Madonna’s American Life is reminiscent of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. When most people saw it for the first time; excitement gave way to confusion, then embarrassment, then anger, and finally, sadness and a deep disappointment. Why? Because a childhood icon had been thoroughly despoiled.
Obviously there are some out there that legitimately enjoy American Life. There are more who profess to enjoy it only because Madonna made it. They’re part of the Madonna cult, just as many defenders of The Phantom Menace are part of a Star Wars cult. Criticizing Madonna, like criticizing Star Wars, is heresy to these people. It’s as if you’re attacking their very identity. Blind worship such as this is dangerous.
The simple fact, for most people, is that American Life is not witty, fun, energizing, or deep. In cases where the melodies actually complement the music, as in “Nothing Fails”, the music is overshadowed by self-important, ponderous, preachy lyrics. Madonna’s viewpoint that love is more important than material success is a valid one- but is it, as she says, an extreme one? Hasn’t this attitude been enacted in popular culture from the 60s onward by a dizzying amount of celebrities?
Nonetheless, this revelation has caused Madonna to proclaim her new-found ideals to us in recorded form. Underlying American Life is an indictment of an America that is “completely obsessed…[with] looking good, having cash in the bank, being perceived as rich, famous and successful or just being famous.” And while Madonna understands the irony inherent in these statements, she has seemingly forgotten that critics have also been leveling these charges at her since the beginning of her career.
In the past few years, though, we have seen change. Ray of Light was, perhaps, Madonna’s most overt turn towards the spiritual. Its lessons were turned inward, giving the public a Madonna that questioned herself and others.
American Life, on the other hand, does nothing but give “answers”. The album speaks down to us from a high perch, claiming that Madonna’s lessons are America’s lessons. Throughout the album we are bludgeoned with the keys to happiness- Madonna’s keys to happiness.
So what happened? How did Madonna turn from the most confident, enthralling, independent performer in pop music into this whining buzzkill?
This may be the reason: Kabbalah is a dangerous cult and Madonna has been brainwashed.
Flashback to 1998: Madonna has won a Golden Globe for Evita and Lourdes has been born. At the time, Madonna claims happiness.
Now- back to 2003: Madonna now admits to having felt very, very sad and alone during this time period and it is precisely at lost, weakened moments like this that people are most vulnerable to cults. Enter Rabbi Philip Berg and the Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles.
To be fair, Kabbalah as a whole is not a cult, or at least, is no more of a cult than Islam or Christianity. But the form of Kabbalah taught at the Kabbalah Centre by Rabbi Berg, the kind Madonna studies and promotes, most definitely is.
Take for instance, Berg’s claim to the title of Doctor. Odd, then, that “in some of his books he alleges to have a doctorate in ���comparative religion,’ while another source claims his doctorate to be in ���jurisprudence in biblical law.’” When taken to task about these differing stories, Berg admits that “in fact – he has no academic degree at all – and that his alleged “doctorate” is “part of his smichah (ordination)”. Everyone knows, of course, that there is no such thing. “
For his public lectures Berg advertises himself invariably as “the greatest Kabbalist in the world;” “the world’s foremost authority on the Kabbalah;” “a living Kabbalist and the rarest of teachers;” or other such flamboyant terms of self-aggrandizement. Outside of his own Centre and circle of followers, neither the academic nor the Jewish religious worlds know anything about him except for the anomalies of his centers. They have absolutely no regard for him, his teachings, writings or activities. In fact, he is universally condemned by both the orthodox rabbinate and contemporary schools of Jewish mysticism in Israel, the USA and elsewhere, as a charlatan.
In “Has Madonna joined a cult?”, Rick Ross, a renowned cult expert, writes of the many additional problems for which the Kabbalah Centre has been criticized. His research uncovered a great deal of information helping to paint Berg as an extorter, abusive, and perhaps most damning of all: a deliverer of false promises.
Ross quotes Canadian rabbi Emanuel Schochet, a rabbinical scholar and authority on Jewish mysticism, as claiming that Berg has engaged in “acts of extortion by scaring naïve people with all kinds of evil and curses that will come upon them if they refuse to offer money for the Kabbalah Centre” and also making “ludicrous promises of physical health and wealth if they will purchase their publications”.
And while the condemnations of traditional Jewish religious centers such as the Toronto Vaad HaRabonim [rabbinical council], the Bet Din [Jewish religious court] of Johannesburg, the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, the New York Jewish Community Task Force on Missionaries and Cults, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Cult Clinic Hotline of New York can possibly all be written off due to the jealousy of losing parishioners to Kabbalah, there is little dispute over the actions of the Centre in the past that have drawn such criticism.In fact, Rachel Bernstein, a therapist and coordinator at the Cult Hotline and Clinic of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York, began to collect her own batch of horror stories from former Kabbalah members after she began to track the center’s activities in the mid 90s.
