Is your religion a cult?
Does your religious leader talk with God, or even think he is God?
A few months ago a two-part 'Inside NZ' documentary entitled 'How to Spot a Cult' was broadcast on TV3. It was evidently designed to inform the NZ public on how easily 'you, your family or friends could become trapped in a cult'.
So what exactly is a cult, and should we be worried? Carl Sagan has said that to the general public the usual meaning of the word 'cult' is a religion that the speaker dislikes. And we would agree. It's often used as an insult, a derogatory title aimed at those religious beliefs you oppose. A term designed to belittle a group and strip it of any legitimacy.
So in this sense, did this documentary counsel viewers against joining a cult — that is, any religious group — or did it merely demonize a specific handful of 'small-time' cults that the documentary producers didn't like? Did it just attack easy targets that mostly can't or won't fight back, and only challenge forms of religious belief that wouldn't offend the great majority of viewers? In the documentary they featured testimony from ex-cult members of the Exclusive Brethren, the International Church of Christ, Scientology, Branch Davidians (of Waco fame), Cooperites, the Centrepoint Community, the Full Gospel Mission and Avatar. Some of these cults don't even exist anymore, the Exclusive Brethren don't watch TV and thus can't be offended, and while in some countries the cult of Scientology can be very litigious, in NZ the Teletubbies fan club probably has more members than Scientology so their impact here is minimal. And we had never even heard of the Avatar group. And no, it has nothing to do with the latest sci-fi movie of the same name.
The promo and title for the documentary suggested that it would be offering advice on avoiding something dangerous or harmful, like 'How to Spot a Land Mine' or 'How to Spot Poisonous Mushrooms'. So are cults harmful? We certainly agree that they are pushing false religious beliefs, and that either knowingly lying or unknowingly deluding their members about reality and the nature of the universe is a form of harm. We also agree that some cults, most recently the likes of Waco, Heaven's Gate and Jonestown, have caused the unnecessary deaths of their members and members of the public. However, I dare say that the great majority of cults worldwide don't end up with their members running amok with automatic weapons or committing suicide en masse. I suspect that the number of deaths caused by cults is minute compared to the deaths caused by their big brothers — mainstream religions. Muslims are killing innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan as I write this and Christians were doing likewise in Northern Ireland not so long ago. So why does the public generally demonize 'cults' while at the same time embracing mainstream religions?
It got us thinking as to what the program's producers were trying to achieve. Were they genuinely concerned that vulnerable members of the public are increasingly being sucked into groups pushing false and harmful religious beliefs, or was it just a lightweight effort that exposed some easy targets while, deliberately or otherwise, ignoring the elephant in the room? An essentially worthless piece of 'reality TV' detailing the flawed choices that some people make in life that they could peddle to a TV channel and make a quick buck?
Both episodes started with a warning that they contained nudity that might offend some viewers (or mentally warped prudes as we like to think of them). The same shot of a cult member, an attractive, naked young woman, walking out one door and through another was screened in both episodes, as well as briefly featuring in the introduction, yet what relevance this had to the supposedly evil nature of cults eludes us, unless the producers view nudity as naturally evil. The nudity appeared utterly gratuitous, and rather than deter might actually tempt young men to consider a cult that involved cute young women walking around naked. I know I would have willingly attended one of their open days. I suspect the nudity was added by the producers, and then screened again in the second episode, solely to attract viewers.
The elephant in the room we felt they ignored was the 'large-scale' cults that exist in society. The entire documentary was engaged in warning us about only what we'll call 'small-time' cults. In fact they didn't even acknowledge that anything other than these 'small-time' cults even existed. By 'large-scale cults' we mean mainstream religions, the likes of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism etc. Remember that the purpose of the program was to warn us about joining groups pushing false and harmful religious beliefs. That description fits ALL religious groups, not just ones with a small number of members. And note that Judaism for example does have a very small number of adherents compared to Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, so is Judaism a cult? What about the recent and unfortunate rise in Maori religion and superstition, why isn't that referred to as cult?
