central issue that [Barrett] confronts at the outset is the
definition of a cult. As he rightly points out, one person's
cult is another's religion; all religions begin life as cults.
An alternative definition is that a cult is a religion which
you happen to dislike. . . . "cult" is a four-letter word.
in a review of David V. Barrett, The
the exercise of prejudice against religious minorities, the "cult"
myth is used today as "Jim Crow" was used in discriminating
against people of color.
terms "cult" and "cult leader" are generally used as hateful
"button" words intended to intentionally devalue people
and their faith groups. The words are used in much the same way
as the word "nigger" was used prior to the civil rights
movement, and the words "commie" and "red" were
used to blacklist people and justify witch hunts, by Joseph McCarthy
and the House on Un-American Activities Committee. Words like "cult"
and "cult leader" are aimed at creating fear and loathing
among the public, and contribute greatly to religious intolerance.
word "cult," particularly as used by the media, carries a heavy
emotional content. The word suggests is that this is a group that
you should detest, avoid, and fear. In reality, the only "crime"
of most "cults" is that they they hold different religious beliefs
from whomever is doing the attacking, or from the established "mainstream
religions". Indeed, the group doing the attacking often is
one of the established "mainstream religions", or is funded
by one of them
so the likely motivation is as clear as would be the motivation
of the oil or coal industry to suppress new, but less powerful alternative
of the incredible baggage that goes with words like "cult"
and "cult leader", we should view them in just the same
way as words like "nigger". In other words, we should
refrain from using them, and choose our words in a way that reflects
not outright prejudice but respect and intelligent consideration.
(For example, "new religious movement" or "NRM"
is the phrase of choice these days among sociologists of religion,
for the reasons just given.)