Her tales include “a woman with a missing child who was told by Rabbi Berg that he would help find her daughter if she devoted a year of service to the Kabbalah Center.” At the end of the year, Berg had neither found the child nor claimed that he had agreed to help the woman.
Much stranger and vaguely threatening, “a man…wound up in the hospital feeling suicidal and wondered if the Kabbalah Center was to blame. Upon joining, he had been told to stop taking his depression medication. Instead, he had been told to buy the Zohar [Berg’s book] and scan it with his fingers. The energy flowing from the Zohar would protect him from psychological problems.”
And finally, and perhaps most frightening, in 1992 a California rabbi “found a bloody sheep’s head stuffed into a plastic bag hanging on his office doorknob after he distributed the proclamation from Toronto rabbis criticizing the Kabbalah Center.” Later on that day, a group of men appeared at his door and asked in Hebrew if he had received and understood the message that they had sent. No evidence was collected that explicitly tied the Kabbalah Center to the incident, however.
So what does all of this have to do with Madonna? Upon the heels of the successful Scientologist movement, Kabblah has begun to attract some of Hollywood’s elite to their ranks. Elizabeth Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Love, Barbra Streisand, Marla Maples, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern have all at one time or another been involved with the group. But most notably for Madonna was her friend Sandra Bernhard, reportedly bringing the singer to the Center. In obvious loneliness and despondent despite the recent birth of her first child, Madonna took refuge in Berg’s Center.
She, in fact, credits “the Kabbalah Center with “creative guidance” on her Ray of Light album and delivered her daughter by cesarean section on a day recommended by her Kabbalah spiritual advisor.”
In addition, Madonna has given her money and her vocal support to the group, at one point exclaiming during an interview with Matt Lauer that the Kabbalah: “is the code to the universe!”
And while it is exciting to see Madonna perhaps truly at peace with herself, one wonders. One hallmark of joining a cult is the rejection of the past. Madonna used to have “absolutely no regrets”. But now, while never exactly saying “I have regrets”, she clearly does: “I thought I was doing a service to mankind, being a revolutionary, liberating women – I wasn’t.” Or: “I was a buffoon until the age of 40.”
Is this “spiritual growth” or is this self-hatred disguised as enlightenment?
Another sign of cult behavior is in its domination of every aspect of a person’s life. A cult’s importance must be paramount. Tellingly, John Norris in an MTV interview asked Madonna, “What is the single biggest change in your life over the past few years? Is it marriage, is it children, is it Kabbalah?” Madonna’s reply? “Well, it’s all of those things. Obviously studying Kabbalah has changed my whole outlook on life..” Kabbalah takes center stage, even over her marriage and her children?
Going further, on her Dateline special, Madonna asked that Dateline not interview her husband. She proffered her Kabbalah teacher instead. Not a shock in and of itself, but his claim that Madonna was “definitely” among the “1%” of people who truly understood the Kabbalah was. For someone who doesn’t read Hebrew and has only studied part time since 1998, it is clear that Madonna has risen above the traditional Kabbalists that study full time for years… after the age of 40, after decades of studying Judaism… and yet still profess to understanding little of the Kabbalah. Or perhaps Madonna’s “teachers” know exactly how to butter her up.
This may have something to do with the fact that Madonna is helping to produce a documentary on the Kabbalah and is self-publishing a series of Kabbalah themed children’s books.
How many people will Madonna lead to the Kabbalah Centre to be exploited? There’s something self-centered, literally, about the Kabbalah, as Madonna puts it: “[Kabbalah is] several things. One is that we are all connected. That you and a person that lives on the other side of the world is an extension of me.”
Madonna also claims that “any success I have is a manifestation of God. It’s my ego that wants to claim ownership. It’s hubris, arrogance and greed.” But what is more arrogant? Crediting success to the talented team behind you, your hard work, and your fans…or claiming that it’s God?
These questions are largely unanswerable ones. What is obvious is the fact thatAmerican Life is as shallow as the culture it berates. It is the sound of regret. It is the sound of a once strong woman now brainwashed and wounded. It is the self-help book of a lonely, spoiled celebrity.
Kabbalah has turned Madonna into preachy, submissive, self-flagellating disappointment. An icon, ruined. An icon actively recruiting, as well. Members often work hard to convert others into their cult and their way of thinking. As Madonna told People magazine: “I don’t want people to dress like me anymore. Now I want them to think like me. Dress like Britney Spears and think like me, and everything will be fine.”
I’m not Jayson Blair. In addition to the quotations that I linked to above, here’s more information on the Kabbalah Centre and its practices:
“The Cabal of the Kabbalah Centre Exposed: New Relations”The Israeli Magazine Tel Aviv, September 1994
“The Accidental Kabbalist”City Link Magazine, January 2001
“But all is not what it seems..”Self Magazine, November 1998
And finally here’s the Kabbalah Centre itself.
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