What makes a cult different than a religion (or a denomination)?


In your own words, please.


Y’know Lepanto, this question always makes me kinda chuckle.

I mean… to the Jews, all of Christianity is a (blasphemous) cult.

I often think that this is defined by size, so that only small organizations or groups like the Branch Davidians or Jim Jones’ group qualify, but then I also think that most of the time, I define it as any bunch, regardless of size that departs from correct Christian doctrine, and in that case it bags the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and Shepherd’s Chapel, but then I have to rethink that because under that definition, I would have to apply that label to Protestantism and all its myriad variants.

I guess in the end, I define a cult as any fringe group with weird teachings and a reputation for duress on their members or something.

In the end, it’s not a term that I am very comfortable with flinging around, preferring to call everybody else a “faith community”.

Here’s a dictionary definition that covers a lot.


  1. a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
  2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
  3. the object of such devotion.
  4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
  5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
  6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
  7. the members of such a religion or sect.
  8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.
  9. of or pertaining to a cult.
  10. of, for, or attracting a small group of devotees: a cult movie.
    [Origin: 1610–20; < L cultus habitation, tilling, refinement, worship, equiv. to cul-, var. s. of colere to inhabit, till, worship + -tus suffix of v. action]


A group that does not have a Division I football team…:wink:


:eek: :rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:


I think that a cult is a group, large or small, that puts the focus on the human leader, ie Jim Jones, David Koresh, Rev. Moon, or on some group of leaders, like the JWs or the Mormons, instead of on God.



There are quite a few conditions but here are a few:

  1. uses deceptive recruitment tactics i.e. the ends justify the means

  2. the leader of the group is considered the ultimate authority and accountable to no one but themselves. The leader defines truth. This so called truth itself has no accountability to reason or the natural law the same as the leader.

  3. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. Members who leave the group are ostracized by members (even within the same family) and members must completely dissociate with and denounce those who have left.

for more info check out ICSA: International Cultic Studies Assoc


I would say that a “cult” is any religion that is started by a man, as opposed to God. Thus, just about every Protestant denomination would qualify, including and perhaps especially those that call themselves, “non-denominational,” but MAYBE excluding those denominations that were DIRECT breakaways from the Catholic Church.(ie Lutherans, Anglicans)


They have five characteristics - they

*]1. have a Bible that replaces the Bible
*]2. have a great teacher or prophet
*]3. diminish the importance of Christ
*]4. treat all other Christians as not being Christians
*]5. regard their own body as being of central importance[/LIST]That is what makes the SDA church a sect, & not a church - Mrs. White’s teachings are in effect a second Bible, overshadowing the Holy Bible, instead of serving to illustrate it.

I believe that churches can readily have cult-like - tendencies: the Mormons are formally a cult becuse they are a distinct body. If the Russellites had stayed as Presbyterians, they would not formally have been a cult, but highly unorthodox Presbyterians


The amount of truth it contains.


I think the main difference is size. They’re all religious groups. Many of the major religions have extremely similar characteristics to cults- for instance, in Islam, the mullah is the person who interprets scripture, and everyone in his jurisdiction has to refer to his authority. Christianity started up focused around one man, Jesus Christ (who just also happened to be God).

Mormonism definitely fitted the characteristics of a cult. It started up focused around one “prophet”- Joseph Smith. Islam also started out focused around one man- Muhammad. Hinduism around Krishna (and perhaps others). When they got big, they got called by the more dignified title “religion.” So I think the difference is just size. False cults are bad and false religions are bad. False religions are often just small cults grown up.


A cult to me has extreme beliefs; founded by some misguided person with wierd ideas. Usually of a small nature that is driven by fanatics. But then I consider some large groups cults as well, such as mormons and others.


To take a more positive version of cult…

A cult is a group of people sharing a certain belief. For example the united states, it is our belief that our country tries to act in the best interest of the citizens. The result of a cult is a culture. We live in an american culture.

Also, for a private devotion (such as the devotion to the sacred heart) a cult must form around the devotion such that good works are the result before the church will validate the devotion.

A cult must also form around a holy man before he can be considered for sainthood.

So with these examples you can see cult can be a subset of religion or have no religious underpinnings at all.


It should be noted that Christianity in the earliest days met the definition of a cult, so no insult should be necessarily construed using it as defined (although some certainly use it as a perjorative).


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