“Don Lattin deserves enormous credit for resaerching the story of Berg and The Family.”
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
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 exposé, 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
Expose of the Family International cult, aka Children of God, Teens for Christ or Family of Love. Centering his story on a 2005 murder-suicide which punctuated the cult's dysfunction and catapulted it to the prime-time spotlight, religion journalist Lattin provides a chilling look into this secretive society. Essentially a perverted (in more ways than one) expression of the "Jesus freak" movement of the late 1960s, the Family-founded by David "Moses" Berg, whose mother was a radio evangelist and itinerant preacher-eventually grew to several thousand members across the globe. Controlled by Berg and his inner circle, the Family held complete power over its members. The most damning aspect of the cult's theology was its view of sex, which fostered sexual relations between adults and children, as well as "flirty fishing," which encouraged female members to exploit their sexuality to gain converts or material needs for the Family. Due to shady business dealings, accusations of pedophilia and the complaints of angry parents of young people who had joined the cult, the inner core was forced to move from one country to another, escaping authorities along the way. Lattin tells the story of Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez, an early child of that circle who was molested throughout his childhood and suffered severe emotional abuse through the cult, from which he broke away in his 20s. Unable to cope with his past, he murdered his former nanny and then took his own life-one of 25 suicides attributed to the Family. His story typifies the experiences of many children born to the Family, though Lattin points out that some members of the group have not been tainted by such activities. Some sections of thebook-especially those involving the reprehensible treatment of children-are difficult to read, but the author does a service by making clear the horrible consequences that can result from the influence of one madman. Riveting exploration of one example of religion gone terribly wrong.