It can be a very fuzzy line between what is a religion and what is a cult. There are plenty of similarities. A lot of times what I hear people say distinguishes them is time. In other words that religions start out as cults but with enough time they gain credibility and respectability. Give a cult long enough and it becomes a religion.
I can see that but to me the difference between a religion and a cult is slightly different.
It is in how we interact with them. Sometimes within the same organization some people are in a cult and others are not! That can seem like it minimizes the pain of those cults that are directly dangerous. I think that some organizations lean heavier into the cult-like behaviors than others. But you’ll find that there are cult escapees from what we think of as mainstream religions (usually from a fringe sect).
Here are some things that define a cult in my opinion:
- A hierarchy where you are not allowed to question those above you
- An emphasis on obedience and blind faith
- Blaming any pain or uncomfortable experiences on the person having them
- An individual leader who is seen as either divine or having unique access to God
If your religion is doing these things, then you are almost certainly experiencing it as a cult.
Cults want to prevent you from questioning. Cult leaders enjoy having power and control over people and expect complete obedience. I think based on my experience that some cult leaders start out with the intention to gain control over people just using religious language as an excuse while others intend to help people and build a good religion but become corrupted over time by the adoration of their followers. Whether they mean to or not they enjoy that adoration and start craving more and more of it.
That third one is a big key in cult tactics. If someone is not finding the enlightenment or happiness or whatever else has been promised by the leader, it must be that they are just not doing it right. There can be no fault in the cult or the leader. If you are unhappy you either aren’t doing this right or you are supposed to be unhappy. The cult may say that unhappiness is a sign that you are being sufficiently obedient and subjugating yourself to God. This is a very sad aspect of cults because people can spend many years punishing themselves for any happiness. If they come out of the cult and realize they’ve been manipulated they feel angry that they were encouraged to be unhappy for such a portion of their life.
Spiritual abuse is a thing. It’s important to watch out for it for yourself and for your children. Be on the lookout for groups/organizations/religions where one person has an extreme amount of influence. We are responsible for our own spiritual growth and we must never turn over control to someone else to think for us. Keep your mind sharp. Be wary of having doubts and questions quashed with the explanation that you are not being faithful and subservient enough.
Even if you have fallen victim to these tactics before, your time was not wasted.
Your dedication and desire to get it right says more about you than about a corrupt leader who manipulated your trust. Your practice of devotion has helped your karma even as it has harmed the karma of the cult leader.
These behaviors come up in cults that are not religion-based too.
This is why some people will refer to direct sales companies as cults. Because there are people who are experiencing them as cults. If someone has become fanatic and unquestioning of whatever leaders say, that’s being in a cult. But people in the same company may not be that way at all.
I think humans are just susceptible to cults. Some people are going to get addicted to having people adore them and think they can say and do wrong and other people are very trusting and want to believe that there are those who know more than them and can guide them to whatever they are lacking, whether that is money or a relationship with God.
No matter what you are doing or who you are listening to, keep your critical thinking with you.You know deep in your heart when something isn’t right. Don’t let anyone tell you those instincts are to be ignored or pushed down.
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