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Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge
HarperOne / 2007 / Hardcover
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Jesus Freaks is the story of a January 2005 night of rage that left two people dead and shed new light on the Children of God/Family International, an evangelical sect founded by David "Moses" Berg, a self-proclaimed "Endtime Prophet." During the spiritual counterculture of the late 1960s, this previously unremarkable evangelist embraced a strange brew of Christian witness, radical politics, apocalyptic doom and free love.
His story is told here through the eyes of Ricky "Davidito" Rodriquez, a child born into the inner sanction of the cult, which sent thousands of hippies, leftists and "Jesus freaks" on a long, strange trip into the messianic fantasy of its leader.
Ricky was christened to be one of the "two witnesses" destined to sacrifice themselves and bring on the apocalyptic battles foretold in the Book of Revelation. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but with a twist. Ricky would grow up, leave the fold and denounce his estranged mother and spiritual father, making his own date with destiny. Consumed with rage, he would become the reluctant martyr for an abused army of troubled souls---a lost generation that would return to haunt The Family International.
In the tradition of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, Don Lattin's Jesus Freaks is the story of a shocking pilgrimage of revenge that left two people dead and shed new light on The Family International, one of the most controversial religious movements to emerge from the spiritual turmoil of the sixties and seventies.
Some say The Family International—previously known as the Children of God—began with the best intentions. But their sexual and spiritual excesses soon forced them to go underground and follow a dark and dangerous path. Their charismatic leader, David "Moses" Berg, preached a radical critique of the piety and hypocrisy of mainstream Christianity. But Berg's message quickly devolved into its own web of lies. He lusted for power and unlimited access to female members of his flock—including young girls and teenagers—and became a drunken tyrant, setting up re-indoctrination camps around the world for rebellious teenagers under his control.
Thousands of children raised in The Family would defect and try to live normal lives, but the prophet's heir apparent, Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez, was unable to either bear the excesses of the cult or fit into normal society. Sexually and emotionally abused as a child, Ricky left the fold and began a crusade to destroy the only family he ever knew, including a plot to kill his own mother.
Veteran journalist Don Lattin has written a powerful, engrossing book about this uniquely American tragedy. Jesus Freaks is a cautionary tale for those who fail to question the prophesies and proclamations of anyone who claims to speak for God.
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. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Riveting exploration of one example of religion gone terribly wrong.
“Eminently readable. A treasure trove for those curious about aberrant cultic enterprises.”
“Don Lattin deserves enormous credit for resaerching the story of Berg and The Family.”
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