A Few Thoughts About The New Netflix John of God Documentary & How It Relates To Cultic Abuse, Power, Accountability, & Spiritual Bypassing

 
*Trigger alert: Sexual abuse and cultic narcissistic predation is mentioned.
 
As someone who spent ten years researching my book Sacred Medicine, which comes out April 2022 with Sounds True, “John of God” (who clearly was not of God) was very much on my radar. Countless people had sent me testimonials reporting miracle cures performed by this psychic medium spiritist who allegedly channels “entities.” Sound kooky? I thought so, but stories of remarkable outcomes were all over the internet too. Even Oprah had platformed him- twice. I mean what bigger endorsement can you get?
 
My naive, curious researcher parts that wanted to believe in miracles tried several times to get me down to Brazil after being invited by a man in his twenties who had spent years down there after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 9 that was supposed to kill him but obviously didn’t after he spent months in the “current room,” treated frequently by the “healer.”
 
Perhaps by good luck or maybe by cosmic protection, my trip down there never happened. By the time I had done several years of my research and was seeing one dark, scary, unethical energy healer and shaman nightmare after another, I was skeptical and wary about what might be going on down there. After I heard rumors that he might be sexually abusing people, I just decided to drop the idea of going to Brazil all together. If he was raping vulnerable sick people, I didn’t want to have anything to do with him, even if he was curing cancer, which did seem to be happening sometimes, from what I could figure.
 
I did wind up using John of God as a cautionary tale in the chapter I wrote about The Shadow of Sacred Medicine, in which I disclosed some of the bystander trauma I experienced listening to second-hand accounts of the ways people had been harmed by so-called celebrity healers. The dozens of people whose careers I could have ruined by disclosing what I knew weighed heavy on my soul and I did lots of therapy sessions and talked to some reporters, off the record. Yet because none of it happened to me directly, I didn’t have enough proof to call the cops, and almost all of it was hearsay rather than my direct experience that could have given me the power to press charges and hold someone accountable.
 
Now, watching this very disturbing documentary about the serial sexual abuse, gangster-like behavior, and cultic dynamics of The Casa in Abadiania, I’m grateful I never went down there but feel absolutely devastated that so many hundreds of women got hurt and so many others got conned. I know lots of people personally who did visit Brazil or Omega in New York to see him and some of them expressed having a good experience, but clearly, way too many people had absolutely horrific experiences of abuse to justify any of it.
 
The most crushing part of the documentary is the ending, when after being sentenced to 63 years of jail time, John of God is back at The Casa with an ankle monitor, wearing an emerald ring, holding a scrapbook, and petting a cover photo of Oprah on O Magazine, staring into the camera with a “gotcha” look, like he got away with the abuse, sitting on his throne in the Casa, and Oprah had helped him. It’s dizzying to realize, as we all look back with our retrospectoscopes, that Oprah, the queen of female empowerment, was responsible for helping promote him to countless foreigners who trusted her discernment. The hardened look in his eyes made me queasy, the trauma these women endured made me cry, and the anger that flared through me made me want to scream with rage. Weirdly, I also felt sad hearing the stories of how John of God cried in prison so loud that his cellmates complained. Knowing what I know about trauma, it probably wasn’t from remorse or loss that he was crying. He probably has a very young part that relied on being adored by thousands of people, and without the adulation, a young exile was screaming. I know people get upset if you express even one bit of compassion for the perpetrator of abuse, and please don’t misunderstand. I have LOADS more compassion for the victims he hurt, and I’m furious about what he did. And I’m furious he is not getting punished more right now. It doesn’t make any of it okay, and obviously, I sympathize way more with the victims than with their abuser, but still, trauma is sad. Hurt people hurt people, and it’s sad.
 
Still, I’m pissed. HOW IS HE NOT IN JAIL??? I did not realize this until I watched the documentary. Last I heard was a New York Times article saying he was in jail and had been sentenced to spend the rest of his life there. Hearing that he’s back in the Casa left me outraged.
His crying, devastated victims, whose stories are sickening and hard to watch for anyone, much less empaths, were at home in lockdown while he was also home in lockdown. How is this justice, one of them asked, that his victims are on house arrest and so is he?
 
I’m so tired of trying to explain the nuance of how I see the world this year when we are reckoning with power, abuses of power, and how we’re going to hold accountable those who use power in abusive ways. We are wrestling with the #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, QAnon, the Capitol Insurrection, the narcissistic abuses of politicians, cultic spiritual leaders being called out on the Conspirituality podcast and elsewhere, and all the other ways we’re using and abusing power and hurting people. But let me try to summarize the nuance again, to explain what I see us doing so badly and how we might do it better as a culture, especially in the world of spirituality and healing.
 
