Name: Bob Larson
Birthplace: McCook, Nebraska(?)
Religious Denomination: Fundamentalist Christian
Position: Radio Talk-show host: Talk-back with Bob Larson
Links: Bob Larson Ministries
N.b., this is not be an exhaustive bibliography. As new materials are located, they will be added to the page.
Throughout the year fundraising appeals from Bob Larson, a fundamentalist Christian radio talk-show host,(1) travelling lecturer, and free-lance exorcist arrive, on an average, about every three weeks. Each letter is theme-oriented, and contains a number of elements in common. Lest a too-quick browse of the letter miss them, for instance, all the key points are carefully underlined. Warnings about the Satanic plot to take over the world crowd together with brief anecdotes detailing real-life exorcisms (often with testimonial snippets about how difficult the exorcism was on Larson both personally and professionally); instructions on books which must be read, videos which must be seen, audio tapes which must be heard to be believed are followed closely by ordering instructions and the appropriate monetary gift which would be required in order for Larson to be able to send them.
"For a gift of $50 to back and bless our ministry," begins one typical appeal,"I'll send you THE SATANIC TAKEOVER video, plus my latest Spiritual Warfare Training Tape entitled, 'Evolution and the Dinosaurs.' This cassette reveals that dinosaurs didn't die off--they're still alive today! Furthermore, dinosaurs were on the ark with Noah! No one can hear this cassette and believe in evolution" (Larson 1996a). In another appeal, Larson declares: "For that gift of $50 or more you'll also receive my latest one-hour video UFOS AND THE END-TIMES AGENDA. This video will explain clearly what UFOs are, where they come from, and who the aliens are that are aboard them. Once you see this video you'll have a new understanding of how near we are to the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (Larson 1997a:4). Another concludes: "P.P.S. If your gift is $100 or more, I'll send a bonus book, the 670 page 'Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs.' This is one of the ten most important books I've read in recent years. It's like having 10 books in one. You'll refer to it week after week to reach those in bondage to the occult" (Larson 1996a:2). And yet another enjoins: "For your gift of $25 or more I'll send you the book THE DICTIONARY OF ROCK GROUPS plus my new video OCCULT COMICS. While closing salutations vary, each is similar in tone. "Yours for the hurting," says one (Larson 1997c); "Yours in the fight against evil," reads another (Larson n.d.); "Yours in the victory over Satan," closes a third (Larson 1996c).
Raised in Nebraska and converted to evangelical Christianity at the age of nineteen, within a few years of his conversion Bob Larson was writing books on the "Hindu heresy" of the hippie subculture (Larson 1969), allegedly lecturing across North America on the evils of rock-and-roll music, and leading evangelistic crusades. According to the publishers of his third book, Hippies, Hindus and Rock and Roll, at the time, Larson was "one of the most promising young writers of religious literature" (1969:4). Curiously, though, beyond a reference to "McCook, Nebraska," there is no actual publisher listed in the book itself. There is, however an identical address for Bob Larson in McCook from which readers could order a variety of materials ranging from Long-Play records (e.g., "The Humorous Gospel Songs of Bob Larson") to 5-inch reel-to-reel tapes ("Bob Larson Speaks Out on Rock Music"; Larson 1969:92).
For Larson, the boundaries of his Christianity are as clearly defined as for most other countercult apologists. And, in his evaluation of new religious movements, Larson is just as unequivocal. However, whereas other apologists will often attempt to temper their working definitions of cult somewhat, Larson is unambiguous. "The term cult," he writes in Larson's New Book of Cults (1989a), "as used in this book is generally understood to have a negative connotation that indicates morally reprehensible practices or beliefs that depart from historic Christianity" (1989a:19). Thus, a "cult" can form around moral reprehensibility or deviance from "historic Christianity."
While he may unearth morally reprehensible aspects in a large percentage of those groups he labels "cults," of the over one hundred groups Larson profiles in Larson's New Book of Cults only two could be construed as constellating around an appeal to moral reprehensibility--"Crowleyism" (Larson 1989a:192-5) and the "Asatru Free Assembly" (1998a:115-9). Of the former, drawn around the life and work of Aleister Crowley, Larson writes: "Crowley's philosophy encourages uninhibited moral abandon without a god to judge one's actions. Intelligent students of the occult who seek an evil rationale for total lustful indulgence discover justification in Crowley's teachings that one can conjure evil entities, devoid of accountability to an avenging God" (189a:194; on Crowley, cf. Crowley 1979; Greer 1995:220-32). Of the latter, an expression of Norse Neopaganism, he concludes: "Asatru is an individualistic religion based on the arbitrary choice of lenient gods, who are like friends one honors and respects. Norse gods make no objectified moral demands of followers, instead promising self-indulgent rewards through a loosely structured belief system" (1989a:118; on Asatru, cf. Adler 1986:275-82; Kaplan 1996).
