Book Review - Thieves of Innocence

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1999, Volume 16, Number 1, pages 74-75. 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 - Thieves of Innocence. 

Ankerberg, J., with Weldon, J., & Brach, C. Harvest House, Eugene, OR, 1993

It is apparent from the outset that the authors of this book are troubled by the New Age Movement because its religious perspective differs from the Western religious tradition (largely perceived as conservative Christian with an occasional nod to Judaism), and because it is allegedly being widely taught in public schools to innocent children. They are distressed particularly by the techniques, regarded as “occult,” that are used to teach children to “get in touch” with their inner selves, to clarify values for themselves, and find answers to their questions within themselves. “This militates against outside authority- parents, church, school, or state. This ultimately produces anarchy” (p. 34). The authors' basic concern is that the techniques used, from progressive relaxation to “channeling” to martial arts to self-hypnosis, to name a few, make the children vulnerable to the ideology and practices of “eastern/occult” religions. (The joining of “eastern” and “occult” is frequent in the text, revealing a certain underlying inaccuracy on the part of the authors, for certainly many occult practices, such as Santeria, are not "eastern.")

There is no question that a number of the techniques taught, as well as some of the ideas, might be offensive to many people and total anathema to others. However, the attack on a “Violence Prevention” module for adolescents that stresses alternative ways to deal with anger (p. 40), causes one to wonder what the authors would prefer. A shootout? Fisticuffs? They also object to exercises designed to enhance self-esteem and to a program that includes stress control and taped relaxation exercises (p. 43). Even the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program is seen as inappropriate because “it is modeled upon a values clarification approach and frequently incorporates humanistic premises” (p.72).

Some of the criticisms of techniques appear to be legitimate in that the reputed virtues of Transcendental Meditation, parapsychological phenomena, guided-fantasies, and the like are highly debatable, especially for young children. The idea of self-actualization as proposed by Maslow, however, is as deplored as the teaching of eastern religious philosophies. “It has been our experience that these beliefs tend to enter through counseling; self-esteem, stress reduction, health, and gifted programs; creative writing classes; some global education courses; and some literature curricula” (p.111). They deplore relativism, critical thinking, learning to choose among options, and attribute the breakdowns in society to the rejection of “the biblical God and this, moral absolutes” (.119). (One wonders about the authors’ reaction to the multi-faceted discussion of Genesis on PBS in fall 1996 which seeks to interpret that Book rather than to accept it literally.)

There is no question that some approaches taught in the schools are inappropriate, but, if the parents were informed about eastern teachings so that they could rationally discuss the merits and weaknesses of the ideas with their children, the parents might still retain the control they desire in conveying values important to them. There are abuses of the freedom to teach, but critics must not slam the door on all nontraditional techniques in an absolutist and total manner, lest they be perceived to be as close-minded and intolerant, as others perceive cult leaders, for example.

It has long been the position of psychologists that vulnerability of youth to outside control, as exercised by cult leaders, is reduced when the youth have a positive sense of self-esteem, when they can ask questions and think critically, and when they are taught to make choices from early childhood on. These are among the practices condemned, unwisely in this writer’s view, by the authors.

Lita Linzer Schwartz, Ph.D., ABPP

Distinguished Professor Emerita

The Pennsylvania State University

Wolves Within the Fold: Religious Leadership and Abuses of Power. Anson Shupe, Editor. 1998. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. [RUP, Livingston Campus, Bldg. 4161, PO Box 5062, New Brunswick, NJ 08903]

Anson Shupe has had a reputation in religious studies not only as an expert on contemporary movements, but he has also been an effective critic of anti-cult organizations. In this volume he presents a collection of papers by many scholars who explore and report their views about abusive leadership in churches and religious groups. Shupe contributes the introduction and two of the chapters in this book, which concentrates on varieties of "clergy malfeasance" in religions. Seven chapters deal with abuses reported in the Roman Catholic Church, but Protestant and nonChristian religions are also examined in the remaining six chapters.

Wolves Within The Fold is divided into three parts: In Structural Opportunities for Exploitation and Abuse, Theresa Krebs examines "Church Structures that Facilitate Pedophilia among Roman Catholic clergy." Robert Kisala writes about abuse in the "AUM Spiritual Truth Church in Japan," and he provides an excellent overview of the sect's origins and doctrines. Anson Shupe reports on "Economic Fraud and Christian Leaders in the United States." In Part II, Responses to Clergy Malfeasance, Elizabeth Pullen reports on "An Advocacy Group for Victims of Clerical Abuse," a chapter about Catholics helping abused Catholics. Nancy Nason-Clark looks at "The Impact of Abuses of Clergy Trust on Female Congregants' Faith and Practice." E. Burke Rochford, Jr., who has studied the Hare Krishna movement extensively, reports his findings in "Reactions of Hare Krishna Devotees to Scandals of Leaders' Misconduct." Rochford offers important insights into the controversial "zonal acarya system" that lies at the core of authoritarian abuse within the sect.

