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Definition of a cult
Posted: 04 August 2008 09:22 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I see that some people here have designed to try and define what a cult is. I’m not entirely sure that the word cult can be strictly applied to fringe Christianity or other religions. Cults have been defined and redefined over and over, so I won’t be one to try to define it here.

I apologize if this point has been made before; I am new to this forum and simply could not reasonably be expected to read each and every response (I hope?).

Yet, can someone tell me at what point a cult becomes a religion? Is it when that cult reaches a certain percentage of the society? Does it have to do with, as “burt” (I mean no disrespect with the quotations) has tried to do, a rather static sense of presupposed conditions?

Or, is it simply a group that shares the similarly unacceptable beliefs of a major religious system, but does not receive the same public approval? It seems to me (and others on here from the short readings I’ve done in this vast new forum of thought) that cults are entirely a matter of population. When a cult reaches some kind of nominal and numerical influence, it ceases to be a cult. It then becomes a religion.

I would argue that all religions and ideologies which are perpetuated in spite of, or without, legitimate rational and scientific evidence are cults. They all meet “burt"s requirements (found elsewhere in this section of the forum, and are, I think, useful) and they are all dangerous. They should all be required to present beliefs to back their thoughts that do not require “faith.” If they present a faith based argument, regardless of the number of constituents, it is still a cult.

Perhaps then I am designing to define the word cult, against my original intentions… I suppose I couldn’t resist the urge to apply it as broadly as possible.

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Posted: 04 August 2008 10:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[ Edited: 07 March 2011 05:36 PM by J.C.]
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Posted: 05 August 2008 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I think personal perspective can be included in the definition, even if it sounds like it’s a joke. In practice/actual usage a cult is someone else’s exclusive religious beliefs and practices.

I don’t think it should be limited to the believers though, as in that last definition in the previous post—it’s also the belief system.

Byron

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Posted: 05 August 2008 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I agree with Byron. People generally believe that someone else’s religion is a cult if the other belief contradicts their own sense of morality. Baptists believe LDS is a cult. Mormons believe scientology is a cult. I believe that all of the above are cults. Ad infinitum.

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Posted: 06 August 2008 01:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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bhbs - 05 August 2008 01:22 AM

I see that some people here have designed to try and define what a cult is. I’m not entirely sure that the word cult can be strictly applied to fringe Christianity or other religions. Cults have been defined and redefined over and over, so I won’t be one to try to define it here.

I apologize if this point has been made before; I am new to this forum and simply could not reasonably be expected to read each and every response (I hope?).

Yet, can someone tell me at what point a cult becomes a religion? Is it when that cult reaches a certain percentage of the society? Does it have to do with, as “burt” (I mean no disrespect with the quotations) has tried to do, a rather static sense of presupposed conditions?

Or, is it simply a group that shares the similarly unacceptable beliefs of a major religious system, but does not receive the same public approval? It seems to me (and others on here from the short readings I’ve done in this vast new forum of thought) that cults are entirely a matter of population. When a cult reaches some kind of nominal and numerical influence, it ceases to be a cult. It then becomes a religion.

I would argue that all religions and ideologies which are perpetuated in spite of, or without, legitimate rational and scientific evidence are cults. They all meet “burt"s requirements (found elsewhere in this section of the forum, and are, I think, useful) and they are all dangerous. They should all be required to present beliefs to back their thoughts that do not require “faith.” If they present a faith based argument, regardless of the number of constituents, it is still a cult.

Perhaps then I am designing to define the word cult, against my original intentions… I suppose I couldn’t resist the urge to apply it as broadly as possible.


One way I see it is that a cult is usually a take-off on another religion. The off-shoots of the Mormon Church are one example. Some are downright vicious and even kill. Some glorify poligamy and insist it should be an active part of Mormonism.

