For those who know the English language well, the statement in the title, “young-earth creationism is a cult,” may seem obvious. One definition of a “cult” is “a system of religious beliefs and ritual” which of course young-earth creationism is.
But I mean the statement in reference to that more sinister meaning of “cult,” as referring to a group that uses manipulative tactics to lure people in and keep them in. I mean it even in the specifically Christian usage of a group that uses manipulative and deceptive tactics to indoctrinate its members with ideas that are at odds with historic Christianity.
It is of course part of the irony of the history of the use of the term “cult” in this way that most of those who have been most outspoken against “cults” belong to movements that fit that label well. All such groups tend to warn members adamantly to avoid “cults” which is a rather ingenious way of getting them to never ask whether they are already in one. It is rather like the forger who includes a warning to beware of forgeries, to throw readers off the scent.
Here, however, I want to focus on one specific aspect of the classic cult, namely the use of fear to control and indoctrinate. Consider this statement on an anti-cult website, “How Cults Work”:
The cult leaders need to make you believe that there is no where else you can go and still be saved, and if you ever leave the “one true church” then you are going to hell. This is a fear based control mechanism designed to keep you in the cult. It also gives the cult leaders tremendous power over you. If you really believe that leaving the group equals leaving God (or means you are leaving your only chance to succeed in life), then you will obey the cult leaders even when you disagree with them instead of risking being kicked out of the group. Exclusivism is used as a threat, it controls your behavior through fear.
Young-earth creationism is notorious for doing precisely that. Although its proponents will at times pay lip service to the idea that acceptance of evolution is not a matter that affects one’s salvation, that is clearly just a PR device. Most of their propaganda and their speeches say otherwise, claiming that acceptance of evolution is the root of all kinds of evil, both spiritual and social, and trying to make people afraid of looking into more closely, for fear that the result will be that they will lose their faith and end up in hell.
In a recent conversation with another former young-earth creationist, I observed that it is no surprise that the proponents of young-earth creationism use fear in this manner. It is a clear sign of the weakness of their own position. When I talk with someone about evolution, I encourage them to investigate the matter fully. Doing that was what changed my mind from being a young-earth creationist. I am confident that, as long as one is not getting information that only reflects young-earth creationism’s bogus criticisms of mainstream biology, they will be able to see through the deceptions of the YEC position. Indeed, the most convincing argument against young-earth creationism is a close look at what they say, fact-checked against reliable sources. And so I encourage people to look at what they have to say, and look at it carefully.
And so it seems to me clear that young-earth creationism deserves to be categorized as a cult in the sinister sense of the word. That term is problematic, to be sure, precisely because it has a long tradition of use without the specific sinister and more narrow meaning. But if one decides to use that term at all in that particular sense, then young-earth creationism is a prime example.
In another recent conversation, the idea of childlike faith came up (see Matthew 18:3; 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). I used to accept (without question!) the notion that childlike faith meant accepting what I was told without question. Now that I have had a child, I wonder who on earth could have gotten this so very wrong, but presumably it was someone who had never had children and had forgotten most of what they had been like as a child. Children question everything. They never seem to tire of asking “But why?” They are the ones most likely to blurt out that the emperor has not clothes on when adults are playing along.
I think, given Jesus’ words about childlike faith, it should be safe to say the following: If what you call your “faith” is incompatible with the sort of curiosity and questioning that children are notorious for, then that “faith” should not be accompanied by the label “Christian.” It is clearly of a different sort.