What’s the Difference Between Cults and the Church?

To a person of religious sensibility—someone searching for God—it is easy to be drawn into a cult, rather than one of the more respectable “religions.” But what is the difference between a cult and a religion? To outsiders they may appear indistinguishable. The early Christians were a cult in the eyes of the Romans. Modern Christians still are, in the eyes of Richard Dawkins.

Stratford Caldecott follows this observation with some wise words.

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  • wlinden

    “Cult” means “I don’t like them.” Period.

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com/ Ben @ 2CM

    Hi Mark, How goes the battle?
    “What’s the Difference Between Cults and the Church?”
    Authority.
    I often think of your book and its ultimate question “By what authority?”

  • Eve Fisher

    Growing up in Southern California, I saw a lot of cults (and because of that managed to stay out of all of them). One sure way to distinguish (imho) a cult is that it’s based on a weird combination of love, fear and isolation: you are either with them or against them. If you join, you will cut yourself off from all family, friends, or any aspect of society that isn’t part of the cult in order to prove your loyalty and maintain your salvation. In exchange for this total exclusion, the cult will provide you with a loving cocoon of community that will completely nurture, love, and support you, until you piss the leader off, and/or until the leader (who is completely unquestionable) decides that it’s time to scare the crap out of everybody and doubles down on the rules and punishments for you and/or everybody. Also, cults have a tendency to send out their recruits to raise gobs of money which usually goes anywhere but to feeding/clothing/housing the rank and file.

  • Mark R

    Cult is used in Catholic terminology, such as the cult of the Virgin Mary.
    Cult as we mean it colloquially is as Eve Fisher explained. I have experienced cults, however, within the Catholic Church. There are some priests in parishes who demand cult-like obedience, unfortunately. Certain religious communities displaying such tendencies have been spotlighted on blogs before. But, cults are not the Church.

  • David Naas

    Like George Orwell remarked abut the use of “fascist”… cult is a generic term for a religion/group you don’t like.

  • Jared Clark

    It really refers to religious ritual, like the Mass. It was twisted into meaning “creepy, crazy religion” at some point in response to creepy, crazy religions.