What is a cult?

This can be difficult or easy to determine depending on what definition you use.

http://www.cultfaq.org/ gives the following definition:

Nowadays the term 'cult' has a variety of meanings, as evidenced by this dictionary entry:

* formal religious veneration : worship
* a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
* a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
* a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator

a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

Some groups thought of as cults include: The Church of Scientology, though this is trying to become more mainstream by recruiting high profile media celebrities, also such groups as: David Koresh's Branch Davidians, Shoko Asahara's Aum Shinrikyo, or Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. http://www.cultfaq.org/cultfaq-cult-definition.html

This site also says:
...while Mormons profess to be Christians, they are outside orthodox Christianity and the Mormon Church is considered to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity.
Source: Mormon Church, Apologetics Index entry
Here the term 'cult' is used to indicate that the group in question has separated itself from the mainstream religion it claims to represent. (In this case, given that the theology and practice of the Mormon Church violates essential Christian doctrines, Mormonism does not represent historical, Biblical Christianity, is not a Christian denomination, and is not in any way part of the Christian church.) Mormons however are also trying to enter mainstream religions and have good publicity and emphasise the name of their Church as The Church of Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ (or LDS for short) and their emphasis on being followers of Jesus albeit with a slightly different theology to mainstream Christianity. Mainstream Christianity is itself split between Catholics and Protestants and many different groups within those broad spectrums.

The word cult has overtones of 'brainwashing' and has negative connotations, especially to those people who have found themselves caught up in a group against their will and forced to enter into practices that they do not agree with.

People who enter into a group such as a new religious movement of their own free volition would not call themselves members of a cult. It is only people who are outside the group and sometimes better able to see what is going on more clearly as they are distanced from it. People in the group may see it as 'their family' and 'their support' and even 'their salvation'.

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