Books by David E. Van Zandt

Released: Nov. 30, 1991

A curious volume about the cult known as the Children of God, from Van Zandt, a sociologist (Law/Northeastern) who infiltrated a British branch. The Children of God was one of the cults that sprang up in the 1960's and 70's, part of an evangelistic movement known collectively as the Jesus People (or, more irritably, as ``Jesus freaks''). It drew attention initially, says the author, because it required members to drop out of the system and join ``Family'' communes and later because its leader, David Berg (``Moses David''), espoused sexual activity for its members that went far beyond even the new freedom of the flower children. Introducing children to sex (usually, although not always, with other children) at an early age, using sex to lure new members in a proselytizing gambit called ``Flirty Fishing,'' Berg directed the sexual activity of his followers through pastoral letters known as ``Mo letters.'' The author joined one group covertly for a month, spent another two months with another colony with the permission of the leaders, and kept in touch with members and leaders (not Berg) for another several years, ending in 1978. His aim was to find out what it was like living within a so-called ``programmed'' community—boring, for the most part, it turns out, even to some believers. Days were spent reading the ``Word'' (of Bible or Berg), ``litnessing'' (distributing literature to unwary pedestrians), and doing chores. All that sex sounds more uninhibited than it was, since many of the members weren't enthusiastic about the policies and didn't participate. And although massive verbal efforts were made to restrain them, there was no physical force used to keep members from leaving the group. Overall, despite some interesting anecdotes, Van Zandt's presentation is flat, his observations thin, his conclusions amorphous. The ``Mo letter'' reproduced in an appendix has a lot more punch. (Nine halftones—not seen.) Read full book review >