In reading today’s classic column, we find Cecil mildly upbraiding his correspondent for referring to a religious group as a cult, countering that the sect in question may well have been “an exceptionally enthusiastic bunch of Episcopalians.” As the story plays out, the inventor of the Slinky left his family nearly destitute after giving the lion’s share of his assets to the group, then periodically encouraged his wife to abandon their childen and join him in South America.
On the face of it, this sort of wanton disregard for the well-being of anything or anyone but one’s church is about as good an indicator of cult member behavior as anything I can think of. Perhaps I’m being closed-minded here; many conservatives would define my Unitarian Universalist church as a cult, so I shouldn’t throw stones. I’m also assuming that the church in Cecil’s column actually instructed Richard James to do this, when in fact they may have thought him as nutty as I do. Still in all, this sort of “to hell with everything else in the world as long as my church prospers” mentality is about as good a definer of cult practice as anything I can think of.
What do you all think? What are the behavioral triggers that scream “cult” to you? And was Richard James’ group a cult as you would define one?