We propose to argue that all religious groups, be they mainstream religions or 'small-time' cults, all pose various levels of threats to the public, and all should be exposed as pushing false religious beliefs and doing harm. In this sense ALL of them should be called 'cults'. Of course some 'cults' or religious groups are more harmful than others, just as some cars are faster and more powerful than others. But big or small, fast or slow, widespread or rare, all cars can kill, and likewise, regardless of their size, power and acceptance within society, all religious groups do harm and have the potential to kill.
My dictionary and encyclopaedia provide the following definitions for 'cult':
A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. The key phase here I believe is 'religious groups whose beliefs and practices depart from the conventional norms of society'. The general public doesn't criticise cults because they are religious, but because they differ from and thus challenge the conventional religion adopted by them and their society.
To the general public, cults are full of heretics, people that are seen to have distorted the religious beliefs of mainstream believers. While you can perhaps argue that one characteristic of a cult is a small number of members compared to mainstream religion, this in no way demonstrates that its beliefs are necessarily false or harmful. Remember that when Christianity began it was comprised of a handful of heretics who were persecuted by the majority, as was Islam in its early years. If a small number of heretics challenging a majority religion is a cult, and cults by default are false and harmful, then Christianity and Islam were false and harmful when they first arose. A simple increase in the number of followers does not suddenly make false beliefs true, or harmful activities safe and desirable. If Christianity and Islam were once false then they are still false. The number of people who believe a claim is true has no bearing on whether it actually is true. For most of human history most everyone believed the earth was flat and that the sun went around us. However the majority view was wrong. The fact that a cult might only have a small number of followers is not a good indication as to the validity of their beliefs. So, ignoring the size of a group, most people would then claim that a cult is a religious group following false beliefs, and that this leads to actions that may result in harm to its members and possibly the public. This harm could be any or all of the following types:
But is the above claim that a cult is a 'religious group whose beliefs and practices depart from the conventional norms of society' necessarily a good guide as to whether a cult is false or harmful? Imagine if highly advanced aliens arrived on earth with beliefs, practices and knowledge far superior to our own. Their small group would by this definition be a cult since it differed from the norms of conventional human society. Even though it would be obvious that their knowledge of the universe was far in advance of ours, their more correct description of the universe would still technically be the 'cult' and our inferior and possibly even false view would be seen as the conventional view. This handful of aliens with their strange customs, beliefs and powerful leader would obviously be a cult in our terms, but one would be a fool to dismiss them simply because they were different and challenged our view of the universe. So the conventional view can't automatically be assumed to be right and cults wrong, and historically, many of the 'the conventional norms of society' are now considered wrong and even abhorrent, such as slavery.
Furthermore, can we really even differentiate between a 'cult' and a 'religion' if we consider those characteristics of a cult from the above definition, such as:
So yes, true believers in Christianity and Islam do live in an unconventional manner. If you personally are not following the silly food and dress codes that your religion dictates, and shunning or killing the people that your God tells you to, then you are not a true believer. You have actually watered down your religious beliefs to fit in with the conventional norms of secular society. Rest assured that every mainstream religious believer that is being utterly true to their religion will be behaving in an unconventional manner, from the frock wearing celibate Pope hiding child molesters to Muslim women wearing small black tents while shopping for sexy lingerie. From hypocritical Christians longing to go to Heaven but not wanting to turn off their life support to equally silly Christians going to church every Sunday when they could be having a lie in. Again, this is not conventional behaviour. The closer an individual is to the inner circle of a mainstream religion and the more committed they are to their beliefs, the more their behaviour will deviate from the conventional norms of society, from the behaviour of the man and woman in the street.
So every characteristic or criteria one might use to identify and then condemn or criticise a 'small-time' cult can be applied equally to the mainstream religions.
Michael Shermer in his book 'Why People Believe Weird Things' went into more detail as to some of the main characteristics of a cult. We'll list these below and we'll again see if they can possibly be applied to mainstream religion.
