Posts Tagged ‘James MacDonald’

When I was a boy, my father taught me a lot of things that I’ve come to find useful. He taught me to steal without getting caught. He taught me to lie and cheat and conspire. He taught me how to assault other people in public and get away with it. Coincidentally, he taught me that Yankee people are a vile, distrustful bunch, devoid entirely of morals. Go figure.

Now if you aren’t sure what a Yankee is, or are wondering if you are one and if I’m about to viciously insult you, I’ll explain. “Yankee” is a slang term southern Americans use when referring to northerners. It is a derogatory, dehumanizing term closely akin to the word “nigger” but generally is considered socially acceptable and is more commonly used. Ethnically it is applied to groups with European heritage who have assimilated entirely into the white culture. Sorry minorities, but white southerners have separate epithets for you…Yankee appears to be a white thing.

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“The Yankee states are the blue ones.”

It’s also a perspective thing, which means it depends upon who you ask. Yankees, to most folks, are people from the northeast. Northeast of what, you ask. Why, northeast of the person you are asking comes the answer. To a true southerner, anyone from two or three towns to the north is a Yankee. If you’re from New England or anywhere close to New York or Chicago, you are also a Yankee. Anyone west of Iowa is generally not a Yankee but if you live in south Florida and aren’t Cuban, then you probably are one. Virginia is considered somewhat Yankee-ish, but somehow West Virginia and Kentucky aren’t really. Does that make any sense? At all?

So, back to insulting Yankees, it wasn’t long before I started to see that northern, or Yankee, people behaved a little differently than what I was used to in the small southern Appalachian (pronounced Apple-atch-in) town where I grew up and presently reside. My early dealings with transplants from Ohio and New Jersey supported my father’s statement, but after my first couple of years in the military, I began to see things a little differently. The lack of morality he described was actually, as near as I could tell at least, simply a different interpretation of the term. They had intact moral systems, but they were nothing like what I was used to.

It’s a cultural difference that can only be described anecdotally. On a recent road trip, while the wife was inside a small post office, I was flipping through the rental car’s satellite radio and happened upon the Vivid Video porn radio station. Yep, porn is on the radio and I’d tuned into a call-in talk show. The topic was “cream pies.” Now if you don’t know, I’ll tell you. If you’re squeamish, skip to the next paragraph because this shit is nasty. The contextual meaning of “cream pie” on this show involved a man licking a strange man’s baby batter out of his own wife’s hoo ha. Yuck city.

All of the six callers I heard before my wife returned were either from Massachusetts or Ohio, with most being from the latter. Does that mean people from Ohio are disgusting and devoid of morals? Maybe. Ohio also has the highest rate of human sex trafficking in the country. It’s the place where your child is most likely to be abducted a block from home and wind up being pimped out in a truck stop two weeks later. All I’m suggesting here is that the sexual culture in that region of the country may be a little different than what most folks consider normal and when it turns bad, it also happens a little differently.

When I related my story at work, it was met with disgust and contempt, only later to be generalized into a series of epithetic jokes with each being more crass and foul than the last. In a fundamentalist Christian culture, such sexually deviant behavior is considered morally repugnant on every level and for a number of reasons, despite the fact the act itself is a consensual one, between adults and occurring behind closed doors. When a guy from Ohio hoovers up a puddle of some other dude’s man-mayonnaise, he calls a nationally syndicated radio show and frankly discusses it. But if a guy from the N.C. hills ever even had the inkling that he might enjoy such a thing, he’d be on his knees begging Jesus to forgive and redeem his sinful, broken black heart. One guy feels guilty, one doesn’t. Same mouthful of sour milk bubble gum. What gives?

