James Randi, The Illusion of The Great And Powerful Oz

James Randi, magician, conjurer, de-bunker.
James Randi, magician, conjurer, de-bunker.

I recently stumbled across a statement made by magician, skeptic, James Randi, shockingly saying that Psychic Sylvia Browne’s death was the only way that she was “stopped from hurting so many people.”  His full statement can be read here on his foundation’s James Randi Educational Fund or JREF website.

It was shocking to hear such a statement from anyone.  While I am not a fan of the Late Ms. Browne, she was a person…a human being who has died and, his statements appeared to be those of someone who was relieved that she no longer existed.  It was uncalled for at this point in time, cruel and totally bitter towards her as a person.  He seemed to see her only as her profession rather than also a mother, grandmother and wife who left behind a family and friends.  It begged the question of his own human state of mind in spite of calling himself a Humanist.

Most everyone has heard of James Randi throughout the years.  He’s infamous for his $1 million challenge for any psychic, healer, homeopathy or other paranormal claimant to prove that they have the ability they claim to have.

Born as Randall James Hamilton Zwinge August 7, 1928 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Randi became a “conjurist”, a term he carefully uses to replace the term “magician” so that one doesn’t associate the trickery or illusions he creates with anything in the supernatural realm that he is so certain cannot and does not exist and, has spent his life trying to prove doesn’t exist.

Randi appears to give off the public persona of a crusty but, rather humorous and loveable grandfatherly like figure to the public.  Yet, there feels to be a sour bitterness beneath his public appearance that isn’t just an illusion.  He is a man on a mission and has been for many years.  The question is why?  What has set this man into such a frenzy that he has made it what some would call, a vendetta against anyone who makes claim towards having anything paranormal or supernatural especially, psychics/mediums?

There are few photos of Randi without a look in his eyes that almost dares the viewer to try to scam him or, seemingly beg the question from him of “what wool are you trying to pull over my eyes? I’ve seen it all!”

Having spent a good chunk of his life studying and performing magic tricks, he retired from stage performance to gear his sights onto debunking anything someone might construe as supernatural.  For what reason?

During an interview with journalist, 

”They don’t have any scruples on that, just like any other thief or burglar,” he said.  “A thief doesn’t look at a house and think to pass it up because the family has just suffered a recent tragedy. No, he goes in and robs it anyway.”

When Kohls asked if Randi thought it was driven by money, Randi made what can be thought of as an opposing statement to his own test.

“They’re all different. They all want to make money. They all want to make a living,” Randi said.  “They find an easy way to do it, and it’s so easy that the money just pours in. If you found that you could go in your backyard and find gold-nuggets by digging around you would do it. That’s exactly what they’re doing. Unfortunately, they’re taking other peoples money and making them suffer. They don’t care about that though.” (And, Randi hasn’t made a very good living off of this arena too?)

By contrast, Randi’s foundation, JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) has been offering up a $1 million dollar prize for anyone who can prove that they possess some sort of ability in the psychic/paranormal arena.  To date, no one has been able to claim it.  Some have said it is because of the criteria by which they must be tested that hems them in but, most won’t even attempt such an endevour.  It seems almost incredulous that these are alleged people who were in it for the money but, would by-pass such a chance.  It would be more logical that the lure of $1 million would be a huge draw with the “robbers” flocking to try to claim that money.

Kohls also asked Randi if he had ever met someone who had confounded him with something that they claimed they could do.  Randi answered that he hadn’t encountered such a person.

“Frankly, no,” he answered in response to Kohls’ question.  “I’m 83 years of age now, and I’ve been a magician since I was a kid. I know the tricks and none of them are surprising. They’re all the same old-tricks that have been going on for hundreds of years. We magicians know how these things are being done.”

Perhaps, Randi’s answer, itself is giving Randi’s drive away right there?

In other words, what some of us might hear in that statement if we read what’s coming out the other side of his mouth, is that if he can reproduce an effect via some gadget, some set up, some slight of hand, some electronic method, it can’t be real.  It is only an illusion and yes, apparently he’s saying that magicians know it all.  Interesting statement to think about, Randi.  If you weren’t an Atheist, I’d swear you were implying magicians are somewhat forms of “gods” (I say that with a humorous but, sarcastic grin and a wink).

The most telling statement of all about Randi might lay in an answer that he had given to Kohl when he was asked where he “draws his meaning in life” given that he’s a devout Atheist.

