Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Are Mormons a Cult? Sure!! - For the Same Reasons Early Christians Were

The word "cult" refers generally to any system of worship, and by golly, we worship, and we've got a system, so I guess we're cultists. However, in popular use, the word has been given frightening overtones, and is thus a favorite term for our critics to use in describing Mormons. When critics tell me I belong to a cult (usually as a pleasant way to begin their conversation), I generally ask for their definition of "cult." Typically, the definitions they give would also condemn Christ and the early Christians as cultists. (E.g., a cult is "generally considered to be false by religious experts," [those Pharisees sure had a problem with Christ], a cult "has a dynamic leader that people follow," a cult "requires major sacrifices by the followers," a cult "has beliefs that differ from accepted mainstream views," a cult "introduces new scripture" - hey, anybody ever wonder why they call it the NEW Testament??) For more details, and a rebuttal of the common reasons for calling us a cult, see my Mormon Answers page, "Are Mormons a Cult?"

Some people are pretty surprised to find that their definition of cult would also condemn Christ and His disciples. When they know why we're asking for their definition, it's interesting to see how creative they can get in crafting a definition that nails Mormons without nailing early Christians, but these definitions become arbitrary, illogical, and unhelpful. Frankly, it all boils down to this: a cult is anything they disagree with, or more particularly, a cult is those darned Mormons and several other specific groups they disagree with, and that's just the way it is. Their use of the word "cult" is sometimes more about feelings than logic (sort of an anti-testimony). But for you who tell others that Mormons are a "cult," I'd like to challenge you to think more carefully about what you are saying. It's fine to disagree with us and engage in frank discourse, but the use of the emotionally-charged epithet of "cult" to scare the gullible may not be the most Christian way to deal with us. But a little name calling isn't all that bad, relatively speaking. Historically, we cultists have been through much worse.

4 comments:

Dave said...

To me, it seems like the use of the term "cult" has declined in recent years. Partly that's because serious researches have developed new terms such as "new religious movements," partly because the novelty of Asian religions has worn off, and partly because the higher public profile of the Church (generally positive) has simply outgrown the lable for the media and for most reasonable people.

Maybe there's a regional aspect to it. I suspect that in the Midwest and the South, where the Church is smaller and Christian denominations are strong, there is more cult-labeling that goes on than elsewhere.

Here's a response: Yes, we are the cult that specializes in Boy Scout troops, potluck dinners, and church basketball. Obviously a real threat to society.

Eric James Stone said...

In Italian, the phrase "servizi di culto" (literally "services of cult") is often used in the way we might use "church services": Our church services start at 9:00am on Sunday. The word "culto" did not have the negative connotations "cult" has in English.

Missionaries who were unaware of the above would sometimes have very confusing conversations with Italians.

Interested Italian: So, when are your church services (servizi di culto)?
Missionary: We're not a cult (culto)!

The Italian now thinks the missionary has denied that Mormons are a church.

Tony said...

In this sense, all Christian religions would constitute as cults, correct?

Anonymous said...

To compare the LDS sect to the inspired healing movement of the early Christian church is like comparing tar to apple pie. A sect which cannot heal or inspire spirituality and healing love in its patrons has no identification nor connection with the Master who set this example for his loving followers to emulate.