"The basic fault of cults," writes Larson, "is that they demote God, devalue Christ, deify man, deny sin, and denigrate Scripture. Therefore, correct theology regarding all of the following Bible doctrines is necessary to be in accordance with historic Christianity. 1. The attributes of God. 2. The Person of Christ. 3. The nature of man. 4. The requirements of atonement. 5. The source of revelation. These are the basic five areas of doctrine where truth may be distinguished from error. By delineating the position of historic Christianity regarding these five doctrines, we will lay a foundation on which we can evaluate individual cults" (Larson 1989a:21).
Here, once again, the boundaries of the primary group are drawn with an unassailable rigidity. For Larson, there are but two primary groups in the world: Christians (i.e., those whose subjective reality is constructed similarly to his) and everyone else. Even a non-explicit rejection of Christian principles as a basis for one's religious adherence has little bearing on the stand Larson takes.
Whether or not a particular religious groups claims to be Christian is not a prime consideration. Its members may quote the Bible profusely and covet the endorsement of Christ for their efforts. But the premises of this book are based on two contingent factors that evaluate whether a group is cultic: (1) if it ignores or purposely omits central apostolic doctrines; or (2) if it holds to beliefs that are distinctly opposed to orthodox Christianity. (Larson 1989a:19-20)
As with Walter Martin , it is not immediately clear whether Larson's definition refers to Christians who have deviated in some way from "orthodox Christianity" or anyone whose beliefs differ in any way from Christian orthodoxy. His encomium of "cultic groups, however--ranging from the Aetherius Society (a UFO group; cf. Larson 1989a:105) to the Penitentes (Catholics who literally re-enact the Passion of Christ; cf. Larson 1989a:337-8)--resolves this ambiguity.
Each entry in Larson's New Book of Cults contains a heading entitled, "Errors," under which Larson details the main reasons these particular movements or organisations are dangerous. Like Van Baalen, Larson appears willing to give cults and sects credit for laudable acts; however, no such admission will be allowed to deter him from his primary task. "Do false belief systems deserve credit for their good works?" he asks. "Many cults have made significant contributions to the social welfare of humanity...Even though this book recognizes positive elements in certain cults, it must not be forgotten that the Bible requires reproof and rebuke of any teaching that exalts itself against the necessity of salvation through Christ...Gratuitous words in recognition of positive values should not be mistaken for any endorsement of what the Bible calls 'doctrines of devils' (1 Tim.4:1). The good works and apparent beneficial effects of a cult's belief system thus are inconsequential considerations" (Larson 1989a:20).
Considering "Hinduism," for example, Larson writes: "The polytheistic and idolatrous practices of Hinduism are pagan forms of worship that constitute collusion with demonic forces" (1989a:70). Larson claims that his first encounter with a demon occurred in 1967, during "a Hindu ceremony of Thaipusam" in Singapore (cf. 1969:71-9, 1996d:3-9). While interesting, the two accounts have some significant differences. In the 1969 version, on the advice of several people, Larson arranged to stay in Singapore to witness thaipusam, and drove with "several missionaries" to the venue, arriving at eight a.m. In the later version, an air of exaggerated mystery surrounds Larson's search for the ritual. "After going through the normal tourist channels and finding no one who would talk about Thaipusam--much less tell me in which temple it would take place--I met a missionary who had witnessed this ceremony several years before. With his directions in hand, and the help of a curious taxi driver, I finally found the temple," arriving at nine a.m. (1989a:4).
In 1969, Larson met an unnamed Hindu who was performing a ritual of self-mutilation to thank Shiva for healing his father; several different types of mutilation are performed on this one young man (1969a:72-4). By 1989, these mutilations had been spread out over several individuals in the compound, and the young man (now named "Raja") was offering his particular devotion to Kali (1989a:7). Finally, in 1969, Larson described how one of the devotees dancing to ritual music accompanying the ceremony went into an ecstatic trance (1969:78); in 1989, this trance is induced in a man chanting sacred texts as an encouragement to a friend (1989a:8). "Buddhism" fares little better: "Idolatrous sects that advocate demonic ceremonialism and the propitiation of spirits constitute a form of witchcraft that is scripturally forbidden (Deut. 18)" (Larson 1989a:82).
