What is the definition of a cult?


Dear Friends,

I have noticed in several postings that some Catholic Christians describe non-Catholic Religions as ‘cults’. I would like to know what the definintion of a cult actually is and why it is not legitimate to consider the Roman Catholic Church as a cult.

To start the ball rolling may I suggest:

A cult is…

A religion with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. i.e. **Religious Orders, Monasticism, John Paul II, Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer **

A system or community of religious worship and ritual. e.g. Opus Dei or some other Personal Prelature

The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual. e.g. The Mass

Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing. i.e. Jesus Christ, One True Church, The Blessed Sacrament, a Crucifix or Rosary

An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest. The Vatican

Plese do not misunderstand me, even though I am not a Catholic Christian I love the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI is an ace guy and I utilise Catholic scholarship/commentaries in augmenting my study of Holy Scripture.

Deus Caritas Est



In a Catholic context, a cult means a devotion to a saint, holy place, or holy relic or similar.

In the popular media, it means a religion which is not socially respectable, and normally one which exerts a large amount of control over the lives of adherents.

The sociologist Steve Bruce uses the word to refer to a religious movement which is not respectable, and which does not make exclusive claims. He used the term sect to refer to a movement which is not respectable, and which does not allow members to be members of any other religious organisation.


Dear Malcolm,

Thank you for your response, by definition of your response the RCC could easily be accused of being a CULT because in England, for instance, the church was and still is viewed with deep suspicion.

After all the RCC does make exclusive claims for itself, many contributors to Catholic Answers have argued that there is no salvation outside of the RCC.

Nevertheless, would you argue that people who are deeply religious are particuarly suceptible to cultists?

In His Love,

BTW I have to log off until tomorrow so please do not think I have gone away…




I don’t think you can classify Catholicism as a cult. Yes, it is viewed with suspicion by many, this is not just in England. However, part of Malcolm’s definition was that a cult exerts a large amount of control over the lives of adherents, which the Catholic Church does not do. There are plenty of lukewarm Catholics in the world who do not hold to every tenent of the Catholic faith, but the Church is not hunting them down to excommunicate them, bring them to trial, or announce that they are to be shunned.

Also, I think cults are highly active in recruiting new members, which the Catholic Church certainly does not do. The Catholic Church does not swoop in for the hard sell on unsuspecting people who are walking down the street or sitting in the privacy of their homes.

I do not think deeply religious people are suseptible to cultists. I think it is usually people who are lonely and don’t know a lot about their faith. I think that’s why you hear stories almost every year about distraught parents whose child went away to college and got involved with some group that is now taking their time, money, friends, and family away from them.

I know I have more to say, but I can’t think of what it is at the momment.

Looking forward to your reply tomorrow. :slight_smile:


I don’t know where you got your definition of the word cult, but the Catholic Church, no more than the Lutheran Church or the Episcopal Church or any other recognized religious communion, is a cult. Indeed, one of your faulty criteria was religious orders. Well, the Anglican Church has them, too, just FYI. :wink:

I suggest you do some real research on the topic beginning with the excellent book: Captive Hearts Captive Minds written by psychologists who have closely studied cults and members of cults. They say quite plainly that mainline churches do not meet the requirements of being cults. Naturally, persons within those communions can take on cultish behavior, but the organizations themselves are NOT cults.


Well, yes, one should first define the word “cult”.

How about…a spiritual organization that does NOT survive the death of its founder?

By this standard, most churches under the broad term of “Christian” are not cults, not even The Society Of Friends.

As a sober member of AA, 22 years now, I have often been told that AA is a cult. Well, it has survived the death of Bill W. quite well and is still rolling along.

The term “cult” is grossly overused and misused, as are “fascist”, “genocide” and “liberal” :smiley:


It’s a pity we don’t have a percise single word label that means “an organization using abusive, manipulative, or deceptive methods to control it’s members and to seperate them from any influence from non-organization persons or ideas” This would also include non-religious groups like Amway, or even the Objectivists when Ayn Rand was still alive.

In the ranks of anti-catholics, “Cult” is often used against the Catholic Church. In the anti-Mormon tome, One Nation Under Gods, author Richard Abane gives his interpretations of both “cult” and “christianity”. Within his definition, we are a cult and not christian


I recall one definition of a cult that stimulated my mind: an organized heresy.


Thank you for the contributions that have been made so far. As a Christian I am very interested in the notion of disaffiliation from ‘The World’ as a symbol of holiness, but which could be construed as cultist.

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

  • or perhaps ‘***therefore the world will accuse you of being a cultist’***!

Today it is not politically correct to suggest one person is right and another is wrong, rather we tend toward relativism and qualify the word of God so that it does not offend. In effect denying the existence of truth.

