a myth that had happened over and over again. Some Christians will tell you, “Well, that doesn’t mean just because it was a myth before it wasn’t real here.” But as rational, logical human beings we can say it certainly casts a lot of doubt on that, especially…

Joe Szimhart: Let me add some history to this. What you’re reacting to and what a lot of people react to today because we’re modernists, we’re in the scientific age, we react to what’s called Fundamentalism in religion. Fundamentalism in religion is only 100-some years old. It really emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries as a reaction to modernism and to the need for the scientific method for scientific proof which began to challenge religion.

If we look at our modern age, a lot of the modern religions, including Theosophy, Christian Science, Church of Religious Science, Science to the Mind, Scientology, it goes on and on. And the Fundamentalists in Christianity and in Islam and the Fundamentalists in Hinduism, they want to claim that their beliefs are as scientific, as true, and as absolute as the laws we find in science. So that’s the great error. These things are mysterious and they remain mysterious. We don’t have to…

Alex Tsakiris: Why would we want them to remain mysterious?

Joe Szimhart: Because they are. There is no science to be able to test it. Scientists will tell you that if you have extraordinary claims we need extraordinary evidence to test it.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, I know, but that’s not what we…

Joe Szimhart: If there’s no extraordinary evidence you have a mystery and it’s not in the realm of science to even worry about something like that. That’s in some other-we call it religion.

Alex Tsakiris: No. I just don’t agree and I don’t think we share that common understanding of science. Science is a set of tools. It’s not a position statement. We don’t draw lines in the sand, and that’s what’s the problem with that oft-repeated quote, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Of course they don’t. That’s completely unscientific because it adds a subjective measure. I could always claim that your claims are extraordinary. My claims are not. My proof is extraordinary. Your claims are not. Science is about trying to bring some objective measures to these things, but it’s still just a game. It’s just a tool. We don’t wind up with any truth. We just wind up…

Joe Szimhart: Let me stop you right there. I understand where you’re going with this because I’ve been through these arguments before and I’ve read Dawkin’s books and all that sort of thing about these issues. I’m a member of the Skeptical Inquirer organization. I’ve gotten their magazine. I helped set up a skeptics group in New Mexico when it first formed with Ken Frazier.

Alex Tsakiris: I didn’t know that. I feel for you.

Joe Szimhart: So I’m aware of all these kinds of arguments but going back to Catholicism, there is more despite everything else, everything that people see about the Catholic Church, there is more rigor in examining supernatural events in the Catholic Church than any other religious organization that I’ve found. There have been a lot of priests and clerics that have been scientists. Father Lemaitre was the mathematician who convinced Einstein of the Theory of Singularity from a mathematical point of view. He was a practicing priest and yet he was a very strict mathematician. He argued to the Pope’s people not to use that scientific evidence to prove their religion. He said, “You can’t do that.”

Alex Tsakiris: Again, boy, you kind of threw me for a loop here when we’re talking about Catholicism and next you’re telling me that you’re also a skeptic. I don’t know how you square those things. I’ll tell you a little bit about my journey here on this show. I’ll tie it back to What the Bleep because when I first brought up this scientist, you were quick to jump in there and say, “Put those scientists’ names in quotes and put the whole idea…”

Joe Szimhart: No, I was talking about the movie. The What the Bleep movie. I don’t see any science in that film.

Alex Tsakiris: Well of course not. One of the guys we’ve interviewed from that movie is Dean Radin and he’s an extremely, extremely highly-regarded scientist who’s explored these controversial topics like precognition and telepathy and the Ganzfeld Experiment. But he’s a very rigorous guy. Used to work at the Stanford Research Institute, was a professor for a long time. Those are the kind of people we’ve talked to a lot.

What we’ve found is that there is this skeptical side, this group that you’re familiar with, who uses the reverse of these tools that you’re talking about to deny. Deny any kind of scientific reality that comes out, to hold to a particular worldview in the same way that you see on the other side in terms of what cults do. And I’m not calling skeptics cults because there are so many groups that are cultish.

But what I think is interesting and I just really want to pull this apart with you because all this stuff, we’ll never get to all of it. We’d have a four-hour discussion that no one would be that interested in listening to except for me.

I want to get back to the blade of the sword and how we fall on either side because we do have these spiritual experiences. On one side we have this group that is going to be strongly, strongly-because I’ve run into them-inclined to deny and explain away that experience in the most ordinary terms. It couldn’t have happened. And on that same side, are many, many Christian and other religious people who will also deny that experience because it doesn’t fit within their doctrine and dogma.

So they’ll say, “Yes, miracles can happen. Back 2,000 years ago when Jesus was here. Yes, you can go to Heaven and see God and Jesus but only 2,000 years ago or only in this context or only if you see these certain things.” I’ve had guests on who said exactly that, who said the near-death experience can’t be true because it doesn’t conform to what the Bible says you’ll see in Heaven. And this whole way of thinking is really, I think, troublesome to me because it doesn’t give us any chance to really understand and analyze, as you’re talking about, the spiritual experience.

But then, if we fall on the other side of the sword that cuts this issue, we get into this other area that you’ve dealt with so much, and that’s with the cultish, not always New Age, but a set of beliefs that someone attaches to that experience and then that can lead to some very destructive behavior, whether that person sees it or not.

So I don’t know where the question is in there, but that’s what I want to get back to talking about is how we figure out and we have one foot in both worlds in accepting that spiritual experience for whatever it is and also trying to bring it back and make it make sense in our real, day-to-day life.

