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Home » Culture and Criticism

TN Read-Along #16: Jesus Freaks Discussion Thread

Submitted by on October 15, 2012 – 7:11 PM27 Comments

I apologize for not posting the discussion thread sooner, but 1) I spent the morning writing what feels like half the content on the internet and 2) I haven't finished the book yet, because every 10 minutes I have to put it down and dip my head and shoulders in a bucket of industrial lye. FLIRTY FISHING. BODY RUBS. GEEEEE-ROSS. And I know it is only going to get WORSE. Ordinarily, my response to a murderer's manifesto is "I don't get it," or "maybe try therapy?", or "…Henh?" In Ricky's case, it's "so you're just going to kill th– you know what, go for it. I mean, good grief.

What do you guys think? How does the book compare to the Scientology book we read? How much did the dislocated, fragmented social feeling of the late sixties and early seventies help Berg win converts and allow him to take advantage of the "freak" lifestyle? Does the weird Up With People tone of some of Berg's writings combined with the paeans to child masturbation make you want to barf yourself inside out? Let's talk about it! While barfing.

Warning: Spoilers allowed in the thread, so if you don't want to know how revolting it gets, you may want to wait until you've finished the book. And…finished barfing. Which…you may never do.

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  • Daisy says:

    "Loving-up time." Ewwwwwwwwwwwww. I read a lot of true crime and this is the first one where I've ever rooted for the killer.

  • Daisy says:

    Oh and it was so great to have the complete script of what a flirty-fishing encounter might go like. Can you imagine being one of the fish and having that laid on you at a club?

  • Sandman says:

    And I thought the Scientology book was disturbing. Holy Schlamoly. Also: they're really rocking the crazy eyes in that class picture there. Especially the woman sitting on Oddly Beardsley's left. Yikes.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    @Daisy… you are not kidding… they seriously screwed up that poor kid. Although it was an interesting point – if he had found a way to get past that rage, to heal, the story would have had a happier ending.

  • Judy says:

    I think what he offered was very very seductive to kids wanting to rebel yet belong to something, and they were in too deep by the time the realised what was actually going on. Horrible, horrible story.

  • CJ says:

    As horrid as the subject matter was, and boy howdy was it, I thought the book was not well paced. It kind of had a stutter, stop, long detailed explaination, stutter, etc… It was like Sarah said above about having to stop to dip your head in lye, I wonder if the author had the same problem.
    I've never felt so bad for a killer in a true crime novel.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I had to give this one a miss, because it was nowhere to be found–I tried the used bookstore, I tried the (shop!)local bookstore, I tried the huge evil chain bookstore. Each said the same thing–out but I could try distant branch/they could order it for me. By that time I'd left it too long and wouldn't have gotten it in time, so I resigned myself.

    But now from the comments I see God was protecting me from having to barf my insides out and then back in again. Dear Lord, I know there's no limit to the level of Freaky Twisted that people can get up to, but…

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @CJ, there's a typo every few pages, too.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Also! Don't forget the Read-Along Meet-Up tomorrow. Details here, but from 7-9, we'll drink pints (or pops) and talk about…probably not the book because barf. The deets:

  • RJ says:

    Since the chapters are focused primarily on specific individuals rather than chronologically, I'm having a hard time placing events on a timeline. I think that's part of the pacing issue for me; it jumps around a lot. I haven't finished reading, but the other thing that strikes me is the lack of religion in their religion. Yes, they think it's the end times and they want to move away from the "corruption" of organized Christian denominations, but other than praying while masturbating (lol), and letting Jesus fuck you with his Word (hew!), there's zero focus on prayer, worship, etc.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Please form a band called "Masturbating (LOL)." Thank you.

  • RJ says:

    I have no musical skills, but I'm guessing that a band named "Masturbating (LOL)" doesn't need much in the way of musical skills, so I'm working on the band now. :)

  • Lore says:

    Though I suspect RJ is right about the lack of religion in the religion, full stop, it's also hard to tell whether the fault is in the religion or in the description of it; Lattin does seem much more interested in sensationalizing than explaining. One thing I really liked about the Scientology book was that it laid out the methods by which that organization came to be, and its intentional focused growth strategies. Here, I don't have really any idea how they got from "Hey, I'm a preacher without portfolio who keeps losing gigs" to "Look at me, I've got a religion with thousands of followers."

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    [frantic strumming joke]

  • Annie S. says:

    I actually grew up in a Christian-adjacent cult (sometimes called "Christian fringe groups" but seriously, what does this have to do with Christ, exactly?) that was not on this same level but had many of the same elements. (My parents' marriage was semi-arranged; rampant sexual abuse; etc.) I read this book a while ago in the hopes of coming to some understanding of the larger context of what I was raised in.

    I actually had to set myself time limits on reading this book and I had to put the book back in my desk drawer under other books (I didn't want it in my freezer contaminating my innocent frozen foods!) and then pray a whole bunch afterwards. (I'm now Catholic.)

