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Shouldn't he have eaten a placenta by now?
February 11, 2007 4:44 AM   Subscribe

The Beginner's Guide to L Ron Hubbard. A surprisingly sympathetic look at the cultists everyone loves to hate. Or more specifically their slightly less crazy splinter church.
posted by mock (152 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I found this show offensive. The presenter clearly knows about the batshitinsane alien stuff, since he mentions it in passing towards the end of the show, but he does not begin to pursue it or give the audiences any specifics. Why? Because, it seems, he doesn't want to upset his new Freezone buddies.

Or, because he doesn't want to upset the main church, even though they refused to co-operate in the program. Although, if they'd realised how much of a pushover the presenter was, perhaps they would have done.

I don't care much about Freezoners, but I fear this show will help the main church continue to chew people up and spit them out.
posted by Arcaz Ino at 4:55 AM on February 11, 2007


I found it interesting because it is either a brilliant bit of propaganda, or an interesting take on what these people actually believe. They don't come across as any loonier than most religious people, and perhaps even less loony than some. Admittedly, he's dealing with the hippy-dippy wing of the church, not the mainstream orthodox version, so perhaps this makes them appear more sympathetic than they otherwise would. Either way it's a good look inside their heads that they're usually too paranoid to allow.
posted by mock at 5:07 AM on February 11, 2007


I thought it was great. Hardeep Singh Kohli is a thoughtful comedian not some hard-boiled investigative reporter.

I wouldn't have watched an hour-long documentary that took the usual LOL SCIENTOLOGISTS ARE STOOPID/EVIL tone. Similarly, OMG THE NAZIS DID BAD THINGS documentaries are hardly gripping.

Just because he didn't put on a serious face and say that they're crazy (well, thanks, Captain Obvious!) every five minutes doesn't mean the scientologists come out of it looking any better.

Also, bear in mind that Hardeep is being tongue-in-cheek/'taking the piss' in almost every conversation with them.
posted by matthewr at 5:57 AM on February 11, 2007


The thing I've always found interesting is that most Scientologists I've met don't even acknowledge that Xenu is a part of their belief system... and at first I thought it was because they were lying but later I realized that's not why. I have a few musician friends who are Scientologists... they are stellar people I adore -- as a rule we don't talk about religion to eachother. But the few times Scientology has come up and I've mentioned the whole Xenu thing, they just stared at me blankly as though I'd taken the whole volcano/thetan story out of a National Enquirer. They acted like they had no real idea what I was talking about.

The thing is, since the Xenu incident is supposed to be revealed at a very late stage of Scientology processing (they are told about it when they reach OT Level III), the vast majority of Scientologists don't even know about it. So, many Scientologists aren't even aware until years in that their church even HAS batshitinsane alien stuff. By the time they're told, they're deep in the middle of it & it's too late to turn around.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:00 AM on February 11, 2007 [4 favorites]


since the Xenu incident is supposed to be revealed at a very late stage of Scientology processing

Right before the spin cycle.
posted by three blind mice at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


So, many Scientologists aren't even aware until years in that their church even HAS batshitinsane alien stuff.

Of course, there's more than enough batshitinsane non-alien stuff to keep the normal sceptical mind boggling right from the very first personality test that they offer to the suckers on the street.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:17 AM on February 11, 2007


Who paid for this? Anyone know? They did a nice job - the photography and the production was excellent, impressive.

I just want to know who paid for the training, how much it cost, and who paid the travel expenses for the production crew.

I'd like to see an objective look at Scientology & Free Zone. I don't understand why its such a big deal at all if people want to do this. I know this well-done piece by a Scottish Indian Comedian isn't supposed to be "journalism" but what's missing is where Kohli tells us that he paid his own way. This had to be expensive to produce, and these trainings cost money.

If someone has an answer, I'll take it.
posted by mad_little_monkey at 7:29 AM on February 11, 2007


madmonkey, it's a Channel 4 program, so C4 or the production company or some combination thereof will have put up the money, I assume. C4 is a publicly-owned, advertising-funded broadcaster; there's no way Scientologists paid for this.

Here is the webpage accompanying the programme. There were two other Beginners' Guide programs (Islam and Hinduism), presented by other pop-culture figures in a semi-journalistic (depends how you define journalism, I guess) style.
posted by matthewr at 7:36 AM on February 11, 2007


Sweet, thanks matthewr!
posted by mad_little_monkey at 8:02 AM on February 11, 2007


Oh, that's just great. Another post poking at the most litigious cult in the Galactic Confederacy. Where do I click to donate to the Metafilter legal defense fund?
posted by breezeway at 8:17 AM on February 11, 2007


There is a Galactic Confederacy? I gotta start paying closer attention.
posted by MapGuy at 8:41 AM on February 11, 2007


Man, haven't seen so much sheer, concentrated crazy since the time I stole that nut truck and crashed it right into the loony bin.
posted by loquacious at 8:42 AM on February 11, 2007


Seriously. What the hell is this? "2D relations for sceintologiests"[sic]!? And this?

Why is Mr. Mentally Unstable Cultist almost always walking hand in hand with Mrs. Hideous Webmaster Gifs?
posted by loquacious at 8:49 AM on February 11, 2007


lol xientologists
posted by sourwookie at 8:57 AM on February 11, 2007


"Cultists" (Xenu.Net) has a link to the South Park episode about Scientology.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta, come out of the closet!
posted by notmtwain at 9:02 AM on February 11, 2007


It's a surprisingly thoughtful and entertaining documentary. Some of you folks who've already commented might consider watching it.
posted by ook at 9:22 AM on February 11, 2007


There's a great fun podcast on Hubbard here.
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on February 11, 2007


Not to rain on the "LOL SCIENTOLOGISTS ARE DUM!!!111" parade, but a) it really is quite rude to refer to a religion as a cult, and b) objectively speaking its no more foolish than any other religion.

Mainstream Christianity, for example, teaches that humans were spontaniously created from dirt a few thousand years ago, were kicked out of an eternally idellic garden due to the mechanizatons of a talking snake who got a woman to eat a magic fruit, and a few centuries later the big father figure in the sky flooded the planet because people were bad. They believe that if they're good after they die they will go live in a cube made of transparent gold.

Islam teaches that virtuous men, after they die will go to a paradise filled with women with regenerating hymens.

Hinduism teaches that after death people are reborn according to their behavior in this life, so if someone is low caste its proper to abuse them, after all they deserve it because of what they did in their last life.

How's Xenu more crazy than any of that stuff?
posted by sotonohito at 10:17 AM on February 11, 2007


The Scientologist belief in aliens is completely irrational.

They should calm down and start believing in virgins getting impregnated by a ray of light and then giving birth to a baby who, as an adult, will walk on water, bring people back from the dead, die, resurrect, eat some broiled fish then fly away in front of a lot of people, eventually disappearing into the clouds.

also, the Trinity demonstrates that 1=3

all these, unlike Scientology's, are perfectly rational, respectable beliefs.
posted by matteo at 10:19 AM on February 11, 2007


Forgot to add: As near as I can tell no one on the net really cared about Scientology until the church forced one of the anon servers to disclose. For that, I'm definately not fond of Scientology, but why not focus on that, the part that was actually bad, rather than just going around repeating Xenu jokes?