Back in the forties, the U.S. instituted the draft and started shuffling soldiers off to fight the Nazis. The Nazis, as we all know, we’re bulldozing their way across Europe and North Africa looting, pillaging and trucking Jews away to labor and extermination camps. The American soldiers were appalled by what they saw. The big question here is: why weren’t the German soldiers appalled as well? After all, they were tasked with doing the work and saw it much closer than anyone else. Why did the Germans not experience overwhelming guilt and simply stop the butchering? It almost seems as though the Nazis had produced some sort of psychopathic super soldiers, incapable of feeling or remorse or love, like the Terminator but with less-cool catchphrases like “Seig Heil. ” That seems unlikely, considering that psychopathy is thought to be on the rise and presently only figures at an estimated 4% of the population. Note: feel free to replace “Nazis” with any other genocidal social group, including Colonial and/or slaveholding Americans…

It’s more likely that the Nazi propaganda machine created a culture and moral structure conducive to what it intended to accomplish and left the grunt work not to clinical psychopaths, but dedicated citizens and soldiers who believed what they were doing was best for their social group, or at least doing what they could to fit in. It’s hard to feel guilt or remorse when you don’t believe you have done anything wrong to begin with. This statement is key to the understanding of how morality functions both socially and neurologically.

Conventional morality means nothing to me. I do not experience the sensation of guilt. Or remorse. I understand, concisely, the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, but I possess no innate inclination to prefer one over the other, especially when it comes to the way I relate to others, nor am I pathologically predisposed toward one over the other. In a clinically sociopathic brain, morality deals with what is best for the self. For me, right and wrong only really applies to what is either beneficial or non beneficial for me.

Most sociopaths, the ones who will speak openly, report their lack of engagement with traditional morality as an evolutionary advantage. Non-socios see it as a harmful social disorder. Fundamental religion happens to frame it as a separation from God. When I was young, attending private Baptist school, I was taught that my conscience was akin to the Holy Spirit, and that it lived in all of us. The Spirit would pack it’s bags and hit the bricks, however, if we should ask it to do so. The Spirit never “convicted” me with feelings of guilt when I was naughty, no matter how naughty, and I began to wonder if I’d asked it to leave without even realizing.

Maybe I had, but I must have been tiny when it happened. Long time readers of my blog will remember an early post (click to read this post) which depicted a four-year old Jason pitching a kitten into a red hot wood stove. While I’ve never repeated that sort of behavior in any way, I’ve never felt any sort of guilt or emotional torment as a result. The Holy Spirit has never had anything to say to me about it, although my grandma sure as hell did. What I remember clearly are the two sequential ass bustings, separated by a period of time out in the corner. That and the smell of burnt cat. That sort of thing sticks with you.

Lacking a conscience and the capacity to feel guilt, in and of itself, doesn’t make a person a monster. The smoking cat may claim otherwise, but remember that the cat is in fact smoking, which severely biases the cat’s scientific opinion. The supposed lack of conscience, in any context, serves only as a behavioral enabler and to understand it’s true implications, the very concept of morality must be reframed. Right and wrong, it seems, are not necessarily what we think and are a hell of a lot more static than we’ve ever imagined.

Most religions teach that God, besides being the Creator, is also the “law giver,” as in the decider of what is moral and what is not. In other words, the idea of conventional morality, to a believer, is a universal constant defined by a higher power. The problem with this is that the idea of right vs. wrong varies between individual cultures and according to time period. Four hundred years ago, the moral way to deal with “witches” was to crush them with large stones. While this behavior was acceptable in 17th century Christianity, it is no longer considered justifiable. In a few centuries, the dividing line between right and wrong shifted drastically. These American centuries also saw the enslavement of the black man and the genocide of the native people, all justified in the minds of the offenders by the popularized form of morality present at the time. Sometimes, religion itself was used to explicitly justify such savage offenses. In the film Django Unchained, Tarantino depicts a slaver quoting Genesis 9:2, common piece of scripture used to normalize slavery as he uses a bullwhip against another human being for breaking eggs.image

Morality, the idea of right vs. wrong, is a concept that evolves within the culture in which it presents, and nothing more. It exists as a behavioral framework that provides a consistent standard wherein people may coexist peacefully with one another. It’s the reason our societies have come so far and is absolutely necessary for the survival of our species. Morality, at its root, serves as a tool for the perpetuation of the species and therefore, must evolve with the times in order to remain effective and beneficial to the larger group.

If I experienced guilt, it would not be a feeling that I had sinned against an instituted universal order. This paradigm is no more measurable than it is tangible when considering that standard moral programming is not a feature humans are born with. What I should have experienced after I burned the cat is a form of anxiety. Things like roasting live cats are considered deviant in terms of common behaviors exhibited by the majority in a culture. Committing such acts, for most people, results in a fear of being ostracized by their social group. Morality, rather than referring to the intangible and static concepts of right and wrong, actually reflects the societal standard of normal behavior. The feeling of guilt is not related to the Holy Spirit, but is in fact a sensation of emotional displeasure experienced after behaving in such a way as to risk the security of one’s social identity and status. It’s an important tool which exists to link humans together and help them relate peacefully and harmoniously with one another.

