Book Review - The Culting of America

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 2, pages 213-215. 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 - The Culting Of America. 

Ron Rhodes. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1994, 259 pages.

Ron Rhodes has a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary, edits a Christian journal, and has authored several books besides this one. The purpose of this book is to focus “on the explosive penetration and influence of cults in America.”

The book is divided into four parts. Part One provides some descriptive material and statistics concerning some of what the author considers several of the major cults and cultic trends in America. Included in this category are the Mormons, the new Age Movement, and the influence of Hinduism. Dr. Rhodes attempts to account for what he terms this “cult explosion” by declaring that conventional American churches fail to do four things: make a real moral difference, provide a sense of belonging, meet people’s needs, and make doctrine a high priority. Additionally, he feels that “disuse” of the Bible by Christians opens the door for “cultic misuse and abuse of the Bible” and that cults exploit the social instability caused by “broken families.”

Dr. Rhodes concludes Part One by contending that America’s world view has shifted due to the influence of “secular humanism,” the “explosive growth of religious pluralism,” and the “erosion of Christianity’s credibility.” Traditional morality has been eroded by disagreements among Christians themselves, the counterculture of the 1960s, Eastern influences, and “moral relativism.”

Part Two attempts to demonstrate how cults have been infiltrating “mainstream America” and plan to continue to do so in the future. The author presents a description of three “representative cultic groups” and how they work to “penetrate mainstream America.” Included are the New Age Movement, Mormonism, and the Unification Church. The description of branches and operations of the new Age Movement is fairly good. Those of Mormonism and the Unification Church are incomplete and fail to include the formal names used by these groups themselves: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints and the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. Neither description of these two groups includes their basic ideology or belief system.

Chapter Two of Part Two includes examples of how these three groups use the media in their goal of “culting America.” The Culting Of America was published in 1994. This may account for the out-of-date examples, which were taken from radio, television, videos, telephone hotlines, newspaper ads, and direct mail.

A chapter called “The Hollywood Connection” cites prominent “Hollywood stars,” past and present, affiliated with a variety of “cultic groups.” Featured are Shirley MacLaine, Linda Evans, Marianne Williamson, LeVar Burton, and Stephanie Kramer. Included is a commentary on specific films that were and are evidence of the rise of cultic influence.

Part Three begins with a discussion of the ”mass quantities of literature” produced by cultic groups. The New Age Movement and Jehovah’s Witnesses are presented as examples. A portrait of how cultic influences have infiltrated the areas of education, business, and health follows. Emphasis is on New Age patterns in the schools and New Age seminars in the business world. The author’s discussion of New Age health therapies is sketchy and hostile to holistic health generally. Dr. Rhodes does not discriminate among the varied definition of “holistic health.”

“Money, sex, and power” are presented as key elements used by cultic groups to attract followers. Specifically discussed are the Word-Faith movement, the Children of God, and the New Age Movement. Word-Faith teachers offer "Prosperity formulas," especially on television.

UFO’s and their ever-increasing popularity are also explored. Emphasized are best-selling books on UFO’s by authors such as Erich von Daniken, Brad Steiger, Shirley MacLaine, and Whitley Strieber. Dr. Rhodes writes, “New Agers are clearly seizing upon Christian terms and doctrines and pouring their own…meanings into them.” He also compares the “UFO experience” to demonism.

Part Three concludes with a discussion of the various millennial predictions of several cultic groups. Included are the Church Universal and Triumphant and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The author exhorts Christians not to succumb to “Millennial Madness.”

“Against the Darkness” is the final chapter of The Culting Of America. Christians are instructed on how to have an impact against the “cancer of cultism” and are urged to go public with their faith and become apologists (defenders) for it.

The author is a fundamentalist Christian writing for other fundamentalist Christians, and therefore the militant, urgent tone of the book is understandable. Dr. Rhodes makes this point eminently clear and this reviewer is not troubled by it. What is disturbing is the total absence of a definition of what constitutes a cult. The author seems to believe a group or movement qualifies for cult status simply because it is included in the book. Some groups cited would not be termed cultic by this reviewer. It is unfortunate that the author did not review the political arena as perhaps the most dangerous focus of the true cults in America.

Christina M. Lemieux, Ph.D.

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Kutztown University

Kutztown, Pennsylvania