A fine popular survey of the cultists and their enemies--coolly demythologizing the whole issue and suggesting that if anyone is a menace, it's the deprogrammers. Bromley and Shupe concentrate on six groups: the Children of God, the Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Divine Light Mission, Scientologists, and People's Temple. They examine the origins of each ""cult"" (a highly dubious term, they insist), its charismatic leader, ideology, finances, and controversial practices. Their findings, while not startlingly original, are reasonable and persuasive: the cults are very small (e.g., the Unification Church's claim of 30,000 American members is grossly inflated); they do not brainwash their members or enslave them; they are not subversive in any real sense; their fundraising tactics, though sometimes deceptive, are no worse than those of most competitors for charitable dollars; reports of their sexual abuses are greatly exaggerated (exceptions being made for the Rev. Jim Jones' inner circle and the ""flirty fishing"" by female Children of God). In short, the cults are no cause for alarm. Though structurally and functionally quite diverse (People's Temple's poor blacks vs. affluent Scientologists), all the cults demand personal sacrifice and total loyalty, and aim at the radical transformation of their members. The greatest challenge they pose is to the mainline churches in that they try to win over young people, violate the traditional boundaries separating Church and State, and openly preach heresy. But all sorts of religious groups have done this from time immemorial (e.g., Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.). The cults obviously also upset many parents of their converts, but Bromley and Shupe argue forcefully that this is no justification for many of the crimes against civil rights committed in the name of alienated filial affection. The only person in this balanced, restrained book who comes close to being a villain is de-programmer Ted Patrick. A first-rate study, probably the best in its class.
Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1981
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981
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