What is a cult?

I never said the Catholic Church required it. God does that.

I just said they pass the plate a lot

I know my past. I know what I posted. I was wrong.

I am not lost. I was.


Back to the topic

I think you missed one. :slight_smile:

Who gets to determine what the criteria of a cult is?

A “cult” such as this within the Church and the modern notion of a “cult” are two entirely different things. They are both technical terms describing different things. Unfortunately, the same “word” is used for each.

Are there cults in other religions too?

A “cult” means different things dependence on the context. Theologically or religiously, there isn’t any definition: a “cult” is simply a buzzword with a negative connotation used to portray other religions negatively.

Academically, “cult” has two meanings: the first might be understood as a synthesis between devotion and ritual. For example, when analyzing global Catholics, we might look at the “cult of Mary.” This isn’t to imply anything evil or morally wrong with devotion to Mary – or even to pass judgement or theological statements about it – but rather to imply a sort of system-within-a-system.

The second is the one you find in sociological papers. “Cult” becomes a type of movement, alongside “sect,” “denomination,” and “religion.” Religion is the broad category; a denomination is a smaller category; a sect is a schismatic category, and sometimes used interchangeably with “new religious movement.”

A “cult” here has six qualities, which a previous poster succinctly reduced to four.

For example:
I’m a Baha’i. So I don’t recognize any other Baha’i groups exist, theologically/religiously/personally. So any group claiming to be Baha’i I’d probably think of as a “cult.”

But as an academic this is more complicated. A pair of sociologists spent some time with a 40-member group in Colorado (the full PDF is available on JSTOR for anyone with access to a university library) who were “Baha’i,” but believed the end of the world was imminent. These persons surrounded a central, authoritarian leader and devoted much of their wealth to build a type of stronghold. When the end-of-the-world prophecy failed, most of these people left their group, I think becoming Christians and atheists. Sociologically, this movement was a “cult.” Additionally, there is a group calling itself the “Orthodox Baha’i Faith” that follows a different leadership. It’s relatively small, but open. They like to purchase followers on social media to give the impression that they are much larger than they are; a sort of advertising. Sociologically speaking, this group would be a “sect” or “schismatic,” but not a cult.

Would you say the JW’s or Mormon’s do that?

I usually refrain from calling other belief systems cults due to the negative connotation of the word, and I’d rather not insult anyone.
I don’t really know enough about JW to call them a cult or not. I don’t consider Mormonism to be a cult. The only belief system that I do believe to be a cult is Scientology, since they seem to hit upon all of the above criteria.

I think what’s important to note is that simply meeting a single criteria does not in and of itself make something a cult.

If you study the lds beliefs and practices you can see where one would call them a cult. They meet all the criteria posted but hey…

I agree with you. Having been part of both Mormonism and Scientology (though the latter only briefly mostly out of curiosity), I personally don’t consider Mormonism to be a “cult”, but Scientology most definitely is.

Like others have pointed out, many words have multiple definitions, and often some of them being perfectly mundane and others being insulting.

Female dog for instance.

What makes things even more confusing with the word “cult” is that in at least two of the definitions with very different connotations, the term religions often proceeds it…at least in the English language.

Yes, other religions have various cults within them as well…similar to having particular devotions in Catholicism.

The word “cult” has a wide range of meanings, depending on context. In a less religious sense, it can simply mean that a relatively small group of people are very committed to something they care about- for example, Firefly had a cult following before Fox cancelled it.

In a more religious sense, it can be used loosely enough to encompass just about anything. The range of the word’s meaning technically allows you to use it to describe any religious group, whether it’s a large group like Catholics or a smaller subset that has a particular interest in something more specific, like a cult of Marian adoration. You’re not asking about any of these things, but I’m putting them out there because they have something to do with the word while being outside your area of interest.

You’re interested in the pejorative use of the word, when “cult” means something bad. That can be a little bit subjective, and sometimes you’ll find yourself looking at a list of 20 items while being told that if at least 15 identifying traits are seen, that is sufficient reason to say “cult.” That sort of method is somewhat useful but still questionable. I’ll try and run through some of the items of interest, though. I will try to work from the broad and somewhat-less-useful things to the more important and pertinent ones.

In the religious and pejorative sense, you could be looking for unorthodox and spurious beliefs in any given religious group. If you stop reading right at this point, you can go right ahead and start to draw the conclusions that you mentioned in the OP. As I implied, however, there is a longer list and this is on the broad and less-useful end of the spectrum.

Typically, cults are characterized as being relatively small. This has no bearing on how bad or how truthful it is, but as a matter of how words are generally used, small groups are more likely to be called “cults” and larger groups tend to be called “marginal.” Size technically shouldn’t matter, it really should be about how a group behaves. But in general, a small group is easier to abuse, and a large group is more difficult to abuse while still hanging on to your million members or whatever the number is.

In a theological or doctrinal sense, there’s a couple of things that I’ll include here. One- beliefs and practices are regarded as strange or sinister. This is subjective and of course the people who practice the thing will excuse any strangeness as long as they’re the ones doing it, but this can be a useful thing to look to if they leave no doubt. And two- cults, by any definition that is most useful to you, will reject or violate central, essential teachings of a particular religion and then claim that it is still the same thing, or more likely that it is a restoration of the actual true pure thing that it is ripping off. This can also be a bit subjective as you will find yourself making a potentially difficult argument for what really is central and essential, but this is fairly doable and there are times when people just leave you no doubt. I am putting it somewhat in the middle of the list, however.

Coercion is more of a key item as we move down the list. Specifically, if people join a religious group without their consent and then they’re prevented from leaving if they want to do that, or if they’re punished for choosing to leave by being cut off from contact with their family or by losing a job that doesn’t involve being employed by the religious group itself.

And finally, we should talk about the “destructive” kind of territory. Here, “destructive” is being used in a sociological sense where the cult causes harm to your relationships, career, or finances, especially as punitive measures for leaving it (which of course people always always Always at all times and in all places ought to be free to do). “Abusive” would be another word that can be used here. Not all cults are abusive, and not all cults are necessarily destructive, but it is a key term that can and frequently will cause people to flip the language from “marginal Christianity” right over to “cult,” and it makes it much easier to ignore how large a group has gotten.

There are a variety of ways to talk about cults and assess whether or not something is a cult. If you ask me (and you kind of did), examining it in a purely theological/doctrinal sense can be frustrating and is sometimes fruitless. People believe different things, and unless it’s something really extreme that leaves absolutely no doubt, terminology sometimes comes down to a matter of opinion. But if a religious group is abusive and destructive toward the person and lives of its members, that would be an example of a time when the word “cult” more clearly has a place and a use. Again, cults are not limited to religious groups that are characterized by this sort of thing, but those are the times when it’s most appropriate to speak up and use the word in a very pejorative sense.

Ecumenism is good of course, but destructive tendencies and abuse in the name of religion is fairly intolerable. That very much can warrant the use of the word “cult,” while cancelling all invitations to whatever ecumenical thing that group might otherwise have participated in.

Still is. And I’m part of it. My apologies if this turns into thread drift, but you started it! :smiley:

A “cult”, in my definition at least, is any small, secretive group, that insulates itself from the world and practices control over it’s members.

I think Steve Hassan’s BITE model is helpful.


Behavior control
Information control
Thought control
Emotional control

I don’t know if there really is such a group or you made up an example, but that would definitely be condemned by the Church as Idolatry!

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