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I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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Vegetarian sexual predator?



Today Salon ran a troubling piece critical of my recent column on vegetarian Iron Man yoga dude Sri Chinmoy. It begins this way:

The guru, Celia Corona-Doran recalls, asked her to strip and perform lesbian sex with another follower while he watched. Corona-Doran, called “Suchatula” while at the Sri Chinmoy Center—which offers free meditation classes and cultural events with the aim of “uplifting the human spirit,” according to its website—spent her entire adult life committed to the cult and felt compelled by guru Sri Chinmoy’s request for “total surrender.” Her conflict was so great that it shattered her faith. After trying to fake it, she refused to participate and instead confronted Guru. She was told to “forgive, as Chinmoy forgave,” in a twisted conflation of their collective sins and victim blaming. She was crushed, but Chinmoy died just a short time later in 2007. After another conflicted year or so, Corona-Doran left the Chinmoy family forever, set adrift at 40.

That doesn’t sound good, does it? And as one who recently devoted many months to writing an ebook about the horrific sexual abuse perpetrated by another bald Asian immigrant who got big in the ’60s and had a fondness for the ladies, I am not one to take this lightly. I hope people will check out the allegations in Edwin Lyngar’s piece.

One question that we should all mull over, though, not in defense of Sri Chinmoy, nor in defense of myself as a reporter, but simply to be intellectually rigorous. Most of the recent coverage of Sri Chinmoy, mine included, has been about his followers and the enduring community of which they are a part. Is there any evidence that any of them are sexually prurient or coercive in the way that some accuse their founder of being?

One critic of Sri Chinmoy says that after my column, "It’s far too late, because someone in Nebraska has read the article and is ‘inspired’ by it.” But too late for what? If that Nebraskan reader goes off to meditate with Sri Chinmoy followers, is she at risk of sexual victimization? Perhaps. But it’s also possible that Sri Chinmoy was abusive in certain ways without creating a culture in which his followers were predators, too. If we learned Abraham was a sexual predator (play along with me here — he was a bigamist), it wouldn’t mean Judaism today is sexually dangerous.


Let that woman go!



Remember David Wax, rabbi who, with his wife, was arrested for taking $100,000 to kidnap and threaten to bury a live an Orthodox Jewish man who refused to give his wife a religious divorce? Well, he pled guilty.

This case, by the way, was presaged by — in addition to much of Jewish history — an early episode of The Sopranos, in which some of Soprano’s goons give a beat-down to a man who won’t grant a divorce to the daughter of Shlomo, a Sopranos ally:



Get thee to a learnery



Yesterday, thanks in part to my wife’s activism, the state of Connecticut moved closer to funding pre-Kindergarten slots for all children in the state. Watch the video above, and you can read more here. An excerpt:

Prior to the start of school this past fall, a friend’s second grade daughter told her younger sister, who was about to enter kindergarten, what to expect: “Some kids won’t know the alphabet. You see, not everyone went to a good preschool like we did.”

My friend’s daughter was right. In the 2011-12 school year, more than one-third of all children entering kindergarten in Hartford and Bridgeport reported no prior preschool experience. My friend’s daughter was also right about the implications of preschool attendance. Neurologists tell us that quality early childhood education makes a dramatic difference in healthy child development. Educators report that children who attend high-quality preschools are more likely to enter kindergarten better prepared, less likely to need special education services, less likely to be held back and more likely to graduate. And business leaders tell us that high-quality early childhood education has among the highest returns on investment of any social or educational policy.


Does one “thound gay”?




I actually do have some thoughts on this topic — is there such thing as a “gay voice”? — but I don’t have the time to write them up just now. So for the time being just enjoy this thread, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.


Jacuzzis and “natural childbirth”


In The New Republic, for my Fatherland column, I review a new collection of essays about labor and delivery, co-edited by the great novelist Eleanor Henderson. I don’t love the book, although I love many of the essays therein. One choice paragraph or two, from my review:

But the co-editors, Henderson and her friend, novelist Anna Solomon, have drawn their contributors almost entirely from the pool of MFA-credentialed women who, for reasons of genuine conviction, cultural indoctrination, or weakness under pressure presume that “natural” birthing is better than unnatural birthing; that doulas and midwives are better than doctors; and that the birth experience is supposed to be profound. As a result, many of them end up in alternative birthing centers, or ABCs, instead of in traditional maternity wards. And in those birthing centersif these essays are to be believedthe women can relax in Jacuzzis instead of mere showers or hotel-style tubs.

Because, as Ina May Gaskin and indigenous midwives from throughout the Third World can tell you, the electric whirlpool bath has for millennia been integral to the authentic, woman-centered birthing experience. It just took the Italian-American Jacuzzi brothers to market the idea to post-war America.