Is there really a difference between a religion and a cult other than size and social acceptance?

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Depends on how you define both...

Is Buddhism a cult? Its both a religion and a philosophy if I remember it right. There are a few eastern religions that don't have god(s) at their center, more a set of moral ideals. I wouldn'
t consider them cults.

But I will agree for a lot of main stream organized religions the line is extremely blurry... some of them 50 miles of blurry.

A very common definition in the sociology of religion for cult is one of the four terms making up the church-sect typology. Under this definition, a cult refers to a group with a high degree of tension with the surrounding society combined with novel religious beliefs. This is distinguished from sects, which have a high degree of tension with society but whose beliefs are traditional to that society, and ecclesias and denominations, which are groups with a low degree of tension and traditional beliefs.

According to Rodney Stark's A Theory of Religion, most religions start out their lives as cults or sects, i.e. groups in high tension with the surrounding society. Over time, they tend to either die out or become more established, mainstream and in less tension with society. Cults are new groups with a novel theology, while sects are attempts to return mainstream religions to what the group views as their original purity.[10] As set out by Stark and Bainbridge, the term "cult", is used distinctly among the general definitions, and is closely related to the historically changed definitions of "sect." In this contemporary view, a "sect" is specifically "a deviant religious organization with traditional beliefs and practices," as compared to a "cult" which indicates a "a deviant religious organization with novel beliefs and practices."[18]

Since this definition of "cult" is defined in part in terms of tension with the surrounding society, the same group may both be and not be a cult at different places or times. For example, Christianity was by this definition a cult in 1st and 2nd century Rome, while in fifth century Rome it became rather an ecclesia (the state religion). Similarly, very conservative Islam could constitute a cult in the West but also the ecclesia in some conservative Muslim countries. Likewise, because novelty of beliefs and tension are elements in the definition: the Hare Krishnas are not a cult but a sect in India (since their beliefs are largely traditional to Hindu culture), while they are by this definition a cult in the Western world (since their beliefs are largely novel to Christian culture).

Today's cult is tomorrow's "mainstream religion Likewise just have enough immigration and what is considered a cult can become a "mainstream religion".
The Pope, Mary...
The size and the social acceptance create the difference, I think.

When you get a larger group and more social acceptance, then the group moderates its position. You get to the point when you have a state religion in a very pluralistic society, where the supernatural beliefs begin to peter out and it just becomes a social club (this is really based on sociological definitions of different states of religion).

So I mean, when you look at's much more "open" than smaller, religions.
And doesn't the word cult have a negative connotation? Nobody would say they belonged to a sounds illegitimate. Like somebody else mentioned, cults are distinguished as socially deviant subcultures and not mainstream to the major values of the society in question. Satanism is a cult. Wicca is a cult.

A religion has a more "legitimate" and established placement/dominant status. Sects are the "break-away" segments that form their own church communities but maintain some of the same doctrines as the dominant "parent" religion. Size and wider social acceptance are important factors...important differences.
There's no difference. You may think that the Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl are different - but they're still both grid iron. Nutjobs are nutjobs - its just a matter of degree.

Mojo: And doesn't the word cult have a negative connotation?

Of course it does. The majority can't live without a minority to feel superior over. Its basic human stupidynamics. Just as if astrologers and wiccans were in the majority, xtians would be a cult. In fact they were for several centuries when they began.
The Mormonism from which I have escaped, definitely fits the bill. There's a list floating around out there, of "17 hallmarks of a cult" or something. The Mormons have got them all. Authoritarian, top-down organization. Slavish devotion to Dear Leader. Reading non-approved literature prohibited. Shunning of apostates and infidels. Secret, members-only ceremonies. Jargon and code language. Being told who you can associate with and who your friends will be. Requirement to disclose lurid details of your sex life to Dear Leader (or his representatives) in order to stay in favor, etc. etc. etc.

I'm not sure garden-variety Xtianity always counts as a cult -- I've been to some refreshingly open-minded churches (the UU's, one of the Methodist churches here in L.A. that's even -- shut up I know -- accepting of gays as full members in their congregation) that it would be unfair to label as cults, but as far as I'm concerned, the danger still lurks. Just because the bomb hasn't gone off, doesn't mean there isn't one in there somewhere.
*Ok,Scott.I gotta ask...What happens if you refuse to tell Deal Leader about your sex life?
You don't get any green jello.
Well, I personally didn't ever have to disclose about a *sex* life, since I was never married while in the church. I *did* have them ask me, during every interview with my mission president while I was on my bike-riding stint, if I masturbated. The first time I was shocked by the question and told the truth. (And got in trouble.) After that, I just lied. Until I started saying things like, "Look, if I'm not supposed to do that, why are my arms just >that< long?" (I wish I could say that was original, but I also don't know where it came from...) After that he stopped asking me about it.

Married couples, though, as a part of getting your entry card to the temples, get grilled about what they do in the boudoir. For awhile, they were weird about oral sex, I heard, much to the dismay of every married couple I knew back then. Apparently they did get right down to the nuts and bolts (so to speak) of what those crazy married kids were doing if either one of them so much as blushed at the question...

Any organization that requires you tell your church leader about your sex life at all, as a condition to attending any meeting or ceremony, is a cult. On top of that, telling you what underwear you have to wear, all the time, and imply you should leave it on during sex, too. (Yes, many Mormons do.) Way to intrude as far as possible into peoples' lives, sheesh!
Nope. I'm taking a Intro to Sociology class, and they specifically state the only real difference is size and acceptance. *applause* Well, of course, there is the negative connotation of it, too. But that is an automatic. They are trying to get the term changed to "New Religious Movement" or NRM.




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