What's the difference between a cult and a religion?

Well, if you want to be technical, the Catholic Church has taught that for a thousand years. Only the top level is called Heaven, and then there are varying degree of Hell (sometime, Purgatory). And they agree with Jesus and James and Paul-half-the-time regarding faith and works, although I’m sure they disagree with Mormon’s as to what those works are.

I’ve posted this before, poking fun at those “how to know a cult when you see one” web sites, for example this list entitled Characteristics of a Destructive Cult

Cecil, little Ed.

Yep, that’s unca Cecil alright.

Sure, first you just read the column in the weekly. Then, at some point you check out the website. You post on the message board. Just once or twice a month, maybe. Then someone calls you a knee jerk reactionary and your are suddenly locked in a flame war. You lose weight, your friends wonder where you are but the modem ties up the phone… and it is all downhill from there

Teeming Millions versus non-Teemers. God Teem me!

Da Mods.

Claims to deliver “the Straight Dope”

Fighting Ignorance since 1972, it is taking longer than we thought.

Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share. Must you??

Unca Cece knows all, sees all.

Well, what does ‘dope’ mean to you?

Sounds like the mailbag to me

those still living in the “ignorance” the dope is “fighting” against

I think that sums up my position on why The Straight Dope is a destructive cult. :smiley:

Thanks for that one, JMull. That list is all true to my own experience (~shudder~).

Was this error part of the joke?

Cult: a virus consisting of spiritual beliefs which cannot be verified one way or another, which was designed to successfully infect human minds, and to propagate itself from one human mind to another. These viruses are used to promote particular codes of personal and social behaviour, and also to manipulate large numbers of people into granting privileges (such as wealth and power) to a small group of people.

Religion: (flippant) what a cult wants to be when it grows up. (less flippant) what a cult is termed once it has infected sufficiently large numbers of people for those people to be able to demand and obtain legal recognition for their beliefs. (A ‘recognised religion’ can cut special tax deals for donations etc., a cult cannot).

DoctorJ said:

This pretty well sums it all up.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t add to it. :wink:

Last year, I reviewed the book, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History, by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. I also interviewed Professor Jenkins.

Here are a few excerpts from my review:

*He says the media and anti-cult groups, both secular and religious, play up the worst of the extremist groups and apply similar accusations to all religions they deem as “cults.” This has been going on, in one form or another, for centuries, sometimes getting to the point where the anti-cult panic was worse than the group labeled as a cult!

As examples, he notes that Roman Catholicism was once deemed a cult by other Christians (an issue that came to the fore in the presidential primaries when George W. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University). Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shakers, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and others have all been called “cults” by other groups and had various slanders alleged against them.

Indeed, many of the same charges that are leveled against cults today were leveled against these groups in the past. In some cases, even members of the groups formerly labeled as cults are using that term now to describe newcomers to the religious scene.

So what are cults? Jenkins writes in his book: “In common parlance, cults are exotic religions that practice spiritual totalitarianism: members owe fanatical obedience to the group and to its charismatic leaders, who enforce their authority through mind-control techniques or brainwashing.” Also, cult members are separated from the rest of the world, often living apart from family and friends. But Jenkins thinks the word really means, “a small unpopular religious group.” In other words, if you don’t like the group, you call them a “cult.”*

(I can’t give the Web link here for the full article, because it’s at Themestream.com . However, you may e-mail me for the link or go to the site and do a search.)

The definition I heard was a religion has more people born into it than converts. A cult is the opposite. All religions start as cults, but if the beliefs stick and people pass them down to their children, they become religions.

Well, thank you Goboy, why aren’t you over in the Mormon thread helping us out?
Tis true the Bible says :"Thou has said the truth,for there is One God, and there is none other than He."Deuteronomy 6:32.
Mormons beleive their are three Gods and many more.
I could go on and on but for naught.

All I have to add is a quote by Mark Twain, I believe. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

“A cult is a religion with no political power.”

Think that about sums it up.

goboy, I didn’t say that my beliefs were entirely the same as other Christians. However, you’ll note that you did not contradict me. I do believe that it is only through faith in Christ and His atoning sacrifice that I can ever hope to be saved. Yes, I believe that real faith motivates one to action, and that one measure of faith is works (which is consistent with James chapter 2). Also, yes I believe that there are different degrees of heaven.

However, it remains that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Only-Begotten son of God who died for the sins of the world. That is what you claimed I don’t believe and what my church does not teach. However, that claim is incorrect. And with all due respect, I am the world’s best authority on what I believe. That belief is in harmony with the teachings of the LDS church. See Article of Faith #3 for instance. Also,

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Answers to Sundry Questions.

I’m not interested in hijacking the thread further, but I am very tired of people telling me what I believe, when it’s not correct.

Pffft - amateur. Trying being Unitarian Universalist - I was once told I worship trees. :rolleyes: (That’s in addition to being told I’m in a cult as well.)


Esprix: Huh! No wonder your consdiered a tree worshipper, your around wood so often.:wink:

Just for the record :

What’s the difference between a church and a cult.

Developing massive organizations, providing high levels of customer service, outmaneuvering the competition, creating brand names that are recognized in every household. Seems to me that the skills required to create a great business are the same as the ones required to create a great religion. Well, here’s some free business advice to some of those cult leaders out there that are aspiring to become the next Jesus, Moses, or Mohammad:

  1. Make sure the organization can continue once you get “promoted to the head office”:
    There is a good reason Jesus didn’t spike the cool-aid at the Last Supper.
  2. Don’t try to compete in the same markets as the “Coke” and “Pepsi” of religions:
    The Puritans did not try to start their religion in Rome, the went to the New World.
    The Mormons saw big growth opportunities in Utah, not California (saturated market).
    The Jehovah’s witnesses used direct marketing to become the L.L. Bean mail order catalogue of religions.
  3. Focus on branding and trademarks:
    Everyone recognizes the Christian cross and the Jewish six pointed star.
  4. 4P’s of marketing - Product, Placement, Price, Promotion
    While cults and religions offer similar products (salvation, reincarnation, etc), cults don’t grow into religions because
    A) The price is often too high (everything you own goes to the cult).
    B) They’re too secretive and don’t actively promote themselves.
  5. Customer service:
    God had Moses lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. The average mom & pop doomsday cult just can’t compete with that level of service.

Remember, the difference between a cult and one of the Big 5 (Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu, Islam and Judaism) is


Seriously, but not very so, I believe that a religion has many members, while a cult has few.

How many?

How few?

Heck, I dunno. I just pointed that out so the rest of you could hash out the details.



IMO, a cult is any religious group that:

[li]directs its members to harm themselves or others, or to neglect their duties to others[/li][li]isolates itself from society[/li][li]exerts strict control over what its members think, say, or do[/li][li]is more concerned with keeping its members unconditionally loyal than with their well-being[/li][/ul]

That’s okay, Esprix, my mother asked me if the UUs were related to the Moonies… :rolleyes:

If it involves tamborines and the singing of “Kumbaya, My Lord” it is a cult.

I guess that makes the Cub Scouts a cult. We did that at Scout Day Camp when I was in the 3rd grade.

I’ve always kind of wondered about those guys…