1. We need to believe victims SOONER. Our system HAS to make it safe for those who are abused by narcissistic abusers to speak up, be protected, be believed, press charges, win their cases when there’s evidence that it happened, and at least get a moment of peace from feeling like the perpetrators of abuse were held accountable for the damage they cause. Since nobody can take away their pain or ever undo what was done, the least we can do is give them the satisfaction of justice. AND…
 
2. We need to teach vulnerable trauma survivors how to spot and avoid boundary wounded narcissistic people who use love bombing, narcissistic spell casting, and hooking them by making their young exiled parts feel special and chosen to groom their prey and lure them into abuse situations. AND…
 
3. We need to get trauma survivors who might be prey for cults treatment BEFORE they get into the cult if at all possible so they can stay safer. AND…
 
4. If we’re too late and those trauma survivors get victimized by cultic leaders, we need to get cutting-edge trauma therapies to victims of cultic narcissistic abuse in a scalable, affordable, compassionate, gentle, and effective way. Abusers should pay for this treatment, not victims. AND…
 
5. Once they are in jail or wherever the court systems have decided they need to be, we need to get narcissistic abusers treated for their traumas, rather than dehumanizing them, demonizing them, and casting them out of the wholeness of humanity by labeling them a monster. Narcissistic predation is a developmental trauma symptom, and all trauma deserves our compassion and needs to be treated with cutting-edge trauma therapies. Nobody should be dehumanized, labeled a monster, or exiled from the wholeness of humanity, not even narcissistic abusers. “No trauma survivor left behind” has been my motto this year. AND…
 
6. We need to hold people who blend with cultic narcissist parts accountable for the boundary violating abusive behavior they commit. Extending compassion and understanding that narcissistic abuse is a trauma symptom DOES NOT equate to letting anyone off the hook. AND…
 
7. We have a right to feel outraged and frightened when someone is violating our boundaries or the boundaries of other vulnerable people who need to be protected. Anger and fear are not something to be suppressed or spiritually bypassed. All emotions are our friends and can help us have more emotional intelligence. Because cultic narcissistic abusers USE spiritual bypassing as their tool for getting off the hook of accountability for their bad behavior, we need to stop valorizing, publishing, and spreading the teachings of spiritually bypassing teachers. AND…
 
8. People who abuse their power, especially when they abuse spiritual power in the name of healing, need to feel appropriate shame for the harm they cause others. Shame is not a bad feeling; it’s a necessary feeling. Being shameless is not a pro-social way to be part of a community. You’re SUPPOSED to feel bad when you violate someone else’s boundaries or participate in platforming someone who does! And that painful feeling is SUPPOSED to motivate you to stop doing the bad thing, confess to the crime, apologize, feel regret and remorse, try to initiate repair, make any amends you can make, and accept responsibility for the harm you’ve done by surrendering to however you are held accountable. AND…
 
9. Those who unwittingly and innocently platform abusers ALSO need to be held accountable for how we help perpetuate cultic narcissistic abuse and predation. Publishers, TV media presences, online influencers, podcasters, journalists, writers, bloggers, …we are ALL complicit in how this goes down. We all make mistakes. I’ve certainly been guilty of platforming some nut jobs in the past when my own young exiled parts got lured into their web of narcissistic spell casting and love bombing before I got into therapy after my mother died in 2017. I’ve also tried to go public to say “I’m sorry I platformed someone who might have conned you, abused you, or led you astray,” as when I publicly listed the spiritual teachers and healers who I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because of what I know as the result of my bystander trauma, many of whom are very famous (and very wealthy) authors. Just because our intentions are good when we platform someone untrustworthy doesn’t mean we aren’t still participating in a power dynamic where other vulnerable people get hurt, and we need to out ourselves and try to do better. AND…
 
10. I’m sure Oprah had good intentions when she featured John of God on her show- twice. But intentions are not what matter; outcomes are what matter. I seriously hope Oprah watches this documentary and does more than issue some lame legalese statement to OWN up to her part in this horrific tragedy as a way to redistribute power, platform, and privilege. What if she volunteered to pay a settlement to each one of those victims as a way to try to make it right and apologize for misleading vulnerable sick people? What if she issued a public apology and expressed her regret, remorse, outrage, and compassion for the victims for even unwittingly participating in even one woman getting raped because she saw Oprah endorse him? If the court system isn’t going to put John of God in a jail cell and give the victims a way to feel like he was held accountable, let’s pray Oprah does something to leverage her boundless resources to help those victims know they deserve to have some amends made for the wrong that was done to them. If she really wants to support #MeToo survivors the way she says she does, I pray she paves the way to show us how to get this right for the people she may have been involved in harming through her promotion of John of God. AND…
 
