This personal recounting by a ex-Moonie of 'The Nightmare of Cult Life," means to frighten and -- after the mass death at the People's Temple -- it should. It tells how a self-described "critical Yalie" from a comfortable family in suburban New Jersey was turned into a chanting cult functionary, so mindlessly obedient he would, he says, have killed his own parents to satisfy the whims of his spiritial leaders.
At loose ends after his graduation from Yale with a degree in psychology and philosophy, Christopher Edwards was a prime candidate for the "heavenly deception" of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. He was alone and searching for answerw when he fell into a street-corner conversation. Smiling, affectionate Moonies began almost at once applying their disarnig brand of mind control. Edwards, who has since been deprogrammed, describes how his seemingly guileless leaders exploited his confusion and need for affection with a skillful combination of "love bombing" and steely regimentation.
In a few weeks, the student of Hegel was turned into a "heavenly child," unable to think or act for himself. In a month, he was mimicking the same technique to convert other potential Monnie recruits.
The condition spreads itself like a disease, with its own characteristic symptoms: chanting (to block out thought)), "tennis-ball" eyes and an ear-to-ear grin so fixed it pains the bearer. There are dangers other than zombie-ism. Though he is the son of a physician, Edwards waited so long for divine treatment of a bably infected hand that he almost lost it to amputation. He was chronically undernourished and overworked. While his small group collected $1,000 a day for the church, he was fed donated hamburger scraps, stale donuts and peanut butter sandwiches. Still, he was ready to do anyting his leaders asked.
But all this frightens less than it should, in fart because "Crazy For God" often reads like parody. Recalling a campus romance, Edwards writes: I had turned inward and she had truned to an Iraqi Marxist. And so I had left Yale broken hearted.
Elsewhere, a Moonie tells him: "Satan really wants you, and God wants you, too. I think you are the first Yalie God has rescued." At times, when he describes -- with evident pride -- his rapid progress through the organization ranks, Edwards sounds like any corporate gogetter: "Now to really succeed in the Family, I realized that I had to win the respect of all the highest members... the ones who enjoyed the wealth and prestige as well as the power..."
More important, the descriptions of Unification Church mind control and dogma doesn't seem threatening. Edwards feels obliged to quote or paraphrase at length theological lectures that are boring and nonsensical, consisting mainly of "buzz words." The Moonies themselves tend to fall asleep during these talks and so will the reader.
The brainwashing techniques seem harmless of, at worst, silly. Edwards is ambivalent about the impersonal but enthusiastic "love bombing" used by the Moonies to break down recruits. He writes, admiringly: "Guests closed their eyes and soaked up the joy, feelings of peace and brotherhood such as they had never experienced before." Elsewhere, the Moonie techinques are laughable. Members chant: "Choo-choo-choo, choo-choo-choo. Yay, yay -- Pow!" With faces lit up like Smile buttons, they sing "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah" and "You Are My Sunshine."
Perhaps this should be cause for additional fright: that the Moonie techniques are as disarming in print as they evidently were in person. The apparent silliness is the main reason the techniques work so well. "What's the danger in singing along? Why be so rigid and resisting? Edwards means to demonstrate that even the most critical of us might be susceptible to these disarming techniques. And he amply illustrates the dangers of singing along.
The clean-cut guilelessness covers up sexism, elitism, pollible child abuse, violations of labor laws and a systematic exploitation of young workers that is startling for its imaginativeness (a 16-hour-a-day dishwasher is told "evil dish spirits" will attack his muscles if he doesn't work hard enough). Edwards also points out the most frightening possible consequence of spiritual subjugation: another Jonestown when "the master" loses his vision and his hopes for success.
It is too bad that Edwards' over-wrought ambivalent and sometimes inept writing undermines this important point.