'And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off ... blah, blah, blah ... and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' (Mk 9:42-48)And Christians have the audacity to claim that Jesus is all love and compassion!
Some even lie to their followers by explaining that while atheists may appear to have powerful and convincing arguments, the devil is working through them and thus it is futile and even dangerous to consider these arguments or attempt to challenge them. They're told to just shout over their shoulder, 'I'll pray for you', as they scurry back to the safety of their church or mosque. They're led to believe that you can always trust your priest or imam, even when they invite you for a sleep-over or ask you to try on a belt that seems to contain what looks like explosives.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)And also this one:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matt 10:34-39).These quotes are classic cult techniques where the cult leader demands that his followers must give him all their love and loyalty, even to the extent of rejecting and hating their own family. Jesus and Waco's David Koresh were no different in demanding total love and obedience from their small band of followers.
How would you view a religious leader who faked a revelation from God so that he could have sex with his son's beautiful wife? And as well as having sex with several other female followers, and his maid while his wife was away, how about his having sex with a nine year old girl? The famous religious leader I'm referring to is Islam's Mohammed. He so desired his son's beautiful wife after spying some of her naked charms that he wrote a Koranic verse to allow it, and he also married his wife Aisha when she was only nine and he was 53. These events in their leader's life are generally hidden from his followers. Would you worship a child molester or someone who stole their son' wife for sex? The Bible contains a similar tale of disgusting moral behaviour. Well, the Bible contains innumerable tales of immoral behaviour actually, but the specific one I'm thinking of involves King David, one of their great leaders, who spied a woman bathing on her roof. Aroused by her naked beauty he sent for her, learnt that she was married to one of his soldiers, but went ahead and had sex with her anyway. He then conspired to have her husband sent into battle so that he would be killed. This way he could marry her and continue having sex without worrying about adultery. It's important to note that neither Mohammed nor David was directly punished by their God for these immoral acts. Of course this sort of thing happens innumerable times in these religions. God's followers commit atrocious acts contrary to their claimed beliefs and their God does nothing. He just ignores them, as if He didn't see them do it, or as if he didn't even exist to be able to punish them. Look at the modern example of priests and ministers sexually abusing children. You don't have to seek out 'small-time' cults to find religious leaders behaving despicably and going to great lengths to hide that behaviour from others.
Also both Christianity and Islam vigorously try to cover up all the many embarrassing errors and contradictions in their holy books, such as in matters of science, history and ethics. This is in addition to the untold modern day indiscretions of those in their inner circle, from the rampant sexual abuse of children and financial corruption to pure hypocrisy, secretly indulging in practices that they tell their followers is forbidden. Recent years has even seen the exposure of religious leaders that are no longer true believers, that seriously doubt the fantasies they push on their flock. Some might even be called atheists, yet they often deviously maintain their subterfuge to keep control of their assets and lifestyle. Mainstream religions are riddled with deceit in a desperate attempt to keep their followers ignorant, both of the real world and of their own religion.
The Bible also tells us that God expects a tithe, a tenth of everything his followers grow or make or earn. Mormons are expected to donate at least a tenth of their income to their church, and wealthy Bishop Brian Tamaki of the Destiny Church also encourages his many impoverished followers to tithe. What Christian church doesn't pass around the donation plate or plead with their parishioners to help fund their church maintenance? So religious groups demanding some or all of their followers' money and assets are nothing new, as history demonstrates. We are tripping over enormous cathedrals and untold churches in the Christian West and Islamic mosques in Muslim countries because their followers have been persuaded to generously and continually donate to support their religion. I only have to walk approximately 200 metres to encounter an entire city block owned by the Catholic Church, comprising a church, the priest's large two storey house, no doubt for when choir boys stay the weekend, and a child brainwashing facility, cunningly labelled a primary school. I hate to think of the astronomical wealth that has been squandered on religion throughout history or what the present assets of the Catholic and Protestants religions could fund if we cashed them in. The next time you're out for a drive count how many churches you pass compared to say, buildings devoted to Scientology. Ask yourself, does the Pope use public transport or does he have his own jet? In many Asian countries do Buddhist monks grow and prepare their own food or do they exploit their followers in the villages to feed them?