For me, it’s not that easy. There is no little voice in my head providing an evolutionary cue as to how I should behave with regards to others. In this aspect, the anti-sociopath crowd has a point; I, and others like me, seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to naturally fitting in with the rest of society. We are presented, as such, with a choice. A person with an antisocial personality can choose to either ignore social convention and live at will or cognitively engage the system, mimicking the moralities imposed on others, and fit in the best way possible. Or, at a bare minimum, not be burned at the stake by a bunch of pissed off villagers. While fitting in takes considerable work and finesse, it is in the ability to make this conscious choice that the sociopath derives his own evolutionary advantage.

Unconstrained by any sort of neurological directive to conform, I am free to define my own personal code of morality as I see fit. On the one hand, were I a malevolent sort of a creature, a pathologically offending victim of intense childhood trauma, then you could see how lacking this behaviorally inhibiting brain function might cause a lot of problems. But on the other, that isn’t the case at all and not only am I completely free to choose my own right from wrong, I am able to do so objectively.

For example…

I’ve done my level best to convince a close friend of mine that eating commercially processed chicken, especially from fast food joints, is socially irresponsible and perpetuates cruelty. Chickens are not protected by cruelty laws, they are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, raised in tiny boxes, cooked and sold by people not being paid enough to live, the whole spiel (read more about this here). His answer:

“The Bible says nothing you eat can defile you, only what comes out of you can defile you. And I like me some chicken.”

You don’t really see the cost of being locked into an institutionalized system of morality until you observe said behavior being framed by such a ludicrous and contextually inappropriate justification. The pathological need to be a part of a certain social structure usually serves to inhibit harmful antisocial behavior, but in this case, the behavior’s lack of significance within the moral framework only serves to perpetuate it. The social culture of Evangelical Christianity, amongst others, not only fails to identify the social issue as a problem, it draws on the Genesis 1:28 claim of man’s dominion over the Earth as justification to say nothing.

In other words, if my friend and I eat factory farmed chicken for lunch, we should both, by all rights, feel guilty for doing so. But neither of us do. He doesn’t because it’s not a part of the social-moral paradigm to which he subscribes. The Christian belief system simply doesn’t choose to prosecute the perpetuation of cruel acts against defenseless creatures as a sin…so there is no reason for him to feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty either. Not that I would have actually eaten the chicken, but it wouldn’t matter to me if I did, not from an emotional standpoint anyway. I’m free, remember, to define my own terms of morality and in this case, humanity sits in the sociopath’s corner, as does the evolutionary advantage. Think I’m full of it? Change the example of two guys eating chicken to two German soldiers in World War II arguing about how ok it was to go along with the popular Nazi definition of morality in those days.

Whether it involves torturing chickens for profit or the mass murder of millions, the implications of how a person defines what is right and what is wrong can be a very serious business, even more so if a man decides to trust another man to do his moral reasoning for him. Religious institutions, for example, provide much of our moral framework. Despite their tax-free, non-profit status, these organizations still function as bureaucracies and by their very nature, create self perpetuating ideologies which may or may not be beneficial to the overall social group. This is why the Catholic Church has been behind so much mischief, historically speaking. An institution, like a clinical sociopath, is incapable of experiencing attacks of behaviorally inhibiting conscience.

Objective morality is the middle ground between a lack thereof and that which is externally imposed, both of which result in selfishly motivated and anti social patterns of behavior. No matter who you are, building an internal moral framework which is objective and based truly upon “Do Unto Others” principles takes hard work and a discerning eye for the greater social consequences of your behavior. All of it.

Something which seems so trivial as purchasing a chicken biscuit from Chik-Fil-A should by all means be deemed socially irresponsible…immoral. A four dollar decision enables the abuse of animals for the pure selfish sake of profit margins as well as the practice of dramatically under compensating employees. It’s only four dollars, but it’s still four dollars. I can see this objectively because, ironically, I don’t have morals. Or a conscience. Or a guilt complex. The same lack of neurologically forced social engagement that let John Gacy sleep soundly atop the corpses rotting in his crawl space enables me to point a bony finger in the face of popular convention and proclaim, in the words of ultra-galactic asshole James MacDonald,

“For shame!”

