The word cult is often thrown around in today’s society as a derogatory term towards religions that are not well known or have aspects that are contrary to mainstream religions. According to mainstream media, cults have been responsible for massive pact suicides, and their followers are incestual and polygamous. The mass media shows the leader as a manipulative person who controls his/her believers as they blindly follow, not knowing the trouble that will certainly find them. “… ‘cult’ has become little more than a convenient, if largely inaccurate and always pejorative, shorthand for a religious group that must be presented as odd or dangerous for the purpose of an emerging news story.”(3) Douglas Cowan and David Bromley show the harsh reality of the way the majority of the media likes to portray cults, probably for better ratings. There are several main cults that are often referenced when researching the topic. The first being The People’s Temple, the founder Jim Jones had a following of 912, that all died (including him) by cyanide laced drinks in 1978. This was known as the Jonestown Massacre, controversy surrounds it as it is debated whether or not it was a mass suicide or murder. Another commonly referenced cult is Heaven’s Gate, a UFO doomsday religion that ended in a 39 member suicide in 1997 when the group was attempting to leave earth because they believed it was about to be “recycled”. To learn and understand what a cult is, I will be define a cult, what features make a cult and who the people are that join them, as well as discuss the founders of these religions. What is the definition of a cult? Depending on the intent of the author defining the word cult proves a difficult task. The scholars on the subject of cults seem to have two different approaches when studying this topic. There are those who are a part of the anticult movement and often use the word “cult” in a negative fashion towards any religion that has formed in recent history. Those apart of the anticult seem to skirt around the subject of defining a cult or explaining what a cult exactly consists of. We are given the feeling as though they do not want to define it as they may cast an umbrella over other mainstream religions that have a similar form. It is even often used to describe popular trends that will supposedly not last, veganism is a term that has been described as a cult fad. You can see how it is almost always used negatively, or as something that has no real substance and will not stand the test of time like other religions have. In contrast, there are those who do not use the word cult but prefer the term “New Religious Movements”. These scholars have a more objective opinion, and use New Religious Movements to “…represent fascinating glimpses into the way human beings construct religious meaning and organize their lives to give shape to religious experience.” (Cowan, Bromley, 3). It is important to be subjective when using the word cult and for purposes of this paper I will define cult in my own words and state that there is a difference between cults and New Religious Movements. A cult is a form of religion that is deceitful towards its own members with the leader abusing their powers. Although there have been many mainstream religions that have had a leader abuse their powers, it is necessary to point out the difference, which is that in a cult the head of the religion is the source of all their religious knowledge and do not have other ways of getting to know the religion without them. In comparison, mass religions have many leaders, many forms of knowledge and you can attain religious beliefs through many forms, not only the one source. Keeping in mind that using the word cult subjectively is imperative to this process, it is still easy to find movements that can be categorized under my own definition of the word cult. These would include the previously mentioned religions of The People’s Temple and Heaven’s...
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