Distinction between cult and religion

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Meezer77
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Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Meezer77 » Sat Apr 07, 2018 9:42 pm

Is it possible to distinguish between the two given that weird and crazy things happen in mainstream religious organisations as well as cults?

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Sam Vara
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Sam Vara » Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:01 pm

Meezer77 wrote:
Sat Apr 07, 2018 9:42 pm
Is it possible to distinguish between the two given that weird and crazy things happen in mainstream religious organisations as well as cults?
It's a complicated issue, because both terms have rather fluid meanings and "cult" has undergone rapid change in how the word is understood and used. There was an American sociologist of religion named Howard Becker who did some interesting work on the typology of religious organisations. His view was that "cults" were smaller and in more intense opposition to mainstream social norms than "Churches", which had accommodated their beliefs more to mainstream society. In addition, cults tended to have less overt social organisation than "churches" and "sects", which share the oppositional quality but which are organised around specific goals and which work hard to maintain cohesion and commitment.

At one extreme, we have the popular view that "cults" are small groups of crazy people doing odd things, but it is also worth recognising that the term merely means a shared set of norms and values. There are, for example, cults within mainstream religions; groups of people who share an interest in particular texts, saints, practices, or holy people.

In sociology, the term "cult" has been largely superseded by the term "New Religious Movement". What I find interesting about the most recent typologies is how they attempt to accommodate a recent and sudden interest in established religious practices. Like many Western Buddhists, for example.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Meezer77 » Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:25 pm

Could you please explain what you mean about the Western Buddhists, not sure I understood the last paragraph of your reply.

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Sam Vara
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Sam Vara » Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:39 pm

Meezer77 wrote:
Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:25 pm
Could you please explain what you mean about the Western Buddhists, not sure I understood the last paragraph of your reply.
NRMs ("New Religious Movements") are often offshoots of mainstream religions, driven by reforming zeal; or are initiated by the wacky thoughts of one charismatic individual. But neither applies in the case of Western Buddhists. They are somewhat at odds with their community or culture of origin, but the reason for this is because they subscribe to a tradition which is respectably mainstream in another country. The same applies to some Western members of ISKCON and non-Jews interested in Kabbala. I, for example, am somewhat at odds with the culture where I live (chanting, meditation, odd views on morality, etc!) which makes my Buddhism a bit like a cult, and would certainly be seen as an NRM by any sociologist researching it. But conversely, most of it is not all that wacky when seen in the context of Thai and other cultures either in diaspora or on-line. It's a way in which globalisation is subverting the old sociological typologies.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by DNS » Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:49 pm

There are several characteristics of cults, but perhaps the most important/frequent one is that of an authoritarian leader. There is a distinct leader who commands absolute loyalty, doesn't allow you to have other teachers, in some cases doesn't let you even read other teacher's works, etc. There is typically a charismatic leader who receives great devotion from most of the followers and the real test of the NRM is when this leader dies. Often the cult dies with it. If it continues with new leadership after the death of the leader, then it has some chance for survival.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Meezer77 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:47 am

DNS wrote:
Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:49 pm
There are several characteristics of cults, but perhaps the most important/frequent one is that of an authoritarian leader. There is a distinct leader who commands absolute loyalty, doesn't allow you to have other teachers, in some cases doesn't let you even read other teacher's works, etc. There is typically a charismatic leader who receives great devotion from most of the followers and the real test of the NRM is when this leader dies. Often the cult dies with it. If it continues with new leadership after the death of the leader, then it has some chance for survival.
Scientology thrives today although Ron Hubbard is dead and is regarded by many as a dangerous cult. ISKCON too since Prabuhupada passed on in the 70s. Both are very controversial. But then the Catholic Church has had its share of scandal. Is NRM the new politically correct term? Could you actually say it's non PC today to use the term cult. Sam, chanting and meditation happens in Christianity, so how far removed are your practices from your own culture?