Anyone wants to bash Scientology for being asshats who broke an anon server, I'm with them all the way. People who want to bash Scientology for having weird beliefs, I'll point you to the beliefs of every other religion on the planet.
posted by sotonohito at 10:20 AM on February 11, 2007


Most religions are irrational. That's why they call it faith, I guess...
posted by miss lynnster at 10:26 AM on February 11, 2007


I watched the whole video. I knew nothing of Scientology going in -- except that it is trendy to make it the butt of jokes.

It looks a lot more like psychology than religion (yes, I realize the two can be related). I am to understand from the comments here that some religious stuff comes later. But based on this, it looks like a strict, well-organized self-help group. They look like AA with a variation of a lie detector test. As strange as what they are doing may seem to me, the contempt and fear that people feel toward them seems to me to be even stranger.
posted by flarbuse at 10:30 AM on February 11, 2007


As far as caring about Scientology, I've known about it for 20 years, long before the internet. I don't even know what you're talking about with the "anon server" thing. They dragged off of Hollywood Boulevard and talked me into watching a movie & filling out a questionaire in 1987. That was when I first started forming opinions & learning about them.
One of my oldest sisters almost joined the moonies (she ended up Fundamentalist Christian) so at a young age I was already able to recognize brainwashing procedures pretty quickly.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:32 AM on February 11, 2007


The Scientologist belief in aliens is completely irrational.

Irrational? Obviously, you've never made it through the whole of Battlefield Earth.
posted by three blind mice at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2007


Oh, and for those who don't know this... Scientology is not an exclusive belief system. You can be Christian or Buddhist or Muslim and still be a Scientologist on top of that. So you can believe in immaculate conception and loaves being turned into fishes... or you can believe that Allah is the only God and Muhammed is his prophet... AS WELL AS believing that giant H bombs fell on volcanoes to free Thetan spirits into clusters in the air that you have to eradicate by going through a progression of costly programs that will probably cost you your life savings as well as much of your future earnings. (That's what it cost someone I know who made it to OT VII. She spent her son's college fund on trying to "become clear.")
posted by miss lynnster at 10:42 AM on February 11, 2007


"Mainstream Christianity, for example, teaches that humans were spontaniously created from dirt a few thousand years ago, were kicked out of an eternally idellic garden due to the mechanizatons of a talking snake who got a woman to eat a magic fruit, and a few centuries later the big father figure in the sky flooded the planet because people were bad. They believe that if they're good after they die they will go live in a cube made of transparent gold."

well all that was from the old testament wasn't it - dumbass.
posted by vronsky at 10:52 AM on February 11, 2007


miss lynnster My comments weren't directed at you specifically, but rather at Metafilter and the world in general.

As for the anon server thing, it refers to the downfall of anon.penet.fi one of the earlier anonymous remailers. The church of Scientology brought its legal muscle to bear against the remailer after a user with the number an144108 posted all the Xenu stuff publically for the first time. The Church of Scientology based its claims on copyright law, specifically that by posting the Xenu stuff to the newsgroups the individual was violating their copyright.

That incident has caused a lingering dislike for Scientology among many net users, and appears to be origin of most of the really mindless Scientology bashing, which is why I mentioned it.

I'm not at all saying that Scientology shouldn't be bashed, just a bit tired of people who believe equally stupid stuff going about doing the "HUR HUR HUR, THEM SCIENTOLOGISTS SURE IS STUPID, AIN'T THEY" routine. You weren't part of that, so I'm not griping at you.

I was annoyed, right from the start of this thread, because mock called Scientology a cult. I'm an athiest, but I think calling a religion a cult is just diving into sheer mindless bashing for the sake of bashing.

vronsky No. Most of it was, but not all. And what's with the "dumbass" bit? In the first place, you are obviously uneducated about Christianity if you didn't recognize which bits were not Old Testamant stuff, and in the second place the Old Testamant is part of the Christian religion, if it wasn't they wouldn't keep it in their Bible. So maybe back off the "exposing my own stupidity and asshatery" casual insults hmmm?
posted by sotonohito at 10:56 AM on February 11, 2007


Huh. I never heard of that.

And here I thought that the big anti-Xenu outrage started when people heard of Scientology being sued for the alleged wrongful death/coverup of Lisa McPherson in 1995.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2007


I think you misunderstand the definition of a Cult, sotonohito.

One if the key aspects distinguishing a religion from a cult is the connection of money/donation with revelation. Even strange gnostic offshoots of Christianity don't claim to divulge the secrets of their theology only after a very, very expensive course of "audits" and "training" -- the criteria generally are such things as the completion of meditation and ritual.

Not so with Scientology. They have no program to get a poor person to Operating Thetan level without many years of expensive courses.

Another important distinction between a cult and a religion is the freedom to depart. Christian Cults (such as the International Church of Christ and their related groups) intentionally extract information during their indoctrination sessions that are used later as extortionate means to prevent members from leaving the church -- threats to publicly reveal the most humiliating "sins" of the victim are often effective. When I was a Christian, I left several churches over that time, for various reasons (moving, political issues), and never once was I put under any more pressure than being asked to reconsider my position. I was never told that whatever indiscretions I may have confessed to someone would be aired publicly, I was never threatened with eternal damnation for straying from the One and True Path. And I was never threatened that I would become "Fair Game" for both real and falsified aspersions on my character, never threatened that I would be slandered as a rapist, pedophile, or other deviant for leaving the Church, or divulging its secret theology.

Scientology also fits this criterion of a cult.

I think it would be very fruitful to understand that the distinction between a Cult and a Religion, sotonohito, lies in the details of tactics and membership strategies and not in whatever purported theology.
posted by chimaera at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2007 [4 favorites]


On a happier note... everyone mark March 10th in your calendar! IT'S XENU DAY INTERNATIONAL!!! Wooooo hooooooooo!
posted by miss lynnster at 11:20 AM on February 11, 2007


When I die, I expect to join Crom in a place dark and cold as clay, with no succour or reward for the feats of my lifetime; perhaps this is why I cling so much more tenaciously to the vibrant riches of this life than you Scientologists. The legal muscle I lack to make my cult a federally acknlowedged religion I make up for in brawn and steel. I'll steal the eyes of your Xenian princes and laugh as I dispatch your Thetan celebrities to the hell they tithe their fortunes to avoid.

Rude? By Crom, I'm a conqueror and a reaver; set aside your fat-land politesse and face my might!
posted by breezeway at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


posted by flarbuse I knew nothing of Scientology going in -- except that it is trendy to make it the butt of jokes.

That's because they should be mocked and made the butt of jokes, as often and as freely as possible.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:28 AM on February 11, 2007


There are lots of reasons people don't like Scientology, I'm sure. But I noticed a definate upswing in anti-Scientology rants following the shutdown of anon.penet.fi. I can't say that the stuff today is directly related, but the net is a great place to keep grudges going, and a lot of today's geeks got started on uunet back when it and emal were essentially all there was to the net.

