Religion is a sociological device used to protect its members, and it offers them a common system of belief. Religion, whether it is Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, or Hinduism is a set of commonly shared beliefs which bring many people together. Religions usually teach a code of morality with an emphasis on a higher supernatural entity. They give examples and role models for people to follow. Religion, although having nearly the same definition as a cult, has a positive connotation.
Society alone has defined these connotative differences between cult and religion. The word, cult, has a negative connotation which reflects the rejection of the populace in which it exists. The word cult is often used to express disapproval of a scorned religion different from one’s own. A cult is defined as; “…a system of religious worship…” or “…a creed or sect…”(The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language) While the dictionary definition of religion is, “…man’s expression of his acknowledgment of the divine…” or “…a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred and uniting its adherents in a community…” (The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language) The two words are synonymous by definition, but the ways in which they are used contrast because of their differing connotations.
Once a group is labeled a cult it is subjected to some form of prosecution. One group will attack another, either because they simply feel they are right and the other group’s belief system must therefore be wrong. The group becomes an outlier and is banished, censured, or ostrasized. When labeled a cult like the branch Davidians of Waco, Texas the group is subject to infiltration and forced collapse. Only the connotations differentiate these two words from one another.
October 9, 1996