“All I have to do is look into the eyes of a two month old baby and I get the whole thing. That’s enough for me. It’s enough to live for, and inspire me,” Randi responded.  “I don’t need miracles and people running around on brooms in the night-sky. I don’t need any of that to make the world a beautiful place. It’s a cruel place, it doesn’t care about any individual in it, because that’s the way nature is. I’ll manage somehow. I don’t have to have a meaning for life. That’s a meaningless phrase in my estimation.”

Kohl is asking him where he draws meaning in his life and, Randi gives a set of opposing statements which appear to show that there is perhaps, both conflict and confusion going on within himself.  Could Randi have foiled his own illusion right there?

On the one hand, Randi is stating that he is inspired by a baby’s glance but, on the other hand, he’s saying that he there is no meaning to life in this world.  How is it that someone can “get it” (meaning) from the look from a baby’s eyes but, sees no meaning in life and calls “meaning”, meaningless?  Quite the mixed mouthful he’s spit out there isn’t it?

Secondly, he’s saying that he doesn’t need any miracles to make the world a beautiful place but in the same breath, goes on to say that the world is a cruel place that doesn’t care about any individual in it.  Someone please tell the babies whose eyes he looks into that because they are in for a let down that life has no meaning and the world is purely a cruel place to be by the nature of it.

Both of those statements seem to openly display the inner workings of a man who has lived a good portion of his life, preaching to others about the lack of need for and in religious beliefs and has tried to debunk it, seemingly smugly feeling that he’s succeeded in doing so.  It is reminiscent of the great and powerful Oz from the movie, The Wizard of Oz.  When the curtain is drawn back, there stands a bearded older man, operating the levers of a projection produced illusion of a great and powerful magical, fear inducing leader who knows all and is much like Randi, even in appearance.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”  It’s all simply an illusion, a great and powerful, money making illusion that Randi has projected much like Dorothy had uncovered in Oz when she exposed the man behind the curtain.

What I see personally in Randi and his life, is someone who has more than likely been emotionally hurt rather early in his life, lonely even when surrounded by people and perhaps, was considered somewhat of a “geek” by others within his peer groups. I imagine him as a child, surrounded by books and a train set, doing little else but, reading and mostly, solitary pursuits. It’s known that he spent a good deal of time with books on magic and, I’d be willing to bet that he wanted the appearance of someone as seemingly great and powerful such as the magicians he’d watched on stage or read about as a child.  The draw of fooling others with magic does have a sort of super power feel to it and may be what drew him into it.  How awed would everyone be when they couldn’t figure how he did something as mystical and mysterious as magic tricks seem to be to those who haven’t studied it?  I can imagine him feeling that he would be perceived as a step above those who perhaps, made fun of him.  However, this is only from my own personal reflections and nothing more as is the following.

There is a powerful feel to the name “James” which later became his stage name. Randall may have felt  small and powerless but “James” may have had a sense of strength within its feel to him.  Even removing his last names and never referring himself or attaching himself to his surname(s) seems to indicate that he somewhat distanced himself from his childhood. There feels to be a bitterness from within him, likely beginning in that time frame. Or, perhaps, that bitterness and distancing from religion and his Atheist connection came about when he discovered he was Gay and eventually came out about?  Religions don’t seem to take kindly to the Gay lifestyle and is shamefully, ruining many people’s lives because of that stance.  That bitterness could be understood if that is to be the case of when he pulled the plug on religion.

What we see him proclaim to be doing by allegedly protecting the vulnerable from the charlatans is more likely Randi’s cloaked and hidden protection of himself and his own personal demons.  It’s akin to a crab with its tough exterior shell to protect the inner softness from harm.

Incredibly, Randi has lived his life trying to both fool others as well as divulge the possible foolery in others.  He’s made a living, a rather good living at doing both of these things.  He’s become a martyr in a sense but, been paid well to have done so. He simply justifies his money by labeling it as a noble cause.

If Randi can’t use his five bodily senses to detect it, can’t reproduce the effect, it doesn’t exist.  He’ll even refute Quantum Physics discoveries.  In part, could it be that it might prove that there is a connection between consciousness and a deity or perhaps, simply that consciousness survives physical bodily death and, Randi would be out of business in his skepticism, humanist and atheist involvements?  Would Randi, himself then be de-bunked?