All this is purely my POV of course, but prior to the anon.penet.fi thing I didn't see anything resembling the broad spectrum Scientology bashing we see today. Heck, even other religions routinely labeled as "cults" (the Mormons, the Unification Church, etc) don't get the same sort of bashing that Scientology gets. Mind you, Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah didn't help 'em much, but still...

chimaera I think you are using a personal definition of "cult" and making the assumption that its universal. Outside the historic usage (ie: references to the "Imperial Cult" when describing ancient Rome or Japan) there isn't a solid distinction between "cult" and "religion" except that cult is derogitory. Check Meriam-Webster's definition and you'll note that its almost exactly the same as the definition of religion.

In practice, I find that the definition most people use for "cult" is "any religion without a broad enough base of popular support to keep me from calling it a cult".

breezeway If Metafilter had mod points, you'd get one, that was funny.
posted by sotonohito at 11:31 AM on February 11, 2007


To tack onto chimaera's point -- what about the freedom of association? In Scientology, if there is somebody in your life who is critical of Scientology, you have to "disconnect" from them completely. There is no room for questioning the teachings, or talking to somebody who has an alternate point of view who might make you see things a different way than exactly how Co$ wants you to see them. Even if you were a true believer, it's absolutely taboo in Scientology to deeply investigate and test the claims of L.Ron, in the talmudic sense of inquiry and understanding. Now, why would that be? If it's true, it should stand up to scrutiny, and scrutiny should be welcomed. So, what does it say about a "religion" where you can't do that?

Also, Scientology is notorious for playing a serious shell game with a lot of their recruits. They show the bridge as being this straight path, with a start and an ending in the finite future, but then sell you a bunch of tangential courses and books and other materials along the way, stalling progress and making heaps of money off you. That's why even if I think Scientology is 15% obvious self-help and 85% utter crap, I would never criticize the freezone because at least they're not profiting off the whole thing. The Co$, on the other hand, has taken in so much but seems to use their war chest primarily for lawsuits and devising yet more ways to fleece their followers.
posted by brain cloud at 11:33 AM on February 11, 2007


Well, I'm no scientologist, but in re: the whole Xenu thing -
Could it be that they don't literally believe any of that stuff? That it's just a teaching device? I know much of the Masonic ritual is based on storytelling and theater-like plays, and the lessons are more effective in that format. I don't know many (well, any that I know of) people who literally believe the stories, though. Plenty of things to dislike scientology for, but embarrasing stories taken out of context by lay people doesn't necessarily mean anything in my book.
posted by ctmf at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2007


brain cloud So you don't like Scientology, that's fine. I don't particularly like it myself. However, I will note that many Christian sects tell their followers not to have friends critical of the sect as well. When I was younger two of my friends broke off contact with me because their (Christian) religious leaders told them to. Its nasty, but its hardly specific to Scientology.

As for taking money, show me a religion that doesn't. Scientology is more upfront about it, and honetly I see that as a good thing. Most other religions make a big deal of pretending that they don't want your money, but grub for it all the same. A bit of financial honesty is refreshing.

Lets' take a non-Western example. At any Shinto shrine in Japan you can buy the protection of the gods in the form of talismans, its quite straightforward. You give them cash, they give you religion. Would you therefore define Shintoism as a cult?

Let's just admit facts here. Cult vs. religion is not a distinction based in reality, but based purely on acceptability. Using the word is not an effort to make any particular distinction, just a gratuitious slur.
posted by sotonohito at 11:53 AM on February 11, 2007


ctmf: keep in mind the Xenu stuff is revealed at a very late stage in a person's Scientology experience, after having spent many, many years and untold sums of money to be given that particular revelation. In short, they've already drunk the kool-aid by the time they hear about the space aliens. Combine that with the fact that they are not allowed to discuss the contents of that level outside of the course-room, with anybody, not even those who are OT-3 and beyond, and it's difficult to say how many swallow it whole, and how many take it figuratively. Also, everything that follows OT-3 is just an expansion of the space opera story (not that you'd be told that beforehand by anybody in the "church"), so if you don't go along with it, you're going to have to ask yourself why you would bother progressing any further. Apparently it's not uncommon for people to ditch the whole thing after OT-3. For a lot of followers, that's their rude awakening.
posted by brain cloud at 11:58 AM on February 11, 2007


To answer you ctmf. Oh no... I assure you they really think Xenu blew up a volcano with H bombs 75 million or so years ago. Because that's WHY the Body Thetans are swirling around and people need to get rid of them. If it weren't for that whole volcano thing happening, the e-meters and most of their auditing wouldn't be necessary. Everyone would be totally clear.

And on the positive side, if it weren't for Xenu, I wouldn't be able to link to this delicious carrot cake recipe!
posted by miss lynnster at 11:59 AM on February 11, 2007


ctmf Its possible. Personally, I think the whole thing is a sham, same as all the rest. Asking what they *really* believe is always problematical. Do Catholics, to choose an example, *really* believe that they're eating the actual muscle tissue and drinking the actual blood of Jesus? Do Sikhs *really* believe that their holy book is a guru in the same sense that Nanak or the other human gurus were?

The continued existence of Scientology, as well as the newcomers such as Wicca and the like, show the inevitable strain on the major world religions. They're all around 2,000 years old (give or take a few centuries) and their teachings no longer match the world we live in, so people are abandoning them. But many people are uncomfortable being without religion, so they go for new religions which make a bit more sense to the modern mind.

Give it a bit and we'll see some real problems as the major world religions truly enter a colapse phase. I think that Japan is largely sidestepping that by keeping the comforting rituals, but largely ignoring the actual religious substance. In times of strife new religions crop up like weeds. Scientology is one, the resurgence of astrology is another, the birth of Wicca in 1954 is another, etc, etc, etc. Many get their start as scams by con men and later grow to become something else.
posted by sotonohito at 12:07 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: I think you're missing my point. The money aspect of Scientology is notable not because they collect money, per se, but because nothing is revealed to you in Scientology unless you cough up the dough first. And not just a token donation - it's quite a lot of money, thousands of dollars, and for what? You're not paying for anybody's time or attention, and you're likely paying many times the going rate for a book or a tape. Nobody who does any of the footwork in Scientolgy is paid, or if they are paid (Sea Org) it's on the order of slave wages, literally. And before you can make the point that they chose to do that -- one that I would not argue -- a sane, rational person would have to question not "why give money?" but, "why give such HUGE SUMS of money?" Who does it go to? What is it for? These are questions a Scientologist cannot ask without serious consequences. One's spiritual progression is directly tied to ever increasingly expensive courses, rundowns, lectures, "voluntary" donations to different sub-groups of Scientolgy. Really, I would encourage you to look into it yourself, and not take my word for it. At least if you give most other churches a donation, you know what it's going to, and there's a chance it will benefit somebody who really needs it more than you do. In Scientology it's all about enriching David Miscavage and his inner circle.
posted by brain cloud at 12:10 PM on February 11, 2007


I was speaking of the term of cult in what I understand to be the common cultural usage. Roman Catholic theology has portions of its dogma called the Cult of Mary and the like, but in modern terms, people generally reserve "Cult" to be pejorative rather than descriptive.

