Is Mormonism a Cult? Not Now (But It Used to Be).

With Mitt Romney making a run for a presidency, people are thinking about his religious faith, Mormonism, and one of the questions that comes up is whether or not it’s a cult.  Various answers have been given, including yes , no, and no.  I would suggest that the correct answer to this question is: “no, Mormonism is not a cult, but it used to be.”

Let’s start off by thinking a little bit about Mormonism.  Every couple of years or so, I have Mormon missionaries knock on my door at home, and, as a sociologist who studies religion, I am probably one of the few people who wants to talk with them more than they want to talk with me.  I’ve even invited Mormon missionaries to come and speak to my sociology of religion class on several occasions.

When I talk with these young men and women, I’m struck by two things.  One, they are very impressive people.  Often just out of high school, they have taken a year or two off, at their own expense, to spread their religion.  I really appreciate that level of commitment; they are invariably sincere and kind people.

Two, I am surprised by how very different their religion is from mine.  As the missionaries have told me, Mormonism differs from what we might call historical Christianity on many key points.  Based on my conversations with them, and some poking around Wikipedia and other sources (and I’m not at all an expert on Mormon doctrine), some of these differences include: [Read more...]