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by chownah » Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:18 am

I think that some people use the word "cult" for any group which has strongly held unconventional beliefs and seemingly bad intentions (as perceived by the people using the word).
chownah

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Meezer77 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:00 am

chownah wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:18 am
I think that some people use the word "cult" for any group which has strongly held unconventional beliefs and seemingly bad intentions (as perceived by the people using the word).
chownah
Yeah, however some "bad" things are universal across creed and culture, e.g. Sexual abuse, financial abuse, murder etc all of which happen in mainstream religions. So I guess what I'm trying to figure out is when a new movement crosses the line and becomes a "cult" and whether it's fair to call it one. In the case of Scientology, the fact that they are against the practice of psychiatry could be a factor that puts them in the category of cult as that is potentially dangerous for people who have mental illness.

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Sam Vara
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Sam Vara » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:39 am

Meezer77 wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:47 am
Sam, chanting and meditation happens in Christianity, so how far removed are your practices from your own culture?
Enough to make me something of an oddity, and to often shape the opening of any new interaction with someone I meet ("Oh, I saw in the Parish Magazine that you are a Buddhist!") Chanting (other than recitation of creeds and psalms, etc. within Anglicanism) is rare, and chanting something in Pali, on one's own, or at the local monastery, is considered a bit strange. It's just a question of what the majority do, and how "exotic" certain practices appear to be. But I live in a predominantly middle class rural community in England, so people tend to be self-consciously broad-minded and tolerant.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by seeker242 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:51 am

"A religion is an old cult. A cult is a new religious movement."

Makes sense as Christianity was at one time considered a cult. Of course it depends on how you define cult. Religious scholars can't even agree on what that means. In the sociological classifications of religious movements, a cult is "a social group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices". Given that definition, The Buddha and his original sangha could be considered a cult.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Meezer77 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 11:39 am

Ah but socially deviant to my understanding would be something like sexual or physical abuse, which the Buddha didn't condone.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Dinsdale » Sun Apr 08, 2018 12:48 pm

Meezer77 wrote:
Sat Apr 07, 2018 9:42 pm
Is it possible to distinguish between the two given that weird and crazy things happen in mainstream religious organisations as well as cults?
I think it is better to talk about cultish tendencies within religious groups. IMO they are present in most religious groups, it is then a question of assessing the extent and degree of these tendencies within a particular group.

Examples of cultish tendencies are:
- Opposing critical thinking
- Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
- Emphasizing special doctrines or practices
- Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
Buddha save me from new-agers!

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Dinsdale » Sun Apr 08, 2018 12:51 pm

chownah wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:18 am
I think that some people use the word "cult" for any group which has strongly held unconventional beliefs and seemingly bad intentions (as perceived by the people using the word).
chownah
And sometimes when people simply don't like a group, and want to bash it.
Buddha save me from new-agers!

Meezer77
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Meezer77 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 2:54 pm

I have no problem with calling this group a cult.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... ?CMP=fb_gu

Scary thing is that Rajneesh's secretary is now running a care home for vulnerable elderly people. I wouldn't let her look after my dog.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by perkele » Sun Apr 08, 2018 3:43 pm

Meezer77 wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 2:54 pm
I have no problem with calling this group a cult.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... ?CMP=fb_gu
Just saw a YouTube video last night touching upon that particular cult (and about cults in general), probably spawned by watching that same documentary:

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Sam Vara
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Sam Vara » Sun Apr 08, 2018 4:07 pm

Meezer77 wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 11:39 am
Ah but socially deviant to my understanding would be something like sexual or physical abuse, which the Buddha didn't condone.
In terms of social science, "socially deviant" means any differences from the mainstream regarding norms and values. It doesn't have to be pejorative, or mean anything which we personally disapprove of. Going on long meditation retreats or believing in post mortem rebirth would be forms of social deviance if one's neighbours thought it odd.

