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judochop's avatar

What makes religion, religion and a cult a cult? What separates the two of them? Why is one ok and the other frowned upon?

Asked by judochop (16094points) May 8th, 2010

It seems to me that the only thing that separates religion from a cult is the amount of followers you have. What do you think? Why do we frown upon a small amount of people that follow their own set of rules yet praise (loosely speaking) those that are in large numbers?

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23 Answers

poofandmook's avatar

[removed by me]

DominicX's avatar

The only thing you can do is a list a few common traits that cults have. One thing that makes a “cult” a cult is the fact that it’s considered to be “out there” by mainstream society and attempts to separate itself from mainstream society. Another common trait is the charismatic leader. Another is the fact that many cults hunt you down if you try to leave. I don’t think most “religions” do that.

We discussed this is in my religious studies class fall quarter. It was hard to come up with a concrete definition of a “cult”.

Draconess25's avatar

A cult is seen as morally wrong by the rest of society, but they think they’re right.

Religion is seen as morally right (or at least acceptable) by most of society. The more acceptable it is, the more members/contributions you will get.

In other words:
Cult: Small group led by misguided individuals.
Religion: Large group established for personal gain.

Sorry, I’m not a big fan of organized religion. Or cults. They’re just creepy.

Sarcasm's avatar

Cults are the ones that want you to drink the Kool-aid.

Draconess25's avatar

@Sarcasm Does that mean blood?

jerv's avatar

One thing to bear in mind here is that Christianity used to be a cult; a small, ostracized group with a belief system that was way out there. Look at the similarities between Charles Manson and Jesus Christ and tell me that there really is a difference there. I mean, here we have two guys claiming to be the son of God and with enough charisma to get people to believe them. You connect the dots!

@Draconess25 Read your history ;)

marinelife's avatar

I think that most posters here are missing the point. A cult is a group in which the leader (or leaders) attempts to control the followers down to their money (in a cult they work for the group), to their thoughts, and often their sexual liaisons.

Religions are groups of believers in the same creed who worship together.

Lightlyseared's avatar

About a thousand years.

Arp's avatar

A cult usually has one “overall” leader, demands that their followers pay a daily/monthly/yearly sum. Also, cults tend to do something against what modern society deems “appropriate”.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Size. A religion is a very large cult. When we speak about ancient religions, we often talk about a cult as a fringe grouping of a more mainstream (for the time) religion. In historical context, it is easier to see that they are really the same thing. Then you apply that context to the modern day. Still the same thing.

jerv's avatar

@marinelife Umm… are you saying that Christianity is still a cult? Okay, that isn’t exactly fair since there are many Christians that are not like that, but there is a rather vocal/visible minority that try to control our money, our education, and our sex. I think you might want to rephrase that.

zophu's avatar

A cult hasn’t driven any wars yet. Once a few nations fall under the might of a god, that’s when the doctrines become real religions.

Ludy's avatar

I think a cult is another name for religion, Religion to me means: The things a human think could bring him closer to redemption

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

In my mind, nothing.

FevoIsGod's avatar

Tax breaks are the only difference.

RareDenver's avatar


Qingu's avatar

@marinelife, your definition of cult describes the groups led by Jesus, Paul, and Muhammad. Probably Moses too if he actually existed in a way at all resembling the Biblical character.

aprilsimnel's avatar

People usually aren’t free to leave a cult if they wish to, whereas when I left off Christianity, while some people were extremely disappointed, no one tried to prevent me from following as my own conscience dictated. A cult wouldn’t have been so accepting. They’d need me to exist.

I’ve never read where in early Christianity people were coerced to attend to it, as is done in some cults, like Scientology.

ru5150's avatar

A ‘religion’ seeks to influence a person to believe something they believe on their word alone, absent of facts. But the belief system, at least to casual appearances, maintains the illusion that the belief is beneficial to the believer.

A cult seeks to force a belief onto another by any means including mind control, brainwashing, love bombing, isolation and rejection. The belief is almost universally harmful to the individual otherwise strong arm techniques would not be required.

Read up on scientology survivors and you will see the pattern very quickly.

Jabe73's avatar

You need to realize that this is more a matter of opinion than fact. Some major denominations of Christianity call other major denominations a “cult” that don’t share their religious dogma. Evangelicals frequently call Mormons’, Catholics, Lutherans’, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even other Evangelicals’ that don’t share their views as cults and vice versa.

If anyone knew how it really was or really understood the bible there wouldn’t be over 30,000 Christian denominations alone! I used to be a fundamentalist “fire and brimstone eternal hell” Protestant church going type until i had a number of strange things happen to me when half my family passed away in very short time spans from each other a few years ago, i’m not getting into it here and i’m not here to change anyone’s religious beliefs but my views on religion and spirituality to put it mildly, changed drastically, many in consistency with “New Age” beliefs. I still consider myself a Christian, but with my beliefs in a temporary hell, universal salvation, parables Jesus used in the bible, things left out of the bible, and reincarnation many fundamentalists and even modernists Christians would classify my beliefs as being from a “cult” religion rather than a “true” religion, like i said, matter of opinions rather than facts.

Draconess25's avatar

@Jabe73….Sorry about your family. <<hugs>>

mattbrowne's avatar

According to Michael Shermer, who is a historian of science and author, a (dangerous) cult is characterized by

1) Veneration, glorification and inerrancy of the former or current leader to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity
2) Acceptance of beliefs and pronouncements on all subjects without applying critical thinking
3) Persuasive techniques from benign to coercive are used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs
4) Hidden agendas exist and the true nature of the group’s beliefs and plans is obscured from or not fully disclosed to potential recruits and the general public
5) There is deceit, therefore recruits and followers are not told everything they should know about the group’s inner circle, and particularly disconcerting flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances are covered up
6) Sometimes there is financial exploitation and recruits and followers are persuaded to invest money and other assets (in very rare cases there’s also sexual exploitation)
7) There is absolute truth which also means that the group has discovered final knowledge on any relevant number of subjects
8) Absolute morality is also being claimed, which means the group’s system of right and wrong thoughts and actions are are applicable to members and non-members alike. Those who strictly follow the moral code become and remain members and those who do not are dismissed or punished

My own examples would include doomsday cults, personality cults, Aryan nation cults, Klu Klux Klan, Scientology, Hare Krishna, Objectivist movements, Wahhabism, as well as Taliban-style theocracies.

For more opinions see

Silhouette's avatar

Blind obedience.

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