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Book Review - Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: From Fundamentalist to Freedom Writer.
Skip Porteus. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1991, paperback, 313 pages.
To most Americans, cults are extremist groups having little in common with legitimate religion, while Christian fundamentalist organizations are an authentic and accepted branch of mainstream religion. I believe that, on the spectrum between cultic and noncultic, much of fundamentalism falls within a few shades of cultism. (In this review when I use the term "fundamentalism" I refer to its more extreme forms.)
Both cultists and fundamentalists practice varying degrees of coercive influence. They utilize deception and phobia indoctrination and teach the polarization of good and evil and the dehumanization of outsiders. When carrying out their human agenda for growth and power, the end typically justifies the means. The primary difference between levels of extremism rests in the degree to which the leadership achieves direct control over their followers. Therein also lies the relative potential for harm to members and the society at large. Cult leaders, fed by their power, exhibit a level of hubris that, when bolstered by a paranoid or narcissistic delusional mindset, can result in extreme danger to members and society alike.
The threat of harm posed by fundamentalist churches in this country has been somewhat more contained. Yet other problems exist. Many individuals who are inculcated with fundamentalism are harmed by the attack on their individual rights to believe, think, and act independently. In addition, over the past two decades there has been a disturbing growth of Christian Reconstructionisma philosophy that has served as the foundation for a movement of Christian fundamentalists, whose goal is to reconstruct American society according to the Bible. Leaders of this movement support the aim of subverting the American political system and stealthily converting its government into a theocracy. One goal of Reconstructionism, for example, is to introduce legislation that would lead to the execution of convicted homosexuals, adulterers, and abortionists.
In this book Skipp Porteous provides a first-hand account of the development of fundamentalist Christian America from the 1970s through the present. It focuses on the beginnings of many Christian churches and movements that, through the use of emotional manipulation and coercive pressure, rapidly developed a large following. Porteous take the reader on a tour through his childhood and young adulthood, chronicling events relevant to his affiliation and departure from these movements. The book ends with a demonstration of Porteous’s current anti-fundamentalist activities in the form of transcripts from television and radio interviews by which Porteous exposes the agendas of radical right leaders.
In Chapter 1, Porteous introduces the reader to a variety of fundamentalist political organizations that have experienced a rise in political power and financial resources, and describes their aggressive and deceptive strategies. Though it may appear that the radical religious right has experienced decreasing energy and influence since its public pinnacle during the Reagan campaigns, Porteous points out that the battle to end American constitutional rights continues more fervently than ever. The radical right's focus has shifted to local and state politics, arenas that have enjoyed less exposure and therefore less public scrutiny.
Chapters 2 through 6 change focus to offer an account of Porteous’s personal history. Chapters 7 through 15 chronicle his personal ministry and experiences on the frontlines of the American fundamentalist ministries. Descriptions of these experiences are peppered with insights about the deception, quackery, and psychological manipulation that have characterized many of these groups. Chapters 15 through 22 portray a reversal of the author’s energies and allegiance, toward support of First-Amendment liberties and exposure of the Christian reconstructionist movement.
Porteous’s book alternates between two identities. On the one hand, it is an expose of the fringe religious right, and on the other, a personal journal. Unfortunately, the book reads like a first draft. It would have benefited from tighter editing to provide a central focus and integration of its aims. While Porteous’s description of fundamentalist preachers is accurate in many ways, a more well-rounded portrait could have been painted to show why these people are so appealing. He also might have discussed the influence of manipulative environmental factors, such as the music and the crowds, on attendees’ spiritual experiences. More sociological information about the Jesus movement, street churches, and the Pentecostal movements would have enriched the book. Some less interesting areas, such as the discussion of his marital affair and divorce, either could have been excluded or developed into another book that would have provided a more personal account.
There is a disappointing lack of psychological insight in Porteous’s personality patterns and life decisions. For example, he never addressed the personal fanaticism that seems to underlie his fundamentalist ministry and present advocacy for First-Amendment rights. In addition, there is no introspective analysis of this dramatic life transition.
Despite the book’s shortcomings, Porteous succeeds in providing an intriguing synopsis of the growth and ongoing aims of the radical religious right. The book’s clever title is representative of Porteous’ quick-witted intelligence, which is demonstrated in the media interviews transcribed in the last chapters.
The first and last sections of this book are invigorating enough to compensate for its lethargic core. Anyone who would enjoy sparring with Jerry Falwell would especially delight in reading these transcripts. This book should be on the shelf of all those who seek information about fundamentalist movements in America, as well as those concerned with the preservation of a nontheocratic way of life.
Nadine Winocur, Psy.D.
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 17 2000