Another view of mine is it is an organization of exclusive rules and rountines and theories. Perhaps they are religious in nature, but I don’t think they necessarily have to be a religion. Some cults have radical views about animals; some about sex; some are about practicing strange philosophies like Ekhart ( sp?) Tolle"s “The Power of NOW” pie-in-the-sky “bliss” ideas. As I see it a cult does’nt have to be religious .

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Posted: 06 August 2008 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.

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Posted: 06 August 2008 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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burt - 06 August 2008 03:38 PM

The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.


Burt :

Elaborate a little bit here will you ? Are you saying that the examples I named would not be defined as “cults ” ? Do you think a cult has to be associated with religion in some way to be an actual cult ?  If so, I’m wondering how many people think of it that way .

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Posted: 06 August 2008 09:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Dee - 06 August 2008 10:51 PM
burt - 06 August 2008 03:38 PM

The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.


Burt :

Elaborate a little bit here will you ? Are you saying that the examples I named would not be defined as “cults ” ? Do you think a cult has to be associated with religion in some way to be an actual cult ?  If so, I’m wondering how many people think of it that way .

We had a conversation about this on the other thread, here is part of it.

burt - 18 June 2008 12:25 PM
Dee - 18 June 2008 05:23 AM
burt - 21 May 2007 04:57 PM

Here is a list I compiled about 25 years ago on symptoms that a group was a cult.

1. Are members expected to obey the leader without question at all times?

2. Do the group members show a lack of humor?  Are they unable to joke about their membership in the group?

3. If retreats or residential programs, or group living are involved does the food available have a low protein content and a poor nutritional value?

4. Does the group leadership benefit financially while ordinary group members suffer? 

5. Does the group promote a “end of the world” or “something great is about to happen” attitude?

6. Are group members and leadership unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of other groups?

7. Is there an “Us against Them” mentality? 

8. Does study within the group involve listening to long repetitive lectures, especially under conditions of physical duress (e.g., tired from physical work, seated for long periods without breaks, run-down from poor diet)? 

9. Is one of the main priorities for group members the recruitment of new members?

10. Do group members describe their reasons for being in the group, and the benefits that membership provides only in vague generalities?

11. Are proported experiences that cannot be described treated as if they had significant spiritual value?

12. Does the group encourage or discourage cult-like behavior in its members?

Every group may exhibit some of these symptoms in greater or lesser degree, and in every group there will be individuals whose psychological make-up is such that they engage in cultish behavior.  Legitimate groups will discourage this.


Burt, don’t take this as a criticism, but have you come by your conclusions about cults from actually been involved in one yourself ? You sound like you may be very bothered by the tendancy to confuse cults with religions , and there really should be some viable points one can check out to disern how to separate a cult from something else like it.
One thing though : not all “cults” bear the same earmarks you mentioned.  How about Scientology ( sp?)—is it a cult or a religion ?

What about Freemasonry ? This orginization seems to really stimulate a conflict of opinions. It would be interesting to know how you see it. It may be an example of how general society thinks about the subject.

How about the Latter Day Saints ? Thier doctrine is wayyy out, so to speak, and many people used to believe they were a cult. I’m still reluctant to call it a religion ; it is just a weird offshoot of the Chrstian bible . It’s a distortion

I haven’t been involved in what I would consider a cult, although back in the lat 70s I would occasionally go to introductory meetings and such of various groups and observe how they presented themselves.  I’ve also been involved in groups where cult-like behavior appeared, but was strongly discouraged.  The problem is that any group of people who get together for a purpose of self-development are going to experience cult symptoms—the issue is how these are handled, are they encouraged to grow, or simply acknowledged as part of the process and not given any power.  I put that list together for a group called something like Society Against Mind Abuse (if I recall) that was forming and, to my view, taking on some cult-like aspects itself while at the same time making blanket condemnations of some groups that I didn’t consider cults.