Generally, an offshoot that may have strange beliefs are generally not applied the term "cult," rather "sect" or "branch," and though I agree that the term "cult" has a much wider range of definitions than I am using, I was intending to elucidate the usage as applied to Scientology, which is, in my opinion unambiguously harmful and manipulative, with its limited redeeming aspects so thoroughly overwhelmed by its negative impacts as to be irredeemable as a "Religion."
posted by chimaera at 12:11 PM on February 11, 2007


To think Scientology is a religion, one would have to be (a) uninformed or (b) mentally retarded.

Scientology is a cult by every respected metric.

Scientology also has a history of violence against its members.

Of infiltrating government agencies to protect itself from prosecution.

Of no-holds-barred destruction of its vocal ex-members.

Of threats of violence against anyone involved in lawsuits against the cult, including violence against judges' property and person.

It is the height of stupidity to casually dismiss Scientology as a harmless organization that should be treated as a legitimate religion.

I usually don't suspect people on MeFi of being retarded, so I'll have to assume several of you are woefully uninformed.

Please read A Piece of Blue Sky for a primer on the cult of Scientology and the clear and present danger it presents to its members and to the security of national governments.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:14 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


posted by five fresh fish the clear and present danger [Scientology] presents to its members and to the security of national governments.

Scientologists are the new terrorists.
posted by fandango_matt at 12:22 PM on February 11, 2007


Scientologists are the new black.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2007


fff "legitimate religion", there's a null symbol. A religion is what people say a religion is. If someone wants to worship is toster and call that a religion, it is. Here's Merriam-Webster on the subject:

Religion: "1 a: the state of a religious [a nun in her 20th year of religion] b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance 2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

Religious: "1: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity [a religious person] [religious attitudes]2: of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances [joined a religious order]"

Nothing in there about being nice, rules about charging money for religious teachings, etc.

For that matter, try applying a bit of historic thought to your usage. Would you define the Roman Catholic Church during the period of the Inquisition as a cult instead of a religion?

You are drawing a distinction that simply does not exist. The distinction between "legitimate religion" vs. "illigitimate religion" is false.

Religion is religion. Scientology is just as much a religion as Southern Baptism, Buddhism, or Jainism. If you wish to say "I do not like Scientology, and I think its dangerous" that's fine. As I mentioned earlier, I really don't much like Scientology myself. But I won't use the term "cult" to refer to any religion, its just gratuitously rude. As an atheist I'm actually a bit more concerned about being gratuitously rude regarding religion than you might think. For non-atheists use of the word cult is simply another varient on the "my religion is better than yours" posturing.

brain cloud From my POV religious donations of any sort are all equally pointless. They do nothing but allow a parasite class to continue existing. That Scientology demands greater financial commitment from its adherents than other religions do is quite irrelivant to me. Again, at least they are upfront about it instead of putting on a public face of pretending that they don't care about money.

As for knowing where your money goes, I have yet to see any major religion open its financial records to either the public, or to generic donors.

If you'd like to see an example of a religion that no one will dare call a cult, look into the finances of the Catholic Church, specifically the financial activities of Mother Theresa's order. Virtually none of the funds given to the Missionaries of Charity were used to benefit the people they worked with, almost all were simply given to the Church and, presumably, used to buy yet more solid gold decorations for the Vatican.

This is, naturally, speculative, because the Missionaries of Charity don't open their records.

chimaera you wrote "but in modern terms, people generally reserve "Cult" to be pejorative rather than descriptive."

And that's why I was annoyed by its use here.
posted by sotonohito at 12:37 PM on February 11, 2007


Sounds like you have it all figured out sotonohito. Good for you. If only there were a cult you could join to help you spell even the simplest of words correctly.

And the next time you form an argument that insults oh maybe a billion people, you could make an effort to get your facts straight. But I realize every group needs their whipping boys, dumbass internet poseurs usually choose religion.
posted by vronsky at 12:44 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


posted by sotonohito But I won't use the term "cult" to refer to any religion, its just gratuitously rude.

You clearly do not undertstand the defintions of the words "cult" and "religion".
posted by fandango_matt at 12:46 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


vronsky ???

I'll freely admit that I can't spell worth crap. Is that what this has become? A spelling flame?

As for insult, you started by calling me a dumbass, I've yet to say anything insulting to you. I've stated, factually, that you are obviously grossly ignorant of Christianity both in your (false) assumption that I cited purely Old Testamant beliefs, and in the (false) assumption that the OT is somehow irrelivant to Christianity. There's nothing wrong with ignorance, everyone is ignorant regarding the vast majority of human knowledge (inevitable, human knowledge is too vast at this point for anyone to be anything but ignorant of the vast majority of it).

I objected to the tiresome insults to Scientology based on its absurd beliefs, and I did so by pointing out the absurdity contained in several religions. You chose particularly to take offense that I cited absurd Christian beliefs, despite the fact that your own words demonstrated that you don't know anything about Christianity.

What facts do you think I didn't get straight? Everything I cited is directly out of the Bible, shall I give you chapter and verse?
Christianity, for example, teaches that humans were spontaniously created from dirt a few thousand years ago Genesis 2:7, were kicked out of an eternally idellic garden due to the mechanizatons of a talking snake Genesis 3:1 who got a woman to eat a magic fruit Genesis 3:6, and a few centuries later the big father figure in the sky flooded the planet because people were bad Genesis 7 & 8. They believe that if they're good after they die they will go live in a cube made of transparent gold. Revelation 21:10-18
The last bit, regarding heaven, is from the New Testement, and that's why I noted that you are greatly ignorant of Christianity when you claimed all my citations were OT.

fandango_matt Er, have you read the rather long rambling posts I've made on those two words? Especially the part where I actually quoted a dictionary?

In its current usage, certaily in the usage in the lead for this thread, cult is simply a derigotory word for religions which are unpopular or small. Historically there have been distinctions, which I pointed out, but they don't apply to the usage here. Here the word was simply used to mean "religion I don't like".
posted by sotonohito at 1:06 PM on February 11, 2007


The word cult has a variety of definitions. Sotonohito is insisting on using the most general, despite the fact that the rest of us are obviously using the more specific.. It is like arguing intelligent design with someone who says "but evolution is just a theory!".
posted by Manjusri at 1:07 PM on February 11, 2007


Manjusri: bingo.
posted by brain cloud at 1:13 PM on February 11, 2007


What's evolution? Are there Thetans involved?
posted by miss lynnster at 1:17 PM on February 11, 2007


very well made documentary - thanks for sharing.

I was disappointed that there was no critical look at hubbard himself, however.

For example

A sordid existence - a man who intentionally misled people, physically abused them, and ended up as a paranoid drug addict.
posted by spacediver at 1:19 PM on February 11, 2007


Now that's low. I don't think I've ever been compared to a creationist before. Ick.

Look, I'm not trying to pull semantic games here. I'm just pointing out that in the context it was used here the term cult was obviously used purely for insult value, not to produce any meaningful distinction.

I will argue that in general there aren't any widely accepted definitions of cult, as evidenced by the fact that every dictionary I've checked has a definition which is virtually identical to the definition of "religion". Here's Merriam-Webster: cult and religion

Note that the two are basically the same.

