Paul Derengowski, ThM
When you think of the word “cult” what immediately comes to mind? Human sacrifices conducted by satanic priests in a secluded area where only initiates are privy to the spectacle? A coven of witches who gather on Halloween night to work their magick, casting spells to either invoke love or a curse? Typically those are the imageries, the “dark side,” which is why the concept of cult is often misunderstood. For not all cults involve human sacrifice and the casting of spells. In fact, those activities are in the minority. Cults and cultism actually has a “bright side,” which is frequently overlooked in our relativistic society which attempts to make what is wrong, right, and what is right, wrong. Of course that “bright side” is not really bright at all, but is an imitation that only fools those who have no objective basis for discerning the light of truth. More will be said about that below.
On the other hand, there are those who simply find the word cult to be meaningless. To them it is a form of rhetoric intended to demonize a certain group of people who have a system of belief that is essentially no different than anyone else’s. All people belong to cults, if those people happen to have a religious allegiance. Therefore, no one should even use the word, because it states nothing substantive or out of the ordinary. Such a conclusion, though, is short-sighted and helps to contribute to the relativistic milieu which provides a fertile ground for cults to breed. The word cult has a definitive meaning, depending on the context, and its use should not be forfeited simply because someone’s concept of cult has been blurred by societal influence that is guided by personal subjective preference rather than universal objective fact.
So, what is the solution to a problem that is either rooted in misguided ignorance or personal contradiction? One is to remember what a cult is by seeing it as an acronym. C.U.L.T. C stands for Counterfeit; U stands for Unorthodox; L stands for Lustful; and T stands for Tyrannical. If one will see a cult in those terms, then it should not be difficult to realize why the word can only apply to certain groups, at least in a theological sense, and why it is important to continue to use the label to warn people when they ask what a cult is and to whom it applies. That said, what is meant when a religious group is a counterfeit? Counterfeit of what? How would one recognize a counterfeit if presented?
Counterfeit of Cultism
A counterfeit by definition is an “imitation of something genuine so as to deceive or defraud.” It is a forgery, as some might see when coming into possession of a bogus Rolex watch or a phony twenty-dollar bill. Not all counterfeits are of the same caliber of quality, with some easier to spot than others. Depending on one’s familiarity with the real McCoy will also depend on whether or not one is taken in by the counterfeit claim. The whole modus operandi is geared toward deception with the express goal of taking advantage of the unobservant and naïve by getting him to buy into a cheap imitation at the cost of that which is real.
When applied to religion the genuine article involves the person of God as revealed in both the Bible and in His Son, Jesus Christ. Counterfeit religion attempts to “sell” a faulty image of who God and Jesus are at the expense of the soul. Again, some counterfeits are easier to detect than others. It simply depends on the level of sophistication coupled with an unwary individual or public. Those who know God, as revealed in Scripture, or the person of Jesus Christ through regeneration, are most easily able to spot fraudulent claims than those who know nothing, or next to nothing, about either. Jesus would call the counterfeits of today “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” because the first contact most people make with them is visual. It is the outward appearance that the cults often use to break down resistance. Great edifices are built and apparently wonderful deeds are performed for the world to see that the cult itself is either “Christian” or an obvious representative of God. Given contemporary culture’s infatuation with camcorders, YouTube, DVDs, and thirty-second video clips that too many believe is the news, it is ripe to accept such images as genuine, even though it is all a ruse. The wolves are living and breeding with relative ease amongst us, and very few are even aware of it, mainly because too many have succumbed to the idea that our senses—in this case, sight—are the standard of truth, not Almighty God himself. Yet, Jesus said to “Beware” of wolves in sheep’s clothing, not welcome them with open arms, because outwardly they look like one thing, but inwardly they are ravenous.
Unorthodoxy of Cultism
The word “orthodox” stems from two Greek words: Ortho, meaning “right,” and dokein, meaning “to think.” Hence, to be orthodox simply means “to think right.” Implied is the idea that a standard exists whereby right thinking can be accomplished when one’s thought process is aligned with what is true. Truth, in other words, is absolute and not relative. When applied to the things of God, that standard is, once again, the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. To know the Bible and to Jesus is to understand the standard that God is set forth to understand truth and engage in “right thinking.” Implied is the reality of absolute truth. Jesus said, “I am…the truth.” Therefore, any religious ideology which does not measure up to God’s revealed standard only leads to wrong thinking or unorthodoxy. Any religious claim which does not point to Jesus as the final source of objective truth is a lie.
Those in the cults often like to portray their cult of choice as the sole representative of truth, but because of its denial of God’s Word, the Bible, as inerrant and fully authoritative in matters pertaining to faith and practice, or of Jesus being something less than God incarnate, such a portrayal can only end in self-refutation and contradiction. The guru or leader becomes the final spokesperson of the truth and his movement is the alleged “restoration” of something that biblical Christianity has forfeited through some kind of moral, physical, or spiritual neglect. By the time the guru or leader completes the implementation his unorthodox doctrine, everything that was revealed by God via His book, the Bible, is undermined, denied, or distorted. The cult becomes “God” or God’s kingdom on earth, with the cult leader bowed to as His undeniable mouthpiece. Those who fail to acknowledge the cult are destined for hell, for it is believed that no one can enter the portals of heaven without belonging to the cult as their “savior.” Such is the final result of Unorthodoxy.