Similar to Rhodes, Hunt, and others, his main critique of the post-war interest in UFOs is that "[the] Bible does not give the slightest hint that extraterrestrials exist...Secular UFO interest fails to consider the possibility that such phenomena may be supernatural (demonic) in nature" (Larson 1989a:436; cf. Larson 1997b; Missler and Eastman 1997; Rhodes 1998; Wimbish 1990). Larson, on the other hand, fails to consider the fact that the Bible also says nothing about lap-top computers, CD-ROMs, electric guitars, and radio broadcasting, but that has not prevented him from using and profiting from them.
When Larson's book, UFOs and the Alien Agenda: Uncovering the Mystery Behind UFOs and the Paranormal, was published in 1997, Bob Larson Ministries sent out a fundraising letter headlined: "Aliens have landed to take over our planet!" (Larson 1997a:1). The letter began, "Dear Friend, That headline isn't true yet, but I believe it will be soon. That's why God has called me to take on the biggest spiritual fight of my life. And I desperately need your help...I must have at least 500 people who will share a gift of $50 or more to help me fight back this alien invasion" (Larson 1997a:1). Larson continues: "The appearance of UFOs and the tales of alien abductions are the devil's final effort to usher in the antichrist! (1997a:2); "I'll take the demons behind this UFO craze head-on and cast them out in the name of Jesus!" (1997a:3); "Thank you for being one of the 500 who will share a gift of $50 or more to keep me on radio and TV to launch this counterattack against the evil aliens of UFOs" (1997a:4).
Covering everything from the Ku Klux Klan(2) to Martial Arts(3) to Scientology,(4) Larson's New Book of Cults, one of twenty-five books he claims to have written, is an encyclopaedic if uneven volume on a wide variety of cults, sects, world religions, and religious and social phenomena. His main interest in the last several years, however, has been Satanism and the phenomenon of demon possession. He has authored two books on the topic: Satanism: The Seduction of America's Youth (1989b) and In the Name of Satan, which is subtitled on the cover, "How the forces of evil work and what you can do to defeat them" (1996e). If the information in his fundraising letter is at all credible (and the evidence is that it is not), then Larson spends a vast amount of his time in this form of deliverance ministry. And it is for this interest that he is, perhaps, most intriguing as an apologist.
Larson encountered his first demon "on American soil" in 1971 (1996e:9). "Since then," he is quick to point out, "I have been involved with hundreds of exorcisms. Some have lasted no more than a few minutes, while others have gone on for hours, weeks, months, and even years" (Larson 1996e:21). In terms of his construction of reality, Larson believes that he inhabits the world of spiritual warfare which fellow evangelical Frank Peretti writes about in his novels (cf. Peretti 1986, 1989, 1995).(5) This is a world in which the literal presence and malevolent influence of demons are far more common in human affairs than not, a world in which an ongoing spiritual battle between the realms of light and dark is the paramount task, and one in which Larson is often cast as the lone warrior in the breach between good and evil. "I've seen more demonic supernaturalism than any living human I've known" (Larson 1996e:150).
Similarly, at a 1998 seminar in Calgary, Alberta, Larson told the audience that he is "probably the worldwide expert on the occult. No one knows more about spiritualism and demon possession than I do" (Larson 1998b). The newspaper advertisement for this event stated that Larson is the "World's Most Recognized Authority on the Supernatural and Spiritual Success," and that seminar attendees would learn how to: "Determine if you or someone else has a demon; Remove ancestral curses from your family; Confront someone who has a demon; Free yourself from tormenting evil spirits; Overcome thoughts of depression and suicide; Release your children from demons of rebellion; Turn your fear or [sic] the unknown into personal power" (advertisment, The Calgary Sun, 5 August 1998, n.p.). The largest type on the advertisement read: "FIRST EVER LIVE PUBLIC EXORCISM IN CALGARY." Despite Larson's efforts, no such exorcism took place.
Like Walter Martin before him, though, Hank Hanegraff, Ed Decker, and Dave Hunt now, Bob Larson has his share of detractors. At the top of Larson's official ministry website is the following disclaimer: "SPECIAL NOTICE: In your effort to locate our web site, you may have encountered other sites devoted to attacking our ministry. Be aware that these sites contain misinformation, disinformation, twisted facts and outright lies. Many of these accusation are sinister distortions of reality, and fabrications designed to look truthful. Our response is that of Nehemiah: 'I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you (Nehemiah 6:3)?' To those who maliciously malign our efforts to reach the lost for Christ and see those in demonic bondage set free, we respond as our Savior commanded us. We 'pray for those who persecute you' (Matthew 5:44)."
