Is Your Religion is Just A Popular Cult

A Religion is A Popular Cult — An Unpopular Religion is Just a Cult

What is the difference between a religion and a cult?  Let’s explore the differences.

A cult is a group that has beliefs that venerate and worship something or someone.  So, you can be involved in a cult even if it is not based on a religious ideology.  The cult of Trump ideology is an example.  That means every religion can be classified as just a cult on some level.

Every Major Religion Is a Popular Cult

Is the only difference between what people call religion and a cult the size of its membership?  What are the things we could use to measure and quantify the difference?  How about its monetary and real estate holdings and their contribution to society?

Are religions and cults at the opposite ends of a continuum of resources?  Or are there other more meaningful ways to distinguish between them?  Here is how some other thinkers see it.

“The only differences between a cult and a religion are the numbers of adherents and the degree to which they are marginalized by the rest of society.” —  Sam Harris

Could the measure of a healthy religion be how it treats those who aren’t members?  That would disqualify all those who promote genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious persecution.  The fact is the three largest religions all use these tactics to justify holy wars.

“The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.” — Frank Zappa

The Catholic Church is the winner if wealth is the standard between cult and religion.  It has holdings of land, precious metals, and art that comprise perhaps 30% of the total wealth on the planet.  They have their own country/state, the Vatican.

“A one-sentence definition of mythology?  Mythology is what we call someone else’s religion.” – Joseph Campbell

“A delusion held by one person is a mental illness, held by a few is a cult, held by many is a religion.” — Robert Todd Carroll

“A cult is a religion with no political power.” — Tom Wolfe

“Religion is a superstition that originated in man`s mental inability to solve natural phenomena. The Church is an orgainized institution that has always been stumbling to block progress.” — Emma Goldman

A dominant religion translates directly to political power because it can program the dominant cultural narrative.  It’s the reason politicians campaign as a member of a religion.  People vote for others with the same imaginary friend because that is important in determining leadership.

“I would say that Jesus Christ and his followers were a cult, Buddha and his followers were a cult, and Mohammed and his followers were a cult.  Every religion starts out as a cult and if it becomes ‘box office’, it is accepted.” — Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell

“The difference between a cult and a religion is one outlasts its leader. — Rakesh Khurana

The Similarity Between Cults and Religions

religion is a cult and a cult is a baby religion

So, what are the main similarities between a cult and a religion?  Most have five elements in common:

1.  A unique philosophy or ideology that they can call their brand
2.  Beliefs about the origins of the universe
3.  Ideas about what happens after you die
4.  Rules to align their beliefs with their social bias and prejudices
5.  The requirement to support the system with time and money

Religions and most cults focus on after-beliefs.  They capitalize on our natural fear of death, our existential fear.  First, they ramp up the fear of death by creating a place of eternal punishment in Hell.

But then they provide the solution, a beautiful eternal existence in Heaven.  Of course, there is a small price for this solution.  You must remain in “good standing,” which takes ten percent of everything you earn and own.  You must attend regular meetings to submit to continued indoctrination so that you can be used as a social and political tool.

Every cult has its version of how this process of “salvation” works.  It’s all about God sending you to a place of eternal torment unless you comply.  Understand that if someone threatens you unless you pay a toll or ransom, this is extortion, not salvation.  If the same God offering salvation is also threatening you with unspeakable torture, that is extortion.

“The profoundly cynical premise of all religionists is that people are not capable of behaving decently toward one another unless they are lured with promises of pie in the sky and simultaneously terrorized by the threats of extreme nastiness in the eternal afterlife in hell.” — Barbara G. Walker

The popular cult and the unpopular religion have a basis in superstition and mythology.  Both have doctrines and dogma.  The most popular beliefs all have some divinely inspired texts.  But texts also contain multiple inconsistencies.  These contradictions require explanations.  So, they hire salespeople, which they call preachers and priests, to help sort out the confusion.

The dilemma of textual inconsistency also provides an excellent financial opportunity.  Since there are inconsistencies, you can cherry-pick parts of their holy texts to create a new religion.  These inconsistencies lead to the growth of different denominations.

Today, there are over 6,000 major gods and 200,000 sub-classifications of religions (1), from one to several hundred imaginary friends.  Christianity alone now sports 33,000 sects.  If you belong to one sect of the Abrahamic tree, all the other sects are unpopular religions.  Of the 8 billion people on Earth, 4 billion belong to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  These are Semitic or Abrahamic religions (2).

If you ask the devotees of the Abrahamic religion if they think their faith is a popular cult, they would say no.  If you ask them if other religions are cults, they answer yes, including all other faiths.  Any different interpretation is a threat to their version.

