“A cult is just a religion I don’t like.” “All religions are cults.” “Religion is just the search for truth.” We may have heard someone use one of these three statements to explain cult and religion. Yet, are the statements accurate? Though cult and religion do share some characteristics, they are set apart by their leadership, the amount of authority over their members, and the rigidity of their boundaries.
Many people use the term “zealot” synonymously with “cult leader.” Cult leaders are charismatic individuals who profess to have unmatched wisdom. They typically claim to be gods or God’s special messengers. They may claim to have been born with perfection rather than imperfection. They may profess having special abilities that other humans do not. When they lust more power or use violence to make a point, they transform into “holy terrorists” (Porterfield 7). Many cult leaders feel that both they and their actions or holy, making them above the law. They may resort to violent coercion in an effort to maintain the obedience of their followers (Porterfield 8).
In addition, cultists are expected to be in unquestionable, loyal submission to their leaders. Their lives are completely controlled by their cult leader. Everything from what each member eats to who each member marry and, sometimes say, is left in the hands of the leader. Restrictions may even be placed on the amount of children allowed per family. Some cultists are given instructions on how every second of their lives are to be spent, and cultist oblige. Cults attempt to destroy individuality and independent thinking, wanting to control the thoughts and emotions of each cultist. Cult members may even experience punishment for the mere display emotions and individuality. Cult members show strong dependence on their cult leader. Such a dependant lifestyle eventually becomes routine and is a difficult habit to break. Even if a member did want to leave his cult, few cults allow members the simple freedom to walk away (Porterfield 9). Leaving a cult is not an easy task.
Why are cults so difficult to escape? They have very rigid boundaries. In an attempt to persuade his followers to obey his rules, the leader does all in his power to instill deep fears of non-cultists and members of other cults. Even though they may suffer starvation or beatings, cultists are wholly convinced that they are specially chosen people and that all others who do not commit to their cultish methods are undeserving inferiors. A leader may even require his members to live as recluses completely isolated from the outside. This rigid, shut-off lifestyle facilitate the cultists’ to succumbing the leader’s teachings (Porterfield 11). Without exposure to any ideas other than those of the cult leader, the members are, in effect, brainwashed.
What about religion? Because there are so many different religious beliefs, there are many different religious leaders. Pastor, rabbi, and...