I don’t have enough information about Scientology, although it appears to be a cult.  The religion aspect was taken on to avoid paying taxes.  There are shades of grey, though, between cults and religions (think of cult as coming from cultivation, as a system that seeks to cultivate certain forms of human behavior and development).  A very good book that makes the distinction is The Sentimental Agents in the Volyan Empire, by Doris Lessing (a very sharp and funny, when not painful, satire).  In one scene she has one of the characters say to another (referring to a cult) “But their methods are almost the same as ours.”  The other character replies, “Yes, but with us, you chose.”  As for Freemasons, certain lodges may fall into cult-like behavior, but in general, as far as I can tell (I’m not a Mason) they have (and continue to have) a very positive influence on society.

You can apply this to the current question, it fits pretty well.  It doesn’t have to be a religion to be a cult, there are physical fitness cults, goth cults, basically any human group whatever is going to exhibit some cult-like symptoms just because those are behaviors people tend to fall into.  Lack of humor and a poor diet are major pointers.

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Posted: 07 August 2008 12:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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burt - 07 August 2008 01:26 AM
Dee - 06 August 2008 10:51 PM
burt - 06 August 2008 03:38 PM

The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.


Burt :

Elaborate a little bit here will you ? Are you saying that the examples I named would not be defined as “cults ” ? Do you think a cult has to be associated with religion in some way to be an actual cult ?  If so, I’m wondering how many people think of it that way .

We had a conversation about this on the other thread, here is part of it.

burt - 18 June 2008 12:25 PM
Dee - 18 June 2008 05:23 AM
burt - 21 May 2007 04:57 PM

Here is a list I compiled about 25 years ago on symptoms that a group was a cult.

1. Are members expected to obey the leader without question at all times?

2. Do the group members show a lack of humor?  Are they unable to joke about their membership in the group?

3. If retreats or residential programs, or group living are involved does the food available have a low protein content and a poor nutritional value?

4. Does the group leadership benefit financially while ordinary group members suffer? 

5. Does the group promote a “end of the world” or “something great is about to happen” attitude?

6. Are group members and leadership unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of other groups?

7. Is there an “Us against Them” mentality? 

8. Does study within the group involve listening to long repetitive lectures, especially under conditions of physical duress (e.g., tired from physical work, seated for long periods without breaks, run-down from poor diet)? 

9. Is one of the main priorities for group members the recruitment of new members?

10. Do group members describe their reasons for being in the group, and the benefits that membership provides only in vague generalities?

11. Are proported experiences that cannot be described treated as if they had significant spiritual value?

12. Does the group encourage or discourage cult-like behavior in its members?

Every group may exhibit some of these symptoms in greater or lesser degree, and in every group there will be individuals whose psychological make-up is such that they engage in cultish behavior.  Legitimate groups will discourage this.


Burt, don’t take this as a criticism, but have you come by your conclusions about cults from actually been involved in one yourself ? You sound like you may be very bothered by the tendancy to confuse cults with religions , and there really should be some viable points one can check out to disern how to separate a cult from something else like it.
One thing though : not all “cults” bear the same earmarks you mentioned.  How about Scientology ( sp?)—is it a cult or a religion ?

What about Freemasonry ? This orginization seems to really stimulate a conflict of opinions. It would be interesting to know how you see it. It may be an example of how general society thinks about the subject.

How about the Latter Day Saints ? Thier doctrine is wayyy out, so to speak, and many people used to believe they were a cult. I’m still reluctant to call it a religion ; it is just a weird offshoot of the Chrstian bible . It’s a distortion

I haven’t been involved in what I would consider a cult, although back in the lat 70s I would occasionally go to introductory meetings and such of various groups and observe how they presented themselves.  I’ve also been involved in groups where cult-like behavior appeared, but was strongly discouraged.  The problem is that any group of people who get together for a purpose of self-development are going to experience cult symptoms—the issue is how these are handled, are they encouraged to grow, or simply acknowledged as part of the process and not given any power.  I put that list together for a group called something like Society Against Mind Abuse (if I recall) that was forming and, to my view, taking on some cult-like aspects itself while at the same time making blanket condemnations of some groups that I didn’t consider cults.

I don’t have enough information about Scientology, although it appears to be a cult.  The religion aspect was taken on to avoid paying taxes.  There are shades of grey, though, between cults and religions (think of cult as coming from cultivation, as a system that seeks to cultivate certain forms of human behavior and development).  A very good book that makes the distinction is The Sentimental Agents in the Volyan Empire, by Doris Lessing (a very sharp and funny, when not painful, satire).  In one scene she has one of the characters say to another (referring to a cult) “But their methods are almost the same as ours.”  The other character replies, “Yes, but with us, you chose.”  As for Freemasons, certain lodges may fall into cult-like behavior, but in general, as far as I can tell (I’m not a Mason) they have (and continue to have) a very positive influence on society.

You can apply this to the current question, it fits pretty well.  It doesn’t have to be a religion to be a cult, there are physical fitness cults, goth cults, basically any human group whatever is going to exhibit some cult-like symptoms just because those are behaviors people tend to fall into.  Lack of humor and a poor diet are major pointers.


Thank you Burt- I had not rememebered our"conversation” if you will, on this subject.

You do seem very interested in cults and I guess that sort of goes along with being interested in religion. I think all the qualities you mention that may distinguish a cult from a religion seem sensible except for how a cult member eats or his/her being malnourished. What makes these things something to help define a cult ? Maybe the members are so distracted they don’t give food much attention ?

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Posted: 07 August 2008 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Dee - 07 August 2008 04:56 AM
burt - 07 August 2008 01:26 AM
Dee - 06 August 2008 10:51 PM
burt - 06 August 2008 03:38 PM

The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.


Burt :

Elaborate a little bit here will you ? Are you saying that the examples I named would not be defined as “cults ” ? Do you think a cult has to be associated with religion in some way to be an actual cult ?  If so, I’m wondering how many people think of it that way .

We had a conversation about this on the other thread, here is part of it.

burt - 18 June 2008 12:25 PM
Dee - 18 June 2008 05:23 AM
burt - 21 May 2007 04:57 PM

Here is a list I compiled about 25 years ago on symptoms that a group was a cult.

1. Are members expected to obey the leader without question at all times?

2. Do the group members show a lack of humor?  Are they unable to joke about their membership in the group?

3. If retreats or residential programs, or group living are involved does the food available have a low protein content and a poor nutritional value?

4. Does the group leadership benefit financially while ordinary group members suffer? 

5. Does the group promote a “end of the world” or “something great is about to happen” attitude?

6. Are group members and leadership unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of other groups?

7. Is there an “Us against Them” mentality? 

8. Does study within the group involve listening to long repetitive lectures, especially under conditions of physical duress (e.g., tired from physical work, seated for long periods without breaks, run-down from poor diet)? 

9. Is one of the main priorities for group members the recruitment of new members?

10. Do group members describe their reasons for being in the group, and the benefits that membership provides only in vague generalities?

11. Are proported experiences that cannot be described treated as if they had significant spiritual value?

12. Does the group encourage or discourage cult-like behavior in its members?

Every group may exhibit some of these symptoms in greater or lesser degree, and in every group there will be individuals whose psychological make-up is such that they engage in cultish behavior.  Legitimate groups will discourage this.


Burt, don’t take this as a criticism, but have you come by your conclusions about cults from actually been involved in one yourself ? You sound like you may be very bothered by the tendancy to confuse cults with religions , and there really should be some viable points one can check out to disern how to separate a cult from something else like it.
One thing though : not all “cults” bear the same earmarks you mentioned.  How about Scientology ( sp?)—is it a cult or a religion ?

What about Freemasonry ? This orginization seems to really stimulate a conflict of opinions. It would be interesting to know how you see it. It may be an example of how general society thinks about the subject.

How about the Latter Day Saints ? Thier doctrine is wayyy out, so to speak, and many people used to believe they were a cult. I’m still reluctant to call it a religion ; it is just a weird offshoot of the Chrstian bible . It’s a distortion

I haven’t been involved in what I would consider a cult, although back in the lat 70s I would occasionally go to introductory meetings and such of various groups and observe how they presented themselves.  I’ve also been involved in groups where cult-like behavior appeared, but was strongly discouraged.  The problem is that any group of people who get together for a purpose of self-development are going to experience cult symptoms—the issue is how these are handled, are they encouraged to grow, or simply acknowledged as part of the process and not given any power.  I put that list together for a group called something like Society Against Mind Abuse (if I recall) that was forming and, to my view, taking on some cult-like aspects itself while at the same time making blanket condemnations of some groups that I didn’t consider cults.

I don’t have enough information about Scientology, although it appears to be a cult.  The religion aspect was taken on to avoid paying taxes.  There are shades of grey, though, between cults and religions (think of cult as coming from cultivation, as a system that seeks to cultivate certain forms of human behavior and development).  A very good book that makes the distinction is The Sentimental Agents in the Volyan Empire, by Doris Lessing (a very sharp and funny, when not painful, satire).  In one scene she has one of the characters say to another (referring to a cult) “But their methods are almost the same as ours.”  The other character replies, “Yes, but with us, you chose.”  As for Freemasons, certain lodges may fall into cult-like behavior, but in general, as far as I can tell (I’m not a Mason) they have (and continue to have) a very positive influence on society.

You can apply this to the current question, it fits pretty well.  It doesn’t have to be a religion to be a cult, there are physical fitness cults, goth cults, basically any human group whatever is going to exhibit some cult-like symptoms just because those are behaviors people tend to fall into.  Lack of humor and a poor diet are major pointers.


Thank you Burt- I had not rememebered our"conversation” if you will, on this subject.

You do seem very interested in cults and I guess that sort of goes along with being interested in religion. I think all the qualities you mention that may distinguish a cult from a religion seem sensible except for how a cult member eats or his/her being malnourished. What makes these things something to help define a cult ? Maybe the members are so distracted they don’t give food much attention ?

No, the poor diet helps to diminish the followers critical abilities and leaves them more vulnerable to manipulation.  This is a classic as part of a brainwashing program.  With this particular aspect I was thinking of specifically manipulative cults like the moonies.

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Posted: 07 August 2008 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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LDS a cult? Fair enough. But so are Baptists, Catholics, Pentacostals, Democrats, Costco Club members, and believers in Sam Harris. I think the point is moot - what we should discuss is the legitimacy of an ideology, or system of thinking and belief.

But then again, who can grant legitimacy? Shouldn’t we carefully examine the effects various groups have on society? Is atheism and science as harmful as religion?

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Posted: 07 August 2008 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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burt - 06 August 2008 03:38 PM

The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.


It’s funny, Burt, reading that exact list you provided in that thread, and reproduced here, is what prompted me to pose my question in the first place. I think, really, the main gist of my question was at what point do these fringe groups deemed cults by the majority become acceptable?

I introduced the concept of religion when I probably shouldn’t have, as others in this list maintain that cults of politics and social influences that are separate from the supernatural are able to manifest themselves just as easily. I think this is right. Yet, why are the major religions considered “religions” that should be “respected”, whereas cults are generally dismissed out of hand?

I think my argument is that the sheer number of some cults (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) makes them too difficult to dismiss and we thus invent their “respectability” out of political correctness.

The number of people who believe something, anything, does not make it true. It does not make it real. It does not make is respectable. Yet, it seems this is the case. So, I suppose by labeling smaller religious (or non-religious) ideologies as cults, those inhabiting the cults with more massive numbers can maintain their populations and superiority. They have no desire to find real truth; they care only about preserving the status quo.

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Posted: 07 August 2008 09:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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bhbs - 07 August 2008 10:48 PM
burt - 06 August 2008 03:38 PM

The earlier thread symptoms of a cult is relevant here.


