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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Author of Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of 100+ essays on this website.
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Marc Gafni on Dr. Phil

‘I Don't Know What The Hell You're Trying To Say’

Marc Gafni Appears on Dr. Phil's Show
in Defense Against a "Smear Campaign"

Frank Visser

I think the whole Gafni-abuse-phenomenon is very complex: about everything that has been said about him might be true.

Two years ago the New York Times featured an article on integral teacher Marc Gafni, and the history of alleged sexual abuse that has followed his long career as a rabbi and a New Age guru.[1] The author of the article published a sequel a few days later on Tablet, an online Jewish magazine of his own.[2]. I commented on this media controversy on Integral World in two essays, one covering the issue of sexual abuse[3] and one more specifically on the validity of Gafni's (and Ken Wilber's) more speculative mystical-cosmological teachings.[4].

Emotions have ran high at both ends of the spectrum so far. Gafni has been called everything between a "Prophet of Eros" and a "Diabolic Demon".[5] The mundane conclusion I reached was that in these matters of alleged sexual abuse, it is very hard to get at the heart of these controversies and that there may be truth to both sides of the argument—even though that conclusion may be unwelcome to all parties concerned.

In the year following the publication of these articles, Gafni set up his own defense on a separate website www.whoismarcgafni.com, which features many videos of Gafni speaking directly to his many critics, as well as glowing testimonials from his close supporters and colleagues. It has continued to occasionally post related articles, most recently on the current #MeToo campaign, false accusations, victim feminism and fake news—a veritable minefield, of course. The website also contains a long 89-page essay by Clint Fuhs, which summarizes the defense arguments in great detail.[6]

Contrarian voices have been collected as well, most notably on the website themarcgafniinquiry.com. As one example, one woman described her time with Gafni as his lover as "it literally felt as if my life force was being sucked away as an energy vampire." One integral therapist (and conference organizer) voiced as his opinion that "Marc Gafni helped semi-destroy the Integral Movement". What is more, several New Age luminaries (Deepak Chopra, Andrew Harvey, Jean Houston) and Integral teachers/leaders (Terry Patten, Robb Smith) undersigned a petition stating that "we cannot endorse Marc Gafni as a teacher in any way."[7]

MARC GAFNI ON THE DR. PHIL SHOW

Recently Marc Gafni personally took up his own defense again, while featuring in an episode of Dr. Phil, called "Spiritual Leader In The Spotlight: Ex-Rabbi Accused".[8]

“Anyone who’s trying to do something to change things and who has some life force, people try and take them down. Our goal together is to evolve the source code of culture and to develop new visions of love, new visions of sexuality.”

“You have been called the following: demon, devil, child rapist, pedophile, statutory rapist, confessed child molester…” Gafni: “None of them are true.”

“You just said, ‘I was in love with her.’ She was a child, Marc. You were a 19-year-old man and you’re saying you were in love with a 13-year-old child? Does that not fit in your ear wrong?”

“He walked into my bedroom and he just said to me, ‘You look like you needed a hug today.’ I was very much taken aback by this.”

Marc Gafni on Dr. Phil
“I think you’re filibustering, and I think you’re self-delusional, and I think you’re playing semantics with me. I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to say now.”
[This video was not available on YouTube so you get redirected to www.drphil.com]

“You have managed to become alienated/at odds with a substantial number of people in two areas that you have invested a lot of your life in. I’m just curious what your ownership is in that.”

In the video above, Gafni, who has never been arrested, charged or convicted of any sexual crime, shares what he says he wants people to know at this point.

WHAT TO MAKE OF ALL THIS?

I am not sure if this TV appearance has helped Gafni's case a lot. He comes across as a slick, talkative person who denies responsibility in one sentence while "fully" taking it in the next. Dr. Phil at one point exclaims: "I don't know what the hell you're trying to say." The look on Dr. Phil's face listening to Gafni's elaborate but not wholly convincing lines of reasoning is priceless. At one point he even plainly calls Gafni "self-delusional". Gafni even likens himself to Mozart, who evoked jealousy in Salieri (and gets killed by him). This doesn't go down well with Dr. Phil, the no-nonsense guru of self-responsibility.

Gafni makes the convoluted case that he has been the victim of a "smear campaign" instigated by colleagues from the Jewish and New Age world, who have "recruited" several women who have been close to him in his personal love life to step forward and speak out on events that occurred decades ago and have convinced other teachers who have never met Gafni in person to sign an online petition against him. When all is said and done the TV viewer is left with the simple question: can I trust this person on his word? Everyone will answer this question differently, bases on one's personal experiences with (or impressions of) Marc Gafni. I am not so sure.

I think the whole Gafni-abuse-phenomenon is very complex: a veritable Gafniana-library has sprong up on the Internet about this issue. About everything that has been said about him might very well be true: a long history of dysfunctional relationships with women, being a charismatic teacher of an avant garde, "cosmo-erotic" spiritual philosophy of love, but also an erotomaniac with a kind of love-obsession, the existence of a campaign against his person that seems out of proportion to the crimes committed, a dose of professional jealousy among various spiritual teachers, but most of all, it seems to me, a marked lack of self-insight. The whole affair has damaged both his own reputation and that of the integral project as a whole.

