My skeptical report on Shirley MacLaine's revelation of her mystical experiences in "Out on a Limb," her five-hour TV miniseries, has offended and outraged true believers.
You may remember that in the series, which was based on her book of the same name, MacLaine is shown as having an out-of-body experience (soaring into the sky on a silver leash), as believing the mumbo jumbo of two trans-channelers, as believing in reincarnation, and as believing in the presence of extraterrestrials on Earth.
Writes Suzanne Pieriette Stern, in a typical retort: "The contempt with which you wrote about MacLaine's movie only shows your ignorance."
She adds, in a particularly striking metaphor: "You make me think of the blind man who cannot believe someone can see. . . ."
"Believe it or not," writes Patricia Drake, "what you know or believe is not the be-all and end-all of this world. . . ."
In another telling metaphor she adds: "Remember that (even if) you don't see radio waves in the air, they are there--whether you have (your) radio turned on or not! For only the ignorant or the arrogant make fun of what they don't understand or believe. . . ."
Lanny Buettner disassembles me in 3 1/2 single-spaced typewritten pages, chastising me not for my skepticism, but for being "mean-spirited, rude and insulting toward beliefs that others hold very important."
Buettner adds: "They help millions of people make sense of their lives and provide a basis of personal ethics. To insult these people is uncalled for and I hope you apologize. . . .
"Westerners commonly (believe) the stereotype that mystics are people who wander off into the mountains to sit and bliss out in isolation from the rest of the world. While there are some like that, many more are in our midst every day, quite committed to social betterment and human interaction. . . ."
Buettner is correct in pointing out that I erred in writing that it was in a West Hollywood occult bookstore that a book fell out of a high shelf into MacLaine's hands. It was in a Hong Kong bookstore. This was a significant incident in her life, and I'm sorry I misplaced it.
Lynden Keating may be kidding when she chides me: "There are some things that have to be believed to be seen, and if you refuse to believe there was an (extraterrestrial) 'Maya' who sent MacLaine that necklace and pendant and the silver-looking bracelet via 'David,' whom Maya was guiding, think of all the fun you're going to miss. Someone might be pacing around right near you with a swell tie clip or maybe a starry belt buckle intended just for you, but it can't be delivered because you doubt the existence of extraterrestrial discarnates who have super power. Very dim of you. . . ."
She evidently has some doubts about MacLaine's blaming her affair with a married Englishman on their acquaintance in previous lives. "That was a bit thick. But you gotta give her an A for effort. . . ."
"Please quit while you're ahead," writes Marjorie A. Gross of Laguna Hills. "If an experience is real to an individual, no amount of critical comment is going to affect that person's belief. As I see it, being out of one's body isn't as bad as being out of one's head.
"Today you're in over your head, and unless you've seen your own silver cord, you can't be expected to understand people who have experienced whatever it is."
Of course I also heard from fellow skeptics.
John Junot debunks some of the paranormal phenomena in "Out on a Limb" as being simple magic or easily explained. When the blindfolded channeler in MacLaine's Malibu home finds his way to her hidden bar, he is probably following directions given him by her young guru. Every magician has a blindfold trick, he points out, and there would have been no reason for the channeler to use a blindfold except to impress his customer.
He also has an explanation for the episode in which the pickup MacLaine's guru is driving down a curving Andes road is evidently steered by his extraterrestrial contact, Maya, while he holds his hands off the wheel. The truck was in low gear, which limited its speed, Junot says, and the guru was steering with his knees.
The only incident he finds unexplainable, Junot says, is the Andean psychic's foreknowledge that Bella Abzug would lose the New York mayoralty election to "a man with no hair and long fingers" (obviously Ed Koch).
"If MacLaine's account is rigidly accurate," he says, "there's no way to explain it in terms of the other incidents."
I have no trouble with it myself. Anyone, even a rustic young woman in the Andes, should have known that Bella Abzug was never going to be elected mayor of New York.
Hans Jongbloed of Tustin says the mountain-driving incident is explained in "The Donkey Inside," by Ludwig Bemelmans. "You see (in the mountains of South America) when two cars meet at top speed on a winding mountain road, nothing happens, because both drivers are on the wrong side of the road. Simple, eh what? No need for extraterrestrials there."
Lynden Keating also asked me, "Shirley MacLaine has splendid legs ! Did you notice?"
Of course I noticed. I'm not that blind.
Remember President Reagan's comment on psychics? He said, "I've found it difficult to write them off entirely. The Scriptures say there will be such people."
He could have used one to tell him what was going on in the basement.