And the recent revelations of sexual relations that church leaders have been having with their followers, mostly children unfortunately, is now being played out in courts. This is costing the churches millions of dollars, demonstrating how much their followers have donated, and forcing the remaining church leaders to devise better ways of hiding their crimes and silencing their young victims. And historically speaking, sexual relations between religious leaders and their followers has always been popular, right back to Jesus himself, with suggestive references to his associations with scantily clad youths and prostitutes. From the 'secret' Gospel of Mark, a version seemingly known only to the inner circle and not the wider Christian community, we read, 'And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God.' From the not-so-secret Gospel of Mark we read, 'A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they [the crowd] seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.' (Mk 14:51-52) And from the Gospel of John, 'Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them'. (Jn 21:20). People have said that the story behind Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was nothing new, and it seems the same is true for the recent movie Brokeback Mountain.
The other obvious suggestion is that Jesus had sexual relations with one or several of the women that followed his group and 'cared for his needs'. Remember that back in those times it would have been scandalous and unheard of for respectable, single Jewish women to leave their families and join a cult. In fact the Bible is full of lurid sex. One could make a great pornographic movie from the stories in the Bible involving sexual relationships without having to make up a single thing. Whatever your fetish, it's all there in the Bible. Where do you think some of these small-time cults that have been accused of certain sexual practices got their ideas from if not the Bible?
And as for Islam, let's not forget as already mentioned, Mohammed scheming to screw his son's beautiful wife or about being a child molester. The cult leader changing the rules so that he can have sexual access to his followers — adults and children — is a classic accusation aimed at cults.
So yet again, every single characteristic that describes and identifies a so-called 'cult' fits mainstream religions such as Christianity and Islam perfectly.
It's annoying that people spend time and money on writing books and producing TV documentaries to warn the public about 'small-time' cults comprised of tens or hundreds of followers, and completely ignore the gigantic cults comprised of millions and billions of members. The intellectual, emotional, financial and physical harm done by 'small-time' cults is inconsequential compared to that perpetrated by their big brothers. It's like worrying about the death toll from people hit by meteorites and ignoring the death toll from auto accidents, firearms and preventable diseases combined. This 'respectability' we place on the likes of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism etc is not warranted. Apart from the difference in the number of followers, they are all cults, since they all follow false beliefs and they all do harm.
For example, featured in the documentary was the Centrepoint Community cult run by Bert Potter. The group was rightly condemned by the public for its alleged sexual abuse of children. Yet the only child that spoke out against this abuse in the documentary merely talked about showering with adults in group situations or being in the same bed with adults. This is hardly sexual abuse, yet the Christian churches, especially the Catholic Church, has committed proven sexual abuse on an enormous number of children worldwide. Some Catholic priests have no doubt raped more children individually than were even present at the Centrepoint Community. The Centrepoint Community was rightly closed down and yet the Catholic Church still flourishes, and is still supported by millions.
Would you join a cult that celebrated human sacrifice, such as the Aztecs used to? Hopefully you'd answer no, yet Christianity, Islam and Judaism all celebrate a God that approves of human sacrifice. In Christianity God forces his followers to torture and sacrifice his own son, not one of his enemies, but his only son. Or perhaps it was God himself in disguise or perhaps just some poor stooge. Christians are a little confused over just who they actually sacrificed, but nevertheless, they are convinced that they definitely sacrificed someone in the form of a human. And they're not at all embarrassed or disturbed by this act of immoral, barbaric slaughter. They put up reminders in the form of crosses and crucifixes everywhere, inside and outside their churches, on their books and hung around the necks of little children. They revel in displaying this instrument of excruciatingly painful execution to all and sundry to remind us of their God's love of human sacrifice. And while Jews and Moslems don't view the sacrifice of Jesus in the same light as Christians, we must remember that there are several other examples of God's followers sacrificing their children to him, which apparently pleased God no end. The most famous would be Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac on God's instructions. On this very rare and actually unique occasion, God stopped the sacrifice. Yet it must be remembered that God's followers believed that their God was the sort of god that would ask for and be pleased by human sacrifice. And they were loyal to this type of god. Remember also that God permitted his then loyal employee Satan to slaughter all of Job's children just to win a wager. And let's not forget the untold innocent humans that God sacrificed in the so-called Flood of Noah, or those that he watched be tortured and sacrificed during the likes of the many inquisitions, witch trials, pogroms, holy crusades and religious wars. Rather than a God of love and compassion, the God of the Jews, Christians and Muslims loves to see humans die in His name.
