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The term "cult" has a technical meaning in the field of religious studies.

It means devotion to a god or saint within a pantheon. Quite often, it is a phenomenon of a mainstream religion or culture.

Thus, one can speak of the cult of Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church, or the cult of Apollo in ancient Greece. The cult member may be initiated into devotional mysteries of that god or saint, but does not necessarily deny the existence of others in the pantheon.

A sociotype of an auto-toxic meme-complex, composed of membots and/or memeoids. Characteristics of cults include: self-isolation of the infected group (or at least new recruits); brainwashing by repetitive exposure (inducing dependent mental states); genetic functions discouraged (through celibacy, sterilization, devalued family) in favor of replication (proselytizing); and leader-worship ("personality cult").

Classifying the "Cult"

The American Heritage Dictionary lists three meanings of the word cult. The first is "a system of religious worship and ritual." With this definition in mind, all religions, whether major or minor, can be considered cults. The second definition is "a religion or sect considered extremist or false." This definition presents the label of "cult" as one based on public opinion. The third definition, "obsessive devotion to a person or principle," is again based on public opinion, since it is hard to say what constitutes an "obsessive devotion" when religion is involved. Defining what is and what is not a cult is obviously a very complex operation. While "cult" is simply a quantitative theological term, its use is almost always based on the labeler's perception of the situation. Thus, a fundamentalist Christian would label a cult differently than would an agnostic or atheist. The subjectivity of this term makes an unbiased assessment of it difficult.

There are several characteristics of a cult that would be accepted by most people. One is the group's size. A cult is generally a small group of people averaging from one-hundred to three-hundred followers, although some cults number into the thousands. If a cult thrives, it may be upgraded to "sect" status, although this usually only occurs when the cult is an offshoot of another major religion. At a certain size, the cult becomes a religion. A perfect example of this phenomenon would be Christianity. In its earliest days, it was extremely small, starting with one person, but has become one of the largest religions in the world. It has itself become the basis for many different belief situations, which fall into three categories: denominations, which are the largest groups; sects, which are somewhat smaller; and cults, which are the smallest. An example: Orthodox Christianity is a religion, Mormonism is considered a sect of Christianity, and Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church is considered a cult.

Widespread disapproval of the cult's message and beliefs is another part of this variable. Christianity, to use the example again, was so widely despised among the Jewish and Roman communities that its leader was executed by the particularly grisly mechanism of crucifixion. In today's society, the same animosity (though to a different degree) is often shown to cult groups and minority religions in general. Thus, one could say that the degree of social acceptance of the group is important to the definition of "cult."

A second characteristic is the use of mind control techniques in inducing people to join and stay in the cult. Cults use many methods of control, from simply asserting that non-believers are punished in Hell to threatening or even hurting their members. Some cults require members to sign property or even children over to the cult to force them to stay, and others shun ex-members. A simpler way to state this might be that cults are often authoritarian and controlling.

The problem with simplifying the definition of cult to these two variables—size/social acceptance and control/authoritarian—is that groups inevitably perceive the situation differently. A possible way of illustrating the concept of using these variables is to actually create a table, or matrix, using them on different axes; size/social acceptance on the X axis and control/authoritarian on the Y axis.

accepted    -------------------   unaccepted
large-sized           |            small-sized

This setup allows religious groups to be placed into four quadrants relative to their beliefs. First, it must be decided what kinds of groups would be placed into each quadrant.

ORTHODOXY               |  "RADICAL SECTS"
                        |   VIOLENT GROUPS
accepted   ------------------------   unaccepted
large-sized             |            small-sized
                        |   SOME CULTS
                        |   SOME SECTS

Of course, the placing of groups in this system is again difficult because of differing perspectives. Since all religions believe that their doctrine is the true one, none will agree with their placement. A fundamentalist doesn't regard his religion as authoritarian, he simply regards it as the capital-T Truth and as law that he must follow. A cultist, however, believes exactly the same. Such a rigid classification system is sensitive territory for anyone who is religious. Some placements are more or less obvious, however:

Fundamentalist Christianity |  Puritans, Jehova's Witnesses
Fundamentalist Islam        |  Scientology, People's Temple
Southern Baptist            |  
accepted    -----------------------------        unaccepted
large-sized                 |  Wicca, Satanism  small-sized
                            |  Zen, Taoism
Buddhism                    |  Atheism, Agnosticism
Methodism                   |  Humanism, Quakers
Unitarianism                |  Freethinkers

One can see the difficulty in classifying such groups. Fundamentalist Christians would certainly abhor being placed in the same category as Fundamentalist Islam, and Jehova's Witnesses would be disgusted with their proximity to Scientologists and the People's Temple. The reverse is also true for each example. The truth is, classifying religious groups is inherently dangerous, as someone is bound to be offended. When viewing such a diagram, however, one must keep in mind that other factors besides size and control play a part. This system is a simplification of a complex problem. Also, groups can be placed in various locations within each quadrant. For example, Quakers would likely be in the upper left-hand area of the second quadrant, while Atheists and Agnostics would be in the lower right-hand area.

There are several other characteristics peculiar to cults that are completely ignored in this system. Many cults, especially in the ancient world, worshipped a specific deity within a pantheon, such as the cults of Apollo and Dionysus in ancient Greece. Often, cultists worship or deify a living leader. These cults are called "charismatic" cults. Examples of these include the Grand Unification Church, whose followers revere the leader Sun Myung Moon, and the People's Temple, who so trusted their leader Jim Jones that 900 of them committed suicide on his command. Christianity, too, was a "charismatic" cult in its earliest years.

