Tearing Down the House
Imagine that you owned a house, and you discovered what might be a serious problem with its construction. This is a problem that you yourself are not qualified to deal with – let’s say that it’s some combination of engineering and local construction code which only someone with intense training and experience could competently solve. You call a contractor, or an engineer, someone who professes and certifies their expertise in exactly this sort of matter. You pay this person to inspect the damage and give their honest opinion, and recommend a way forward. They tell you bad news – not only is this damage severe, you must tear down your whole house. There’s no way around it. You ask why and they tell you ‘it’s just how it is, I know, because I’m an engineer.’ What else could you say? In the interest of your family’s safety and obeying the law – you tear down your home, presumably to move into an apartment nearby. Maybe you have to money to rebuild, maybe you don’t.
Let’s say that down the road, in about six months, you find out that not only was your house not unsafe, but no laws requiring it to be torn down even exist, and your engineer was lying. They did this to your face, in a public setting and in an official capacity, and they were wrong. Would that person not be responsible? Imagine that this house was in the family for years – wouldn’t that kind of willful fraud be a crime? Isn’t it a gross violation of trust and common decency to profess expertise that one does not have, with the knowledge that people will make decisions on your advice which could impact their lives and those of their family?
Sylvia Browne is a very famous psychic, and she is a liar and a fraud. In a modern world populated by actual adults, this should go without saying, but occasionally the hucksters who peddle supernatural counseling are caught in such an outrageous lie that it earns and deserves greater attention. On the Montel Williams show in 2004, Browne gave a ‘reading’ for the poor mother of Amanda Berry, the girl turned woman who implausibly escaped captivity yesterday in dramatic fashion. Browne’s prediction that not only was Amanda Berry dead and gone (she was not) but that Browne had contact with her spirit in the afterlife, and that Berry was “in heaven and on the other side” is the latest and most obvious evidence of Browne’s ramshackle voodoo and blatant abuse of grieving and hurting people for her own personal profit and fame.
There is a case to be made for spiritual guidance in hard times, and often, the grieving look to spiritual counselors to answer hard questions for which there are no answer. To varying degrees, faiths and communities fill in those unknowns with wisdom and comfort, sometimes with myths and traditions, and the best provide terrestrial counsel that can ease the pain of loss in the here and now.
What Browne and her cohorts in the field of mediums and psychics do is short circuit that comfort and healing. They do it by lying openly about powers they do not possess, and truly no one could possess, and then dispensing dollar-store platitudes in place of actual introspective and transformative therapy or mercy. Instead of finding help through the difficult time of loss, they are shown cheap illusions that no one in a moment of clarity would believe, and they spend money hand over fist to satisfy a need for further delusion and false hope. And psychics like Browne are only too happy to play along, milking the unfortunate for anything they can, to dispense wisdom they do not have.
I spent some time working for a company which sold as its primary product spiritually counseling like the kind Browne provides. I tried to skate the line between selling that product and being truthful about my perceptions of its value, and the ‘powers’ the psychics claimed to control. After a while, I could no longer make the subtle deflections of earnest questions from desperate callers, looking for answers with credit card in hand. I no longer participate in such business, because it is a hoax. And while some of it can be entertaining and even profound, the fraud of mediums’ and ghost whispering hurts people when they are at their most vulnerable. Sylvia Browne should be liable for the emotional damage she inflicted on that poor mother, who tore down the hope in her heart on Browne’s advice, when her living daughter was just miles away, praying for real help, here on Earth.