In chapter seven, Philip Jenkins argues that media stereotypes and Church policies of denial have contributed to "Creating a Culture of Clergy Deviance" within the Catholic Church. A. W. Richard Sipe, a former Catholic priest, concentrates on "Clergy Abuse in Ireland," and Jeanne M. Miller writes about "The Moral Bankruptcy of institutionalized Religion." A Roman Catholic priest abused Miller's son.

In Part III, Models for the Study of Clergy Malfeasance, James G. Thompson, Joseph A. Marolla, and David G. Bromley take on the thorny problem of "Disclaimers and Accounts in Cases of Catholic Priests Accused of Pedophilia." This chapter insightfully describes how Church psychiatrists separate behavior from character to help "cushion" or mitigate crimes of pedophilia committed by priests. In "How the Problem of Malfeasance gets Overlooked in Studies of New Religions: An Examination of the AWARE Study [published 1994] of the Church Universal and Triumphant" authors Robert Balch and Stephan Langdon critique the methodologically weak procedures employed by J. Gordon Melton, James R. Lewis, and their colleagues. Balch and Langdon were part of the original team that studied CUT in Montana in 1993, but they dropped out of the effort when they discovered serious lapses in procedure and policy. Although the AWARE study is not without value, according to the authors, many of the scholars ignored Irving Goffman's "dramaturgical model," which demonstrates how team-think might ignore "back stage" realities that affect a study. Indeed, the AWARE group either foolishly prided themselves on their ability to discover deceptions, or succumbed to stereotypes of the "out group," namely the CUT critics and the government agencies investigating CUT.

In his chapter, "Criminology's Contributions to the Study of Religious Crime," Peter Iadicola expands upon Shupe's model for clergy malfeasance in religions by defining it within the context of the social background. Whereas Shupe's model focuses on a "closed" system of religion and "religious crime" perpetrated by "elites." Iadicola opens the discussion by comparing religious crimes to corporate and white-collar crime on national and international scales. Shupe, to his credit as a scholar, included Iadicola's study as a critique of his "clergy malfeasance" model to enhance future study of this area. Shupe rounds out the volume with comments on the "Future Study of Clergy Malfeasance," suggesting more volumes in this important line of inquiry.

CSJ readers may be pleased to learn that there is some mention of cults and the "mind control," or brainwashing, factor in this volume. Robert Kisala, in his chapter on AUM, seems to present theories of "social tension" and "mind control" as the two options researchers use to "explain" the murderous behaviors and irrational devotions of AUM members and their leader. However, he simply dismisses "deprogramming" and mind-control theory by relying on questionable and biased sources (Shupe, p. 34). He does not consider that social tension theory describes milieus that may lead to thought reform, or mind control, in some people; nor does he acknowledge that mind control or thought reform theory can explain what happened with AUM. The fact that some members may defect does not nullify the effectiveness of thought reform processes on others, a reality Kisala and his sources seem to ignore repeatedly.

Anson Shupe, on the other hand, who may be included among those "sources" Kisala relies upon, uses the word "cult" in much the same way and context that AFF supporters might (Shupe, p. 50). Ironically, Shupe et al. in this volume do a credible job of employing elements of so-called mind control theory, to explain the abusive behaviors of leaders and followers, without saying "mind control."

Joseph P. Szimhart

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

How to Rescue Your Loved One from Mormonism. David A. Reed & John W. Farkas. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 203 pages.

This volume was written to provide a guide for families when one member joins the Mormon Church or when one member is strongly interested in the Mormon Church and the family is alienated from that process. The authors based this book on their own religious experiences with different religions, and compare other religions with the Mormon Church. Experiences of many families and their members with different religions are also discussed. A literature review is presented throughout the book as well as an analysis of scriptures and religious doctrine. Their evaluation of the Mormon Church is very negative, so they view a family member's involvement with this group as a definite cause for alarm.

