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Excerpt of Review of Book: Odd Gods by James Lewis

Posted by locke on May 26, 2005 at 18:10:16

This is more appropriate to a Moving On discussion, but I am posting here for public knowledge.

excerpt follows:

"As an encyclopedic guidebook, Odd Gods can serve two purposes for clinicians. Those interested in gaining a better grasp of the contemporary history of American fringe religious life will find Odd Gods an elucidating text. Clinicians who treat members of these cults or their family members can use Lewis' work to gain a basic understanding of the tenets of these groups.
Despite its potential usefulness, Odd Gods has a number of major drawbacks. As a scholarly edited work, it is somewhat startling that the contributors' biographies or affiliations are not included. Given the passions involved in dialogue about fringe religions, it would be somewhat reassuring for the reader to know something of the authority of those who speak.
A more important shortcoming is that Lewis analyzes the cultural antipathy to fringe religion from the narrow dimension of free speech. He correctly asserts that cults receive unfair treatment by society despite American tolerance and celebration of freedom of expression. But this is by no means the whole story. By the example that they set—as well as by virtue of eschewing "hand me down religion" (1)—cults offer much to the growing faith and spirituality communities of Americans.

Nevertheless, the cults of personality and the consistent family and community divisiveness sown by many of these groups are reason enough for responsible and sensitive scholars to cast a wary eye on cults, Lewis' contentions notwithstanding.

Mr. Mark is a psychotherapist in the adult outpatient department of Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey. He is also an ordained rabbi on the faculty of the Frisch Yeshiva in Paramus.