“…if you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps ‘the’ religion; and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect; but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult.” Leo Pfeffer.
A humorous quotation, but one that is uncomfortably close to reality in light of the many recent incorrect media reports about Universal Medicine. Cults are claimed to be deceitful; they are claimed to be harmful to their members; they are claimed to be undermining values. Cults are claimed to be just about every bad thing in the book these days. It is often a label that people apply to a group they don’t like or understand; it is a derogatory and highly emotive term that carries numerous connotations. However, labels are ubiquitous in religious argument: cult, sect, apostate, pagan, heretic, antichrist… and so on. Call someone a name and you don’t have to refute their argument – it makes it easy to toss it aside as the workings of a potentially crazed mind rather than something that may be of value, truth and substance.
Why are there two separate words in the English language – cult and religion – that are understood by most to refer to two separate things? Calling new religions ‘cults’ is a very clever scare tactic used by the older religions in order to protect their market share. Christianity sees other religions that do not follow its version of doctrine as cults… so that makes all Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, followers of Islam plus all other religions, and thus a very large proportion of the population, cult members on those grounds.
The Roman Catholic Church for example has been around ever since Constantine. He was a Roman emperor who used Christianity, which was a small cult at the time, as a means to impose his belief systems on the bishops; so he promulgated the council of Nicaea and thereby gained control of the populus.1Now, over 1500 years later, people in Catholic churches today still recite the creed set down by Constantine.
Many people question the Catholic Church and other religions, seeing them as some of the biggest cults in the World today: they are viewed by many as man-made constructs which have the potential to lead millions of people astray. Religion in its current form has become divisive due to its many man-made and dualistic doctrines which continue to divide, separate and cause wars.
For many, unless you are a believer in a faith, there is often no difference between a religion and a cult. Just because there are two words for something does not mean that they refer to two qualitatively different things. When does a bush become a tree? Does it matter where the cut off point is?… both are green and leafy and essentially the same thing. Could the same then be applied for the words religion and cult? What defines one from the other – is it a matter of lineage, age, numbers and acceptability over something more modern with smaller numbers and more innovative or challenging concepts? Many common religious terms lack a generally accepted, single, current definition; this leads to confusion over the meanings of certain religious terms, such as Christian, cult, hell, heaven, occult, Paganism, salvation, Witch, Witchcraft, Universalist, etc. A reader must often look at the context in which the word is used in order to guess at the intent of the writer.
One of the most confusing and dangerous religious terms is “Cult”. The word is derived from the French word “culte” which came from Latin noun “cultus.” The latter is related to the Latin verb “colere” which means “to worship or give reverence to a deity.”2 Thus, in its original meaning, the term “cult” can be applied to any group of religious believers. However, the term has since been assigned new and very different meanings. The original meaning of “cult” remains positive; more recent definitions are neutral, negative, or extremely negative.
Theological usage: The Oxford English Dictionary defined “cult” as:
“worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being or beings”
“a particular form or system of religious worship; especially in reference to its external rites and ceremonies”
“devotion or homage to a particular person or thing.”
This is the historical meaning of the word, but is rarely today heard outside of religious circles.
Sociological usage: A small religious group that exists in a state of tension with the predominant religion. Hinduism might be considered a cult in North America3; Christianity might be considered a cult in India.
General religious usage: A small, recently created, religious organisation which is often headed by a single charismatic leader and viewed as a spiritually innovative group. A cult in this sense may simply be a new religious movement on its way to becoming a denomination. The Christian religion, as it existed in 30 CE, might be considered a cult involving one leader and 12 or 70 devoted disciples as followers.
Negative meanings: Any religious group which deviates from historical Protestant Christian beliefs is seen as a cult. This definition would include mainline and liberal Christian denominations, Islam, Hinduism and all of the other religions of the world. The vast majority of humanity would belong to cults, by this definition.
Very negative meaning: Popular media usage: A cult is considered a small, evil religious group, often with a single charismatic leader, that engages in brainwashing and other mind control techniques.
There are those who provide lists of what cults do which is criminal, antisocial or just bad; be it heretical beliefs, brainwashing, authoritarianism, involvement in political intrigues, financial skulduggery and/or sexual perversion. The problem here is that there is no behaviour found in the so-called ‘cults’ that cannot also be found in mainstream religions and in society in general.
From the above vastly differing and widely ranging definitions it can be seen that one person’s cult can be another’s true religion.
The label ‘cult’ has been used to disparage and sometimes to justify discrimination. No-one is likely to say that they themselves belong to a cult – what makes it a cult is that other people call it a cult. The Chinese have banned Falun Gong as an evil cult, while in England it is accepted as a variation of a qigong spiritual exercise. In Russia one finds the Catholic church described as a cult4; in Catholic Belgium a government report listed many Christian religions like the Quakers as cults,5 or rather, ‘sectes’ – the concept of a cult being reserved in the French language for more acceptable religions.
It is impossible to generalise about the characteristics of so-called cults – every generalisation can be refuted by at least some of their number. If someone holding a different viewpoint, belief or way of life makes them a cult member, then every person on the planet belongs to their own cult. When we allow and accept groups of people with similar ways and ideologies as being labelled “cult”, instead of for example, a spiritual group or new religious movement, the implications are far reaching and even damaging. The members of that group then have to justify and defend their position, way of life, beliefs and all that they represent. Throughout history new religions have been treated with fear and suspicion – they are, after all, challenging the status quo with their new beliefs and practices. Early Christians were thrown to the lions, Cathars were burned at the stake, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were gassed at Auschwitz. Thus one might argue that unpopular religions can be discriminated against with relative ease throughout the world when they are labelled, and thus made into, “cults”.
The label ‘Universal Medicine cult’ has been incorrectly applied by the media to describe an organisation that teaches of deep self-care, gentleness, equality and love. If love is a cult so be it – as stated above, one person’s cult is another’s true religion. And thus for many who have experienced Universal Medicine there is only one cult that is worth something and that is the cult of Love – an equal love for humanity, for self and for God.