The authors present a step-by-step approach to accomplish the rescue of family members from Mormonism. Timing is of particular importance. Contrary to those who advocate careful planning and caution, these authors tell families not to postpone an intervention. Waiting, they say, can make the process fail due to the family member’s being too involved in the process. Other steps include building one’s knowledge base through reading materials describing the beliefs of the Mormon Church. Planning one's strategy is very important. It is helpful if one has good debating skills because the Mormon missionaries know their material well and have convincing answers to nonmembers’ questions. Usually, according to the authors, a family will only get one chance to rescue a loved one. Therefore, families must present information tactfully and at the proper time and place. This is not easy. According to the authors, it is helpful to have had training in cult deprogramming. (The authors mistakenly equate cult deprogramming with what is commonly called “exit counseling” and overlook the fact that the term “deprogramming” is usually associated with physical detention.)

The authors recommend that interactions with loved ones and Mormon members remain polite and professional. Being angry or rude will only undermine one's effectiveness in rescuing a loved one and might even destroy one's relationship with the person. This means, say the authors, that one must be well-versed in Christian doctrine as well as Mormon doctrine.

The volume has seventeen chapters and a comprehensive reference section on Mormon and non-Mormon scriptures. There are three appendices that explain important items for the reader. These include: (1) resources and support groups; (2) data supporting some of the discussions in the book; and (3) a glossary of terms and definitions designed to improve communication between family, loved ones, and members of the Mormon Church. A chapter titled “The Fruits of Mormonism” is also particularly helpful.

The volume is written well and the authors seem to be knowledgeable about scripture and religious doctrine. They discuss cult deprogramming principles several times throughout the book and suggest that families contact consultants and experienced cult deprogrammers (i.e., “exit counselors”) before attempting to rescue a loved one from Mormonism. The authors also emphasize that after a family succeeds in rescuing their loved one from Mormonism, the rescued person still has to undergo a process of healing and readjustment to family and life in the mainstream society. This process demands time and patience from a loved one and family members as well.

This volume may be a useful and helpful guide for some families concerned about a loved one joining the Mormon Church or being enticed to join by Mormon Missionaries. Readers will learn how knowledge of Christian and Mormon Scripture can enhance their capacity to help an involved loved one.

Marvin W. Clifford, B.C.S.W., D.S.W

New Orleans, Louisiana

Boy Soldiers. A. Hicklin. London, England: Mainstream Publishing. U.S. distributor: Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret VT 05053, 1995,192-pages, paperback.

This book is based on the British case of two male adolescents (Richard Elsey and Jamie Petrolini) who in 1994 killed without provocation an adult male motorist, a stranger selected at random in a mutual pact. The 192-page paperback has 12 chapters, 8 pages of photos, one appendix, but no index and no footnotes.

The author is a journalist and the book reads more like a newspaper feature article. It provides little information about the variety of factors within each perpetrator that might help explain their violent act. The effects of TV violence, military exploits, misguided test of maleness, and folie a deux are given passing reference, not careful scrutiny. We are left to apply our own insights and experiences to these brief references to possible causes of violence.

The chapters are short and easily read, describing the lives of the two boys, more typical than atypical, and not that much different than boys in most communities. These two boys limited their close relationships to each other. Their close friendship isolated and insulated them from home, school, and others who would likely have provided healthier role models and a more positive value system. What filtered through to both of them was selective and reinforced their own narrowed assumptions and wishes. Their shared fantasies moved them further from societal values, ending in a random search for someone to kill. Though not reported directly in the book, the implication is that the jump from internalized thoughts and drives into destructive and violent behavior is not as great as most people assume.

The book ends posing the question as to responsibility for this murder: the boys or “the cluttered battlefield of modern culture” (172)? The author challenges us further with the suggestion that these schoolboy murderers may be on the “ugly side” of a future already here, which we are “too afraid, too ignorant, or too self deceiving to confront” (ibid.). He speculates that “the cyberspace of virtual reality and the Internet” may increase crimes as “new forms of titillation excite desires for physical as well as visual stimulation” (ibid.). These provocative insights and hard questions make this book a valuable addition to other case histories of previously “normal” personalities that go wrong. Implied but not stated directly is the unpleasant reminder that we as a society must do all we can to restore and preserve a better respect for law and for each other. Although apprehending and convicting criminals is an increasingly higher priority, it is, nonetheless, reactive, not proactive or preventive. An equally high priority is to take better care of the body politic as well as those within it who endanger others.

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Rappahannock Community College

Glenns, Virginia

Cultic Studies Journal Volume 16, Number 1 1999