Review/Television; Trying to Pry a Youth Away From a Cult

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Tonight’s edition of ”48 Hours,” on Channel 2 at 8 P.M., offers a close-up of the ”deprogramming” of a 14-year-old who, his mother believes, has been brainwashed by a religious cult. ”I want my son back,” she pleads. The program’s correspondent, Victoria Corderi, accompanied the deprogrammer, Rick Ross, from Arizona to Anchorage to work on young Aaron.

Most of the hour is given to Mr. Ross’s efforts to persuade Aaron that the Potter’s House, his church or cult, is ”a destructive Bible-based group” bent on taking control of its members’ lives. Using videos of other preachers laying on hands and pocketing cash, Mr. Ross provokes a two-day argument aimed at making the boy question the honesty and intentions of the keepers of the Potter’s House. A formidable-looking weightlifter assists Mr. Ross in lugging equipment and keeping Aaron from running out of the apartment.

The hour, produced by Catherine Lasiewicz, has considerable force, as Aaron resists the alliance of his divorced mother, who tearfully repents having originally introduced him into the fundamentalist church, his older brother and the deprogrammer. But it does little to illuminate the group’s appeal for Aaron, who has a troubled history of drug use and expulsion from school. The closest it comes is a teacher’s comment that he went ”from the high of drugs to the high of God.” A former member says that Aaron was being groomed to be a preacher, but the boy does not seem to be articulate enough to explain what he found at the Potter’s House, much less to preach about it.

The program reaches a bit beyond Aaron’s case to a once-over-lightly pro-and-con discussion of the legality and morality of deprogramming. Since church officials refused to be interviewed or to permit the ”48 Hours” crew to film their services, all we get from inside the Potter’s House are fragments of surreptitiously taped devil-bashing sermons and a few comments by apparently happy parishioners.

After two days of deprogramming, Aaron is apparently persuaded that the Potter’s House may not be all that he believed and that his mother is not possessed by Satan. Mother and son embrace tearfully. Mr. Ross, who was paid $350 a day and expenses, announces that the crisis is over and goes back to Arizona.

Three weeks later, Ms. Corderi pays another visit to Anchorage, where she is assured by a psychologist that Aaron ”is back in the land of the living now.” But it is hard to believe that Aaron’s troubles are quite over. ”48 Hours” settles for a dramatic episode from a complicated life.

A version of this article appears in print on June 1, 1989, Section C, Page 20 of the National edition with the headline: Review/Television; Trying to Pry a Youth Away From a Cult.

Source: Nytimes.com

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