Book Review - Culted Child: The True Story of a Daughter Disciple
Culted Child: The True Story of a Daughter Disciple
By Maria Peregolise
Reviewed by Ron Burks
Culted Child, LLC., July 18, 2021. ISBN: 1-7362497-1-0 (Paperback); ISBN: 978-1-7362497-0-3 (eBook). $17.99 (paperback); no charge (kindleunlimited). 387 pages.
Regardless of one’s view of The URANTIA Book, Maria Peregolise’s life story is a must-read. Peregolise writes like a novelist, skillfully setting the scene, then bringing the reader into it like a fly on the wall. Her easy, descriptive style and her mastery of dialogue make this story even more horrifying because it really happened.
The author includes an extensive list of resources that were helpful for her. Topics in the list include works in the cultic field—about narcissism, recovery from trauma, signs of emotional abuse, grief, and much more. Peregolise weaves what she has learned into her story, letting us into her inner journey toward independent thinking. Music and lyrics were especially helpful to her recovery, and she includes a list of song titles. For those recovering from betrayal, manipulation, and control, this section alone is worth the read.
An in-depth critique of the content of The URANTIA Book, first published in 1955 and sometimes called The Urantia Papers or The Fifth Epochal Revelation, is beyond the scope of this book and therefore of this review. However, a little introduction is needed because of The Urantia Book’s relative obscurity. According to the website urantiabook.org,
The Urantia Book is a gift of revelation that extends our knowledge of spirituality, the universe, ourselves, and our destiny. It leads each of us into an intimate personal relationship with our indwelling spirit and calls us to a life of service to our global family.
According to researchers Lewis (2007, p. 201) and Gardner (1995, p. 116), the content of the book was dictated by an unnamed neighbor of its early promoter, William Sadler, while the neighbor was asleep. Sadler was a physician and had previously authored a book debunking these kinds of phenomena. Sadler and his wife, also a physician, had attended sessions with the sleeping neighbor since 1911. Suddenly, in 1925, after years of listening to their neighbor’s disjointed mumbling, the Sadlers’ notes began to be filled with long passages of narrative.
The Urantia Book claims to be a sort of handbook to the Bible, adding to and explaining the celestial world more fully, and connecting all the world’s religions. According to the text, Urantia is what celestial beings call Earth. Peregolise resists going into the details of the book or its teachings other than those that affected her most. She writes as an insider, one who had a front-row seat as a group of adherents grew into a worldwide movement. She even met the last of the original members of this group at a conference.
The author’s father was drawn into the study of The Urantia Book by a college professor, and then became an interpreter and even a contributor to its lore. He dedicated his life to the book while maintaining a respected engineering practice and, with his children as captive helpers, building a house of his own design. From childhood, her father targeted her as the next chosen one to continue his work. She was repeatedly told she would have to do what he said or fail in her destiny to be crucial to changing the world!
With no tools to evaluate what she was taught before she was thoroughly embedded in her family’s culture, Peregolise had little choice. This culture, her father’s intellect and total dedication to The URANTIA Book, and his insistence that she was destined for greatness, kept her in fear of making a mistake. As her father became well known in The Urantia Book community, Peregolise describes him becoming like a cult leader. When she or others tried to confront him, he displayed a combination of angry withdrawal, anger, and warm encouragement (read as good cop, bad cop). Culted Child… indicates that he transformed the surface message of the book from basically “Be true to the bit of God within you and care for each other” into “Obey me because I love you.”
Leaders in cults and related groups [SH1] have long been observed by their critics to be intoxicated by power, addicted to and deceived by praise, and terrified of rejection. Such leaders demand extreme loyalty without displaying virtue in themselves, give the appearance of caring without really attending to others, and exercising power instead of providing meaningful leadership. Consequently, the author’s journey out of her father’s control was long and came at a terrible cost. But the author had little choice, having been born into this family.
Culted Child… is a warning to those among us who choose to engage in armchair spiritual quests, pursuing that which satisfies our curiosity without critical thought concerning where our quest may lead. Those we love can be harmed by our oversight and overzealousness. But, spoiler alert, this story is one of courage, and triumph. Reason, critical thinking, and hard choices win.
Lewis, S. (2007). Chapter 10: The peculiar sleep: Receiving The Urantia Book. In Lewis, J. R. & Hammer, O. (Eds.), The Invention of Sacred Tradition (pp. 199–212). Cambridge University Press.
Gardner, M. (1995). Urantia: The great cult mystery. Prometheus Books.
About the Reviewer
Ron Burks, PhD, holds an MDiv and an MA in counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary and a PhD in Counselor Education from Ohio University. He worked for many years at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio. He and his wife Vicki wrote Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement, published by Zondervan. His other publications include a chapter on a connection between cults and addiction in the medical reference, Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, published by Williams and Wilkins. He and Vicki now live near Tallahassee, Florida where both are licensed mental health counselors and operate an intensive outpatient substance abuse program at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Ron is a former president of the Wellspring Retreat Board of Directors.
[SH1]Michael has suggested this revised wording:
Suppose instead of saying “Cult leaders have long been…” we say “Leaders in cults and related groups have long been.” My concern is that the review only says her father is “like a cult leader.” Adding “and related groups” seems more precise.