For instance: Pope John Paul II was once questioned regarding the RCC’s stand on the ordination of women, he simply stated that the church does not have the authority to ordain women. The truth being that women are different from men in as much as they cannot fulfill a priestly role. See vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_29061995_women_en.html

I asked if contributors believed the manifesto ‘no salvation outside of the RCC’, no one has yet defended it. As I understand the truth it is that there can be no salvation except through those whom God has authorised to act as His Agents, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church;” (Matt 16:18) Clearly we need to know what qualifies one to be bona fide successors of Peter…

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

…because it is relative to whether one is saved or not.

A final tought: The Bible does clearly state:

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark: 16,17)

I was particularly interested/surprised at the notion suggested by RCC Defender that those actively proselytise might be described as cultists. Why is is that we arogantly believe it is okay to proselytise in Africa but not in America or England!

Personally I believe that in Europe, and in particular the UK, there is an imperative to evangelise an increasingly weakened Community of Christ within an increasingly secular and troubled society.

"Beloved, we should love one another"



psychologists Robert J. Lofton and Steven Hassan
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lofton outlines the eight basic elements of mind control

The first is “milieu” or environment control. Lofton explains that cults control the environment around recruits in a number of ways. most always using some form of isolation. They can be physically separated from society or they can be warned to stay away from media that might provoke critical thinking. Any book, movie, testimony or ex-members, or anyone critical of the group, in any way, is to be avoided.

The second elemlent of mind control is “mystical manipulation.” It is a systematic process planned and managed from above leadership. God is supposedly ever present in the organization. Leaders become mediators for God. God centered principles can be put forcibly and claimed exclusively so the cult and its beliefs become the only true path to salvation. If one has not seen the light, and is not in the realm of the cult, one is in the realm of evil.

Lofton cites the “demand for purity” as another defining element. Such a demand calls for the radical separation of pure and impure or good and evil within an environment and within oneself. The world is depicted as black and white, with little room for making personal decisions. One’s conduct is modeled after the ideology of the group as taught in its literature. People and organizations are pictured as good or evil depending on their relationship to the group

Lofton’s fourth element is the “cult of confession.” Serious sins (as defined by the organization) are to be confessed immediately. Members are to be reported if found behaving contrary

“Sacred science” is the fifth operating characteristic of a “mind control cullt”.

Sixth defining element is called “loading the language.” Functional member vocabulary becomes simplified with the use of thought terminating cliches, expressions or words designed to end the controversy or conversation. They become the language of non-thought since they tend to stop discussion or prevent further consideration. There is always some simple cliche or slogan to answer a complex issue or difficult question

Seventh operating characteristic of mind control is “doctrine over person.” Human experience is subordinated to doctrine, no matter how profound or contradictory such experience seem to be. The history of the cult is altered to fit their doctrine of logic. The person is only valuable in so much as they conform to the role models of the cult. Common sense perceptions are disregarded if they are hostile to the ideology.

Lofton’s eighth element of mind control is the “dispensing of existence.” The organization decides who will perish in the final battle of good over evil. Leaders decide which history books are accurate and which are biased. Families can be cut off and outsiders deceived for they are not fit to exist.

According to Lofton, if any group exercises all eight of these control elements, they are, in fact a destructive mind control cult. It doesn’t matter how kind, credible, or self-righteous the group or its members appear to be. Rationalizing with biblical verses, Hasson would argue, is no excuse for impeding personal choice or violating personal freedom


Yes I am a cult member…I follow a person who is God in the person of Jesus Christ who established His Way to Happiness and Eternal Salvation through His mystical body that is the Holy Catholic Church, as there is no salvation other than through Him…I think that sums up the cult concept pretty nicely.:thumbsup:


I’m not sure if you are being serious here…

… but if you are

When you say ‘Holy Catholic Church’ do you mean the Roman Catholic Church?

Dear Contributors,

please allow me to make it clear that I am trying to establish the truth that following Christ requires absolute devotion and obedience to His will, even though such obedience leads to the hatred of the world and alienation.


Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [wo/man] will come after me, let her/him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.


The correct term is The Catholic Church or The Holy Catholic Church, not The Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has Eastern Rites, too, that are in full communion and obedience to the pope. As you may probably note, I had a mental slip when choosing my handle…


Thanks for the true definition…

Once again I will be away from my computer but will be back tomorrow to see how the discussion develops…



Dear Friends,

Well clearly interest in this line of thought has dwindled…

…as far as I am concerned A CULT is something/organisation/movement we don’t like or understand or perhaps we feel threatened by.

In actual fact all formal religious expression Christian or not can in fact meet the definition of being a cult.

God be with you, because He is Love!


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