Cult vs. religion: what’s the difference?
In this article, Fleischacker assesses the differences between cults and religions and determines if our definitions appropriately describe either of these groups. A strong backbone to the author’s thesis is the idea that time is a major factor in the development and growth of a religious following. To explain, he first recognizes that anti-social behaviour is a common trait for cults. Specifically, social acceptance is one of the many challenges new religious movements (NRM) like cults face during its stage of emergence. Without social acceptance and a novel factor connecting people’s interests, the likelihood of people spreading word and bringing more stability to NRMs is diminished. In comparison, established religions have shown the ability to dodge anti-social behaviour and strive and survive over generations without raising the attention of public authorities. In addition to this, the author notes the importance of familiar theological notions in ties to social behaviour. More established religions tend to have developed a common ideology that is not entirely new, but contains elements of older, already established religions which are identified as “shared vision or morality”. It is noteworthy that it is one thing to have strong and familiar theological notions paired with social following/acceptance, but it is another for groups to act together and to share a vision. Fleischacker believes that in order to withstand the test of time, this shared vision for the religion or group must speak to the social and economic situation of the people who choose to follow it. He argues that followers of religions have this shared vision while cults have an opposite “heretical” nature that inhibits their growth. Despite the logic in the points raised, the author does not recognize that older religions were all once NRMs facing many of the challenges that cults also face. In light of this, the most remarkable difference between a cult and a prospering religion is truly the ability to face the challenges and obstacles that come form the test of time.