Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy

Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy

Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy

Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy

Synopsis

Lewis analyses the characteristics of truly dangerous groups compared to those of the merely unusual but innocuous, and he discusses what people find attractive about membership in minority religions, as well as community suspicions and media hype that lead to misunderstandings. The bulk of the book is devoted to a broad-based survey of unusual religious groups. Included are minority religious sects stemming from Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh tradition, as well as unrelated groups such as the Moonies, Wiccans, Satanists, Spiritualists, Channellers, Scientologists, the Heaven's Gate cult, a host of New Age and UFO groups, and many others. This is the definitive sourcebook for understanding and researching the crazy-quilt landscape of free religious expression in America.

Excerpt

he cult controversy is one of those issues that periodically explodes into public consciousness, dominates the TV networks and newspapers for a time, and then disappears as reporters turn their collective attention toward newer, fresher scandals and disasters. The impression this sporadic coverage has created in the public consciousness is that our society is filled with innumerable weird groups capable of breaking out into some form of sociopathic behavior at any moment. This picture is deeply flawed. In the first few chapters of the present text, I hope to supply some of the pieces missing from this skewed image.

Scholars have studied this conflict since the 1970s. Their collective findings produce a picture of the controversy profoundly at odds with popular stereotypes. While I have attempted to allow competing points of view to find expression in the following pages, my orientation to the issue derives from the consensus viewpoint of mainstream academic.

Chapter 1 presents an overview of the controversy. The two major competing points of view are delineated, particularly with respect to the brainwashing debate. This chapter also provides some historical background, a brief overview of the role of the media, an analysis of what people find attractive about membership in minority religions, and a discussion of the characteristics of truly dangerous groups.

Because of church-state separation issues, the primary battleground for the controversy has been the courts. Chapter 2 surveys the history of this conflict. A number of recent decisions have defeated the "cultic mind control" argument in the courts and eviserated the anticult movement.

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