When does a particular belief go from being considered a "cult" to being accepted as a "religion"?
Historically, practically every "religion" started out being seen as a cult, whether it was the belief that Jesus is the son of God, that Zoroaster was a witness for the true dual-nature of God, that Buddha is the avatar of the divine, ect. In time all these beliefs were accepted as legitimate religions, while other "cults" were quickly abandoned or persecuted to the point of non-existence. What does it take for a cult to become elevated to the status of "religion"?
Please answer with tolerance, here, as I respect all religious & spiritual beliefs, thank you!
By a combination of time and social tolerance. Mormonism, for example. In my mind, it is patently laughable as far as legitimacy and theological reasoning. Yet, with time and social tolerance, we have someone running for president who believe in the absurdities of Joseph Smith.
About 30 years ago, I asked this question of my father-in-law, who is a world-reknowned Christian theologian and professor at Yale University. He acknowledged that Christianity began as a cult during the life of Jesus and shortly thereafter. So, he agrees, every religion began as a cult.
Signs of a cult changing into a religion:
- no longer depending on one leader.
- lasting more than one generation, passing tradition onto children and/or getting new converts
- becoming more open-minded and diverse. For example, Christianity began as a cult of Jewish people, but became popular among Greeks and Romans. Islam became popular near or shortly after the end of Mohammed's life as it helped tribes in the Middle East that were no longer isolated from the world make sense of the world.
Not being persecuted is not a sign of a cult becoming a religion. Buddhism did not face persecution much in its early years. Christianity was persecuted for over 200 years, long after it was a religion.
And, of course, cults spin off from religions all the time. But that's another story!
One definition would be surviving the death of the group's founder. Many cults fall apart after the death of a charismatic leader. Another definition would be surviving past the lifetime of all disciples, having successfully passed on beliefs and practices past the lifetime of all who knew the leader.
You may belong to a cult, but if your grandchildren hold the same beliefs 80 years later, it is a religion.
By definition - all religions are cults.
1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
3. the object of such devotion.
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
5.Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols
I answer with utmost respect, and tolerance - merely providing definitions. So, the act of one religion calling another a cult is just a little off.
It's not a question of "when" they changed - they didn't - the way in which we view the religion/cult changed.
Thanks for a cool question.
Dictionary.com gives 2 definitions for cult -- "1. A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.; 2. A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister." A cult in the first sense is not distinct from a religion but rather may function inside of a religion. For instance, in Catholicism there is a cult of the Virgin Mary, a cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and so on; in Hinduism there is a cult of Shiva, a cult of Krishna, and so on; each variety of Christianity is a Christ cult; there is a Haile Selassie cult in the Rastafari Movement; in ancient Rome there was an Athena cult, a Dionysus cult, and so on. The second definition is subjective, so pretty much a cult becomes a religion when you join it. What seems strange or sinister to one person is for another person traditional and ordinary. Be dubious of uses of the word cult in a derogatory sense. The time for concern is when members of a cult give up the guidance of their own consciences and power of reason and unquestionably follow a leader, who for whatever motives leads the group beyond the pale, such as to group suicide, to taking child brides, to refusing medical attention to a hurt or sick child, or whatever. What is and is not beyond the pale is a fuzzy and shifting border. Such cases are rare. Mostly "cult" is used as an accusation comparable to "heretical" or "unorthodox" or "different from the cultural norm here".
to krillco, cont'd: ..intelligent, thoughtful people. I am very reluctant to put modern Mormons into the same category as their founder, as odd as it sounds
simply put - as soon as it gains some sort of traction or power. Historically, christianity was a jewish sect - a cult - until it became the state religion of rome. Then, as its power grew politically, it turned into a "religion"
Although I know a lot of christian apologists today that claim that christianity isn't a religion at all - it's a philosophy.
There's a popular saying that the difference between a religion and a cult is a million members. However, the true definition of a cult is a system of beliefs that don't work, but brainwash its followers into believing in nasty consequences if they admit this and leave. Therefore, a cult can never become a true religion.
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