In general usage people say cult when they want to insult a religion.

We can pull out checklists from various sources, but in the end it means "religion I don't like and/or consider dangerous" with the exception that no one [1] uses the word to describe large, powerful, religions. I prefer to be direct, if I don't like a religion I call it a religion and add that I don't like it. If I consider a religion to be dangerous I call it a religion and add that I consider it to be dangerous.

[1] Except Jack Chick
posted by sotonohito at 1:20 PM on February 11, 2007


I think you're being willfully obtuse, sotonohito, as over the course of much of this thread, several people have made a good faith effort to establish the terms of the discussion to eliminate ambiguity. But go right on ahead ignoring the fact that we are speaking of a very specific and accepted use of the term cult.

Most of the ire, here and on the internet, toward Scientology have nothing to do with the widely-regarded "silly" aspects of their theology. If they were simply a weird sci-fi sect with DC-8 rocketships, sure there'd be plenty of LOLXIENTOLOGIST threads -- but the Church of Scientology isn't just some cheerfully nutty and benign sect that believes in DC-8 rocketships. Just ask the people who have gotten on the wrong side of their mission for (apparent) legitimacy, the people whose lives were ruined or the people with family members who were killed by their overt actions.

Then come back and tell me that calling Scientology a cult is "rude." I'll be rude and right any day about an organization that has that much blood on its hands. They are not a "religion I don't like," they're not even a religion -- they are a business, and their stock in trade is not enlightenment, but oppression-for-profit.
posted by chimaera at 1:20 PM on February 11, 2007 [5 favorites]


The South Park episode pretty much give a good idea. Course you don't have to believe it, but it makes a lot of sense.
posted by elpapacito at 1:39 PM on February 11, 2007


Furthermore, I think it is misleading to imply that people use the term "cult" to describe any religion that people don't like or think is dangerous.

I haven't heard people call fundies cultists.

I haven't heard people call radical muslims cultists.

I haven't heard people call Catholics cultists. Or Baptists, or Lutherans. Or Shi'a or Sunni or Jainists or Zoroastrians.

But I have heard offshoots and subsets of many of those groups cults. And why is that? Generally, it is because those subgroups fit the definition we are using, right here in this thread: extortion to those who wish to leave, financial commitment as explicit obligation for advancement, explicit alienation of members from their family or friends who are non-members, lack of personal privacy (or the "all your sins must be confessed to us"), threats against ex-members or members considering leaving, front groups (such as Narconon) who hide their affiliation, total domination of daily activities (heard of the Sea Org? How does a billion-year contract for servitude sound?).

I'm not just talking about dangerous religions. Fundamental Christianity is dangerous, as is fundamentalist Islam. As are dogmatic and absolutist versions of every religion, political affiliation, economic system, or for that matter any ideology.

But they are not cults, as applies to this discussion, until they undertake very specific and definable actions, such as those I outlined in the last paragraph.

So, allow me to reiterate: Scientology is a cult. I am not calling it a cult because I don't like it (though I don't), or because I believe they are dangerous (though they are). I call them a cult for the reasons outlined above.
posted by chimaera at 1:40 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brian B. is that you? You do realize that the constituency of this board is largely secular don't you? Assuming we are all trying to mount some defense of mainstream religion is as misguided as insisting we are all using your definition, when we tell you repeatedly we are not. You are using the different definitions of cult in exactly the same way a creationist uses the different definitions of theory to make an intellectually dishonest argument. If cult simply meant religion then you would have no basis for objecting to use of the term.

I am no fan of organized religion, and, like Dawkins think of it as analogous to a virus. When speaking of the same properties people use to gauge the cultish properties of a religion, I favor the term virulence. Scientology is an ebola among religions. It is nasty, it suckers people in when they are vulnerable, uses them up and either turns them into automatons, or spits out the empty shell.
posted by Manjusri at 1:47 PM on February 11, 2007


"Oh, and for those who don't know this... Scientology is not an exclusive belief system. You can be Christian or Buddhist or Muslim and still be a Scientologist on top of that."

If you do you won't progress very far in your Co$ training, so you'll be wasting your money.

To quote from an essay on the subject , in the OT 3 level that "The concept of religion, including God, Christ, Mohammed, Moses etc., were all an implanted false reality that to this very minute are used to control WOGS on Earth."

Furthermore, to quote Minton quoting an "ex-Scientology auditor and Case Supervisor named Caroline Letkeman, who was highly trained (Class IX) to administer the Scientology 'technology' on the Upper Levels of Scientology's Bridge, including OT3":

"In order for scn (Scientology) to 'work' at the upper levels, the person must accept the OT 3 incident as a literal and factual matter. If the person does not experience the fragmented condition as a 'conscious and literal fact', or if he cannot accept Hubbard's interpretation of the psychological phenomena expected at this level, the person is labeled a 'bypassed case' and is sent back to redo his lower levels. I.e., his psychological state must be such that he can see his psychological complexes as external autonomous entities, and he must be able to literally address these entities with the exact volcano story as given by Hubbard.

There is no getting around this point technically--either the incident is real and 'processible' or the person has not validly made his lower grades. According to the technical materials of Scientology, there is no one on this earth who has escaped the incident or who is immune to its effects. That is why Hubbard labeled it as the '4th dynamic engram.'
"

(Don't forget that $cientology training costs serious money, so "redoing your lower levels" means spending more money going back over the previous silly shit.)

For further information see the Operation Clambake site.

And by the way, I agree that "mainstream religions" are also cults. This includes the Presbyterians, Shi'ites, Tibetan Buddhists, etc. etc. etc.
posted by davy at 1:51 PM on February 11, 2007


Mainstream Christianity, for example, teaches that humans were spontaniously created from dirt a few thousand years ago, were kicked out of an eternally idellic garden due to the mechanizatons of a talking snake who got a woman to eat a magic fruit, and a few centuries later the big father figure in the sky flooded the planet because people were bad. They believe that if they're good after they die they will go live in a cube made of transparent gold.

spoken like a truly ignorant douchebag! but funny, yes.
posted by quonsar at 1:59 PM on February 11, 2007


chimaera Naturally, I think the obtuseness goes the other way, and that you and the others are simply unwilling to admit that the word is nothing but a derogitory term. In fact, the Wikipedia article linked by Manjusri puts at least one academic in my corner. "If the term does not enable us to distinguish between a pathological group and a legitimate one, then it has no real value. It is the religious equivalent of the racial term for african americans—it conveys disdain and prejudice without having any valuable content." Which is supposed to be a quote from Dr. Timothy Miller at University of Kansas. I think that he's perfectly correct.

If you want to say "I think Scientology deserves to be referred to with a derogitory term, and here's why" that's fine too. But don't claim that you are using a word that produces a valid distinction.

If I can return Manjusri's rudeness, its a bit like a Creationist insisting that there really is a diffrence between "micro-evolution" and "macro-evolution". The distinction simply does not exist, there's simply evolution. Similarly, there is no real distinction between "religion" and "cult", there is simply religion.