It’s hard to change the hardline believer mindset.   You can’t use reason or logic and convince them of the facts.

“You can’t use reason to convince anyone out of an argument that they didn’t use reason to get into.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

It is possible to change the minds of some believers, but it takes a considerable investment of time and effort—months, sometimes years.  We have had good results with a method we call the unconventional approach.  One must first be accepted into the group to present evidence that contradicts their dogma.

Gaining acceptance means you’ll need to pretend along with them for a while.  Some hardline believers can become your best allies for truth once you get them to overcome their negative programming.

An Unpopular Religion is Just A Cult

What is a cult?  It’s a group of people that embrace beliefs regarded by others as outlandish, strange, sinister, or evil.  Of course, all Western religions fit this criterion.  What could be more extreme than eating the flesh and drinking the blood of your imaginary friend?

Their excessive admiration for a particular person or extremist views distinguishes them from the norm.  As more and more religions become extreme in their opinions, they morph into cult-like attributes and behaviors.

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” — Robert A. Heinlein

The characteristics of a religion and a cult are virtually the same.  The only distinction is the size of its resources, human and monetary.  You can see why people conclude religion is a popular cult.

If you are a believer, then an unpopular religion is any belief system other than your own.

Is your unpopular religion a cult

“For this remains as I have already pointed out the essential difference between the two religions of decadence: Buddhism promises nothing, but actually fulfills; Christianity promises everything but fulfills nothing.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“Systems of religious error have been adopted in times of ignorance.  It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates to maintain these errors.  When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws.  In this way, persecution became general throughout Europe.” — Oliver Ellsworth

“Religion is misunderstood mythology.” — Joseph Campbell

Any cult can become a full-fledged popular faith with the proper charismatic leadership.  As a cult becomes more widespread, it grows into a religion.  As it gains broader acceptance, it also gains more power to shape and influence the culture.

Unfortunately, most people do not choose their religious beliefs.  They are born into them and are victims of forced indoctrination.  People in crisis are also susceptible targets for indoctrination.  When you are in crisis, you will accept easy answers.

All it takes is believing what they tell you.  Most people don’t choose a religion because they have researched the system’s accuracy or validity.  It is an emotional decision based on social pressure and popularity.  It doesn’t matter if it is a fashionable cult or unpopular religion.  The young and those in need are still the most vulnerable to these tactics.

Religions are more vulnerable than ever.  Imaginary friends and enemies are increasingly undefendable in the world of science and reason, which is increasing.

“Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.  They thrive on servility and shrink before independence.  They feed upon worship as kings do upon flattery.  That is why the cry of gods at all times is “Worship us, or we perish.” A dethroned monarch may retain some of his human dignity while driving a taxi for a living.  But a god without his thunderbolt is a poor object.” ― Chapman Cohen

Religion is a Mind Game

Organized religion exerts its control over society by labeling and “demonizing” opposing worldviews.   If you don’t belong to their religion, you are given some labels to describe your position “in reference to” their religion.  You are a heathen, which means someone who doesn’t follow their religion.  So, it follows suit: they refer to you as a pagan, infidel, or idolator.  Because if you don’t follow their religion, you worship idols or imaginary enemies they call devils.

Or, worse yet, you can be labeled a heretic, a person practicing what they call heresy, an opinion that ignores and opposes their beliefs.  How dare you do that?  Speaking ill of their God is blasphemy because such language offends their imaginary friend.

Today, the term for unbelievers and non-followers is Athiest, which means “without God.”

This terminology is intended to demonize anyone who says anything bad about their beliefs.  The opposite of religion isn’t someone without God but a freethinker who walks their spiritual path.  It doesn’t mean without spirituality but without counterfeit spirituality of organized religion.  Joseph Campbell calls this adventure the Hero’s Journey.  (3)

You don’t need a religion.  All you need are the proper tools to assist you in this quest.  Here’s a simple list of resources to help propel your spiritual walk without religion.

Final Thoughts

Spiritual exploration does not require belief in any set or form of mythology or dogma.  Therefore, practicing these tools is often called a “path.” The goal of this path is to explore consciousness.  What you believe does matter.  Your beliefs have consequences.

Religion is a cult with social mass and popularity.  So, conversely, a popular cult is, therefore, a religion.   The problem is when you immerse yourself in groupthink manipulation, you can’t see the differences.  A cult is just a cult, no matter who you venerate or worship.  It’s a slippery slope that leads to extremist bias and religious prejudice.  If you ascribe to one of the sects of popular organized religion, you most likely can’t see cult-like thinking, values, and behaviors.  It all seems perfectly normal, but it is not.


(1) World Religions By Population, Wikipedia
(2) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
(3)  Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Wikipedia

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply