Be­yond Be­lief: Cults, Heal­ers, Mys­tics and Gu­rus—why We Be­lieve

Arthur Janov

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - BARRY SILVERSTEIN

Rep­u­ta­tion Books Soft­cover $24.95 (418pp) 978-0-9862031-7-6 This thought-pro­vok­ing and im­por­tant book shows how peo­ple are drawn to­ward dan­ger­ous be­liefs.

Be­lief can man­i­fest it­self in world-chang­ing ways—and did, in some of his­tory’s ugli­est mo­ments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jon­estown mass sui­cide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psy­chol­o­gist who penned The Pri­mal Scream, fear­lessly tack­les the sub­ject of why and how strong be­liev­ers will­ingly em­brace even the most de­ranged lead­ers.

Be­yond Be­lief be­gins with a lu­cid ex­pla­na­tion of be­lief sys­tems that, writes Janov, “are maps, some­thing to help us nav­i­gate through life more ef­fec­tively.” While be­lief sys­tems are not pre­sented as in­her­ently bad, the au­thor con­cen­trates not just on why peo­ple adopt be­lief sys­tems, but why “alien­ated in­di­vid­u­als” in par­tic­u­lar seek out “be­lief sys­tems on the fringes.” The re­sult is a book that is both il­lu­mi­nat­ing and sober­ing. It ex­plores, for ex­am­ple, how a strongly-held be­lief can lead rad­i­cal Is­lamist ji­hadists to mur­der oth­ers in sui­cide acts. Janov writes, “I be­lieve if peo­ple had more love in this life, they would not be so anx­ious to end it in fa­vor of some imag­i­nary ex­is­tence.” One of the most com­pelling as­pects of

Be­yond Be­lief is the au­thor’s lib­eral use of case stud­ies, most of which are re­lated in the first per­son by in­di­vid­u­als whose lives were dra­mat­i­cally af­fected by their in­volve­ment in cults. Th­ese sto­ries of­fer an ex­cep­tional per­spec­tive on the man­ner in which be­lief sys­tems can take hold and shape one’s ex­pe­ri­ences. Joan’s tale, for in­stance, both en­gag­ing and dis­turb­ing, de­scribes what it was like to join the Hare Kr­ish­nas. Even though she left the sect, ob­serv­ing that par­tic­i­pants “are stunted in spiritual aware­ness,” Joan con­sid­ers re­turn­ing some­day be­cause “there’s a cer­tain pro­tec­tion there.”

Janov’s great in­sight into cultish lead­ers is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing; he be­lieves such peo­ple have had child­hoods in which they were “re­jected and unloved,” be­cause “only unloved peo­ple want to be­come the wise man or woman (al­though it is usu­ally male) im­part­ing words of wis­dom to oth­ers.” This is just one rea­son why Be­yond Be­lief is such a thought-pro­vok­ing, im­por­tant book.

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