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Is your religion a cult?

Does your religious leader talk with God, or even think he is God?


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Cults 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.

Readers' Comments

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?

Never underestimate the power
of stupid people in large groups

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. [1]

The term is now often used to refer to contemporary religious groups whose beliefs and practices depart from the conventional norms of society. [2]

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:

  • intellectual harm — such as believing angels live on clouds or that the world was created 6,000 years ago or that men can rise from the dead after being executed.
  • emotional or psychological harm - such as fearing they will be tortured in Hell for all eternity if they masturbate or perform oral sex, or the emotional torment of rejecting and ignoring family members if they aren't fellow believers.
  • financial harm — such as gifting money and assets to the cult leaders.
  • physical harm, either to themselves or to the public — such as circumcision, mass suicides, physical and sexual abuse of others in the group, and the deliberate slaughter of non-believers.
We are sure you'll have realised that this description of a cult fits both a small group of believers who try to cast out entities called thetans and believe in an alien called Xenu, and also an organisation of billions who worship a carpenter called Jesus who casts out demons. Big or small, both Scientology and Christianity are cults. Think of Christianity as a cult on steroids or a little lie that got out of hand.

Any idiot can invent a religion
It takes a real fool to believe in one

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:

  • a religion
  • extremist or false
  • living in an unconventional manner
  • an authoritarian, charismatic leader
We contend that all these characteristics can be applied equally to both 'cults' and mainstream religions. Using Christianity and Islam, let's see if they fit the definition of a cult.
  • Are Christianity and Islam religions?
Yes.
  • Are Christianity and Islam extremist?
They both threaten non-believers with eternal torture in Hell, and they have both throughout their history killed untold people who refused to submit to their beliefs. They both believe that they possess the moral code by which everyone should live. They both believe that their religion is true and all others are false and that there is no room for compromise, so yes, their views are definitely extremist.
  • Are Christianity and Islam false beliefs?
Yes, no doubt there. At the very least you must agree that one is false, and you must also accept that the majority of the world's population asserts that your religious beliefs, whatever they are, are false. If you are a Hindu, Jew or Buddhist you will agree that both Christianity and Islam are false.
  • Do Christians and Muslims live in an unconventional manner?
The majority don't, since the religious majority live their lives for the most part as if they weren't religious, and only occasionally exhibit unconventional behaviour, for example, when they attend religious services. They swear and fornicate and watch pirated DVDs during the week as if there was no god, but for a brief time every week they do lapse into unusual behaviour, talking to invisible beings and taking on a pious persona. However their religious leaders and those that follow their religious beliefs most rigorously do indeed exhibit unconventional behaviour a large part of the time. Looking at Christians, is it normal or conventional to alight from a plane and drop to your knees and kiss the ground as the Pope always does? Especially since if his God really existed he should be the last person worried that it might crash or be surprised that he has landed safely. Is it conventional for a man to remain a virgin and only hang out with other men, and children when they can, while wearing what looks like a frock and a silly hat? Is it normal to talk to imaginary friends and beg for favours from fairies in the sky? Is it normal for men and women to confess their most intimate sexual experiences to an elderly male virgin in what resembles a closet, and for married couples to even to seek sex advice from this virgin? Is it normal for humans in the 21st century to believe — contrary to all the evidence — that the world is only 6,000 years old, that humans were created from dust and a rib in an idyllic garden, and that having sex in anything other than the missionary position causes physically and mentally deformed children? Is it normal or acceptable to kill homosexuals and abortion doctors and persecute atheists? This behaviour from some devout Christians is not following the conventional norms of society. As for Muslims, is it normal, especially in hot desert countries, to refuse food and water from sunrise to sunset for an entire month every year? Is it normal to stop whatever you're doing and prostrate yourself towards the distant birthplace of your religious leader five times a day, praying to a god in a language that many don't even understand? Is it normal to expect Muslims to make expensive pilgrimages to the leader's birthplace just to throw stones while cursing an invisible demon? Is it normal to fly planes into buildings? Is it normal to force women to cover their bodies from head to toe just because you can't control your own erotic thoughts? Is it normal to kill your daughter if she dresses inappropriately or has sex outside a marriage you arranged for her? Is it normal to physically mutilate the genitals of boys and even sometimes girls?
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.
  • Do Christians and Muslims follow the words of an authoritarian, charismatic leader?
Yes of course, Jesus and Mohammed are the very epitome of authoritarian, charismatic leaders.

