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Jesus Freaks


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About the Author

Don Lattin is one of the nation's leading journalists covering alternative and mainstream religious movements and figures in America. His work has appeared in dozens of U.S. magazines and newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the religion beat for nearly two decades. Lattin has also worked as a consultant and commentator for Dateline, Primetime, Good Morning America, Nightline, Anderson Cooper 360, and PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. He is the author of Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, and Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today, and is the coauthor of Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium.


In January 2005, Ricky Rodriguez stabbed a woman to death and then fled the scene of the crime, finally shooting himself in the California desert. Rodriguez was a high-profile ex-member of the Children of God, also called the Family, a controversial hippie cult of the 1970s that had spiraled into aberrant sexual behaviors and other disconcerting practices. Rodriguez was seeking revenge for the sexual abuse that his murder victim and others had committed against him when he was a child (the cult had gone so far as to record its crimes in a bizarre book that glibly described-and provided photographic evidence of-sexual relations between adults and children). Lattin, who covered the religion beat for the San Francisco Chronicle, offers an arresting if uneven account of the Family. He begins by arguing that the cult is best understood in the context of American evangelicalism, and does some strong investigation into the founder's ancestry to prove this point. But he does not sustain these threads throughout the book, which becomes a typical true crime tale. Some aspects of the Family, like "flirty fishing" (sacred prostitution), are carefully researched, while others (like a journalistic account of how the cult funded itself so well on a global scale) are underreported. (Oct.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"Eminently readable. A treasure trove for those curious about aberrant cultic enterprises."--Booklist
Riveting exploration of one example of religion gone terribly wrong.--Kirkus Reviews
"Don Lattin deserves enormous credit for resaerching the story of Berg and The Family."--Bookslut.com

In 2005, Angela Smith was stabbed to death in Arizona. Hours later the killer took his own life. He was Ricky Rodriguez, formerly known as Davidito, the so-called Prince of the religious cult the Children of God (aka the Family). Smith was an influential member of the cult who had helped raise Davidito. Journalist Lattin (Following Our Bliss), who covered the Family for the San Francisco Chronicle, uses interviews with current and former Family members and excerpts from Family publications to describe the activities of "a band of Jesus freaks that went dangerously awry." Founded in the 1960s by David "Moses" Berg, the movement was characterized by free love and rigid discipline. Berg, the End Prophet, was accused by Rodriguez (his adopted son) and others of methodically sexually abusing the Family's children. Marriages between generations were encouraged, and young women were instructed to practice "flirty fishing" to recruit new members. The psychological toll on the second generation of Family members was heavy and resulted in many suicides. Lattin uses Rodriguez's quest for revenge as his focal point but often gets distracted, introducing too many minor figures and overemphasizing the sexual exploits of Berg and other leaders. Nevertheless, this is a valuable expose, with well-documented sources, of a fringe group that is still active worldwide. Lattin also provides a capsule history of similar countercultural religious movements. The book, which reads like a suspense novel, will be in demand at public libraries but is also recommended for sociology of religion collections in academic libraries.-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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