What about cannibalism, would you join a cult that ate human flesh? Yet again, this is another element of what Christians celebrate — cannibalism. Catholics are by far the most reprehensible, since during a ritual called the Eucharist they believe they actually get to feast on the flesh and blood of another human, in this case Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter from the 1st century CE. It's rather magical how this happens, and while I'm sure Harry Potter could manage the magic, I sincerely doubt he would debase himself to ever performing this disgusting trick. During this ritual Catholics believe that their God transforms the bread that they eat into the real human flesh of the long dead carpenter, and the wine they drink is likewise transformed into his blood. They believe they are eating real human flesh and drinking real human blood, and they seemingly relish the idea, doing it week after week. And to think that their children are also taught to find this cannibalistic ritual normal, acceptable and desirable behaviour. Protestants are not quite as bad as Catholics in this respect. They insist that the ritual is purely symbolical, and that while the bread and wine symbolises the flesh and blood of Jesus, it remains simple bread and wine. But they are still choosing to symbolise, to remember and glorify something abhorrent to most non-Christians, that is, human sacrifice. Imagine if every time you ate icecream you were told it symbolised rotting waste. Most normal people would find this link disgusting, whether it was real or merely symbolic. So how can Christians show their love for their God by partaking in the consumption of human flesh and blood, either pretend or actual? And in the past when cannibals ate human flesh, it was usually that of their enemies, they didn't eat those that they loved. When Christians eat their bread and drink their wine to remember their God, why don't they remember his love and compassion, why do they instead fixate on his flesh and his blood?
And let's remember that we have no idea what Jesus' flesh was actually like, whether he was fat or skinny, tanned or pale, smooth-skinned or pimply, tasty or too salty. Likewise his blood is a mystery. Was he a true half-caste, half human and half god, or was he merely an avatar, a god that had just made itself look human? If a half-caste containing Mary's contribution of female chromosomes, but lacking any male chromosomes, Jesus should have been born a girl if God simply cloned Mary's chromosomes to give the full complement. Since he was born a boy then God must have genetically engineered one of Mary's eggs to product a viable male zygote. Or, since at this time in history people didn't believe women contributed anything to babies apart from a place to grow, then all the genetic or nanotechnology that went into making the baby Jesus must have been provided by God. Since he only had to look human enough to fool some primitive desert tribesman, then there is no telling what an all-powerful god might have used for blood, if he even needed blood to function. The blood seen at the crucifixion could have been merely added special effects, like Hollywood does. In fact this could explain why a clear fluid rather than blood was spilled when a soldier unexpectedly pierced Jesus' side with a spear. Some sort of hydraulic fluid perhaps? In either case, half-caste or outright fake, we have no idea what the blood of Jesus, if it even existed, would taste like. Anyway, if Christians are fearful of forgetting about Jesus, I fail to see why they would choose to remember him by trying to visualise sinking their teeth into his baked flesh or slaking their thirst with a chilled glass of his blood. These are seriously sick people with depraved beliefs, the type of people that are usually synonymous with cults.
