A cult is a group or movement that, to a significant degree, (a) exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, (b) uses a thought-reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members (i.e., to integrate them into the groups unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices), (c) systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members, (d) exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and (e) causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community. Michael Langone
Back to our C-word. Cult.
I’ve spent more than my share in recent days reading sociologists of religion talking about the nature of the word “cult.” Rhetoricians they are not, and the hard sciences do not have the skills for ideographic critique. And this needs to be done. Desperately.
They throw up other terms: “New Religious Movements.” “Mind control groups.” “Totalitarian groups.” “Addictive religion.”
Their scholarly resistance is born out of the 1980s “anti-cult movement” which has proven to be just as cultic as the cults they critique. The scholars ignore the media maelstroms, shrug off the legal pursuits, dismiss ex-cult members’ accounts, and growl through believers’ ‘love bombs,’ all in the pursuit of some kind of objectivity which even they admit is rather impossible.
Talk about ego-centric.
I remember hearing these discussions back in my days in the religious studies department at Indiana. There was a long one that tried to claim that the Koresh followers were just another variation on 7th-Day Adventists. Mormons weren’t misogynistic, just ask the Mormon women. Jehovah’s Witnesses were simply terrific arguers. . . . and the Klan? Never fear about the Klan either. It was merely a social organization that tried to keep the Protestant Bible at the forefront of publc education.
And guess who fit in just perfectly with that ‘you-just-don’t-understand-that-particular-religious-expression’ ethic? Sigh . . . .
I understand why VanVonderen uses the term “spiritual abuse” because it’s broader and could apply to a group that has its theology all in place. It focuses on practice, not ideas. Rhetorically, it’s a savvy move, and it helps the victims of the abusive organizations, I think.
I get the problematic ideographic genealogy of the word “cult.” I still fully believe that religious freedom is a primary democratic value. I fully know the religious sect that I have devoted my professional life to studying and critiquing.
And I still must conclude that it fits. It’s a cult.
2 thoughts on “Looks like a Cult, Talks like a Cult, Walks like a Cult . . .”
If you find yourself defending and making excuses and far reaching rationalizations as to why a movement isn’t a cult that is the first clue that it is indeed a cult.
Thank you for saying it. Out loud.
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