Judge for yourself.

Rabbis and New Age leaders against Marc Gafni, www.drphil.com
Source: “Why Ex-Rabbi Marc Gafni Says He Believes People Started A ‘Smear Campaign’ Against Him”, www.drphil.com

NOTES

[1] Mark Oppenheimer, "A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past", The New York Times, December 25, 2015.

[2] Mark Oppenheimer, "Understanding the Marc Gafni Story, Part II", www.tabletmag.com, December 29, 2015.

[3] Frank Visser, "What's Love Got to Do With It, Love Guru Marc Gafni under Attack after New York Times publications", www.integralworld.net, January 2016.

[4] Frank Visser, "Does Love Really Make the World Go Round? Marc Gafni's paraphrasing or plagiarizing of Ken Wilber's pseudo-cosmology", www.integralworld.net, January 2016.

[5] Kerstin Zohar Tuschik, "Myths, Facts, Light & Shadow and Marc Gafni", www.medium.com, Jan 30, 2017 (pro) and Donna Zerner, "The Shadow Behind The Light", www.youtube.com, May 14, 2016 (contra).

[6] Clint Fuhs, "Anatomy of a Smear: The Internet Trial of Marc Gafni", www.whoismarcgafni.com, January 14th, 2017.

[7] Across the board, Ken Wilber has supported/enabled Marc Gafni over the years. After a brief parting of ways, due to the abuse-controversy that resurfaced in 2006, he resumed working with Gafni again in various fields:

In 2006 he still wrote on his blog ("Rabbi Marc Gafni and Sexual Improprieties"):

  1. There is substantial truth to some of these allegations.
  2. This has caused something of a feeding frenzy for the mean green meme, which is understandable but I believe inexcusable. Frankly, some of these have reached pathetic portions.
  3. Nonetheless, there is some truth to these allegations because of grave wrongdoing on Marc's part, and I believe this wrongdoing is due not just to bad judgment on Marc's part, but to a pathology or dysfunction affecting Marc.
  4. Marc, in a letter to Bayit Chadash, agreed that some of his actions indeed stemmed from a pathology or, as he termed it, a "sickness."
  5. I do not believe that somebody with an acknowledged emotional illness or sexual pathology is competent to be a public spiritual teacher. Therefore, at this time, Marc will not be involved in public teaching or presentations of any sort at Integral Institute. (…)

Within two years, however, he wrote a glowing endorsement (with Sally Kempton, co-founder of Gafni's Center for Integral Wisdom), "The Unique Self of Marc Gafni" (2008), which ends with the following statement:

Ken Wilber on Marc Gafni
‘Marc is simply one of best human beings I have
met in my long life of knowing great human beings.’
"The tragedy and injustice, which Marc suffered, has paradoxically given him great gifts. Life invited him to examine himself, to purify his motivations and his ego, and to strengthen his realization, humility and practice. All this only deepened his commitment to love. His compassion seems to widen every day. Marc is simply one of best human beings I have met in my long life of knowing great human beings. It is an honor and a privilege to call him my spiritual friend and colleague. Moreover we believe that Marc’s experience has deepened him into the kind of Integral Spiritual leader and teacher that we need to help lead the movement in the future decades."

As a final statement, on December 27, 2011, Wilber posted the following on his blog ("Ken Wilber Statement on Marc Gafni and the Center for World Spirituality"):

"Speaking personally, I feel that any shadow issues that Marc, (like most spiritual teachers), might have are now being actively and genuinely addressed. I repeat that I know very few spiritual teachers who have the guts to do this, and my hat, for one, is off to the gentleman.

This move also gives me confidence that Marc can and will continue to make a good spiritual leader for the Center for World Spirituality. Every spiritual teacher, in my opinion, should be doing some sort of shadow work, but Marc is one of the very few whom I know that is actually doing it. This is indeed, in my book at least, very impressive.

So, I hope everybody out there can join me in wishing Marc the very best in this sincere inner work—or, at the least, congratulate him for being determined and integral enough to decide to cover all the bases and then actually do so. In many spiritual traditions, forgiveness is a path to God, and I know Marc has worked hard to forgive any insults—real or imagined—that he recently received, and perhaps it is appropriate for others also to work to forgive any insults—real or imagined—received from Marc. In this atmosphere of loving-kindness, care, and forgiveness, we can all get back to this incredibly important work of Integral Spirituality."

[8] "Spiritual Leader In The Spotlight: Ex-Rabbi Accused", www.drphil.com, broadcasted on US television Friday, January 19, 2018.

FURTHER READING

Aiden Pink, "Accused Child Molester Marc Gafni Defends Himself On 'Dr. Phil'", forward.com, January 19, 2018.




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