For centuries the Church maintained an 'Index of Forbidden Books', an enormous list of books that Christians were forbidden to read or possess. Any author who exposed errors or contradictions contained in the Bible or criticised the Church had their books destroyed and, if they were unlucky or didn't flee, were often tortured and executed. Amazing enough, in the early centuries of the Church, Christians were not even allowed to read the Bible, on pain of death. I suspect the Vatican still secretly maintains their 'Index of Forbidden Books', ready if they ever again acquire control of society. Of course the list will have grown enormously, plus they will have needed to add movies, TV shows, computer games, music, websites etc. Rather than force their reading and viewing demands on the world, the Vatican now simply makes strongly worded recommendations, telling us to shun movies such as The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter and anything involving vampires such as the Twilight movies. Likewise blasphemous TV shows such as South Park, Family Guy, Stargate SG1 and House, not to mention literary works of the devil from authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and an increasing raft of lesser known writers on atheism and the problems with religion. This attempt to control what their followers know about the world, to keep them ignorant, is typical of cults.
Some people wonder why adults join 'small-time' cults. We believe it is first and foremost because they have all been brainwashed by the large cults, the mainstream religions. They all grow up in a religious environment, taught from an early age about gods and miracles and heaven and hell. When they reach maturity, some people, in a rare moment of clear thinking and rationality, discover one or more flaws in the claims of the large cult that they grew up with and become disillusioned. However, for most people their clarity of thought is a fleeting thing, and rather than rejecting silly religious beliefs completely, they seek out another religious group that has slightly different but equally ridiculous comforting claims about gods and salvation. As long as the large cults exist — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism etc — there will be small cults, since small cults are made up entirely of disillusioned people fleeing the large cults. The mainstream religions are the breeding grounds for small cults. Destroying small cults will merely see the creation of new cults by disenchanted Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus. Remember that Christianity was a cult that grew from disenchanted Jews. In fact every religion seems to have grown from the disenchantment of followers of a previous religion. They realised that their religion was flawed in some way and that another group seemed to offer better answers.
Of those few that leave a mainstream religion or a small-time cult after realising that they have been lied to or abused or in some way taken advantage of, only a minority throws off the shackles of religion. Very few seem to shun religion on escaping a mainstream church or a cult. They merely seek out another to replace it.
The documentary only wanted to keep you from considering joining a 'small-time' cult, and is seemingly perfectly happy for you to remain in your equally false and harmful large-scale cult. The producers are either hypocritical, immoral, greedy opportunists or truly ignorant of the true nature of mainstream religion, ignorant of the elephant in the room.
If the shows producers and/or our local TV channels were really worried about Kiwis getting sucked into following silly religious beliefs, then why aren't they screening documentaries such as Jonathan Miller's 'Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief', Richard Dawkins' 'The Root of All Evil?', Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and Bill Maher's movie Religulous? Why aren't they making documentaries full of testimonies from ex-Christians that have seen the light and escaped the superstitious clutches of the mainstream churches? Documentaries that expose the lies that they were told while in the Catholic or Protestant church or that detail the sexual abuse that their members endured or the money and assets that they have foolishly given to their corrupt leaders? The great majority of wasted time, money and resources is funnelled into mainstream religions, not 'small-time' cults. The ignorance spread by mainstream religions is far more invasive than that spread by cults, and the harm inflicted on society by cults is minuscule compared to that caused by mainstream religions.
