Volume 92, Issue 81
Wednesday, March 3, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Seeking sex and salvation
Gazette file photo
By Mark Pytlik
This latest documentary from TVOntario's esteemed The View From Here explores the inner workings of the Children of God, one of North America's most notorious religious movements.
"The Love Prophet and the Children Of God" traces the life of group founder David Berg through the evolution of his highly controversial campaign and paints a chilling portrait of man who exploited religion in order to appease his own perverse sexual appetite.
Berg, an unsuccessful minister, found success in the mid '60s when his innocuous religious teachings struck a nerve with disillusioned teenagers. By way of his uplifting sermons and inspired speeches, Berg quickly amassed a devout following. They dubbed themselves the Children of God and travelled America preaching a message of salvation and hope to anyone willing to listen.
By the mid '70s the Children of God's membership had skyrocketed to over 50,000 people. At around this time, Berg's once fundamental interpretation of the Bible had begun to mutate into something more sinister. He began to publicly advocate "free love" and frequently shared sexual partners with fellow members. Soon after, he started using sex as an incentive to lure potential members to his group and recruited thousands of people within his movement to sleep with outsiders. Over the course of time, his theological philosophy adapted in accordance with his primal desires and he ultimately settled on a belief system which advocated any act as long as it was performed with love.
Berg's power-hungry and self-serving belief system reached the height of distaste in the mid 1980s, when he introduced child abuse and incest into the Children of God doctrine. The movement became international news following a police crackdown and soon after Berg abandoned his followers and went into hiding. He died in 1994, after ruefully proclaiming his only regret in life was not having had a chance to sleep with his own mother.
Acclaimed filmakers Abbey Jack Neidick and Irene Angelico do an admirable job tracing Berg's gradual descent into madness. Previously unseen archive footage and interview segments with Berg's surviving children give the viewer some sense of his incredible charisma. Stock footage from the group's glory days effectively illustrates the hypnotic effect Berg had on his followers and serves as a chilling reminder of what people will do in the name of God.
"The Love Prophet and the Children of God" offers disturbing insight into the inner-workings of a cult and poses many thought-provoking questions about the validity of any organized religion. Perhaps most compelling is the closing sequence of the film, which focuses exclusively on the current status of the Children of God. Given the troubled history of the movement, it is unsettling to see modern members of the group still too blinded by faith to properly atone for past mistakes.
Neidick and Angelico deserve credit for presenting the story objectively and should be lauded for not taking a moral stance on the issues at heart. Ultimately, "The Love Prophet and the Children of God" does what any good documentary should it presents an unbiased account in a compelling and entertaining manner. The result is a piece which deserves to be seen by anybody with a passing interest in the power of religion.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999