Cult

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Use of "cult" on this website

The term "cult" is an appropriate appellation for use in describing The Family International based on a compelling set of academic criteria that can adequately describe the group. These criteria are satisfied both theologically and sociologically.

Use of this word on this site is with the implicit understanding of the polemic nature of the term due to the pejoration and abusage of the word, rejection of the term by cult members (who often prefer "New religious movement" or "High-Demand Organization") and the definitional dispute these conflicts engender.

Charismatic Systems vs. Rational Systems

Sociologist Max Weber used an insightful spectrum to delineate between mainstream religion and cults based on characteristics that are useful replacements to common appeal to popularity (argumentum ad populum) arguments used when establishing such a definition.

His delineation was "charismatic" versus "rational" systems, arguing that cult belief was more frequently characterized by zeal deriving from being "caught up in the moment" and charisma than by intellectual persuasion.

He argued that in a rationalized system

  • People generally follow pre-determined rules and have expectations about how others will act and how the system itself will act.
  • Authority is derived from the system itself - those who are qualified have positions of power and obedience is given them on the belief that they should be followed because of the office they hold and because they would not hold that office improperly

He argued that in a charismatic system:

  • People follow an individual person because they believe that this person has a special status and special authority which transcends normal experience and normal expectations.
  • Obedience is given because a person is emotionally caught up in the moment rather than intellectually persuaded.

Pejoration and Abusage

The pejoration of the term is largely due to the following negative criteria often seen as prerequisites to cult classification.

  • Exploitative - The term is seen by some as describing an exploitative relationship between leaders and followers, with common exploitations being financial or sexual.
  • Excessive - Equally pejorative and more ambiguous is the perceived requirement of an "excessive" quality in belief, practice or devotion. This quality is sometimes referenced in the term High-Demand Organization.

Common Cult Characteristics

Here are some characteristics commonly associated with cults.

  • A charismatic leader, who often becomes an object of worship
  • Coercive persuasion or thought reform
  • Authoritarian
  • Exclusive, encouraging members to shun fellowship with non-members and social institutions
  • Fervor more than an orthodoxy
  • Economic, sexual, or other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie
  • Infallibility, the beliefs are the sole path to salvation and rejection results in exile
  • Identified with the disinherited
  • Relinquishment of possessions
  • Communal societal structures
  • Demonization of those who leave more so than those who never joined
  • Transcultural
  • Deviance from a mainstream religion
  • Sometimes ascetic or otherworldly
  • Often lacking clergy for an extended period
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