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What makes a religion a cult?

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Drunkerland
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What makes a religion a cult?

Postby Drunkerland » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:32 am

Cults have been around forever but I never really understood what makes them a cult. I'm not trying trying to say all religions are cults i'm just trying to understand what makes a cult different from other religions. There also has been religions many people have said that are cults like the Church of Scientology, which is recognized as a religion in some countries like the United States. So what makes a religion a cult rather than a religion?
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Postby Alvecia » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:37 am

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Postby Thepeopl » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:43 am

Cults mostly try to segregate their flock from the "unbelievers". They tend to live in remote places and they are not bound by the rules of society. (According to the guru/ leader)

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Postby -Ocelot- » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:43 am

If you are not allowed to leave, it's a cult.
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Postby A m e n r i a » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:44 am

The thing worshipped - if it's a demon, it's a cult.
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Postby Hanafuridake » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:46 am

Under the main definition, all religions would be cults.
a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.


The derogatory label is not particularly helpful and most scholars don't use the term anymore.
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Thepeopl
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Postby Thepeopl » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:50 am

Cambridge dictionary :

a religious group, often living together, whose beliefs are considered extreme or strange by many people

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Caracasus
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Postby Caracasus » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:04 am

That's actually a really good question and one that there's a lot of dispute around! I've gone back over some stuff to refresh my memory from when I studied this, so there may be a couple of inaccuracies.

First we should really define what we mean by religion - going by most people's understanding of religion, many (but importantly not all) movements that have been labelled cults in seriousness are religious in nature as in they in some way have something to do with worship of some supernatural thing. However obviously we can't just lump Heaven's Gate in with the church, synagogue or mosque down the road. That'd obviously be very silly.

So one way that's quite useful when it comes to this is the church/sect continuum. Put simply - within a religion you have a church. The church tends towards claiming a monopoly on members, often has close links to the state - churches essentially aim to maintain a level of stability.

At the other end of the scale you have a sect. Sects break away from the church - they're almost always a protest against the church and as such are often (but not always) opposed by the church. Sects usually either dissolve (either fizzling out on their own or with "encouragement" from the church) or they simply get absorbed into the church. Sometimes they become denominations, which break up the monopoly the church itself has on religious worship.

The important thing to note here is that churches, sects and denominations are all broadly part of the same religion - and this is where cults are a bit different (according to most people who study this anyway, as I said, it's a pretty controversial topic)

Cults can form without a breakaway from the main religion or a church. That's really the big, defining feature.

Now that's a pretty useful way of understanding cults, religions etc. but it's not without its flaws. The biggest being that the sociologists who put in the groundwork defining these terms were operating from a rather eurocentric perspective. It doesn't always work when you're dealing with (for example) eastern religious thought and philosophy.

As for cults themselves, defining what a cult is and understanding it is really tricky. Some try and divide it into different ethos's the cults might have - for instance you can have world accepting or world rejecting cults. Others look at the structure of a cult - is it focused on borderline worship of one person for instance? Others still try and work out the driving force behind a cult, and it's here that we get people talking about doomsday cults vs political cults etc.

EDIT: Just saw you asked about Scientology. Now, that's an interesting one. Many sociologists for instance prefer to expand the term cult out to encompass new religious movements. Depending on who you ask, scientology would either be a cult or a new religious movement.
Last edited by Caracasus on Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Dumb Ideologies » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:12 am

It's mostly other people's reaction to it. Trying to define it by specific features of the religion itself is a slippery business.
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Postby The Blaatschapen » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:17 am

It's a religion when the state has approved of it, in other words, when the cultists have gained enough power to get recognized.
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Postby Rojava Free State » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:18 am

all religions begin as cults. Nowadays the reason we don't view Christianity as a cult (not your average person) is because of how widespread it is. It's socially accepted unlike the church of Satan
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Postby Arkhane » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:23 am

Rojava Free State wrote:all religions begin as cults. Nowadays the reason we don't view Christianity as a cult (not your average person) is because of how widespread it is. It's socially accepted unlike the church of Satan


The church of Satan isn't actually a religion either. Just a bunch of lazy pseudo-philosophical roleplayers who are in it for the identity and shock value.

Your average Christian church is no longer a cult because we are no longer in medieval times and it has become more lax.

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Postby LiberNovusAmericae » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:24 am

All religions should be considered cults, though obviously some are more dangerous than others.
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Postby Risottia » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:28 am

Hanafuridake wrote:Under the main definition, all religions would be cults.
a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.


Well, I guess one could have a religion without veneration.
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Arkhane
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Postby Arkhane » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:28 am

LiberNovusAmericae wrote:All religions should be considered cults, though obviously some are more dangerous than others.


Cult in itself really isn't a bad word. It only became one when it was associated with crazed fanaticism and creepy covert dealings. The same way conspiracy theorists are often associated with mentally unhinged paranoiacs.

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Postby Risottia » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:28 am

Arkhane wrote:Your average Christian church is no longer a cult because we are no longer in medievalRoman times and it has become more lax.

Fixed.
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Postby SD_Film Artists » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:42 am

Thepeopl wrote:Cults mostly try to segregate their flock from the "unbelievers". They tend to live in remote places and they are not bound by the rules of society. (According to the guru/ leader)


This, and they tend to put a greater focus on the priest rather than the deity, and they may have a strict paywall rather than simple donations.
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Postby SD_Film Artists » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:59 am

A m e n r i a wrote:The thing worshipped - if it's a demon, it's a cult.


But that's misguided even by cult standards, as why worship a demon when demons aren't gods? That's like a Christian worshipping an angel rather than God (since angels are basically demons but with better PR). Demons can be revered but not worshipped.
Last edited by SD_Film Artists on Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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What makes a religion a cult?

Postby Lycanis Heritage Keeper » Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:00 am

Perception of a cult may be a subjective observation in others, of the human need to derive meaning from a limited lifespan, in a way that differs from your perception of religion within a similar set of needs. The cult is an alternative to the known faith and is perceived as a threat to one's own religion, and is socially demonized in wider society.

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Hanafuridake
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Postby Hanafuridake » Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:08 am

Risottia wrote:
Hanafuridake wrote:Under the main definition, all religions would be cults.

Well, I guess one could have a religion without veneration.


I can't think of a single religion which does not have a system of veneration though, especially since worship is so central.
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Postby An Alan Smithee Nation » Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:23 am

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Postby Page » Wed Sep 11, 2019 6:33 am

There is something called the BITE model created by a guy who wrote a famous book about cults, it rates how much control an organization has over a member's behavior, thoughts, emotions (I forgot what the I stands for).

It's a subjective question but this model seems reasonable.
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Postby Blanjiland » Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:04 am

Personally, I would identify any religious institution as a cult if it meets a certain percentage of a list of criteria (with exceptions, of course).
This list includes but is not limited to:
* Revering the founder more than its deity (e.g. El Ron Hubbard)
* Not permitting or at least demonizing the thought and act of leaving the institution (Scientology, the Amish, etc).
* Somewhat militarized, or violent (think the Sea Org).
* Subversive in activities and intention (Scientology, again).
* Increasingly aggressive/persistent in their recruitment attempts (Jehovah’s Witnesses comes to mind).
* Demands their followers sacrifice things (such as money) to the institution (I think you get the point).

While some institutions meet these criteria and are not cults, and some do not but are, I think these are general actions of cults or at least cult-like behavior.
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