Larson's ministry has come under scrutiny in recent years for various allegations, indiscretions ranging from taped shows broadcast as though they were live, to financial misrepresentation and non-disclosure. One passage in the Cornerstone investigation of Larson reads: "'When I first started in the production department, it was all pretty straightforward,' [Alan] Hegert [an employee of Bob Larson Ministries from 1986-1992]. 'Bob would say, "You're listening to a taped program. Sit back and enjoy it; these are some of our best callers." Then there was this sudden inspiration--"You know, we're losing a lot of money telling everyone we're taped." So instead of warning the listeners at every commercial break not to call in, they just started the tape with "Live! 'Talk-Back' with Bob Larson." At the end it would say, "The preceding program was prerecorded." In between was an hour's worth of show.' What about people who called in, thinking the show was live? 'We activated all the Compassion Connection phone circuits so everyone got a busy signal.' The 800 number for donors was left open" (Trott 1993).
Bill Achilles, another phone-line staffer until recently, told Cornerstone, 'I thought the on-the-air fundraising was very manipulative. It was "Send money or this ministry won't be able to run, and we won't keep your radio station [as an affliate]" (Trott 1993; gloss in original). The tenor of Achilles' concern is corroborated by fundraising leters from Bob Larson Ministries such as those highlighted above.
There are also the claims of a former Bob Larson Ministries vice president that it was she, not Larson, who wrote the majority of the novel, Dead Air (1991), a work for which Larson claims sole authorship. Lori Boespflug joined Bob Larson Ministries first as a secretary, but, according to an investigative report in Cornerstone magazine, rose to the position of vice president in less than a year (Trott 1993).(6) Boesflug maintains that, in addition to writing many of the fundraising advertisments which Bob Larson Ministries mails out regularly, it was she, not Larson, who authored the majority of Dead Air. A year later, she was also contracted by Larson to write the sequel to Dead Air, entitled Abaddon (Larson 1993). She provided Cornerstone with a copy of her agreement with Larson, dated 7 April 1992:
You hereby agree to provide me on or before May 1, 1992 an outline of the first two hundred (200) pages of the sequel; and on or before July 1, 1992, an outline of the remaining two hundred (200) pages of the sequel. If so requested by me, said outlines shall contain or be accompanied by character sketches, narratives, fact research and sample dialogue, all collectively referred to herein as ('the creative material'). Also, if so requested, you shall assist me in any and all editing of the sequel that may be necessary before its final acceptance by the publisher. (Trott 1993)
Boespflug told Cornerstone that she had completed the first hundred pages of Abaddon when she was fired by Larson in June 1992 (Trott 1993).
A comparative reading of both Dead Air and Abaddon suggests that Boespflug's claims are not without foundation. Both novels deal with a radio talk show host and his investigation of Satanic ritual abuse. And, while there are obvious similiarities between them, there are also significant differences in characterisation, plot development, dialogue and scene construction, as well as the overall flow of the prose. In fact, they read less as novels by the same author, than as two novels in the "shared world" format of popular science fiction (e.g., Dr. Who; Star Wars; Deep Space Nine). In this sub-genre, different authors utilize established characters, milieu, and thematic vectors to continue a shared basic story.
At the end of Dead Air, Larson includes what appears to be a standard disclaimer, but is not. "The incidents in this story are based on actual experiences. Names of people and places have been changed and details of the accounts of their experiences have been altered in order to protect the privacy of the people involved" (Larson 1991:350). Boespflug denies this as well, alleging that "Larson allowed her to make up the story but inserted chunks of his radio callers' stories into the mix. She notes that no evidence existed to back up the stories Larson inserted into the text" (Trott 1993; for different perspectives on satanic ritual abuse see Kahaner 1988; King and Jacobsen 1995; Nathan and Snedeker 1996; Richardson, Best and Bromley 1991; Spencer 1997).
While the purchase of ghost writing on Larson's part is arguable in the case of Lori Boespflug, plagiarism is certain in his discussion of a UFO group headquarted in Québec. In UFOs and the Alien Agenda, several passages on the Raëlian UFO movement have been taken all but verbatim from Susan Jean Palmer's 1995 essay, "Women in the Raelian Movement: New Religious Experiments in Gender and Authority" (Palmer 1995). For example, at the beginning of his consideration of the Raëlians, Larson writes: "Devout Raelians wear large medallions with a swastika inside the star of David, which they believe is an ancient symbol of time and space. Members participate in four annual festivals, usually marked by nudity, so that the Elohim can fly overhead and register the Raelians DNA code on their UFO machines. New initiates sign a contract that permits a mortician to cut out a piece of bone in their foreheads, where the psychic third eye resides, after death. This bone is then stored in ice awaiting the descent of the Elohim. New members must also send a letter of apostasy to the church in which they were baptized" (Larson 1997b).