    I agree the book is not very well written, but it is super-compelling. That may just be my own trauma speaking…

    Also, I can't remember if the book mentions this, but this is the cult that the Phoenix children (Joaquin, River, et al.) were raised in.

  • RJ says:

    By the way, "I'm working on the band now" was not a euphemism for anything else. I'm not "working" on anything like that at the moment, I swear!

    @Lore, I agree that it could just be a problem with the story as presented. Oddly enough, I can see some aspects of their brand of religion in the flirty fishing: that at least on the surface presents as being about Jesus' love in a twisted way. But once they got people in as "Christians", it seemed like they abandoned the premise entirely.

    In other news, I loved the beyond-the-grave report from Art Linkletter who at the time was still alive.

  • Even though I voted for it, I ended up having to give this one a pass. I've read some autobiographies of other people who were in Children of God, notably Heaven's Harlots (learned WAY too much about flirty fishing and busking in Europe, ewww), and thought this would add to my fear-of-cults armory.

    Turns out since having a kid (22 months today, yay!) I absolutely cannot read or watch anything about child abuse. Mama Bear gets triggered so fast & so hard, I'm nauseous from anger and ready to hunt people down. . .then go home & never stop snuggling The Boo.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    @Sister Surprise: Turns out since having a kid (22 months today, yay!) I absolutely cannot read or watch anything about child abuse. Mama Bear gets triggered so fast & so hard, I'm nauseous from anger and ready to hunt people down. . .then go home & never stop snuggling The Boo.

    I'm not a parent myself, but I work with kids, and on some level I hear ya – I want to hunt down people who do this to kids!

  • Heather Rose says:

    I am not finished with it yet, and honestly, I may never finish it. The pacing is awful. Every time the author reminds me that Maria is Ricky's mother or Sara is his "primary nanny and sexual playmate", I want to punch him in the face. I am more than halfway through the book, please have some faith that I can keep the cast of characters straight. Hate.

    Also, the topic is handled poorly and there is no strong view point. Is this Ricky's story? Most of the time, it doesn't seem like it is. I, like most of you, am also rooting for the killer.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I'm probably not going to finish it either, if I'm being honest. I'm in the middle of Stewart's "DisneyWar" and I'd rather read that, and also, the further I get into "Jesus Freaks," the more I feel like the author is only interested in grossing us out with "love-up" anecdotes and not in offering any insight into how this mindset evolved.

  • tadpoledrain says:

    I was so excited to read this book, and it ended up being such a weird combination of blah and blearghurrrrrrrrrfffff-hurl. Something so awful and vomit-inducing shouldn't also be so boring.

    The writing was clumsy, the narrative was both all over the place and non-compelling, there weren't enough details about the things I wanted to know about (HOW Berg got so powerful, details of the religion and the philosophy and the psychology, more details about how people lived and what they experienced, everything else that everyone above has mentioned), and there were WAY TOO MANY details about stuff that I didn't want to know about, i.e. enough with the descriptions of molesting little children already. While I think there is an argument to be made that you have to drag this stuff into the light and focus on it in order to understand it, prevent it from happening, acknowledge people's experiences, whatever, 1, I don't think that's the argument that Lattin is making, and 2, some balance, please. Jesus.

    I finished it, but just barely.

  • RobinP says:

    Thanks to everyone who helped crystallize my thoughts. I had a really hard time following the narrative, got no real sense of how the movement evolved, or really what the teachings were. And if I need to be grossed out and horrified, well, I live five miles away from Jessica Ridgeway's house. I now feel totally justified that I only made it 3/4 through the book. Done.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    I had no interest in the book and from the comments I guessed right that it wasn't my cup of tea. However, I'm super-interested in hearing more about new band and their soon to be iTunes hit "Frantic Strumming." Maybe the meetup group could work on the lyrics . . .

  • Sandman says:

    I want to see the behind-the-scenes footage for the meetup / making-of video extravanganza on the "Frantic Strumming" single release.

    "Release." Hew.

  • Dayna says:

    I made it about halfway through this book and stopped. I just don't want to waste any more of my life on these people. I feel very sorry for the children and the abuse they suffered but wow! the banality and stupity of the adults is beyond belief. The writing was just bad. I kept thinking the author was trying to keep the abuse from being salacious in any way and wrote in what he thought was a journalistic manner but in the end, it didn't matter. Both the writing and subject matter were just too atrocious to continue.

  • Emily says:

    I couldn't finish this one, either. I agree with what everyone else said about the author focusing on the salaciousness – it was just so, so disturbing. The play by play of child sexual abuse was so graphic and just so unnecessary… I really couldn't figure out the author's motivation for this type of storytelling. I felt so awful reading this. Yuck. I just hope no one ever looks back at my library card and sees that I ever checked this one out. Ick.

  • @Nanc in Ashland. . ."Frantic Strumming" FTW!

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