The senseless tragedy in Waco Texas in 1993, which involved the burning of the Branch Davidian compound and the deaths of cult leader David Koresh and many of his followers, sent shock waves all across the United States and abroad. No doubt many preachers made this event the central feature of their Sunday sermons, denouncing the cult and its leader for straying from the “true path.” One question they will never honestly address, however, is this: Just what is the difference between a “legitimate” religion such as Christianity and a cult? An objective examination will show that the two are, for all intents and purposes, identical. While not all cults fall under the category of religion it is clear that all religions do indeed qualify as cults. Preachers, those self-serving “men of god”, are utterly lacking in objectivity and are thus unable or unwilling to see that the very church they are serving would have, in earlier times, been called a cult. This is true of every major religion. A religion is simply a cult that has managed to attain a degree of success and/or acceptance among the general population; its essence rarely changes. Once a cult is able to gain acceptance among the general population, the much more palatable term of religion is bestowed upon it. No matter how bloody its history may have been, it is then portrayed as a positive, benevolent force in society, essential for the morality of its people. These values need to be re-examined.
All of the world’s religions started out as cults with a charismatic leader and a few dedicated, fanatical followers. For reasons of space, we will concentrate on just one of them, Christianity, since this is the dominant religious cult in our country.
Christianity’s origins go back two thousand years, to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Even the most cursory study of Roman history will show that Christianity was considered by the ancient Romans to be a cult. They thought it to be dangerous, just as our government viewed the Branch Davidians to be dangerous. History has shown the Romans fears to have been well-founded. Christianity’s early history illustrates the point that, once we understand some of the characteristics of a cult, this particular “religion” must be classified as one. A very dangerous (and insidiously successful) one to be sure, but a cult nonetheless. Here are some of the characteristics of a cult; the reader will readily see that Christianity fits into every single category:
First, there is alleged to exist some (conveniently) invisible “higher power” that has supposedly dictated his demands to the cult leader and/or his successors. The leader invariably claims to have a direct, personal, even speaking relationship with this power. The leader will sometimes even claim to have seen this supernatural entity, invariably described as god. The power is always all-powerful which serves to act as a deterrent to those who would dare question the leader. Also conveniently for the leader, his invisible power can’t be bothered to waste time conversing with anyone else but him. The followers must have complete faith in the claims of the leader. The Christian god is the “higher power” in both the early church and in all its subsequent offshoots, which include Methodists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and Branch Davidians. The only thing that makes these particular cults different is that the deity has supposedly revealed himself (or, re-revealed himself) to a different leader at different times, and made different demands of each.
Next, since this “power” is supposedly all-good, there must be a corresponding scapegoat figure representing evil. This allows the initiate to see the issue of good vs. evil in simple, black-and-white terms; if you are not for us, then you are against us. The evil figure represents the antithesis of the goals of the cult. Satan is obviously considered to be the primary evil force in Christianity and many Christians to this day believe that he has agents here on earth. Anyone acquainted with the fundamentalist Christian community in this country will recognize these who these “agents” are: atheists, secular humanists, feminists, homosexuals and lesbians, liberals, and so on. Anyone who has the temerity to question the cult or its leader in any way is rapidly included in this group. It is not hard for the brainwashed follower to imagine more and more of these “agents” in the secular world. Consequently, these followers tend to withdraw more and more from the outside world into the comforts of the cult where all the answers to life’s problems are provided. We see this in Christianity with monks and nuns, whose self-esteem is so wrecked by dogma that they withdraw into monasteries and convents to escape confronting the secular world. Plunging deeper and deeper into the cult, many followers soon find themselves unable to function outside of it. At that point, they pose a danger not only to themselves, but to society as well.
Third, there is always a charismatic leader at the helm, one who gives orders which he naturally claims are not his, but were given to him by the higher power. This person is usually quite adept at psychological manipulation. Certainly Koresh was such a leader, but it doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to imagine the apostle Paul or any other of Christianity’s founders possessing the same type of personality. Paul, the real founder of Christianity (as opposed to the probably mythical Jesus Christ), is the author of so many of the dogmas subsequent Christians would attempt to live by. Few have bothered to ask why.
