Vol. 7, No. 5
~ Page 12 ~
Defining a cult, especially in an article as brief as this one, is not an easy task; nevertheless it can be done. Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary gives several definitions for the word "cult," but we will concern ourselves only with those pertaining to religion. This source defines the word as follows: "a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.; a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader." When the word "cult" appears in a religious discussion, our minds often go immediately to the "Jim Jones Cult," which emigrated from the US to South America where all its members summarily committed suicide. We think of the David Koresh cult whose final standoff with the national officials ended in death and destruction for many. These may be extreme examples, but the plain fact of the matter is cults are made up of extremists of some kind. Political ones like the Aryan Nation, etc. engage in terrorist activities. Sometimes, even religious cults will do the same thing, as has been recorded in the history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in the late 1800s.
Cults often venerate (worship) a mere human being, and all their activities, no matter how bizarre, surround him/her in some way. These leaders are sometimes called prophets or prophetesses. They claim that they have a special connection with God in some way or another. Some claim that they are God! Some claim to have made trips to heaven while in a trance-like state; others claim to have found special books or to have some sort of special information given to them by God. Almost all will claim, at some juncture in their lives, to have communicated directly with God and to have received special messages from him, or from Jesus or the Holy Spirit. All will claim special insight, wisdom or intelligence that no one else has. Without exception, their message will contradict either what the Bible plainly teaches, or will claim to be a later revelation to make the Bible more complete, giving information heretofore unknown by the world.
The leadership of these cults is unbending, and usually unreasonable in the demands it makes on its followers. Often there is some type of warped sexuality connected with cults, such as polygamy, deflowering of virgins or special attraction to those of the same sex. The leadership is autocratic in nature. All members must bow to the wishes of the leader or they are excommunicated, and in some instances murdered. These leaders brook neither interference nor rebellion from those whom they lead. In addition to these things, leaders usually demand that the members of the cult, if they are permitted to live in society at large, spend so much time proselyting for the organization, or engaging in some activity that will make money for the organization. Some of these become large and wealthy. The leader/leaders demand that hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, be put at their disposal. Rarely does a cult founder end his days in any kind of poverty. This has never happened in any of the American cults that are still in existence.
Cult leaders are not only autocratic, often immoral, but they almost without exception choose those who will be their successors. Jim Jones and David Koresh did not do that because they did not plan to have any! However, on other occasions cults have challenged the authority of the government, even the laws of the land, but usually without much success. They refuse to allow their members to do such things as serve in the military, salute the flag or do anything that even suggests any kind of loyalty to any entity other than the cult. They often regulate the medical procedures that their members can accept, the foods they can eat, the kinds of clothing they can wear and the ways they may or may not travel. No facet of life is outside the domination of the leaders and their rules, so far as the cult is concerned. Cultists are usually, in some way or another, "brainwashed." If they are not, they are forbidden to think for themselves. These organizations are always dangerous and often deadly.