“A cult is just a religion I don’t like.” “All religions are cults.” “Religion is just the search for truth.” We may have heard someone use one of these three statements to explain cult and religion. Yet, are the statements accurate? Though cult and religion do share some characteristics, they are set apart by their leadership, the amount of authority over their members, and the rigidity of their boundaries.
Many people use the term “zealot” synonymously with “cult leader.” Cult leaders are charismatic individuals who profess to have unmatched wisdom. They typically claim to be gods or God’s special messengers. They may claim to have been born with perfection rather than imperfection. They may profess having special abilities that other humans do not. When they lust more power or use violence to make a point, they transform into “holy terrorists” (Porterfield 7). Many cult leaders feel that both they and their actions or holy, making them above the law. They may resort to violent coercion in an effort to maintain the obedience of their followers (Porterfield 8).
In addition, cultists are expected to be in unquestionable, loyal submission to their leaders. Their lives are completely controlled by their cult leader. Everything from what each member eats to who each member marry and, sometimes say, is left in the hands of the leader. Restrictions may even be placed on the amount of children allowed per family. Some cultists are given instructions on how every second of their lives are to be spent, and cultist oblige. Cults attempt to destroy individuality and independent thinking, wanting to control the thoughts and emotions of each cultist. Cult members may even experience punishment for the mere display...
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...ching or going to the place of worship itself that makes a religion cultish, but rather, the manner in which things are instilled.
What does this mean for all professed religions that engage themselves in fierce religious wars? Is this not cultish behavior? Indeed, it is. Physical oppression on non-conformists to force upon them ideologies is a cultish trait. Yet, as mentioned before, a cult could have even two cultish traits without being a cult.
For any new group that is form, the question will be asked: Is it a cult or is it a religion? Both groups give members a certain measure of security and belonging. They both attract people with common interests. Yet the strength of their power over individuals is clearly what sets them apart. As said by sociologist Benjamin Zablocki, “People affiliate with religion, but people become addicted to cults” (Goode).
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