To take an example, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a cult? By your definition it very well could be considered so. It too has blood on its hands, is often accused of either commiting crimes or being complacient in the commission of crimes, etc. It is accused of using force, threats, etc, to keep people from leaving. For that matter, is Christianity in general a cult? I note that some murderers and terrorists have the explicit backing of some Christian sects, and that Christians do quite vocally tell people that they will face unimaginable consiquences if they leave. The Catholic Church, until quite recently insisted on full confession of sins, etc.

As far as money goes, I would argue that all religion is a business, and their stock in trade is not enlightenment, but oppression-for-profit. How many people have achieved enlightenment by means of any religion? Now, how many have been oppressed? See where I'm going here?

Like many broad terms, religion includes both good and bad things. It can refer to both Thuggees and St. Francis of Assisi.

I will agree that in casual usage the word "cult" tends to refer to isolationist, thuggish movements. The problem is that the word is a) derogitory, and b) fuzzy. Attempts to produce an objective definition are either so specific that they define essentially just one religion, or so broad that they include religions generally recognized as non-cults.

That's why I'm objecting to your own checklist, it can quite easily apply to a number of religions considered to be mainstream.

You want religion to mean good theism, and cult to mean bad theism. That's understandable. But its awfully hard to come up with a workable definition. If the people who professionally study religion can't make an objective distinction between "cult" and "religion" I suspect that the distinction simply doesn't exist.

As far as your non-Xenu based objections to Scientology go, they are indeed troubling. But that's not why people are so anti-Scientologist, if it was we'd hear about that instead of yet-another-Xenu-joke.

quonsar wrote "spoken like a truly ignorant douchebag! but funny, yes."

How, exactly, is that ignorant? Its all in the Bible, I just stripped away the mystic terminology.

Manjusri Can we stop with the comparisons to Creationists please? I really do find that to be personally insulting.

As I noted above, your own Wikipedia cite included a quote from a professor of religious history who made essentially the same argument I made.

If cult simply meant religion then you would have no basis for objecting to use of the term.

Nonsense. I object to the term because it is a slur. Slurs refer to the same group as the non-slur term does, that's why they're offensive. Take Dr. Miller's example, the common American slur for black people means the same thing as the term "black people", it refers to exactly the same group. But it is offensive because it has no purpose but to be offensive. Same with cult, it isn't marking any legitimate distinction, its just a rude term.
posted by sotonohito at 2:07 PM on February 11, 2007


We're going in circles, here. One way to get out of the circle would be whether, the question of "derogatory" or "pejorative" aside, you consider "cult" to be effectively equivalent to "religion." Is that the case?
posted by chimaera at 2:28 PM on February 11, 2007


The problem, as I see it, is that, using the WP checklist (instead of the one chimaeara made up specifically to apply to Scientologists), it really doesn't seem like Scientology classifies as a cult. Some of the characteristics apply, some don't, and some you'd really have to stretch to say they apply. To take them in order:
1. A movement that separates itself from society, either geographically or socially

Nope.

2. Adherents who become increasingly dependent on the movement for their view on reality

I'd say yes.

3. Important decisions in the lives of the adherents are made by others

Yep.

4. Making sharp distinctions between us and them, divine and satanic, good and evil, etc. that are not open for discussion

A bit of a stretch.

5. Leaders who claim divine authority for their deeds and for their orders to their followers

Nope

6. Leaders and movements who are unequivocally focused on achieving a certain goal

Nope, unless getting rich is the kind of goal we're talking about.
The average Catholic monastery has more of those characteristics than Scientologists and nobody would describe them as cults.

Further, when you compare Scientology to obvious cults like the Manson Gang, Branch Davidians, Peoples' Temple, Heaven's Gate, et al, Scientology is a pale imitation even in the attributes it supposedly has. There's a clear difference in personal control between, 'buy our books and take our courses' and 'Go invade a house and kill all its inhabitants.' While it can be frustrating figuring out how to describe a group that melds the worst aspects of religion, Amway and the Trial Lawyers Association, 'cult' isn't really that word.
posted by boaz at 2:36 PM on February 11, 2007


chimaera wrote We're going in circles, here. One way to get out of the circle would be whether, the question of "derogatory" or "pejorative" aside, you consider "cult" to be effectively equivalent to "religion." Is that the case?

Yes. Functionally they are identical terms. My objection was purely on the basis that the term cult is exclusively used in a pejorative manner.

That's why I linked to the MW definitions of both words and pointed out that the definitions are all but the same.
posted by sotonohito at 2:46 PM on February 11, 2007


posted by sotonohito That's why I linked to the MW definitions of both words and pointed out that the definitions are all but the same.

And that is where you make your bloomer. You've succeeded in convincing yourself the criticial distinctions between the two terms are insignificant enough to be dismissed, so you continue to disfigure this thread with your convoluted logic, pomposity, and befuddlement, the sound of which is indistinguishable from the braying honk of a retarded jackass.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:05 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Scientologist belief in aliens is completely irrational.
They should calm down and start believing in virgins getting impregnated by a ray of light and then giving birth to a baby who, as an adult, will walk on water, bring people back from the dead, die, resurrect, eat some broiled fish then fly away in front of a lot of people, eventually disappearing into the clouds.


This is the same problem I have with a great deal of the mainstream criticism directed at The Da Vinci Code - not the repudiation of the novel's ham-handed, formulaic prose or the film's wooden acting and overall banality (all of which are valid points IMO) but the sneering dismissal/sputtering outrage at Brown's thesis itself....as if the sheer possibility that Jesus may or may not have knocked up some prostitute who subsequently may or may not have bore him a child is in any way more "preposterous" than having a virgin mother, walking on water, healing the blind, resurrecting the dead, or you know, just generally being the freaking son of God. Now that's brainwashing.
posted by Sullenshady at 3:20 PM on February 11, 2007


The Business of Scientology is a dangerous organization that successfully infiltrated and disrupted an IRS investigation into its finances. It is a dangerous organization that has killed people. It is a dangerous organization that harasses its critics employers into firing them; pamphleteers neighbourhoods to call them pedophiles; calls cops to falsely arrest them; and digs up dirt on judges so as to influence the organization's criminal cases.

Whether one wants to call that business a "cult" or "religion" is about as relevant as whether to put a cherry or hot fudge on one's shit sundae.

Regardless what you call it, Scientology is bad.

Read A Piece of Blue Sky. It's on the net for free, and you may have a published copy in your local library.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:22 PM on February 11, 2007


fandango_matt Pissy much? I've been pretty much unfailingly polite here, and gotten little but petty insults for my troubles.

If you had read the linked MW definitions, you would discover that the only reason I had to say "all but the same" is because they did not use exactly the same words in both definitions. There were no "critical distinctions" that I'm busy ignoring. Read the definitions I linked to for yourself, because I'm sure you won't believe me.

Then appologize please.

five fresh fish And that's fine. Say its a bad religion, or even say its a cult and be honest and admit that you are using the word specifically to be insulting because you think Scientology deserves the insult.

As an atheist I try to avoid using derogitory terms for any religion because I've already got people pissed enough just by being an atheist. I also think its a bad idea to use such terms in a FPP. I'm also tired of all the Xenu jokes from people with equally silly religious beliefs.

