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religion vs. cult

insanecarbonbasedlif (623558) writes | more than 6 years ago

User Journal 8

Functionally, and practically, I'm finding it increasingly hard to find a difference between *any* organized religion and cults. I know I'm in dangerous territory, so let me clarify the broad personal definitions I'm using for both "organized religion" and "cult".

  • Organized religion - A group of people that has particular meetings and guidelines, laid out a
Functionally, and practically, I'm finding it increasingly hard to find a difference between *any* organized religion and cults. I know I'm in dangerous territory, so let me clarify the broad personal definitions I'm using for both "organized religion" and "cult".
  • Organized religion - A group of people that has particular meetings and guidelines, laid out according to an infallible authority, which results in a hierarchy (clear or informal) in that group, and that view themselves as the distinct possessors of truth that non-members either do not know or do no believe.
  • Cult - A group that actively practices indoctrination and dogma, promoting conformity and isolation of beliefs and believers from outsiders.

I say this very self-critically, having been involved in an organized religion to varying degrees for much of my life. But I also am being generally critical, as well.

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8 comments

Not quite (1)

Dannon (142147) | more than 6 years ago | (#21649075)

See, one of the defining features of a cult is that they practice deceptive recruiting and mind control. Isolation from true friends and family who might give you "sanity checks" is just one of those mind control techniques. Cults also tell you that their organization is the only way to find salvation/truth/riches/political power/personal fulfillment. Not all cults are religious (for example, Scientology only claims to be a "church" for tax purposes, back to that deception thing again), but many cults work by taking a well-known religious base, and twisting it. The most successful deceptions use carefully chosen elements of truth.

There's some useful stuff on recognizing cults right here [howcultswork.com] .

True religion, on the other hand, isn't so much about having truth as seeking truth, at least in my experience. There's this Roman Catholic monastery [trappist.net] just a couple hours north and east of where I live, and even though I'm not Roman Catholic, I've been out to visit for a retreat. The brothers there welcome all visitors, whether they believe or not. They don't claim to have any "special truths". All they have is a lifestyle of quiet, dedicated work in which contemplation, reading, and worship is a central part. And it's organized, but then, isn't every community, whether religious or not?

Then there's all the religions that don't even come close to fitting your definition: Buddhism, for example, is about following a leader who is "enlightened", but not infallible. There are a number of "philosophical movements" that have the "look and feel" of religion without any beliefs behind it. And that's not even getting into Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism....

Re:Not quite (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 6 years ago | (#21649951)

True religion, on the other hand, isn't so much about having truth as seeking truth

That's what Keirsey calls an Idealist [keirsey.com] . Indeed, famous religious icons are usually Idealists (especially, INFJs).

IMO, Religion is exactly about having truth. The difference in between religions is now what to do with it.

Re:Not quite (1)

insanecarbonbasedlif (623558) | more than 6 years ago | (#21650097)

See, one of the defining features of a cult is that they practice deceptive recruiting and mind control. Isolation from true friends and family who might give you "sanity checks" is just one of those mind control techniques. Cults also tell you that their organization is the only way to find salvation/truth/riches/political power/personal fulfillment.
Yeah, I've just been feeling that these practices exist in most organized religion, just in lesser degrees than in the labeled cults.

True religion, on the other hand, isn't so much about having truth as seeking truth, at least in my experience.
This I would see as opposed to, or, at best, in spite of "organized religion".

There's this Roman Catholic monastery just a couple hours north and east of where I live, and even though I'm not Roman Catholic, I've been out to visit for a retreat. The brothers there welcome all visitors, whether they believe or not. They don't claim to have any "special truths". All they have is a lifestyle of quiet, dedicated work in which contemplation, reading, and worship is a central part. And it's organized, but then, isn't every community, whether religious or not?
Not in the same way "organized religions" are organized, I think. It sounds much more ad hoc to me. Though their non-recruitment of outsiders alone does not tell me they are not using cultish practices to keep some brothers there (not saying that they are, just that it doesn't exclude that going on, behind the scenes and all).

Then there's all the religions that don't even come close to fitting your definition: Buddhism, for example, is about following a leader who is "enlightened", but not infallible. There are a number of "philosophical movements" that have the "look and feel" of religion without any beliefs behind it. And that's not even getting into Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism....
Hence my use of "organized" (I realize I'm using this in a non-general, personal way (see my original def)) - it is an important distinction.

Moo (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 6 years ago | (#21649895)

* Organized religion - A group of people that has particular meetings and guidelines, laid out according to an infallible authority, which results in a hierarchy (clear or informal) in that group, and that view themselves as the distinct possessors of truth that non-members either do not know or do no believe.
        * Cult - A group that actively practices indoctrination and dogma, promoting conformity and isolation of beliefs and believers from outsiders.

Hmm, this would put Reform Judaism as neither a religion or a cult.

Re:Moo (1)

insanecarbonbasedlif (623558) | more than 6 years ago | (#21650161)

Hmm, this would put Reform Judaism as neither a religion or a cult.
Good to know - I had not heard of Reform Judaism until right now - the Wikipedia entry is sparse, but I think I'm getting the general idea. From what little I've read so far, it sounds like a few of the Jews I know are Reform Jews.

Re:Moo (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 6 years ago | (#21650215)

It gets interesting as to what people consider themselves. Some people are very particular.

Cults (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21653733)

...frequently end up focused on an individual. While there might be an external focus (the Halle Bop comet), there is one leader gripping everyone in a vise.
Cults also end up having much "secret" wisdom that is not shared outside the group, which helps it feel more exclusive.

Re:Cults (1)

insanecarbonbasedlif (623558) | more than 6 years ago | (#21659077)

In the end, though, it looks like (at least to me) that the difference is not so much functional, as it is a matter of degrees.
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