Book Review - Cults and Consequences

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1988, Volume 5, Number 2, pages 254, 255. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Cults and Consequences: The Definitive Handbook

Rachel Andres and James R. Lane (Eds.). 

Los Angeles: Commission on Cults and Missionaries, Community Relations Committee, Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, 1988

This valuable, down-to-earth book is part of an effort to "respond to the problems of cult and missionary groups in the Jewish community." As such, the book naturally touches upon Jewish viewpoints and concerns. But that does not diminish its virtually universal usefulness.

As a handbook, the volume is conveniently divided into ten sections, or "Parts," which cover a wide range: (1) Cults & Society; (2) Entry; (3) Staying Put; (4) On the Outside..Looking In; (5) Getting Out; (6) Staying Out; (7) Looking Back; (8) Legal Issues; (9) Closing Comments; and (10) Resources/References.

The Parts are divided into convenient subdivisions, all combining to form a convenient Table of Contents that makes the extensive informaton readily available. An excellent Index adds further to accessibility.

Those who are experienced in the field will recognize some of the material, but they will be pleased to find it gathered together in such convenient form. New material has also been added at many points, often reflecting different points of view. Most "Parts" also include a Study Guide to stimulate further exploration.

Beginning with the basic discussion of "What is a Cult?" and continuing throughout, the handbook presents varied approaches to the different aspects of the problems cults pose. It recognizes the similarities and differences among cults, the variations in kind and in degree. It even describes some positive aspects of some cults, even if outweighed by the negative. The effort is to understand, not simply to condemn.

The book presents an excellent case for the position of the Commission on Cults and Missionaries: that there must be a counterposition to ward off those who oppress or persecute, who force their beliefs by mind control and manipulation or coercive persuasion.

The text offers a full and comprehensive literary resource to those researching the area, to those who may need to address the issue of whether to help their children escape the oppressive hold of a cult, and to those who may be making possible entry or departure from certain groups, and need to make informed choices.

The book outlines the potentially negative effects of certain destructive cults: the loss of free will over one's life, "reduced capacity to form flexible and intimate relationships, poor capacity to form judgments, hallucinations, panic, guilt, identity confusion, paranoia and dissociation, and in some groups, occasional neurotic, psychotic or suicidal tendencies, or involuntary slavery."

The result is a practical volume that happily can serve a double purpose. It can be read through, even by the uninitiated, for its highly informative, well-organized content. Or it can serve as a handy, reliable, time-saving reference work.

There is a central theme in the book: protection of religious liberties and the freedom to choose. The Constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof") do not imply freedom to violate laws or to physically and emotionally abuse people. The First Amendment, like the rest of the bill of rights, is designed to protect the freedom of individuals, as well as organized religious groups.

Its editors, Rachel Andres and James R. Lane, are to be congratulated.

Anita O. Solomon, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., Rockville, MD

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1988