Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Makes a Cult?


It's popular for folks to call Mormonism a cult. It's not really true in either sociological or theological usage.

If you want to talk about a "cult," it just makes more sense to talk about the new religious groups with charismatic leaders who exercise lots of intricate control over the lives of adherents, and separate them from their families. The word itself comes from the Latin word for worship and adoration. In scholarship, words and phrases like "cult of the Saints" or "cult of the Mass" or "the cultic practices of the ancient Christian church" are not pejorative, but rather descriptive. "Cult" simply refers to the things done in worship. As a matter of fact, would you like to read about the cultic practice of my own church? Here it is. How about of the Church of England? Immanuel Baptist Church?

I suspect that Mormonism can be more properly thought of as a heretical offshoot of Christianity, like prosperity preachers or "oneness Pentecostalism." It has very little in common with Christianity, but it shares some cultic practices (ahem) some bits of common vocabulary. Does calling it a "heretical offshoot" make me sound any more generous or less bigoted than if I called it a "cult"? Probably not, but it's more accurate, and I think that's good enough for me.

More on this next time...


Mark Van Steenwyk said...

It's definitely more accurate. But I don't like the word "heretical"--not because I don't agree there are heretics--there most certainly are. There are so many varieties of heresy that the word lacks meaning. Mormons don't bother me nearly as much as Benny Hinn, but Benny Hinn is technically "orthodox" (some might argue). And the word almost assumes that the "orthodox" are in power. How about calling Mormonism something like: "Pseudo-Christian."

Anonymous said...

For me, I am becoming more and more comfortable using the word, "heretic" simply because I believe they are out there and that the danger of heresy is real. Of course, I also think a lot that is painted black-and-white certainly isn't so but the faith articulated in the Creeds and Confessions of the Catholic and Apostolic Church are Orthodoxy.

And I don't think Hinn is Orthodox.

SlantRight 2.0 said...

I agree with you on oneness Pentecostals; they are a cult.

Mormons are a cult because of their resemblance to gnosticism.

Charismatics and other Pentecostals fit the bill for Christians: viz., Belief in Trinity and a bodily risen Savior that is both fully God and Fully human.

Kyle said...

Being heretical doesn't make you a "cult" - that was kind of the point. :-P