Book Review - The Lure of the Cults and News Religions

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1988, Volume 5., Number 2, pages 246-247. 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 Lure of the Cults and New Religions 

 Ronald Enroth. InterVarsity Press, Downer's Grove, Illinois, 1987

This second edition of Enroth's 1979 book wears well. The author, a professor of sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, is very experienced in the cult field and has many publications to his credit. The book contains good, clear writing about a problem that is still with us and gives no sign of surrender. The many stories about victims and their recovery produce a happy balance between analysis and the concrete.

This book, which was written shortly after the Jonestown tragedy, begins with reflections on that sad event. The author, whose declared purpose is "to warn as much as to inform," provides exactly the tool needed by clergy, educators, and other counselors who feel that they do not know how to begin to cope with the "cult problem." The book will also be helpful for families distressed over a relative's involvement in a manipulative group.

In the second chapter, "The Many Faces of Cultism," the author reminds us that the groups we used to hear about are still around and operating profitably. Some turn up with new names; some generate "spin-offs"; but the cult phenomenon has, regrettably, not run its course.

Although other writers have categorized Zen as a cult, I must enter a demurrer to Dr. Enroth's joining them in listing "Zen Buddhism" as an aberrant group. There is no doubt about the influence Zen has had upon Scientology, est, and many other groups. Zen's existentialism and its focus upon the individual as his own savior have made it attractive to many who have "made the turn to the East." And for some, Zen provides an excuse for a very individualistic code of morality.

But those things being said, it seems only right to acknowledge that Zen Buddhism has its own legitimacy in its own realm. It is not reasonable to condemn it because of the ignoble uses to which it has been put by the unscrupulous. Zen is not comfortably transplanted out of its native culture.

Parenthetically, and at the risk of disturbing some readers, I would add a caution about some anti-cult writing (not Enroth's) which, with a broad brush, condemns any spirituality rooted in ancient India. One cannot expect to comprehend the rich spiritual tradition of India through the prisms presented by Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation, or the Bhagwan Rajneesh. Those things are an embarrassment to the devout Hindu as the Unification Church is to the intelligent Korean

Enroth notes that "an historical perspective will reveal this nation's propensity for religious innovation and pluralism." But is it not ironic that the gurus of what is called the New Age movement appear to lead their susceptible customers not down the fairways of the future but back along the paths of the past. Divination, clairvoyance, superstition, magical healing, and attempts to commune with spirits of the deceased do not represent a new thrust in Man's aspirations. In fact, it would be difficult to find a time in history or a place on the planet when mankind did not face these tempting short cuts to a higher knowledge or hidden wisdom. "For the Christian," Enroth rightly says, "New Age spirituality is intrinsically counterfeit. The goal of Christian worship is not the expansion of consciousness or the experience of self-realization, or ego enlightenment."

Enroth has consistently opposed involuntary "deprogramming," as do most of those who have had success in the liberation and re-education of cult victims. However, he noted originally - and it is still true - that there are all too few "halfway houses" or places to accommodate the gradual readjustment of those people who are returning from a very confusing psychological "trip." It would seem that there is a great deal that could be learned if we were able to monitor more effectively the recovery of ex-cultists. And we might minimize their anguish if we had a better understanding of their suffering.

"When Mr. Moon was released from prison in August 1985," Enroth reminds us, "the fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell participated in a press conference in Washington and called on President Reagan to issue a full pardon to Moon." The public relations push on Moon's behalf was remarkable. As Enroth reports, "A number of religious bodies and evangelical Christian organizations...filed friend-of-the-court briefs on Moon's behalf when he stood trial in 1982." The gullibility of some informed and sophisticated people was more surprising. One nationally syndicated religious and political writer responded to a complaining letter from this corner with a brief note saying, "Isn't it strange how many others 'signed on'?" And one large, religiously affiliated university ran a week-long conference with the Moonies, Hare Krishna, and Scientology. They called it an "ecumenical dialogue." The president's feeble response to objections showed that he was quite unaware that he had been "used." He would benefit by reading Enroth, who would tell him, "Most cults are skillful at using such opportunities to achieve legitimacy by association."

Because "the cults short-circuit the cognitive and spiritual quests for truth," the cult problem is one that has to concern parents, educators, and clergy. To all of them, this book can be warmly recommended.

Walter Debold

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Seton Hall University

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