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Ain’t the world a funny place?

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Alcoholism is not a disease. Alcoholism, and alcohol use for that matter, are sins. As in moral transgressions. Someone tried to teach me this on the day after Christmas. I don’t think that, subconsciously, I was able to decide whether it was more appropriate to laugh or spit my coffee across the dashboard of the work truck, so, not being one to take chances (heh heh), I did both.

Despite my reaction, I found the speaker to be at least partly right. Alcoholism, as a matter of fact, is not a disease, at least not in a medical sense. The DSM classifies it as a disordered behavior resulting from a number of factors ranging from epigenetics to good old fashioned family Christmases. By its very definition, alcoholism (you might even generalize addiction into this equation) emerges in identity as a symptom of some greater problem. Research supports this idea.

In the decades following the Vietnam war, science has turned its attention towards those soldiers who chose to partake, often heavily, in the use of heroin. They discovered that approximately 95% of soldiers who reported regularly using heroin simply stopped using upon returning home. No rehab. No therapy. They just quit. I had a comparable experience with alcohol during my hitch. When I was discharged, my affinity for heavy drinking seemed to evaporate within the first couple of months of my transition back into civilian life. These days, I barely touch the stuff. And that’s good. Because sinning against God is bad.

Speaking of sinning against God, let me tell you what the lab rats have been up to… In related research, scientists provided caged rats with two water bottles. One was plain water and they dumped a pile of cocaine in the other one. The rats preferred the Columbian Go Go Juice, at least until it killed them. Well, like the good book says, the wage of sin is death. Bad rats.

So the scientists, as scientists do, made an experiment. They called it Rat Park. It was a good place for rats to be, sort of like rat heaven. The idea was not only the removal of stressors, but the introduction of positive elements as well. Ample food, space and water, mental and physical stimulation, social interaction and sex, everything was there…except for the free cocaine. So they sprinkled in some more, just for temptation’s sake.

Funny thing…the rats were too busy enjoying their rat lives to waste time on cocaine, even free cocaine, implying that most of the rats were not indulging simply for the sake of indulgence but that the addictive behaviors were in fact a result of environmental stressors. The data is eerily similar to that of the Vietnam heroin epidemic, as well as my own experiences of hell and Wild Turkey.

So given this data, how does the concept of morality apply to alcoholism or addiction in general?

Well, it depends upon who you ask. If it’s someone sensible, who is basically grounded in reality, reasonably educated and sans agenda, you’ll get something comparable to the “disordered behavior” explanation. But, we’re not talking sensibility or rationality here, we’re talking about Pastor James MacDonald. If you’re one of the people who is rational and reasonably educated, you probably don’t know who this is, so good for you.

MacDonald runs a megacurch conglomerate based in the Chicago area named Harvest Ministries and a nationally syndicated radio ministry called Walk in the Word which airs daily on the Billy Graham radio stations. The only way you know who this guy is, is if you are a card carrying Evangelical Christian. And if you’re one of those people, you can’t not know.

If you haven’t guessed yet, MacDonald was the crackpot who tried to convince me that alcohol consumption fits neatly with the spectrum of what he considers to be sin. The title of the sermon was “Wise Up About Alcohol.” I’d provide a link, but there isn’t one that you don’t have to “donate” at least six bucks to get. A few excerpts are available, as well as summaries, but what I came across moreso were reviews of the sermon, some being extremely critical. Several critics cited MacDonald for being very loose in his application of scripture, something I noticed myself as I’d listened.

The sermon, for me, set off alarm bells almost instantly. I simply couldn’t understand how, or why, someone could assign a moral value and subsequent moral judgement on the act of drinking alcohol. Granted, alcohol is a destructive drug, which I avoid due to that reason, but it’s something that a whole lot of people do in moderation with no ill effects either medically or spiritually. I must also point out that a guy named Jesus was noted for converting water into wine. I must have missed the part where he poured all of it down Mary Magdeline’s kitchen sink just to make the point that it’s bad.

