Editor’s Note: This book review deals with topics that may disturb some readers.
It’s no secret that many of us find cult stories fascinating. They’re full of interesting characters, dramatic arcs, and often dirty and shocking details.
But the overarching questions we seem to want to answer are: How did you get in? and How did you get out?
There is no shortage of books that answer these questions when it comes to the infamous Children of God – or The Family International, as it is now called.
The last, Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Up With The Children Of God, A Wild And Radical Religious Sect, is written by successful lawyer Faith Jones. She is a granddaughter of David Berg, the founder of The Family, and was raised in worship from childhood – among many siblings born to her father and two wives – until she ‘she manages to leave him for good in her early twenties.
Jones was one of the band’s second generation members – or SGM, in cult parlance – now old enough to have strayed far enough from his traumatic upbringing to start talking about it publicly. Others have done the same in recent years – Flor Edwards with Apocalypse Child: a life at the end of time; the next Rebel: The extraordinary story of a childhood in the cult of the “Children of God” by Faith Morgan; Next Worship: My Escape and Return to the Children of God by Bexy Cameron (not yet available in the US); and Lauren Hough Leaving is not the hardest thing, which, as I wrote in my review, goes way beyond the cult experience itself.
The fact that there are so many books on a single cult seems to demonstrate just how widespread and vast it was, as well as readers’ appetites for new information about The Family.
Jones opens his book with a history of the cult and its phases, giving unfamiliar readers a useful insight. The majority of the memoirs recount his childhood and adolescence, beginning with the relocation of his nuclear family to Hac Sa, a village in a remote part of the island territory of Macau, off the south coast of China. There, his siblings, father and two mothers slowly won over the locals by cleaning up the streets and putting pressure on their contacts in Macau to start providing electricity and plumbing to the area, which did not benefit from many basic municipal services. Other members of the Children of God would come out, some staying briefly, others for years. Over time, what started out as a collection of damp, abandoned buildings has grown into a bustling little town.
Jones writes of those years as if she was still from her child’s perspective, with relatively few extras noting how unsettling aspects of her life are. For example, she explains in a neutral tone: “. these are all our children. ‘”Touchingly, she also admits that as a young child she resents the fact that all children are supposed to call Berg, or Moses David,” grandfather “because he is her real grandfather but not theirs., although she’s never met him. “But that would give me a slap and a lecture on how he’s all our grandfather in spirit.”
Sex has permeated Jones’ life from a young age. As she writes, the Children of God have used sex for many years as a tool for recruiting and fundraising, as well as a form of control. She notes that women had to “share” – have sex with – the men they lived with, regardless of their relationship status or attraction. Failure to make himself available to such contact, she wrote, implied that a member of The Family was not committed enough to God and to Moses David, their leader, and there were severe punishments for such reluctance to do so. to sell.
Jones sees her mother sleeping with men who look down on her and is pressured into having sex with adult men when she is a child herself. As she grows up and unwanted sexual coercion increases, Jones struggles with how uncomfortable she feels about it all. Yet that is all she knows, having been largely cut off from the “System” – the world outside the cult and its members – her entire life. She continually convinces herself that she is working for the glory of God, to try to save as many people as possible from the disastrous End Times to come, and her disillusion comes slowly, little by little. It takes years for her to leave completely, and her journey is often painful, filled with horrors, illusions, trauma, triumphs, moments of tenderness, and occasional humanitarian work alongside all the proselytizing.
Where the book begins to falter, and at times become aggravating, is when Jones begins life in the United States in his early 20s, having officially and intentionally left The Family to do so. After discovering the wonders of books and the power of education during a brief stint in the United States as a teenager, Jones is hungry for a traditional schooling after her years of learning on her own. She quickly makes the connection that the path to education ends up being quite similar to her indoctrination in The Family: “They give you the answers, you learn them, then they notice you how you can recite them with a light flavor. different. .” Fair enough: yet, while she is astute about certain aspects of the “System”, she seems to overlook the very real systems that exist in it.
Throughout her childhood she used the maxim of Winston Churchill, Never give in, never, never, never, to help him endure difficult times, and develop a mentality of gritting our teeth and putting up with it. This is completely understandable, as she lived in a world where any deviation from the rules – rules that changed often enough to throw everyone off balance – could lead to physical and emotional abuse. Yet, she translated her approach to personal survival into a message that she seems to think everyone could benefit from, a priming message of personal responsibility above all else.
Stranger still is Jones’ revelation near the end of the book in which she describes her approach to life and the liberation of women as being similar to US property laws. She views each person’s body as a property over which they alone have an inalienable right – but then celebrates the men who wrote “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which many believed they absolutely had the right to own other people. . (She admits, underestimated, that they “screwed up by not applying it to all humans.”)
It’s also quite uncomfortable, speaking of indoctrination, to see Jones trying to sell her TEDx Talk message at the end of the book, especially when she applies it so broadly that it sounds, weirdly, like a guru: ” I’ve crystallized our foundation moral philosophy, the DNA of our legal system, morality, and human rights into one simple diagram that I can teach a curious eight-year-old. The book might have had more of an impact if Jones had shared his story without trying to add a unique, holistic, and packable message to the end.
Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American fiction writer, critic and founder / host of The Other Stories podcast. His first novel is All of my mother’s lovers.