Fourth, there must be a hierarchy of power, with the cult leader at the top. While he may claim that his deity is above him lest he appear too all-important, his word is nonetheless law, not to be questioned. To do so is to show a lack of faith. If the cult manages to attain power over a given community, the leader and/or his followers may be able to exert strong spiritual and political influence on the laws of the land. Certainly, we see this today; the fundamentalist Christians have for all intents and purposes taken over the Republican party. At any rate, the concept of the “Divine Right of Kings” came about when certain power-hungry priests or shamen managed to gain total control over a given society. Naturally seeking to keep that power, they developed this hierarchical scheme of things, with, in descending order of importance, other church and community leaders, wealthy influential males, women, children, and slaves. In a stark testimony to the power of the church, this structure has been virtually ubiquitous in most societies until fairly recently.
Fifth, the cult leader must employ subtle psychological ploys if he wishes to attain power and to keep it. One of the most successful of these is the lowering of the convert’s self-esteem, called the “sin of pride” in Christianity. If the follower can be convinced that he or she is an unworthy sinner, and can be convinced that reason must either be rejected or else greatly reduced in importance, the leader is well on his way to forming a pliable individual that will unquestioningly serve him. Sexual drives, one of the most fundamental of human needs, must also be controlled. Self-esteem is further lowered when the higher power is presented, as he always is, as being all-good, since we mere mortals must pale by comparison to this supposed moral ideal. Guilt is a powerful tool that has been used by the Christian church for two millennia; this is re-enforced by the omnipresent image of Christ on the cross and the corresponding nonsense that he “died for our sins.”
Sixth, there must be a body of writings alleged to be sacred, either divinely written or inspired. The cult leader is usually considered to be the only correct interpreter of these texts, which are often confusing and contradictory. This confusion certainly benefits the leader since he will invariably claim to be able to correctly interpret the problematic texts. The Bible is a perfect example of this; were it not such a mishmash of contradictory and immoral confusion, there wouldn’t be all the conflicting Christian churches in existence. Invariably, the leaders interpret these varying texts in ways that serve their own needs. That this should be so easy to do should indicate that there is something inherently wrong with Christianity, for anything that can be so universally misunderstood and misused as Christianity has been cannot claim to be a cornerstone of truth. Christians often claim that “the devil can quote scripture,” avoiding the crucial point that he shouldn’t be able to, for if there were an all-good god, and he wanted to make his demands known to us, we should expect nothing less than a perfect communication from him. The various Christian sects conclusively proves that the Bible doesn’t even come close to being a consistent text. If indeed divinely inspired, it should be crystal clear and non-contradictory so that there could be no possible way of mistaking what god wants from us. It should be so clear that there would be no need of clergymen or other error-prone middlemen to interpret it for us.
These are only a few of the traits that characterize cults. There are many others. It is usually the case that once these cults attain a degree of success, they tend to lose some of their original doctrinal harshness. For example, few today would insist on stoning to death a son who talks back to his father, as commanded in the Old Testament. This process of moral evolution can take centuries to develop. We some of the original barbarity of Christianity in today’s Reconstructionists, who want to abandon our Constitution and make the Bible’s rules and laws the law of the land; stoning people to death is part of their ideology. These people, dangerously immoral though they are, represent the most consistent interpretation of the brutality inherent in scripture. Their beliefs illustrate Christianity at its most barbaric and clearly show the equivalency of religion and cultism.
We have seen how the trappings and methods of the cult of Christianity are thus demonstrably no different from those of any other cult. The only difference is that Christianity “won.” The true definition of religion is a cult that made it. Christianity’s victory over Western Civilization has hindered progress for two thousand years now, pitting humans against each other and against themselves, destroying countless lives and immeasurably retarding progress in the process.
Most people fear what would happen if a cult were to get out of control. Christianity’s brutal history demonstrates the reality of those fears.
- Secrets of Successful Mind Control, or How to Start Your Own Cult by Dr. Lee Carter. Published by Academic Associates, 1989
- Deadly Doctrine by Wendell W. Watters. Published 1992 by Prometheus Books
- Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith. Published 19889 by Prometheus Books
- The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad. Published 1993 by Frog, LTD
By: Jon Nelson