Joe Szimhart: Let me put this more in pedestrian terms because I get asked this question nearly by everyone where I’ve had a successful intervention. You know, where I’m able to-which is about 60% of the people I’ve met in these circumstances that end up leaving the group while I’m talking to them. And I invariably get asked, “Okay, if that’s not true,” in other words if Ramtha’s not true or Scientology is not true or whatever, then they look at me and say, “Well, what is true? You seem to know so much. What’s true?” [Laughs] And I look back at them and I say, “Well, first of all, you’re asking the wrong question.”

Alex Tsakiris: What are your questions?

Joe Szimhart: The ones I continue to ask. I mean, I still question the core beliefs of Christianity.

Alex Tsakiris: What I was really asking there is when you said you counsel folks and you say if you’re going to ask those big, huge questions, those unanswerable questions, maybe those are not the right questions…

Joe Szimhart: They’re not the right questions to start with. You shouldn’t start with those questions.

Alex Tsakiris: What are the questions you think that folks should start with?

Joe Szimhart: Well, you begin with the self. After someone leaves a cult like that they tend to be somewhat confused. So you look at yourself and say, “Well, I’m kind of confused. I feel lost.”

“Okay. What did you like about the group? What got you into it?” So you start examining that.

The reality around us that we see, that we perceive, our perception, there’s an interaction and it will shape around us in some way. We will begin picking up cues in the environment that reinforce our new direction. We will see coincidences happening. For instance, in that book, The Celestine Prophecy, which was really famous about 15 years ago. Do you know which one I mean?

Alex Tsakiris: Of course. But let me…

Joe Szimhart: He calls them insights to whatever was happening to him. In a way, a lot of people identified with that book, even though the book was a farce in my estimation. I reviewed it for the Skeptical Inquirer. People will believe in that…

Alex Tsakiris: What are you doing messing around with the Skeptical Inquirer? They do not believe there is any such thing as a spiritual experience. To me, we keep kind of dancing around. I understand where you’re coming from because first of all, you provide in the videos that I’ve seen, you have an amazing sensitivity and ability to work with people and at the same time, stick to your message, stick to your agenda, and communicate information that’s helpful to people. I think you’re extremely talented at what you do. I haven’t had a lot of exposure to exit counselors but you’re just fantastic.

But in terms of this discussion we’re having, Joe, we keep bouncing back in terms of the kind of modern psychology in terms of how you can recover, which I know is your thing in the people that you deal with, and the underlying reality. I mean, if there is a spiritual reality-I mean, the work that I’ve done, the science that I’ve explored with top scientists, medical doctors–Pim Van Lommel worked 25 years in a hospital in the Netherlands. Jeff Long, a radiation oncologist in Louisiana who studied near-death experience. The conclusion is from that scientifically, medically, consciousness survives death in some way we don’t understand, okay?

Joe Szimhart: Right.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s a scientific fact as much as any other scientific fact we have. Now, the Skeptical Inquirer people do not go there because they have an Atheist agenda that does not allow them. Talk about a dogma. That’s their dogma and they can’t get there.

But here, to me, is the issue. If consciousness survives death-and it does-then we have to be open to your Christian experience, that there is such a thing as Jesus. There is such a thing as God. There is such a thing as Buddha. And that it’s in some way that we don’t understand. But all that seems to be the likely bet, if you will. So then at the same time, we also have to process evil and Devil and Satan. I don’t want to get into that and process that right now, but I don’t…

Joe Szimhart: Well, let me stop you there because-yeah, go ahead.

Alex Tsakiris: …I don’t think we can step back and then resort back to looking at the human experience and say, “Yeah, but people can get sucked into stuff and believe stuff that isn’t true.” Hey, we know that. Who cares? The real issue is there is an underlying truth to it that we haven’t fully integrated into our society, into our thought process, or even into this conversation. The underlying reality is that there is this other spiritual dimension that is out there.

Joe Szimhart: Okay, you bring up the word “spiritual.” One of the chestnuts I keep hearing from people in our modern age is, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” You’ve heard that, right?

Alex Tsakiris: Right.

Joe Szimhart: Okay. I question the word “religion” for one thing. It can go in many directions. What it means to bind back to a system of belief and behavior, that’s what religion essentially means. Spiritual, on the other hand, doesn’t mean it’s holy. Doesn’t mean it’s good. You can have good and bad spirits in the so-called spiritual world, if you want to go there. Every experience in any religion will bring that up, whether it’s Tibetan Buddhism, the Hindu faith, the Catholic faith, the Jewish faith. There is something about the Angel and the Devil in this so-called spiritual realm so we can say it’s real?

Or near-death experiences that have been examined by some of the best minds in the world say, “Yeah, the evidence is there, it’s real.” But how far does the near-death experience take one? We don’t know that. It may be kind of a level of another world or a Heaven that is just the beginning. You know, Saint Paul called this “the third Heaven,” or whatever it was…

Alex Tsakiris: I’m open to all that but it seems to me that we’re kind of bouncing around. The issue is that there is this other dimension to consciousness. Let’s not even go with exploring it or saying it’s good or evil or Saint Paul…

Joe Szimhart: Okay, I see what you’re saying. Some people will erase that. Well, I understand the Skeptical Inquirer crowd which is somewhat a wing of a Humanist and Atheist who is trying to reform the way we see society. He’s more religious than I am in some ways about his agenda. I understand that. I understand that crowd.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I wish you the best of luck with your work. Again, we’ll link up to your website and anyone who has an issue with a family member or a friend or just wants to learn more about these issues and problems that crop up with cults, I encourage them to get in touch with you. Thanks so much for joining me today, Joe.

Joe Szimhart: Appreciate the talk. I enjoyed it.

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