You have actual, substantial, problems with the CoS, that's a different issue. But, I'll observe that no one here bothered mentioning the big scary problems with the CoS until after someone called BS on all the infantile Xenu jokes. Kinda indicates the problem most people have with the CoS isn't the big scary things you cite.
posted by sotonohito at 3:36 PM on February 11, 2007


Most who know don't say, tap their nose, you know? Nudge, nudge? It's a dangerous world out there, some things you gotta mock obliquely, knowhattamean? Look around, be careful. Don't make a big stink when you know they're here, just act like you're listening, pick up that newspaper like nothing's wrong, got it?

Old mother Hubbard's got eyes in the cupboard.
posted by breezeway at 3:46 PM on February 11, 2007


You have actual, substantial, problems with the CoS, that's a different issue. But, I'll observe that no one here bothered mentioning the big scary problems with the CoS until after someone called BS on all the infantile Xenu jokes. Kinda indicates the problem most people have with the CoS isn't the big scary things you cite.

Perhaps that's because you don't know enough about the subject. alt.religion.scientology existed *prior* to the business with anon.penet.fi, and prior to the revelations about Xenu and was full of critics back in those days. Those criticisms didn't often make it into print, because Scientology has a history of harrassing and intimidating it's critics -- both by using it's money to harrass them in the courts, and by using its adherents to harrass and intimidate them in person.

The combination of the Xenu revelations at the moment when the internet was just at the point of exploding meant that their secrets were no longer possible to keep quiet any longer, and so today all right thinking people subject the organization and it's beliefs to the justifiable ridicule that it so thoroughly deserves.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:56 PM on February 11, 2007


Yes. Functionally they are identical terms. My objection was purely on the basis that the term cult is exclusively used in a pejorative manner.

Fair enough, sotonohito. I'll have to say that there's probably no further useful debate from here. I disagree with your assessment, but anything more will just be at cross-purposes.
posted by chimaera at 4:08 PM on February 11, 2007


Before this goes too far - though I suppose it's too late for that - I want to thank mock for the post. The video was really interesting, and definitely showed a side to the Scientology story that I'd never seen before.
posted by brain cloud at 5:13 PM on February 11, 2007


Interesting video of L. Ron- "The Shrinking World of Scientology" from 1968. According to the site, this is the only video interview of Hubbard by an outside reporter.
posted by notmtwain at 5:17 PM on February 11, 2007


"If I can return Manjusri's rudeness, its a bit like a Creationist insisting that there really is a diffrence between "micro-evolution" and "macro-evolution". The distinction simply does not exist, there's simply evolution. Similarly, there is no real distinction between "religion" and "cult", there is simply religion."

Yet the Websters you place so much faith in has differing definitions for macroevolution and microevolution. Like cult versus religion they are amorphous terms, with no sharp line delineating the two. Also like cult and religion it is possible to cite specific examples that clearly belong to one or the other. In the latter case, a key indicator is the level of coercion it's members are subjected to.

"My objection was purely on the basis that the term cult is exclusively used in a pejorative manner."

Then your objection is null and void. The two primary definitions of cult in Webster's make no reference to negative connotation, unlike the slur you think it is comparable to. Glad I could settle that issue for you, it was starting to get tiresome.
posted by Manjusri at 5:21 PM on February 11, 2007


Wow. I sure am glad that so many "right thinking" MeFite cultists took the time to point out that sotonohito was a dumbass, uninformed, mentally retarded, a poseur, willfully obtuse, an ignorant douchebag, pompous, befuddled, and a retarded jackass.

I guess all of these right-thinking vronskies (a term I have just coined denoting "assholes") can't handle it when their favorite whipping boy (AKA Scientologists, in this case) aren't properly castigated.
posted by Chasuk at 5:24 PM on February 11, 2007


As the original poster let me clarify something about the whole cult/religion thing. I used the word "cultists" because they are obviously nutters.

Scientology as an organization has a giant stick up its ass in regards to being seen as a "legitimate" religion. Refusing to give them that legitimacy seems to me to be the easiest way to make it clear to everyone that I'm not buying into any of the crazy they're selling. If I were posting a surprisingly sympathetic documentary about what pentecostals or the LDS believe, I'd be using much the same words. If I was posting about the CoE or the Catholics, I'd probably pick some other way of being derogatory and insulting.
posted by mock at 5:50 PM on February 11, 2007


mock Still seems infantile and pointlessly provocative to me. A bit like writing a post on Catholics and calling them Papists or something similar.

And, I emphisize, that to an outsider there is nothing in Scientological dogma that is particularly more nuts than in the dogma of any other religion. So they think Xenu killed a bunch of people with nukes a long time back, that's more nuts than believing that a guy in a funny hat can turn a cracker into the flesh of your god?

For the record, I'd also object to the LDS or pentecostals being described as cultists.

Manjusri If the term "cult" isn't insulting, I assume that you'd have no objection to refering to your own religion and religious activity (assuming that you have a religion, if you don't then obviously this won't apply) as a cult for the next year or so, yes?

As for MW, I used it as a reference, the fact that they list definitions for null terms such as micro-evolution doesn't invalidate it as a source for other words. I picked it because it was the second dictionary that came to mind (the first, the OED is subscription only, and one day I'll buy a subscription because I lust after the OED). I'm confident that other dictionaries will offer definitions for "cult" and "religion" which are essentially the same as the same.

Again, I'll observe that your own Wikipedia cite included a mention from a bloody Ph.D in religious history to the effect that the term "cult" is essentially a non-term and is used for no purpose other than insult.

As I said, over and over, if you want to insult the CoS that's your business, but let's not pretend that you're using a proper term that I'm just objecting to because I'm a loon. No one calls their own religion a cult, no one ever says "oh, I joined a new cult today, we're having tea and biscuts this coming Wednesday". They don't do that because cult is nothing but a term that means "religion I don't like".

I could compare the "cult" vs. "religion" distinction you are trying to make to the "pornography" vs. "erotica" distinction some people try to make. In both cases a false distinction is drawn, as illustrated by the fact that in both cases it all comes down to a purely subjective judgement on the part of the speaker, coupled with a desire to use the first term to indicate things they disapprove of.
posted by sotonohito at 6:31 PM on February 11, 2007


You're a fucking Scientologist, aren't you?

IT'S A TRAP!
posted by breezeway at 6:43 PM on February 11, 2007


I'm not sure the term papist really twists the knife in the way I'd like. Presumably catholics are cool with having a pope (plus his hat is possibly the best hat EVAR). I prefer the term "God Botherer" when I'm making reference to the group psychosis that is christianity. If you think papist would work, I'm happy to switch.

Which brings me to my point. Some groups of people are bothered by being called cultists, others are not. This is a very objective test for determining who is or is not a cultist.
posted by mock at 6:44 PM on February 11, 2007


Sotonohito is clearly a Scientologist; otherwise he wouldn't be on his daft mission to have the word "cult" stricken from the book on the grounds he finds it offensive--by removing the stigma of "cult" and insisting we refer to Scientology as a "religion," we've given Scientology a de facto legitimacy. More to the point, why does sotonohito give a damn what we call Scientology?