The point is, MacDonald’s statements didn’t ring true scientifically or scripturally, and ultimately begged the question: why? So when I got home that day I asked my friend Google about MacDonald and Google told me an interesting story.

First of all, Harvest Bible Chapel is a massive operation, comprised of seven separate facilities which reach thousands of people each week. The services, if you watch one, are packed with people, all the way up into the nosebleed sections. Yep, sections, plural.

That many people, all packed into the same church on Sunday morning, can only mean one thing: somebody is getting seriously PAID…as in, that’s a whole lot of dough getting dumped into the collection plate and ushered down front. I would not be surprised, actually, to discover debit card swiping devices by each seat, not unlike the voting pads on American Idol. It sounds humorous, but the fact is Harvest actually really needs the cash.

Fifty million and change, after all, is not a number to sneeze at, especially if is a number you owe. I recently discovered a blog, right here on WordPress, called The Elephant’s Debt. The blog claims to be written by former members of the MacDonald church who observed patterns of behavior which many might consider…unbecoming. What they have to say is interesting, to say the least.

The fifty million dollar note, they say, is the cost of Harvest’s massive expansion, which began back in 2004 with the acquisition of the first additional “campus.” That’s approximately one new facility every 20 months. These are not small community based churches. These are the ones in converted warehouses and the ones that strangely resemble the corporate headquarters of a forklift manufacturer. You can rack up a good bit of debt when you grow that fast, it seems.

According to the blog, Harvest’s high speed expansion took on characteristics similar to that of a teenage boy hitting puberty. While they made no mention of pimple popping or serious accidents occurring during masturbation, there was a particularly humorous claim that on one project, MacDonald himself assumed the role of general building contractor. This resulted in a number of catastrophes, including the walls being painted and the flooring being installed, mid winter, before any of the windows or doors had even been ordered, much less delivered.

This sort of behavior seems to be a frequent complaint of his detractors. He was additionally cited for being greedy, controlling and even confrontational. Several years ago, three senior elders (like deacons, I think) came out publicly against MacDonald, ultimately describing his leadership as both oppressive and secretive. They quoted him directly, reporting that he’d rather “lose 1000 members than disclose his salary.” Apparently, only a couple of inside people are privy to that information. The church and its members, as a whole, do not actually know how much they pay their pastor.

In 2009, it was ascertained that MacDonald earned in excess of $500,000, between his Harvest salary and his Walk in the Word radio ministry business. As a top 5 corporate earner, he was legally required to publicly disclose the $100k plus income from the Walk in the Word, and it was subsequently absorbed into Harvest, a non corporate entity, therefore rendering it secret. In addition, MacDonald receives royalties from numerous books, speaking fees and reportedly has access to a “staggering” expense account through Harvest. And this is all donated money. Donated.

Me, I don’t need that much money, but then again, I also don’t feel I have a need for a two million dollar home in a posh neighborhood in Elgin. Or a vacation cabin up by the lake. Nor have I, ever in my life, publicly confessed to having a gambling problem. I’ve never made atonement for my gambling because I’ve never been caught. I’ve never been caught, primarily, because I don’t do it. But MacDonald did confess to having a gambling problem, at least to the compulsion. He left out the additional element of having done it with money that was donated to his church, off whose members’ backs he lives quite well.

Next came a very telling revelation, that of a proclivity to attack viciously when cornered, something with which I am very familiar. When the three elders came out and spoke against MacDonald by allowing their stories to be published in The Elephant’s Debt, he and his inside cadre of henchmen released a video which publicly announced the excommunication of the men, encouraged other members to avoid them and labeled their accusations as being “satanic to the core.”

After the shitstorm of criticism which undoubtedly followed such a brash and polarized presentation of the issue at hand, MacDonald and his cronies made a half apology to the shunned elders and yanked the video from the website. When copies of it surfaced on YouTube, legal action was threatened and these videos were yanked as well. That seemed strangely similar to the scrubbing away of anti Mormon propaganda from the Billy Graham website when Franklin chose to endorse Mitt Romney…but that’s another story altogether.

So after all this reading, all these sad and stupid revelations, I still found myself asking the same question: why teach people that the use of alcohol, in any context other than that of a widow or a sickly person dulling their pain (he literally made this distinction and pointed out that man was biblically encouraged to hand over his alcohol to such people) is a sin against the Creator?