Lustfulness of Cultism
Aberrant religions are notorious for their aberrant views on sex. Sex between a husband and his wife for the physical, moral, and spiritual enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as for the propagation of the human race, are the norms in God’s eyes. Those who act outside those norms, sexually, not only do damage to themselves in all the same ways as mentioned before—physically, morally, and spiritually—but to those with whom they carry out their acts of perversion. God’s warning regarding illicit sexuality are rife, and those who choose to ignore them, or simply rewrite the perversion to make it the “new norm,” are only setting themselves up for a lifetime of heartache, loneliness, and despair.
It is not uncommon, though, to pick up a newspaper or query through news articles on the Internet, to witness how those in the cults use sex to either manipulate membership or con those outside the group to join. The recent trials involving the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints under the guidance of Warren Jeffs is a classic example of the former. Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence for sexually molesting two young girls, with the high probability that others were molested as well. Several of his male followers have been convicted of like crimes for following their “Prophet.” The Children of God cult and “The Family” are classic examples of the latter, as females of those two groups used sex to entice men to participate in the twisted fantasies of Moses David and Charles Manson. Other examples can be found in nearly every other cult which are sometimes seen as respectable, conservative, or peaceful religious institutions, whether it be Islam, Mormonism, or Roman Catholicism. Sexual perversion and cultism is nothing new, however, as even the Apostle Peter warned that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned” (2 Pet. 2:2).
Tyranny of Cultism
A final trait of cult activity is the dictatorial nature of the leadership. At first such tyranny may not be evident, as the usual course of recruitment is more subtle, gentle, and loving. Typically the naïve or unwary are seeking answers to personal questions about life, whether it be about a new job, a marital decision, or heading off to school for the first time. The cult recruiter then contacts the person amid a life transition and befriends him or her. Special attention is shown concerning the person’s questions or concerns, and amazingly the newfound friend has all the answers that the inquirer needs. An invitation is extended, which often times is more of a high-pressure sales job, and the “seeker” attends the cultist’s place of worship. He gets to meet the spiritual leader and before long, with enough quasi-loving nurture, he becomes a member of the cult.
After the newbie officially becomes a member, then comes the demands. No longer are the concerns of the recruited a matter of conversation. Focus on what amounts to slave labor for the cult is all that matters. Rigorous indoctrination takes place whereby the new member, along with the rest of the members of the cult, are required to spend inordinate amounts of time being indoctrinated into cultic thought. Life revolves around one cult activity after another. Recruiting one’s friends and family members becomes a primary focus. Questions about that new job, marriage or divorce, or getting that degree all become secondary, or are shaped in a way to serve the cult either financially or by the recruitment of new blood. It is not uncommon for the new cultist to hand over to the cult one’s financial livelihood, thereby making the individual that much more dependent upon the cult for survival. When it is discovered that certain friends and family will not “convert” to the cult, then they will be considered to be uncooperative and expendable. A separation occurs where the brainwashed adopt a “me versus them” or an “us versus the world” mentality. Families and friends are divided, with some instances resulting in communication being cut off between the estranged parties. Failure to subscribe to the dictates of the cult, and more specifically to the cult leader, is dealt with in a variety of ways, whether through mind manipulation and overbearing guilt or physical punishment, which might include heavy labor, beatings and torture, or outright murder.
A Final Thought
Cult is not a bad word. It is a good word when used in the right way. It is a word that helps to identify those religious groups and people who wish to place others in their servitude for all the wrong reasons. Cults ought to be avoided at all costs, no matter whatever benevolence on the surface they might produce to make them look like something wonderful and beneficial outwardly that is otherwise vacuous and deceptive inwardly. Cults are undeniable counterfeits, their doctrines are the product of wrong thinking, sexual perversity of one kind or another has been a historical hallmark, and they rule with an iron fist once all the niceties leading to recruitment have been accomplished.
Cult, on the other hand, is a word that many in the cults try to mitigate or render useless. To them it is an affront to call any religious entity a cult or a member a cultist. It is insensitive and “unChristlike” to use such pejorative language. It is mean and “hateful,” and the antithesis of Christian evangelism. Such rhetoric, though, is a subterfuge to take the focus away from the perversity which makes their particular cult a cult. Such thought-stopping tactics should be treated as such: a rhetorical trick that is common among those who would rather focus on a label chocked with meaning, once it is understood, than upon those qualities and characteristics which make the cult what it is.
Cults and cultism is not going to go away. They are going to be with us until the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, with more of them coming into existence as we see that day approach. One, however, does not need to become the victim of a cult just because of the proliferation of them. Ways to avoid cult recruitment are (1) Know your Bible. Do not just read it. There is a difference. Cults and cults do not like confrontation with those who know what God has said, and can defend it. (2) Be aware of one’s surroundings, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Moments in life when things seem desperate, dire, dizzying, or depressing are those times that the cultist is anticipating. The cultist preys upon weakness and indecision. Do not be caught off guard when the cultist comes knocking on the door. (3) Finally, make sure that you are a member of a church where sound doctrine (i.e. orthodox) teaching and preaching is emphasized. The cults have been called “the unpaid bills of the church,” and rightly so, due to the neglect on the part of so many churches to have failed emphasize the doctrinal health and welfare of its members, who then end up becoming a member of a cult. That does not mean that all churches have gone the way of apostasy. That day is coming, unfortunately. Until then, it will be incumbent upon you to find a biblical sound church, if you really desire a relationship with God and also want to avoid cult recruitment.
God bless you in your understanding of the C.U.L.T. May you walk in the freedom of that understanding and warn others about them in coming days. Further questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.