Religion as a Cult
What is the difference between a cult and a religion? Some of the earliest forms of religion, dating back to the beginnings of humanity and conceptual thinking, first appeared as cults. The word “cult,” however, often holds stigma today that religions do not. While many may argue that cults and religion are entirely different, I believe perspective is key. Cults, especially Christianity, bear an extreme resemblance to religions and in many cases either become a well-known religion or cease to exist.
In the November 2013 issue of Harper's magazine, Nathaniel Rich explains the work of David Sullivan, an expert called in to cases where families have lost their loved ones to ludicrous cults around the United States. Rich describes accounts of Sullivan's successful retrievals of individuals from cults, and even a time where Sullivan completely eliminates a cult called the Mother Divine Love Foundation (Rich 42). Although few may argue whether these individuals needed saving or not from the gruesome details Rich divulges in his article, the entire concept of a cult sparked curiousity in my mind. As a firm Atheist, I started recognizing similarities in these bizarre groups and other monotheistic religions, Christianity in particular. Heinous acts of violence, although not common today, were common in the beginnings of Christianity, before the birth of Christ and therefore the obvious distinction as “Christians”. Sacrifices such as goats and other animals was popular practice. As the Bible reads, a man nearly sacrificed his son for his God. This was certainly not the only similarity I noticed. Rich writes, “The spiritual groups, he [Sullivan] soon realized, shared a simple tactic: they demanded that their followers suspend critical thought” (36). As a “hardcore atheist” himself, Sullivan should have made the connection to modern religion with this thought. Depending on what you believe to be “critical thought,” religions could most certainly suspend what some may consider logical thinking. The fact that God created Adam and Eve and had two sons, one of which killed the other but we are all decendents of this family, aside, logical thinking is not apparent throughout the Bible. Christians are implored to believe the ridiculous stories that even children would question were it not for their parents' , in some cases, unwavering belief as well. Christians themselves would most likely find other areas of study such as science and paleontology absolutely absurd on the basis of their ability to breakdown key beliefs in religion, and they are not the only ones. Countless other religions that, in my opinion, could be deemed as cults often separate themselves from what they believe to be barbaric practices. My entire basis of distant observation lies in the idea that perhaps it depends solely on how a person views the world and the definitions they place on religious practices and their bearings whether or not there is a distinction whatsoever between religions and cults.
Eileen Barker writes, in her article “The Scientific Study of Religion? You Must Be Joking!”, that “...cults are, almost by definition, bound to practice deception and are probably dangerous.” Deception can be quite a funny word, however, when taking into consideration that all individuals, no matter what religion or cult they may belong to, often deceive hundreds of individuals in some way while promoting their ideas. Tiny differences and beliefs in many religions often lead to separate sects where they are catagorized as simply not true. For instance, Baptists believe you cannot “fall from the grace of God” (King Interview). Once baptised, your sins can always be “washed away” if you only ask God. “Jesus is your lawyer in the court of Life. He died for you, he died for your sins, he cannot undo this anymore than you can. Because of him, if you are saved by the glory of God, you will always be saved” (King Interview). Other sects of...
Cited: Barker, Eileen. "The Scientific Study of Religion? You Must Be Joking!" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34.3 (1995): n. pag. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
"Sara King Interview." Interview by Catherine A. Page. n.d.: n. pag. Print. 21 Apr. 2014
Lalich, Janja, and Michael D. Langone. "Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups – Revised." Cults 101: Checklist of Cult Characteristics. International Cultic Studies Association, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.
Rich, Nathaniel. "The Man Who Saves You From Yourself." Harper 's Magazine. November (2013): 35-44. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
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