Forget benevolence. MacDonald’s actions and comments do not reflect a heart which is truly concerned for the welfare of those he claims to guide spiritually. Why should he care if twelve or fourteen families leave the church, he allegedly said, when he didn’t even know those people. Stop worrying about the sheep for a moment, he went on, because I’m worried about the shepherd. If this was an honestly reported statement, then it helps to form a more accurate picture of his character and personality. A previously cited quote had MacDonald giving up the same families rather than disclose his salary. Were the 1000 hypothetical people he referred to being recognized as human beings who trusted him to guide the faith or as tick marks in his Quickbooks?

Human beings indeed.

MacDonald’s game is control and he’s working from an old playbook, one known well to the sociopaths and psychopaths of the world. The way I, and I suspect Mr. MacDonald, view the morality paradigm is based upon concrete benefits and consequences associated with things considered right and wrong, respectively. Morality is engaged only within a utilitarian context. While normal people have a processing system which produces negative emotional consequences when they are naughty (you know this as a guilty conscience), we don’t. But, we get it. My oh my, do we get it.

Being fundamentally remorseless, in a lot of ways, can be like having thumbs when others don’t. It opens doors to additional possibilities in the decision making process and can often make otherwise hard decisions very easy. The fact is, thumbs and remorselessness make it possible to use things like…guns…to their full potential. The thing about thumbs, is that if you’ve never had them, then you don’t miss them and you don’t necessarily recognize their absence as a fundamental weakness. Once you’ve had thumbs, and you’ve used them, their presence can be only accessed as a strength and anyone without thumbs is, by comparison, a weaker representation of the species.

Being able to experience feelings of guilt or remorse and actually internalize moral concepts are the staples that keep society from splitting wide open and, quite literally, spraying blood in every direction. These functions exist as behavioral antilock braking systems. They keep people from using their thumbs to kill each other to get ahead. If these systems malfunction or forget to develop in the womb, the personality emerges as…unconstrained. Simply put, when you don’t have a conscience, it just makes it easier to use the fact that other people do have consciences against them.

So when the conscience-constrained majority is taught and conditioned that certain common behaviors like drinking are morally corrupt, their guilt response kicks in and they feel some sort of tangible emotional distress. You know the feeling I’m talking about, it’s the one that fucks with your sleep. Rectification of this emotion requires engaging the original source of the guilt. So when you heard MacDonald’s little talk about drinking and the Holy Spirit laid the burden of conviction upon your heart about the mason jar of goodness in your freezer, where are you going to go to make that right?

You’re going to take your sorry butt to church and ask the preacher to ask Jesus to ask God to forgive you. That’s what you’re going to do. And it’s going to work. You’re going to feel better. Not just about the fact that you were simultaneously sexting your neighbors wife and masturbating while driving home drunk from a double feature cock fight/transsexual creamed corn wrestling match, but also about life in general. And there’s good reason for this.

Recent studies regarding oxytocin have shown its effects to be present during many of the common activities participated in during church, including hand shaking and hugging, group singing and praying. People come to church feeling guilty for their “sins” during the week and leave, feeling good. Feeling like they’ve bonded with the Creator. Feeling forgiven. Feeling reminded that their drinking and pud whacking is really going to piss God off. And feeling a few bucks poorer to boot.

Another notable effect of oxytocin just happens to be generosity. It affects when and how much people give when they trust the person they are giving it to. James MacDonald is earning in excess of half a million dollars per year in this manner. He benefits substantially from people feeling guilty. The New Testament has a name for people like this…it calls them false teachers. According to Billy Graham, this behavior is in fact not only sinful, but actually sinful to a much higher degree than lesser sins, like drinking and gambling. My guess is that he had Muslims and Mormons in mind when he wrote that, not people like MacDonald, but what fits the goose usually fits the gander too.

I’ll just sum up by putting it really plain: I think James MacDonald is a total asshole and he has no business in the business he’s in regardless of how good he seems to be at it. Anyone can pick up a microphone and tell a story about how alcohol destroyed someone they once knew. We all know someone, or are someone, who experienced the devastation that alcohol can catalyze in a person’s life. It’s no mystery. But to get up in front of thousands of people and manipulate their consciences simply for financial gain? That’s low. And that’s all.