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.

  • Veneration of the leader: Glorification of the leader to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity.
You can't glorify a cult leader any higher than claiming he is actually God, as Christians do for Jesus. Their leader not only talked to God, as many religious leaders before and since have claimed, he thought he was God, or at least God's son. Christians are a little confused on this point, but they all agree on his divinity. Other venerated cult leaders would include Mohammed and Buddha. At least Muslims didn't claim Mohammed was God, but even so, any apparent slight on his name will result in a death sentence. Christians also used to execute people for perceived blasphemy but thankfully the law now stops them in most circumstances. Modern venerated leaders would be the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Brian Tamaki, and until just recently, the god of golf, Tiger Woods. Woods, like Catholic priests, fell into the trap of desiring forbidden sex with his followers, and like the priests, he has had trouble keeping all of them quiet.
  • Inerrancy of the leader: Belief that the leader cannot be wrong.
Again Jesus and Mohammed are the perfect examples. No Christian or Muslim believe their respective leader was mistaken in what he proclaimed. Of course both Jesus and Mohammed actually claimed numerous things that we now know to be wrong. For example, Jesus (and Paul) claimed that the Second Coming would be in the lifetime of some of his apostles. Actually that was wrong. Over 2000 years later Christians are still waiting. And then there are those embarrassing bits that both Jesus and Mohammed believed actually happened, like the entire universe being made in six days, human life descending from the world's first nudist couple and a worldwide flood involving Noah and his boat load of strangely compliant wild animals. However the point is not whether a religious leader can be wrong. Of course they can be and are wrong on many things, but whether a leader can fool his followers and delude them into believing he cannot be wrong in anything he says. If you want a modern day example of a religious leader fooling not just a handful of followers but literally millions of followers, you need look no further than the Pope. He claims to be infallible in everything he says, and despite a mountain load of evidence to the contrary, the suckers still believe him and support him. The public shake their heads and wonder how a small-time cult leader can somehow convince a dozen or so gullible followers that he is infallible, and yet can't apply the same reasoning to the Pope.
  • Omniscience of the leader: Acceptance of the leader's beliefs and pronouncements on all subjects, from the philosophical to the trivial.
Again Jesus and Mohammed are the perfect examples, and no Christian or Muslim believe their respective leader was ignorant on any topic, even though in hindsight it is obvious even to intelligent young school children that their knowledge was sorely lacking in many areas. Yet Christians and Muslims believe they can determine everything from when the world was made and what sexual positions are permitted right through to what food we can eat and whether we can wear clothes made of cotton and polyester. These people have no need of anything but the pronouncements in their holy books, and often completely ignore or challenge, sometimes violently, the claims of outsiders, such as scientists, philosophers and secular justice systems.
  • Persuasive techniques: Methods, from benign to coercive, used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs.
Christianity and Islam are again the best examples. Both promise new members salvation and an idyllic afterlife, with Islam even throwing in 72 virgins and guaranteed free entry for friends and family members under certain circumstances. Both offer their followers supernatural protection and through the act of prayer, the granting of important and/or trivial wishes. Both threaten those that resist joining and current members that flout the rules with eternal torture in Hell. Only those that join and follow the beliefs of the group are safe, as Pope Benedict XII explains, 'We further declare that, as God has universally ordained, the souls of those who die in mortal sin descend into Hell at once, where they are tormented by infernal agonies.' Though uttered in 1336, since popes are infallible it doesn't matter which pope said it or when. In 1442 the Catholic Church added that it 'firmly believes, confesses, and proclaims that neither the heathens nor the Jews nor the heretics and schismatics will have a share in eternal life, but will enter the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels, if they do not join the Church before their death.' Islam threatens those that leave their religion with immediate execution. In Britain in the early 19th century it was evidently illegal not to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Not only the churches were coercing you into believing, but the state as well. Christianity is not quite as bad these days, saying you will still be severely punished for rejecting their leader, but only after you die. Both religions begin instilling this debilitating fear of offending a sadistic God from their first encounter with potential recruits, that is, in the cradle. Both religions convince their followers that any association with non-believers, be they followers of others religions or atheists, will taint their relationship with God and must be avoided where possible. Here is an example of Jesus explaining that if anyone — be they an outsider or one of his group — causes one of his followers to doubt his power or divinity or sin in some way then an eternity in Hell is guaranteed:
'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.

