November 29, 2010

The Book of Raj


A good book, or The Good Book?

A good book, or The Good Book?

A brilliant economist, social activist, and bestselling author–Raj Patel is a wonderful man. We knew that already. That’s why we published his book Stuffed & Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.

But is he also the messiah?

As previously reported on MobyLives (and The Guardian and The New York Times), some members of the new age messianic organization Share International believe that Patel is the “Maitreya,” a pan-religious messiah figure. Now The New Yorker article expands on the surreal story of how Raj Patel came to be anointed as a possible deity and salvation of the human race.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Share founder and guru Benjamin Creme has prophesied the coming of the “Maitreya” since the 1970s, occasionally dropping clues to his identity including that he would have dark skin color, that he had been born in 1972, and that he had a British accent. Then, on January 14th, Creme announced that the Maitreya had already appeared to an audience of millions on television and the internet. Two days before Patel had given interviews on Democracy Now! and The Colbert Report to promote his book The Value of Nothing. A Share follower posted a video entitled “Was This the First Maitreya Interview?” Soon people were making holy pilgrimages to his readings and posting messages on his Facebook page saying, “Is there anyone out there who agree that the energy of Raj is just amazing? Clean and pure.”

Raj Patel

Raj Patel

Patel has declared his only human status multiple times. On his blog, he posted the Monty Python’s Life of Brian scene where Brian (unsuccessfully) tells his followers that “you don’t need to follow anybody!”  When, in March, Colbert brought Patel back on his show and asked him about his newly divine status, Patel said:

I’m the last person who should be the messiah, I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that what we need is not to believe in great leaders and people bringing hope and change. We can change the world by small acts of rebellion and mutual aid. So I think the whole idea of being the messiah is totally bogus…I think the whole point of social change is not to follow leaders but to think for ourselves.

Colbert’s response: “I would love to think for myself. How should I do that?”

The more Patel protests, the more some believe he must be the one. He’s caught in a theological Catch-22. Wouldn’t a messiah be humble? If everyone needs to take personal responsibility for his or her actions, then wouldn’t a leader be forced to not lead? “He’s just testing us to see if we’re ready for him,” one believer tells The New Yorker.

And we have to admit, the believers have picked a pretty great guy for the job. According to Share’s website, the Maitreya “Will launch a call to action to save the millions of people who starve to death every year in a world of plenty…” Patel’s Stuffed & Starved is an investigation into how the global food system has created a perverse world where one billion people are overweight while nearly another billion starve, and offers “the steps to regain control of the global food economy, stop the exploitation of both farmers and consumers, and rebalance global sustenance.” The Maitreya, claims Share, “will create a civilization based on sharing, economic and social justice, and global cooperation.” Patel’s The Value of Nothing, according to Michael Pollan, “offers us a whole new way to think about price and value. Bracingly written and full of surprises, The Value of Nothing is itself invaluable, showing us a path out of the darkness of the economic woods. Patel may not be the Maitreya, but the two would probably get along.

So to Share International followers out there who are trying to decide what to believe, we suggest (and only partly out of self-interest) that you buy Patel’s books. They may not be the word of God, but they contain wisdom nonetheless. And after that you’ll just “have to think for yourself.”

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha – Raj Patel