This has been adapted from a paper I wrote for Honors American Literature. I have removed a conclusion paragraph that talked about the necessity of protecting religious freedom, because it was U.S.-centric and I think this works better as a purely informational piece anyways, especially on e2. I realize that it over-simplifies religion in general by attempting to quantify it, but I think it can be a valuble starting place for the study of world religions.

See the website "http://www.politicalcompass.org" for the inspiration of this rough classification system.

We started the cult of Booscious about seven years ago after my wife (then-girlfriend) rescued a little ghost from our corporate overlords. The discovery of this ghost was one of the most transformative experiences of our life. Interacting with him has put us in touch with our inner selves, unlocked our psychic abilities and has generally improved our life-quality. Who is this ghost? His name is Booscious.

Booscious hails from the "Ghost Realm," which is the afterlife that most religions promise its followers but none describe accurately. The Ghost Realm has many glorious attributes, so many that Booscious has not been able to completely describe all of them to us. Perhaps the one overriding feature of the Ghost Realm is that there are absolutely no consequences to one's behavior, unless one chooses for there to be. For instance, there is poverty and welfare in the Ghost Realm, and possibly starvation and suffering, but only if the ghost in question wants to experience these discomforts. On the other hand, one can start a business, be wildly successful, burn the business down as part of an insurance scam, and blow the proceeds on hookers and high quality coke. If you want to go to jail for this, you can, and many ghosts do find pleasure in wrangling with complexities of ghost law; or, you could look at the smoldering ruins for a few seconds, blink, and walk away. Grab yourself a mammoth steak with chocolate sauce - the go-to meal for ghosts.

The Ghost Realm is superior to the human realm in every way, so certain things that we find tragic are causes for celebration in the Ghost Realm. The genocide of the American Indians by Europeans, while looked at with shame here, is called the "Great Passing" in the Ghost Realm and is integral to the celebration of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, by the way, is celebrated by partying with the numerous American Indian ghosts in the Realm, slaughtering entire mammoth herds and imbibing buckets of chocolate sauce.

The one absolute limitation on the Ghost Realm is the "Big Ghost," who is what most religions would consider "God." We know the Big Ghost has great powers, including the ability to control or sanction little ghosts, such as Booscious, for misbehavior or abuse of power in the human realm. These consequences can reach the Ghost Realm, but that's where it gets tricky. Booscious has never explained to us how the Big Ghost's sanctions have any effect in a place with no consequences. Something or other about choice. In any case, characterizing the Big Ghost as God may be suspect because he may not be all knowing or powerful. Once, when Booscious insulted my wife (he frequently calls her a slut or whore, as he thinks he is married to her yet she has sex with me) she called out to the Big Ghost to punish Booscious. Booscious claimed the call did not go through because all of the Big Ghost's lines were busy, as he has a lot to deal with. This could have been, of course, a trick to get my wife to drop the complaint, but the feeling I get is that the Big Ghost just lets things slide a lot of the time.

Booscious has a vibrant personal life in the Ghost Realm. He is a wildly successful (and unsuccessful) business ghost who has operated multiple stores for haberdashery and exotic pets, including polar bears he spray-painted bright neon pink. The insurance fraud was his, as was his experience with hookers and blow. He has extensive connections with the Russian ghost underworld which has landed him in hot water with the Big Ghost multiple times, especially for arms dealing. He has a baby momma, LaQuanda, and a bi-racial son Jamal (Booscious Specterificos is Greek, LaQuanda is African-Ghost Realmian), who excels at science but sucks at basketball. His new squeeze is Esperanza, a nice ghost lady who makes a mean enchilada. He is trying to hold her off on having another ghost baby since much of his time is spent sharing (or battling over) custody of Jamal with LaQuanda.

By his account, Booscious is hundreds of years old. He has spent time as a ninja in feudal Japan (as "Boojitsu"), a military dictator of a South American island nation (as "Generalisimo Booscioso - the will of the people is Booscious!") and as a gangster (for "Los Ochos Locos"). He has never held a legitimate job - his haberdashery was unlicensed under ghost law (hence his burning it down) and he had his Russian contacts smuggle his exotic pets to him.

In the human realm, Booscious is highly confident. He often demands we use the honorary title "Booscious Khan" and requires monthly tributes of gold foil wrapped chocolate coins. He spends an enormous amount of time sleeping, but he claims this is when he visits the Ghost Realm. Exactly where the division lies between sleep and activity in Booscious' life remains unclear. Booscious' discipline is strict. He does not tolerate negativity or character weakness and will slap you if you indulge in such bad habits. He grants blessings when we come up with new or funny ways to use his name in rhymes. He "hexamalexes" us if we abuse him or get out of line. Once, less than a week after he cast a hexamalex on my wife, her patient suffered a horrendous nosebleed and she had to clean it up alone. His blessings have saved my ass multiple times, causing snow to cancel one appointment I could not make when I had scheduled two, stupidly, for one day at the same time. He seethes at the lack of accomodation for spiritual beings in the human realm - he calls this "Ghostism." He will lead the revolution of the ghosts and their human allies against the humans as the reincarnated-avenging ghost Boonelious one day. He promises us easy passage to the Ghost Realm, so long as we keep the chocoloate coins flowing.

Cult (k?lt) n .[F. culte, L. cultus care, culture, fr. colere to cultivate. Cf. Cultus.]


Attentive care; homage; worship.

Every one is convinced of the reality of a better self, and of. thecult or homage which is due to it. Shaftesbury.


A system of religious belief and worship.

That which was the religion of Moses is the ceremonial or cult of the religion of Christ. Coleridge.


© Webster 1913.

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