No one, including Sylvia Browne (real or not) could possibly pass Randi’s million dollar test simply because it is set up to cause them to fail.  Randi doesn’t want to see anyone prove what he has spent his life believing doesn’t exist.  Yet, I can’t help wonder if perhaps, there is a tiny part of him that wishes to see someone prove it to him, under the most difficult of circumstances and beyond what he’s set up to cause them to fail so that he can believe.  Let’s face it, Randi is no Spring Chicken anymore but perhaps, it doesn’t matter to Randi.  He’s either going to be dead and not know the difference or, he’ll be surprised in arriving at some place beyond this physical world.  Either way, he has nothing to fear.  His real fight seems to be with himself and this world.

At least, that’s how I am seeing James Randi from my little corner of life.

6 thoughts on “James Randi, The Illusion of The Great And Powerful Oz

Add yours

  1. Dear ponderinglifto
    I had reviewed your comment and original post and searched for the youtube video of Randi disparaging Browne’s death which ‘you stumbled upon’. I could not find it, but the link you attached did have his written comments. I think you are in the right to take a humanist viewpoint, and not celebrate another’s death. To look beyond and see other aspects of her personality, like motherhood, etc.
    FYI..Recently though Randi has been corroborated in his criticism of fake faith healer john of god of Brazil. The man Oprah had promoted and popularized a few years back. 60 minutes and the Catholic Church of Australia have just severely criticized his practices
    http://www.jump-in.com.au/show/60Minutes/stories/2014/october/john-of-god/

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    1. Thank you, Lakisha.

      I totally applaud James Randi for exposing these “fakirs” and “healers”. The world needs to know that these types of people are frauds. Unfortunately, they tend to prey upon people in true need. It’s truly sad.

      I totally agree with you on Randi’s work in this area. It needs to be done. And, by the way, I’m not a big fan of Oprah as I think her influence over millions of people is unjustified in a lot of ways. She is a knowledgeable woman and I won’t take that away from her but, I also feel that she has way too much “power” now for an ordinary but, very wealthy woman.

      I do want to thank you for pointing out a mistake in my wording of this though. You are correct. It wasn’t a video that I saw Randi speaking so ill-thinking on Browne’s death. It was a statement he made on his website. I have corrected that now. Thank you. At the time, I was watching several Youtube videos on Randi…one in particular where he was speaking of Browne’s fees and her inaccuracy rate as well as his thoughts (gruff and stern) with Anderson Cooper from CNN, on the missing girls in Ohio being dead as well as Sean Hornbeck. Of course, we know now that it wasn’t true for all 4 of them. However, I also sort of scratched my head as I read about and, watched another video of Randi talking about the fallacy of religion and Atheism. I really felt as though Randi, was making “predictions” himself, just like he was saying Browne had done. In a way, it is akin to Randi telling everyone that there is “no God” and having no proof that there isn’t. The only difference will be that none of us can prove him to be wrong (if there is) until we’re dead! LOL

      I guess we will all have to wait until it’s our time to leave this existence to see one way or another, huh? Then, maybe…we’ll have something to chat with him one way or another. If he’s incorrect, we will certainly be having a chat. 🙂

      Thank you for your response. Much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, your post was quite an interesting and stimulating read. And I give you credit for your honesty and your well written reporting of how you feel and perceive James Randi. But, I’m sorry to say that your perceptions may be wrong. James Randi is just a man, taken all in all. I for one totally agree with his concept of the ‘meaning of life’ and other things, which was so inconceivable and may I say reprehensible to you. Also, I am at a loss to explain the parts about Randi’s childhood and possibly being a ‘Geek’???! I’m reminded of the saying. ‘When you follow your heart, don’t forget to take your head’.

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    1. Lakisha, I thank you for your response to this piece. Of course, it’s all personal taste/opinion and nothing more. However, my opinions are based upon the many years that I’ve been reading about James Randi.
      I would like to correct your point about me finding Randi’s “meaning of life” being “so inconceivable” and “reprehensible” to me. I was not at all implying that his own personal theories were reprehensible to me. I was inferring that they were conflicting/paradoxical in nature to his statements.
      Via self-admittance in other interviews he’s done, he considered himself a “geek”. I didn’t deem him that in this piece. I merely recounted his own utterance. So, everything that I am basing my opinions on, are based upon facts he or others have brought out about him.
      And, yes, he is only another human being. He has no more power or knowledge than the average Jane or Joe about Life or anything that may exist beyond it. It was an outrage to hear his utterances upon the death of another human being (Sylvia Browne) that the world was better off without her, which stirred my opinions of his own feelings towards her. That is not a Humanist point of view to have had.
      So perhaps, we are both wrong and both right. You have every bit as much a right to your opinions as I do mine. I thank you and respect you for voicing yours as well.
      Best of wishes with all sincerity.

      Liked by 1 person

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