WHAT IS A CULT?
To first century Judaism, The Christian Church was a cult. To 16th century Roman Catholics, Lutheranism was a cult. To most contemporary Jews, The Jews for Jesus is a cult.
Cult/Sectarian - blurred designation - unconventional religions; non-normative religions; new religious movements.
Definition - Latin - cultus - worship. Cultic act of worship involving external rites and ceremonies/attitudes, e.g. Personality cults - Hitler, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson; Sports and Entertainment - Fan/Fanatic- religious extremism or cultism.
1. Popular approach
2. Sociological approach
3. Theological approach:
A. Journalistic accounts in the popular press focuses on the dramatic and the bizarre.
B. Sociological Perspective includes an authoritarian, manipulative leader Totalistic/ Communal features - comparative historical perspectives; psychosocial behavior.
C. Theological Perspective involves some standard of orthodoxy.
Warning: Caution and suspicion. Descriptive adjective - strange, sensational, curious, unconventional - degrees of accommodation.
Belief systems/Behavior systems - 1. Authoritarian Leadership Patterns; 2. Loyalty and Commitment mechanisms; 3. Lifestyle characteristics; 4. Conformity patterns; Elitist groups; sanctions for or against.
Theological Perspective entails Truth/Error distinctions. Standard of Biblical Orthodoxy; Counterfeit Faith; Supermarket of religious diversity; aberrant theology
1. Authoritarian: Leadership model demands total loyalty and allegiance over both doctrine and
2. Oppositional: Adversarial role affects family (parents and children).
3. Exclusivistic; Elitism/exclusivism - the truth
4. Legalistic: Rules and regulations abound; autocratic groups operate within a legalistic
framework; control via policies and procedures.
5. Subjective! i.e. emphasis on the experiential feelings and emotions: e.g.: New Age
Psychotherapies and Self-Improvement groups like Est and Lifespring .
Subjectivism is linked to anti-intellectualism, putting down rational processes and devaluing
knowledge and education
6. Persecution complex: Perceived persecution is one of the hallmarks of virtually all new
7. Sanction-Oriented : require conformity to established practices and beliefs and readily
exercise sanctions against the wayward. Control mechanism of rebellious : a. fear;
b. intimidation; c. guilt to manipulate; d. signing of covenants; e. signing of loyalty oaths.
8. Esoteric emphasis on secrecy and concealment.
9. Anti-Sacerdotal - no paid clergy or professional religious functionaries. Groups stress
involvement of everyone vs. priestly class. Meeting centers, private homes and meditation
1. World-denying cults emphasize the evilness of the world system and the necessity to Be
saved from the world.
2. World-indifferent cults - In but not of the world - relate only to members- e.g. The Way
International and The Moonies.
3. World-enhancing cults - TM, Lifespring, Church of Scientology (Christian/ Secular analysis
of cult/occult). Band aids on broken arms
Classification Scheme (Lure of Cults)
1. Eastern Mystical
2. Aberrational Christian
3. Psycho-spiritual or Self-Improvement
4. Eclectic Syncrystic
5. Psychic-Occult Astral
6. Institutionalized /Established - Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons
James D. Strauss