  • Hidden agendas: The true nature of the group's beliefs and plans is obscured from or not fully disclosed to potential recruits and the general public.
Neither Christians, Muslims nor Jews clearly tell the world that their real plan is for world domination, which will result in the subjugation or annihilation of all non-believers. Well actually some Muslims have started being honest about this of late. For most of their histories, Christians, Muslims and Jews have used violent means to work towards this domination, and while most have been forced to act civilly to others in recent centuries, some, especially Islamists, have returned to the ways of violence and carnage to further their religious goals. A perfect example of a hidden agenda is that of conservative Christians in the USA. They actively support Israel in their attempt to get the world's Jews to return to their homeland. What they fail to tell the rest of us is that they believe all Jews must brought together in one place so that God can then slaughter them and bring on Armageddon, the Rapture, the Second Coming and all that sort of end-time crap. They're not in this to help the Jews, their hidden agenda is to bring about the slaughter of the evil Jews and in doing so get themselves to Heaven. Nice, caring, compassionate Christians.
  • Deceit: Recruits and followers are not told everything they should know about the leader and the group's inner circle, and particularly disconcerting flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances are covered up.
Christians only quote Jesus saying fluffy things like "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27) and "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt 5:44). Failing to mention his more negative and harmful thoughts to their followers or potential recruits is nothing but deceit. They actively suppress the negative quotes from Jesus such as the following:
"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.

  • Financial and/or sexual exploitation: Recruits and followers are persuaded to invest money and other assets in the group, and the leader may develop sexual relations with one or more of the followers.
As for financial exploitation, the Bible, in Acts 5:1-11, tells us of a couple who sell some property and generously decide to donate most of the proceeds to the apostles. To cut a long and disgusting story short, God when informed of this by the apostle Peter kills first the husband and then the wife when she comes looking for her husband. God was extremely annoyed that the couple did not give ALL the money they had received for their own property to the church. He killed them so that their deaths would serve as a warning to others that the church wanted ALL of their money and assets, not just some of it or even most of it.

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.

  • Absolute truth: Belief that the leader and/or the group has discovered final knowledge on any number of subjects.
Again, no Christian or Muslim believes their respective leader and religion doesn't possess ultimate and final knowledge. Neither views their religion as merely an opinion, one among many. Neither believes that science might tomorrow show that their beliefs are utterly false, or indeed has already indicated this.
  • Absolute morality: Belief that the leader and/or the group has developed a system of right and wrong thought and action applicable to members and non-members alike. Those who strictly follow the code become and remain members; those who do not are dismissed or punished.
Again, every Christian and Muslim believes their respective religion possesses the one and only code for moral behaviour. They also believe that non-believers should also be held accountable to their moral code, and for most of their history those infringing this moral code were punished, sometimes by merely being expelled, but too often with torture and execution. In modern times Christians have been forced to forgo their barbaric punishments, but unfortunately many Muslims haven't. But Christians still try to influence non-believers. Look at the Catholic Church and their views on sex, marriage and divorce, genetic engineering, abortion, contraception, homosexuality and euthanasia? It's bad enough that they want to keep their fellow Catholics ignorant and compliant, but to have the arrogance that the rest of society should conform to their childish superstitions is nothing less than evil and totalitarian. Also remember their attempts to get a piece of art work involving a small statue of Mary and a condom banned, or their attempt to get an episode of South Park banned? Look at the USA where Christians are continually trying to get plaques of their silly Ten Commandments hung in courtrooms and classrooms. Christians believe that even non-Christians should obey their beliefs on the likes of not working on the 25th of December, the birthday of Santa Claus. Of course it's far worse to offend a Muslim. They believe that even non-Muslims should be slaughtered for drawing an image of Mohammed and that even non-Muslim women shouldn't expose their hair or neck, let alone wear mini skirts or bikinis.

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.

I would never want to be
a member of a group
whose symbol was a dead
guy nailed to two pieces of wood

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?

Does God speak to you?
Consider medication

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:

If I ever need a religion
I'll worship chocolate


Authors:   John L. Ateo,   Rachel C.
Copyright 2010, by the 'SILLY BELIEFS' website. All rights reserved.


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References

[1] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Third Edition copyright 1992

[2] The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia Copyright 1995

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Last Updated Jan 2010