Most definitely everyone should challenge a friend, family member or associate who belongs to or is considering joining a 'small-time' cult, but they must realise that they'll be a hypocrite if they don't also honestly apply the same challenges to their own religious beliefs. How can you scoff at a bearded cult leader who says he is able to communicate with God, when you yourself have offered innumerable prayers to your God over the years? Do you really think you've just been wasting your time, just talking to thin air? Do you really think it is impossible that God would talk to this cult leader, just because He never talks to you? How can you think of yourself as a normal human being with normal urges and yet believe a cult who says that it's enjoyable to have consensual sex with other members of their group is behaving unnaturally? Didn't God invent sex and make it enjoyable for our benefit? How can you view the Scientology claim that an alien consciousness might exist in the minds of some humans as just plain silly, and yet confidently argue that the claim of Jesus that demons exist in some humans is utterly believable? How can you claim that cults that practice public nudity are corrupting children and yet praise a God that not only created naked humans in the first place, he fully intended for them to remain naked? How can you criticise cults for amassing the wealth of their handful of followers when mainstream religions are immensely wealthy from similarly acquiring the assets of millions of their followers? And rather than use this wealth to alleviate suffering in the world, it is instead used to construct places of worship that are ostentatious, pretentious and dripping with artefacts, which while valuable, are essentially useless. Rather than criticise the greed and corruption of mainstream religions, hypocrites criticise a cult for refurbishing an old warehouse and adding a spa and sauna. After considering the time and money you've spent in your own church over the years, why condemn people donating their time and money to a group that they also believe in?
You may believe that cult followers alienate themselves from others and come across as ignorant, superstitious, annoying, gullible and sanctimonious, yet you should be aware that this is how most devout religious people, be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu, appear to non-believers. Certainly the beliefs of cult followers often cut them off from family and friends, but equally the beliefs of religious believers can also affect their relationship with family and friends. Not because religious believers deliberately seek isolation, but simply because family and friends who are non-believers simply find them too annoying to be around.
You're a hypocrite if you condemn a Christian who murders an abortion doctor or a Muslim who blows up a crowded restaurant, and yet you fall to your knees on Sunday and worship a God who will burn and torture your kindly neighbour and most of humanity for all eternity. The religious killer commits one single atrocity, resulting in pain and suffering that lasts for mere moments, whereas your God commits an infinite number of atrocities on millions of humans in Hell, over and over again, maintaining the flow of pain and suffering for an eternity. And a large number of those who God tortures will be innocent babies and children. Don't think of yourself as morally superior for trying to destroy a small-time cult that may potentially harm some of its followers, if at the same time you support or even just turn a blind eye to mainstream religions that most definitely do harm to their followers and innocent bystanders. Catholics deny those suffering from HIV and AIDS the use of condoms, and deny impoverished couples the use of any form of contraception. Christians, and again especially Catholics, do harm by forbidding outright, abortion, euthanasia and the potential alleviation of suffering by research into the likes of stem cells. Their policies on divorce, remarriage, homosexuality and sex outside marriage do untold emotional harm. Don't waste your time looking for cults that indoctrinate their members with thoughts of violence against outsiders when Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu atrocities feature too often on our news reports. Don't demonize cults when Christian parents persecute and reject their homosexual children and Muslim families murder their unmarried daughters and sisters for having premarital sex. Don't condemn cults for 'stealing' from their members when Christian churches like Destiny Church are taking from the poor of society to fund Bishop Tamaki's decadent lifestyle. Don't condemn a cult leader that is suspected of sexually abusing two or three children and yet still remain a member of the churches whose leaders have sexually, physically and emotionally abused thousands of children. Don't think of yourself as a pillar of society by challenging members of the Exclusive Brethren over their secrecy or Scientology for their greed if you belong to any of the mainstream religions.
Cults aren't killing people in Iraq or protesting in the world's cities with placards that read 'Death to the infidels'. Cults aren't in our courts for abusing choirboys on church camps. Cults aren't brainwashing our children with Bible in Schools or trying to get Intelligent Design taught in science classes. It's high time that followers of mainstream religions started looking in the mirror for the most harmful cults in their community.
All cults are religious and all religions are cults. If you want to make a difference and create a more ethical society, then help destroy the breeding grounds for these 'small-time' cults by eliminating the large cults that hide under the alias of mainstream religion. Big or small, religion is false and harmful. Stand up and speak out, expose their followers as hypocrites and their beliefs as fantasies. There is no honour in respecting a lie. And if they or even you fear that your life would be empty without religion, then follow this wise advice:
Authors: John L. Ateo, Rachel C.
 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language Third Edition copyright © 1992
 The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia Copyright © 1995
Last Updated Jan 2010