11. We HAVE to stop either glorifying or demonizing the narcissists! Our whole culture is based on sucking up to narcissists until they have their inevitable fall (because without treatment, they will hit rock bottom, assuming we hold them accountable, which we’re not doing well enough yet.) But part of that is because we built our culture on power imbalances that need to equal out. STAT. As long as status, money, and power are based on one person being “one up” and another being “one down,” cultic narcissistic abuse dynamics are built into the culture. AND…
 
12. To change the culture, we have to give up the rewards our culture is based on so we can redistribute power and privilege, connected to the heart of healing. This has to go all the way beyond holding cult leaders accountable and impact EVERY SINGLE WAY the United States has taken advantage of the “one down” in order to fluff up the “one up.” We have to hold accountable those narcissistic (mostly male, property-owning) abusers who were responsible for slavery, genocide, leaving our kids a global climate crisis, and systemic racism. We need to find a way to have truth and reconciliation so we can make amends to those who have been hurt. My country has not even begun to do that, and it must start now. Bishop Tutu, help us! AND…
 
13. That includes holding those responsible for Covid misinformation, anti-mask, anti-lockdown, and anti-vaccine lies accountable for the harm they have done. I’m talking to you, Facebook. And every lying, ruthless, narcissistic doctor who has spread misinformation to puff up their own power and protect their self-interests. I’m talking to you, cultic narcissistic influencers in the Disinformation Dozen, who are responsible for 65% of the misinformation about the pandemic on social media. You should all feel healthy and appropriate shame for playing a role in harming vulnerable people at the cost of 700,000 American lives. I’m not talking to the everyday vaccine-hesitant person who has a right to be mistrusting of authorities in my country. I know our freedoms are important, and I know it’s scary to give some of them up when you don’t trust authorities (understandably) because you’ve been traumatized and brainwashed already by conventional medicine, the government, your parents, cultic influencers, and whoever else has hurt you with their gaslighting and abuse. I’m sorry for whatever happened to anyone who is still vaccine-hesitant, and of course, you are still free to choose to get vaccinated or not- and to accept the consequences of that free will choice, should you lose your job or your kid’s public school or whatever other privilege you might lose because you chose not to opt in to protect a public health boundary. But those at the pinnacles of power, like doctors Christiane Northrup, Kelly Brogan, and Joseph Mercola, have you no compassion whatsoever? How dare you betray your Hippocratic Oath this way. I am embarrassed and feel ashamed that my name was ever associated with any of these people or that I ever helped platform any of them. And I also understand that their cultic narcissistic abuse of power is a trauma symptom and deserves our compassion (and needs treatment they’ll probably never get.) AND…
 
14. We need a global, integrity-based governing body (not just education-based as some of the greatest healers in the world work from slums or fire pits) to hold to account people who abuse their power when they’re in healing roles. Doctors and therapists are held to account with board certification and licensure. But who can I report the people who I’ve heard are abusing people to? I send people to New Age Frauds & Plastic Shamans where there’s a forum. But we need something better than that. Certification? Oversight? A Yelp of healers, maybe, something we can crowdsource. Give reviews and report abuses. Curiously, when I talk to the healers, few of them want this. I get shushed. They think they’re above a governing board or public accountability. One of the spiritual communities I’ve participated in started the Association of Spiritual Integrity. Very few of the famous male spiritual teachers in that community joined or signed the integrity agreements we promised to hold each other accountable to. Why not? Probably because many openly admit that they feel entitled to sleep with their clients and many have married workshop students and sangha members. And the ASI agrees that this is an unethical boundary violation that preys upon power imbalances and transference.
 
15. We need to find a new way to share power equally, all of us, every single one. I have no idea how to do that, but if there’s anything I can do with the power I have to change this at the most fundamental level, count me in. Any ideas?
 
I’d love to hear how you all feel about all this (with a reminder to please not share any vaccine links, because most of what people post about vaccines is not accurate, and it’s a headache for us to moderate out the vaccine misinformation.) Let’s crowdsource this, express our feelings about this horrible John of God situation, help each other heal, brainstorm new ways of equalizing power and dealing with hoarding power, wealth, or privilege, figure out how we can hold people accountable for even the well-intentioned harm they do, and how we somehow keep our hearts boundaried but open as we try to figure this out.
 
I do believe that if we are willing to give up the reward of being smug and self-righteous, idealizing those we like and demonizing those we don’t like, if we are able to create a more just world where power and privilege are redistributed so everyone can have a voice and a vote, if we can find a spirituality that does not rely on cultic leaders who abuse people to bring us together to enjoy our open hearts, if we can hold abusive trauma survivors accountable without demonizing them or withholding our compassion, if we can engage the forces of darkness in a way that Love, the most powerful force in the Universe, wins, we will find a deeper reward- of intimacy with life, each other, the Earth and her treasures. Perhaps, therein lies real healing…
 

Love,

Lissa

Lissa Rankin

 

 

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