That's the problem I initially pointed out regarding the term "cult". It can either mean a group of people with a different set of norms and values from those of their surrounding society; or it can be restricted to those completely crazy groups who control their members through fear, "brainwashing", and other alleged practices beloved of sensationalist news outlets.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by DNS » Sun Apr 08, 2018 4:08 pm

Meezer77 wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:47 am
Scientology thrives today although Ron Hubbard is dead and is regarded by many as a dangerous cult.
It is trying to make that transition from cult to bona fide religion; we'll see how that goes. I imagine their numbers are stable or even going down, even with all their recruitment efforts. Currently we live in the Information Age, so it is not so easy to trick people with parlor tricks, fancy gadgets (e-meters), etc so I think cults won't do too well in this century compared to previous ones.
ISKCON too since Prabuhupada passed on in the 70s. Both are very controversial. But then the Catholic Church has had its share of scandal. Is NRM the new politically correct term? Could you actually say it's non PC today to use the term cult. Sam, chanting and meditation happens in Christianity, so how far removed are your practices from your own culture?
ISKCON appears to have already made the transition from cult to an accepted new sect of Hinduism. It has all the appearances and theology of mainstream Hinduism, so can now be considered a sect of Hinduism. They don't go around recruiting at airports, door-to-door, etc any more.

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Sam Vara
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by Sam Vara » Sun Apr 08, 2018 4:17 pm

DNS wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 4:08 pm

ISKCON appears to have already made the transition from cult to an accepted new sect of Hinduism. It has all the appearances and theology of mainstream Hinduism, so can now be considered a sect of Hinduism. They don't go around recruiting at airports, door-to-door, etc any more.
Indeed, and I don't think their beliefs (as opposed to dodgy recruiting practices) were ever all that unorthodox. In the early 1990s I taught lots of young Hindu adults in North London, and many attended Bhaktivedanta Manor, an ISKCON centre donated to the group by ex-Beatle George Harrison. I asked about what they thought about the involvement of Westerners. They said that they considered ISKCON to be mainstream and uncontroversial, that their parents and grandparents were happy to mix with Western "hippies", and they seemed to have a real feeling of pride that their religion had been favoured by so many Westerners, especially George H. To them it was a non-issue.

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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by No_Mind » Sun Apr 08, 2018 5:15 pm

The big distinction between cult and religion is religion does not try to recruit. Cults aim at indoctrination.

Cults want large donations.

Cults slowly and slowly brainwash their members into believing that rest of the world is wrong and everyone is a sinner and that they are the only ones who will survive an oncoming apocalypse.

In cults you can buy your way to the top. The more the donation the greater your access to top tier management.

Most of all cults psychologically manipulate the junior members.

The best way to differentiate is to prevent a cult member from attending a meeting. They will completely lose it. If you tell a Hindu he cannot go to a temple or a Christian that he cannot go to a church he will not have withdrawal symptoms.

My younger sister belongs to a harmless cult which is an offshoot of Hinduism. A well educated woman .. she has been completely won over by the nuns! They teach some form of meditation and since she is unable to learn meditation from videos in YT and Satipatthana Sutta we do not dissuade her (she attends a female only branch and thus we are sure nothing nefarious is going on).


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No_Mind
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Re: Distinction between cult and religion

Post by No_Mind » Sun Apr 08, 2018 5:19 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 4:17 pm
DNS wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 4:08 pm

ISKCON appears to have already made the transition from cult to an accepted new sect of Hinduism. It has all the appearances and theology of mainstream Hinduism, so can now be considered a sect of Hinduism. They don't go around recruiting at airports, door-to-door, etc any more.
Indeed, and I don't think their beliefs (as opposed to dodgy recruiting practices) were ever all that unorthodox. In the early 1990s I taught lots of young Hindu adults in North London, and many attended Bhaktivedanta Manor, an ISKCON centre donated to the group by ex-Beatle George Harrison. I asked about what they thought about the involvement of Westerners. They said that they considered ISKCON to be mainstream and uncontroversial, that their parents and grandparents were happy to mix with Western "hippies", and they seemed to have a real feeling of pride that their religion had been favoured by so many Westerners, especially George H. To them it was a non-issue.
The main problem with ISKCON is complete misinterpretation of Bhagavad Gita (the misinterpretation is very skilful so as not to be completely wrong). Prabhupada twisted words around to suit his image of God, his lineage, his version of Vaishnav Dharma.

The commentary is demonstrably incorrect. Hence ISKCON is not trustworthy to any genuine Hindu.

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