Difference between a church and a cult

Regarding cecil’s post:http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1445/whats-the-difference-between-a-church-and-a-cult

I think that the modern definition of a cult would include that cults try to cut off members from their families, and control every aspect of their lives, and also either charge members fees for services or use members labor to gain income.

Churches will take members in without fees or charges, and while the church may have a fund drive they don’t take all their members money, and don’t try to separate members from their families.

Cults also censure or condemn people in the group who question practices or beliefs, or wish to leave, and may also extend this to the members’ families as well.

Some mainstream churches do collect dues from their members, and I’ve never heard of any that didn’t gain income from member labor.

I have to admit that of the mainstream Christian churches I’m familiar with (I’m a lapsed fundamentalist who transferred over to Roman Catholic) I’ve never heard of dues per se. Tithing is pushed hard at some churches, but it’s voluntary. I don’t know about what you would consider member labor.

I have heard that Synagogues require something like a membership fee, but not having any practicing Jewish friends,I don’t know how that works.

All mainstream religions I know of are usually very welcoming of visitors and guests, with some limitations (for example, that non-Mormons can’t go into the sanctuaries, and non-Catholics can’t participate in Communion, e.g.). Cults tend to be very suspicious and unwelcoming of outsiders, except for the purposes of recruiting them, in which case they fall all over themselves to lure you in.

Anecdote: In the early 1970’s, in Berkeley, the Moonies tried to lure me in. One, in particular, seemed to have taken me on as her “project”. Fast forward about 20 years, and I saw in a news article that she had been “kidnapped” and deprogrammed.

Different organizations raise money in different ways. You have people who need to be paid. You have a building that needs to be maintained. You have programs to run.

Most synagogues have membership dues as their main source of finance. You don’t need to be a member to use the synagogue. I’ve seen people who regularly attend prayers at the synagogue, speak to the Rabbi on many occasions, and even attend most of the events, but never become a member. Membership gives you a say on running the synagogue, but that’s about it. Even so, most synagogues will readily reduce membership fees for those who can’t afford them.

I know many churches don’t have official membership dues, but many heavily push tithing which probably costs a typical family much more than your average synagogue dues. We belong to two different synagogues and pay a combined total of about $1200 in dues. That’s a lot less than if I tithed my support to the synagogues based upon 10% of my income.

There are some churches in the U.S. that force you to tithe, to the level of having you turn in the income information you get from your employer for tax purposes. If you don’t put in your tithe, they turn you over to collections.

I wouldn’t call them cults, even if I heavily disagree with the practice. They’re too mainstream. They don’t in any way isolate people, and their beliefs go from typical Christianity to “feel good” Christianity. They’re more in the line of John Oliver’s new mock church–churches established to get money.

Several of the oldest church buildings around here to be funded by “pew rental”. At one stage it was something of a problem in some parts of England: empty churches, with the pews all fully rnnted, and nowhere for anyone to sit. All a long time ago.

I’d say that one of the easiest ways to define a cult, as opposed to a church, is by their secrets.
Cults have lots of secrets that they refuse to tell novice members.
Churches have no secrets.* Any new member knows what he is joining, what committements he is making, and therefor can make a rational decision to join or not.

For example: A Catholic who wants to become a monk knows that he’s going to be cut off from society, have to obey his superiors, not be allowed to have sex, maybe take a vow of silence. But he knows all this before he joins.
The moonies, on the other hand, don’t tell you anything—it’s all a matter of “Join us…You’ll feel great!”…and only later do they tell you, “oh, yeah, by the way, you have to give us ALL your money, and cut off all contact with your evil family, and have sex with the leader.”

  • (They may have some private rituals, such as the Mormon temple ceremonies, but those are not life-changing secrets).

I take umbrage.

Just so long as the umbrage isn’t mandatory, you are still a church, not a cult.

My working distinction between a cult and a religion is whether it interferes with people leading a normal life. So I look at the membership. If most of the adult members were born into the group, then adult members can rear children, and the children mostly choose to stick with the group. So it looks like a religion. If most of the adult members are converts, the cult hasn’t yet demonstrated it can work as a viable religion, and I consider it a cult.

And there’s a little more to it than that. People vary as to how religious they are. I think that’s largely genetic. But non religious (non spiritual?) people get value from membership in a religion. They might get a sense of community, or a venue for volunteering, or social activities, or traditions, or… A religion has something to offer the less spiritual members. A cult doesn’t, and thus loses its adult children when they can get out.

And before anyone says anything, yes, I know it was Flavor Ade and not Kool Ade.

But what is “normal”? As long as you’re on the commune and only interacting with other initiates it’s all perfectly normal; conversely, Mormons living among non-Mormons will have some awkwardness at best at social and quasi-social functions that typically involve and/or coffee.

Really? :eek: What denomination does THAT? :confused:

This one, for one.

The only experience I have with this kind of thing is a large non-denominational church in my community. I considered joining it at one point.

In order to become a member, you had to promise to tithe, although I don’t think they had to see your tax returns. Anyone could attend the services, and participate in everything except administrative stuff like being one of the elders, and only members could teach and lead things like Bible studies. They had a lot of people at worship who weren’t members, therefore.

I didn’t join, for reasons like this and some other stuff. I wouldn’t call the church a cult, but they had ideas of committing to being a member that went beyond what I am used to.

The church I attend now requires members to join with a ceremony, and then either receive the Eucharist or make a donation of record (any amount) during the last year. But we don’t check - you just don’t get the notifications when we have a congregational meeting, and you can’t vote, unless you receive Communion during the service that always precedes our meetings.

Occasionally the idea of pew rental or dues gets brought up, and gets shot down pretty quick. FTR so do most other new ideas, but we don’t even charge for things like Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, where we use up art supplies and books and things.

FWIW. I am Lutheran.


Baptist: http://wjhl.com/2015/08/18/92-year-old-woman-kicked-out-of-church-for-not-tithing/

Some Jewish synagogues: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://wp.adatariel.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Dues-Relief-Application-15161.pdf&ved=0CCQQFjAAOApqFQoTCPy_vMHtxMcCFUmrHgodAk8PWg&usg=AFQjCNECZsazT0Ir8XoNPJBX5pS7zsQcog&sig2=_alR7-z10ytwERRtzYEXRg

Mormons: Tithing in the LDS Church

Tithing in the Mormon church is self reported. You do not have to prove your income or turn in tax returns. If you want to attend the temple you should honestly report a 10% tithe, but it doesn’t get you excommunicated or anything.