Is AA a cult?

Are religions cults? Witch covens are cults? Sweat lodges? Manson? Nazis? Wiccans? Waco? Polygamy? Punks? Skinheads? Hippies? Yuppies? Soccer moms? Jim Jones? Storm Chasers? Politics? Yoga? Animal Rescues? The Junior League?


Is there such a thing as a good cult?

Loved this song..and the hair…and the bell bottoms in the 80s…

The Cult Live 1985

She Sells Sanctuary

Meanings of the word “cult”:

Many common religious terms lack a generally accepted, single, current definition. This leads to confusion over the meanings of certain religious terms, such as Christian, cult hell, heaven, occult, Paganism, salvation, Witch,Witchcraft, Unitarian, Universalist, Voodoo, etc. A reader must often look at the context in which the word is used in order to guess at the intent of the writer.

In the newsgroup alt.usage.english, terms like this one are often called “skunk words.” They have diverse meanings to different people. They have so many meanings that they often cause misunderstandings wherever they are used. Unfortunately, most people do not know this, and naturally assume that the meaning that they have been taught is the universally accepted definition of the term.

The term “Unitarian” is a good example:

  • Pre-1776 CE: Belief in a single God and the rejection of the Christian concept of the Trinity.
  • Post-1775: A creedless and dogma-free religious organization. The Unitarian Universalist Association, (UUA) is an association of Unitarian congregations.

Utter confusion reigns when an author is using one definition of “Unitarian,” while a reader assumes the other meaning. Misunderstandings also happen when an author assumes that both definitions refer to the same organization or belief.

One of the most confusing and dangerous religious term is “Cult“. The word is derived from the French word “culte” which came from Latin noun “cultus.” The latter is related to the Latin verb “colere” which means “to worship or give reverence to a deity.” Thus, in its original meaning, the term “cult” can be applied to any group of religious believers: Southern Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Hindus or Muslims. However, the term has since been assigned at least eight new and very different meanings. The original meaning of “cult” remains positive; more recent definitions are neutral, negative, or extremely negative:

  • Positive Meaning:
    • Theological usage: Oxford English Dictionary defined “cult” as:
      • “worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being or beings”
      • “a particular form or system of religious worship; especially in reference to its external rites and ceremonies”
      • devotion or homage to a particular person or thing.”

      This is the historical meaning of the word, but is rarely today heard outside of religious circles. A reference to the “Cult of Mary” appeared in a newspaper report on the Pope’s 1999 visit to the Americas. It simply means that the Pope devotes special attention to the Virgin Mary.

    • Cultural usage: The word is often associated with cult films, cult bands, or cult TV programs. Here, the term “cult” refers to a small but devoted following of a movie, entertainment group or television program. Avid supporters of Star Trek may be referred to as devoted cultists.
  • Neutral Meanings:
    • Sociological usage:  A small religious group that exists in a state of tension with the predominant religion. Hinduism might be considered a cult in North America; Christianity might be considered a cult in India.
    • Additional sociological usage: An innovative, fervent religious group, as contrasted with more established and conventional sects and denominations.
    • The Observer: An English newspaper seemed to use the term to refer to any small religious group, no matter what its age or teachings. 1
    • General religious usage:  A small, recently created, religious organization which is often headed by a single charismatic leader and is viewed as an spiritually innovative group. A cult in this sense may simply be a new religious movement on its way to becoming a denomination. The Christian religion, as it existed in 30 CE might be considered a cult involving one leader and 12 or 70 devoted disciples as followers. The Mormon denomination was started in the 19th century by Joseph Smith and a few followers; it met this definition of “cult” but has since grown to become an established denomination of about 15 million members.
  • Negative Meanings:
    • Evangelical Christians and Counter-Cult Movement (CCM) usage: They define a cult as any religious group which accepts most but not all of the key historical Christian doctrines (e.g. the divinity of Jesus, virgin birth, the Trinity, salvation by faith, not works, etc.). The implication is that the cult’stheology is invalid; they teach heresy. Under this definition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), Unification Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many others would be cults. But the CCM would not classify Wicca as such, because it is not associated with Christianity. The earliest use of this meaning of the word “Cult” is believed to be a 1938 book “The Chaos of the Cults” by  J.K. VanBaalen. On the other hand, new religious groups such as the Mormons, Unification Church andJehovah’s Witnesses generally regard themselves to be the true Christian church. They view all other denominations as being in error. Thus, one group’s true church is another group’s cult. One group’s heresy is the other group’s orthodoxy.
    • Fundamentalist Christian usage: Some Fundamentalists would accept the Evangelical definition of cult defined above. Others brand any religious group which deviates from historical Protestant Christian beliefs as a cult. This definition would include the LDS Church, Wicca, mainline and liberal Christian denominations, Islam, Hinduism, and all of the other religions of the world. The vast majority of humanity would belong to cults, by this definition.
    • Anti-cult movement usage: The anti-cult movement (ACM) attempts to raise public consciousness about what they see as dangerous and authoritarian mind control cults and doomsday cults. Most do not care about the faith group’s theology. They target only what they see as deceptive practices, and dangerous psychological pressure techniques, such as brainwashing. The ACM appears to hold opinions about the effectiveness of brainwashing that are not shared by the mental-health community generally. They see mind control/doomsday cults as a widespread social problem.
  • Very negative meaning:
    • Popular, media usage: A cult is considered a small, evil religious group, often with a single charismatic leader, that engages in brainwashing and other mind control techniques, believes that the end of the world is imminent, and collects large amounts of weaponry in preparation for a massive war. The earliest use of this meaning of the word is believed to have been in a 1965 book by Walter Martin “The Kingdom of the Cults”

We have seen “cult” used to refer to Evangelical denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, Unification Church, Church of Scientology, United Church of Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,Wiccans, other Neopagans and many other faith groups. The term is essentially meaningless.

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