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What defines a Cult? What defines as a Religion?

We've talked many times about how ALL religions start out as a "cult movement" and eventually gain enough support to be considered a religion. But my question is this, at what point is something a religion rather than a cult? Is there really a difference if the teachings are harmful? Can a religious movement with a minimal amount of followers be considered a religion if it has a positive outlook and belief system, or is it still a cult simply because it has so few believers? And what about religious movements which do gain a large number of followers? Are they automatically religions because of numbers? What if they are teaching a negative message?

Simply asked, is it the overall teachings or the number of followers which earns a label of Cult or Religion?

I ask this because I noticed a number of you used the word "cult" when answering my questions about last nights 20/20 & the abuses taking place in SOME IFB Churches. And at face value, I would agree, their teachings and treatment of their members screams CULT in my mind. But here's the scary part, I pulled up a church list for this group and it is MUCH bigger (I stopped counting at 200 in my state alone and I was only in the Ns) than I would have thought. 20/20 said thousands of congregations, but I didn't buy it, so I looked it up, and even here in my area there are quite a few (although thankfully none in my town). So what are we really basing the title on? Teachings/Behavior or Member count??

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Asked by SabrinaMBowen at 4:28 PM on Apr. 9, 2011 in Religion & Beliefs

Level 40 (122,988 Credits)
Answers (4)
  • I was always taught (by whom, I don't remember) when I was really little, that a cult is a group that tries to allienate you from your family, and the outside world.

    I am an IFB, and I watched the first half of that special. I saw it online, and then it froze, or I would have watched the whole thing. I didn't start going to an IFB church till I was 14, after three years of begging my mom to go. Something I've learned in the past 13+ years since I've been attending, is that every IFB church is different. I've personally been a member of three different ones. Most of us have the same core beliefs, but things such has how women dress, going to movies, etc, varies from church to church. The church I spent my teen years in is the same church I attend now, and there's no way that stuff that was on 20/20 would happen in our church. There was a point where a rape and molestation was learned of in our church... cont...

    Answer by corbysmom531 at 4:56 PM on Apr. 9, 2011

  • .....cont....

    and our pastor dealt with it swiftly, and with the police. There's no way things would be swept under the rug like that. Our view of child discipline is much different than what was portrayed as well. I think every religion has it's extremists, and 20/20 showed the IFB extremists.

    Westboro is another IFB church. They teach things that aren't found in the Bible, and that's what our church is all about. Teaching what's in the Bible. Nothing more, nothing less. We are encouraged to search the scriptures ourselves, not take our Pastor's word for it.

    Answer by corbysmom531 at 4:58 PM on Apr. 9, 2011

  • Well, like you said it depends what you mean by cult, but all religions are cults or start out that way. I'm not sure when it becomes--or how many members--make it a 'religion' though. My guess is it has more to do with how unacceptable (or illegitimate) people consider their teachings than how many followers they have, even though what we think of as cults are often small. I do think there are some more mainstream denominations of religion that are pretty cult-like and exclusive in the way I think of the word 'cult'. Also, if they teach violence, they'll probably end up on a watch list of some kind.

    In general, I personally think of a cult as something that is secret or at least the members are isolated from their non-member family and outsiders and the members are coerced into joining (maybe made to believe that all their problems will be fixed by joining or that they are special or better than the rest of society, etc.).

    Answer by pam19 at 5:12 PM on Apr. 9, 2011

  • I consider the words to be interchangeable. A cult is a religion. A religion is a cult.

    Answer by witchqueen at 12:03 PM on Apr. 10, 2011

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