It’s funny, Burt, reading that exact list you provided in that thread, and reproduced here, is what prompted me to pose my question in the first place. I think, really, the main gist of my question was at what point do these fringe groups deemed cults by the majority become acceptable?

I introduced the concept of religion when I probably shouldn’t have, as others in this list maintain that cults of politics and social influences that are separate from the supernatural are able to manifest themselves just as easily. I think this is right. Yet, why are the major religions considered “religions” that should be “respected”, whereas cults are generally dismissed out of hand?

I think my argument is that the sheer number of some cults (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) makes them too difficult to dismiss and we thus invent their “respectability” out of political correctness.

The number of people who believe something, anything, does not make it true. It does not make it real. It does not make is respectable. Yet, it seems this is the case. So, I suppose by labeling smaller religious (or non-religious) ideologies as cults, those inhabiting the cults with more massive numbers can maintain their populations and superiority. They have no desire to find real truth; they care only about preserving the status quo.

This is very tricky territory, the search for truth can also become cultish.  In other words, there is a major aspect of this that goes to human psychology—the question is: what is it about the nature of the human mind and ego that leads to cult like behavior?  With religions, the question is: what sort of individuals do they produce?  The conservative nature of religions comes about because the sort of individuals they produce and the social and cultural structures that evolve around them form a self-reinforcing system.

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Posted: 07 August 2008 10:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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burt - 08 August 2008 01:20 AM

This is very tricky territory, the search for truth can also become cultish.  In other words, there is a major aspect of this that goes to human psychology—the question is: what is it about the nature of the human mind and ego that leads to cult like behavior?  With religions, the question is: what sort of individuals do they produce?  The conservative nature of religions comes about because the sort of individuals they produce and the social and cultural structures that evolve around them form a self-reinforcing system.

Is it the search for the truth that turns cultish, or the belief that one has FOUND the truth that can corrupt?

The self-reinforcement is rather evident regarding the concepts of faith and punishment: believe without evidence or you will be punished in the hereafter.

But, again, the “search” for truth will be genuine. The belief that one has found it will create dogma, ritual, superstition, et cetera, et al.

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Posted: 08 August 2008 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Joel Armstrong - 05 August 2008 02:34 AM

My old 1970’s dictionary says something to the effect that a cult is an organized system of worship.  It’s the most simple, blunt definition I’ve seen, and I like it.  All religions are cults, by definition….

Yes BUT
to determine if it’s a religion and a cult
just have a look at the size of the real estate they own.

.-)


.

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Christian psychopaty:

Bruce Burleson
“.Tell me why it is wrong to rape, steal and kill….
…If I am a slaveholder in Alabama in 1860, why shouldn’t I enslave the niggers, fuck their women, and whip their children when they disobey me????
I’ll tell you why, and it is the ONLY reason why
..”

..he fears gods punishment.

Christians per definition has no moral.
They are governed by fear and fear only.

..and they don’t mind using the N-word.

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Posted: 08 August 2008 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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bhbs - 08 August 2008 02:41 AM
burt - 08 August 2008 01:20 AM

This is very tricky territory, the search for truth can also become cultish.  In other words, there is a major aspect of this that goes to human psychology—the question is: what is it about the nature of the human mind and ego that leads to cult like behavior?  With religions, the question is: what sort of individuals do they produce?  The conservative nature of religions comes about because the sort of individuals they produce and the social and cultural structures that evolve around them form a self-reinforcing system.

Is it the search for the truth that turns cultish, or the belief that one has FOUND the truth that can corrupt?

The self-reinforcement is rather evident regarding the concepts of faith and punishment: believe without evidence or you will be punished in the hereafter.

But, again, the “search” for truth will be genuine. The belief that one has found it will create dogma, ritual, superstition, et cetera, et al.

Tricker than that: “We are the seekers of truth, all you other guys are dogmatic fools.”  See what I mean?

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