Discrimination against Minority Religions
via the "Cult" Myth


A 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.

Anthony Campbell
in a review of David V. Barrett, The New Believers

In the exercise of prejudice against religious minorities, the "cult" myth is used today as "Jim Crow" was used in discriminating against people of color.

The 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.

The 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 energy industries.

Because 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.)

various   The "Cult" Myth versus the Actual Statistics of New Religious Movements
Massimo Introvigne   The Myth of Brainwashing and Mind Control
J. Gordon Melton   Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory



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