Betrayal of the Spirit

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

BETRAYAL OF THE SPIRIT: MY LIFE BEHIND THE HEADLINES OF THE HARE KRISHNA MOVEMENT is a book by Nori J. Muster, a former member of the Hare Krishnas, who has kept the faith but left the organization, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Muster worked in the Los Angeles temple’s public relations office and now has much to tell but no particular axe to grind, and has much to offer: not only as an insider’s account of the workings of what once was the United States’ largest and most visible alternative religion/religious cult, but as a spiritual autobiography and, more importantly, as a way to shed light on both the persistence and pervasiveness of the cult phenomenon in the United States. Such a book could help explain why people join; why they stay or leave; how cults are organized and operate; how they represent themselves to their members and to outsiders; how the media represent them; how they respond when they feel besieged; and in what ways and to what extent cults such as MOVE, the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, and ISKCON serve as latterday versions of the utopian communities and millenarian sects that flourished in America in the nineteenth century. Above all, such a book could help readers understand why so many people find living in a country which its politicians like to call the greatest on earth so deeply unsatisfying.

Regrettably, BETRAYAL OF THE SPIRIT betrays all of these expectations. Despite its...

(The entire section is 456 words.)