With very minor emendations, this is taken from two passages in Palmer's article. She writes: "All Raelians wear large medallions of the swastika inside a star of David, which they believe is an ancient symbol of the integrity of time and space" (Palmer 1995:115-6). "...members participate in four annual festivals so that the Elohim can fly overhead and register the Raelians' DNA codes on their machines...New initiates sign a contract which permits a mortician to cut out a piece of bone in their forehead (the 'third eye') which is stored in ice awaiting the descent of the Elohim" (Palmer 1995:107).
Less exactly taken from Palmer, but still clearly based on her work (of the three references to the Lewis collection in which Palmer's essay is found, none is to Palmer's work) is this patchwork passage: "Beyond Rael's endorsement of homosexuality and bisexuality, is his approval of trisexuality and even quadrisexuality. The latter is reserved for those who seek sex with the Elohim, to achieve extraterrestrial ecstasy. It's little wonder that strippers, transvestites, and aggressive homosexuals are part of the Raelian cult" (Larson 1997b:174). Interviewing an Assistant Guide (part of the Raelian hierarchy), Palmer learned: "'We don't think in such narrow categories. Some of us are unisexual, some are bisexual, some trisexual, and a few of us are even quadrisexual.' When I timidly enquired what the last category might represent, he leaned forward and whispered, 'With the Elohim'" (1995:118). Further, the "conspicuous numbers of strippers, transvestites, and highly expressive homosexuals among the congregation might suggest that this movement is particularly attractive to people who define themselves as sexually marginal" (Palmer 1995:119).(7)
At the end of the introduction to Larson's New Book of Cults, Larson writes:
Not everyone who reads this book will immediately become a missionary to counter the cults. But the knowledge on these pages will hopefully result in a prepared vessel whom the Lord can use when an appropriate opportunity presents itself. Some may choose to invade actively Satan's kingdom, being filled with the Spirit and determined to dismantle the myth that holds millions in spiritual servitude. Others will reach out with new love and empathy for those who sorrow because a family member has joined a cult. Still others may sense the need for rehabilitive follow-up programs that will minister to the emotional needs of those who have been ravaged by cult ideology. Any of these fruits will make this book worth its investment of time and energy. (Larson 1989a:32)
(1)Larson claims that Calgary, Alberta, is the only major radio market in North America which does not carry his daily broadcast, "Talk-back with Bob Larson" (1998b).
(2)Speaking quite accurately of some segments of the white supremacist movement, Larson writes: "The KKK proposes total separation of the races and the eradication of minorities. Some favor a back-to-Africa solution, while other racial separatists advocate partitioning the United States into segregated sections. KKK followers believe they are elevating white ethnic pride" (Larson 1989a:284; cf. 282-5).
(3)Once again, Larson writes, not totally inaccurately: "The religious and philosophical roots of most martial art forms presuppose a pantheistic perception of the cosmos. Even the cautious student runs the risk of being conditioned by techniques that pursue a goal of impersonal oneness with the universe" (Larson 1989a:304; cf. 298-305; on martial arts cults in Hong Kong, cf. Amos 1997). While his first sentence may be accurate, the conclusion his worldview leads him to deduce in his second sentence is open to question.
(4)"Occult practices of age regression and astral travel are based on theories of reincarnation. Extrabiblical information regarding man's origin (as a god called thetan) and mystical beliefs regarding the relation of spirit and matter are essential to Dianetics. Man is good, Christ was merely a 'cleared' individual, and existence of an eternal heaven and hell is denied" (Larson 1989a:368; cf. 365-9).
(5)For a very interesting analysis of two of Peretti's novels, This Present Darkness (1986) and Piercing the Darkness (1989), see Lewis 1996. Lewis writes: "Peretti's novels...have fueled the imaginations of certain conservative Christians with bloody visions of angelic crusades against demonic evil. The action in these novels moves back and forth between two interacting levels: While angels and devils cross swords in the spiritual realm, Peretti's human heroes and heroines do battle with New Agers, witches, psychologists, secular education, and the American Civil Liberties Union" (1996:340-1).
(6)Cornerstone is a publication of the Jesus People USA community, and has been involved recently in uncovering fraud among other high-profile evangelicals. Their most notable case was Mike Warnke, a Christian comedian whose routines included reference to his fictitious career as a pimp, drug dealer, Satanist high priest (in 1978, Warnke published an extremely successful book entitled The Satan Seller), as well as spurious experiences as a Marine Corps medic in Vietnam. The website editor notes that "This [Larson] article appears exactly as downloaded from the JPUSA bulletin board."
(7)On the teachings of the Raëlian movement, see Palmer 1995; Raël 1986, 1998.