Just out of curiousity, sotonohito, if "cult" is too offensive, what shall we call the People's Temple (Jonestown), the Branch Davidians, the Solar Temple, and Heaven's Gate, all of which have been labeled as cults?
posted by fandango_matt at 6:54 PM on February 11, 2007


chimaera Naturally, I think the obtuseness goes the other way, and that you and the others are simply unwilling to admit that the word is nothing but a derogitory term.

I'm happy to admit that I'm rather unwilling to admit it.

Why? Whether or not everyone in the whole world already agrees the term "cult" encapsulates the distinctions chimaera is trying to make, those distinctions seem pretty useful, so much so that an argument about whether or not the term "cult" reflects them almost seems moot. They're real distinctions. They're a useful way of saying something objective about differences between religious organizations that actually exist -- and even if you find all theologies pretty incredible, that ought to be true from a socially descriptive standpoint.
posted by weston at 7:03 PM on February 11, 2007


There is no such thing as a legitimate religion, just longer-lived cults with better PR. If $cientology managed to become the state religion of an Empire, then the official religion of the only literate elite in a backward society, in 1700 years its "legitimacy" would still be taken for granted -- and a new religion based on the Son of God born of a virgin would be derided as a "cult" because that's what you do with upstart competitors.
posted by davy at 7:20 PM on February 11, 2007


Mock, I just watched the documentary and found it quite entertaining and enjoyable. I should mention that I have no reason to think that the Free Zone organization exhibits any cultish properties. In fact, while helping a Scientology member extricate himself from the cult I recommended he check them out as a way to free himself the influence of the abusive Scientology organization without having to overturn his entire system of thought.

Sotonohito, I pointed out that the word cult is not universally pejorative, because you cited that as the sole reason for your objection, thus invalidating it. Word games are as easy as they are spurious. I would not be comfortable describing my religious beliefs as a cult, because it is inaccurate. Since you are comfortable using the word Creationist (implying it is neither a slur nor pejorative) I guess it follows that we can use the term to describe your system of thought.
posted by Manjusri at 7:22 PM on February 11, 2007


Second the recommendation for Operation Clambake.

sotonohito, seeing as you can't toss a banana without hitting two dozen psych grads here or anywhere else, consider that there are probably many, many people on MeFi who have studied the psychology of religious experience and for whom "cult" and "religion" are structural terms, and what makes cults special, and dangerous, is not that their ideas are crazier but that their methods are tailored to break down a person's resistance usually through isolation, increasing commitment, less than full disclosure, and limiting access to information.

Moreover, this has been fodder for public discussion for some time now (which is great -- forewarned, forearmed and all that) so I'm sorry if your knee-jerk rejection of the term -- noting the negative connotations but not the reasons for it -- can't grasp that there's some other dialogue happening here. Actually

let's not pretend that you're using a proper term

let's pretend you're not being a willfully obtuse, obnoxious prick.
posted by dreamsign at 7:51 PM on February 11, 2007


Please stop feeding the xenoid.
posted by yhbc at 7:57 PM on February 11, 2007


Let's not pretend a shit sundae isn't a shit sundae. Scientology is an organization that literally uses criminal means to maintain its existence. It is impossible to use words too strong in describing its machinations. "Cult" is every bit as legitimate as "business" and "religion." It all amounts to the same thing: a bizarro mindfucking organization that seeks to extract maximum revenues and maximum compliance from its deluded adherents.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:00 PM on February 11, 2007


There is no such thing as a legitimate religion, just longer-lived cults with better PR.

I do so love semantics arguments. For various definitions of the word "love."
posted by illiad at 9:17 PM on February 11, 2007


I think you'd better give up, sotonohito. Most of your respondents today are intent on being willfully obtuse, obnoxious pricks.
posted by Chasuk at 12:17 AM on February 12, 2007


"'[C]ult' and 'religion' are structural terms, and what makes cults special, and dangerous, is not that their ideas are crazier but that their methods are tailored to break down a person's resistance usually through isolation, increasing commitment, less than full disclosure, and limiting access to information."

Which is not necessary for a "normal" religion because its wacky beliefs are considered "normal" enough to allegedly base whole countries upon them and its adherents have children and raise them in the faith. In the long duree the big difference between Christianity and $cientology is 1700 years of huge social influence and a few recent generations of relative mellowness.

Is $cientology worse than the Spanish Inquisition? Is it not true that through the Inquisition the "normal" Roman Catholic Church tried to "break down a person's resistance, usually through isolation, increasing commitment, less than full disclosure, and limiting access to information," plus threatening to burn them at the stake (a threat they carried out on dozens at a time dozens of times)?

See what I said earlier.

With all this in mind, how is $cientology morally worse than say Papism or Islam? (Which, lest some moron mistake my meaning, are clearly quite scummy?)

---

"While helping a Scientology member extricate himself from the cult I recommended he check [Freezone] out as a way to free himself the influence of the abusive Scientology organization without having to overturn his entire system of thought."

Which of course would be a horrible thing, to have to do without a corpus of craptacular inanities.
posted by davy at 12:31 AM on February 12, 2007


I do not believe that there is a single shining absolute ineffable meaning for the word 'cult' carved in a granite tablet laying at the bottom of each and every one of Xenu's volcanos. I call scientology a cult because (a) it is completely fucking insane and (b) it doesn't have centuries/millennia of tradition behind it to allow its members to function normally in a society which has adapted to their presence, unlike many other religions which are also completely fucking insane if taken seriously but are often not taken all that seriously.

Your personal use of the word 'cult' may vary and I'm cool with that.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:50 AM on February 12, 2007


"(b) it doesn't have centuries/millennia of tradition behind it to allow its members to function normally in a society which has adapted to their presence"

But centuries/millennia of inquisitions are not justified by the fact that people can adapt to their church's craziness, nor have we had the chance to live in a society where such craziness is not "normal". E.g., "Would astronomy have developed faster if people were not threatened with being burned at the stake for saying the Sun does not revolve around the Earth?" is an unanswerable question that we could have done without.

JFYI, the problem with Sam Harris is he's too soft on religion, "spirituality" and mysticism.
posted by davy at 1:16 AM on February 12, 2007


I should say "ONE problem with Sam Harris"; he's also too soft on the War On Terror crowd.
posted by davy at 1:18 AM on February 12, 2007


davy, you're right (about inquisitions; I have no idea who Sam Harris is). I'm not trying to justify the various evils of established religion, just saying in a roundabout way that my own hazy and arbitrary understanding of the word 'cult' has something to do with general acceptance. When a practising Scientologist has a chance of being elected as leader of a major democracy, I'll stop calling L Ron Hubbard's mind control routine a cult and start calling it a 'religion' (which is not a compliment either).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:38 AM on February 12, 2007


The Spanish Inquisition was established by the Spanish state, almost entirely for political reasons. Of course, it doesn't make that piece of history any less deplorable, but if you're gonna pick an example of one church's shameful past to draw some moral equivalency to what a criminal cult is doing today, make sure the church actually instigated it, and do try to pick something that happened a little more recently than 500 years ago.
posted by brain cloud at 2:01 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]



Which of course would be a horrible thing, to have to do without a corpus of craptacular inanities.


Sometimes you have to walk before you can crawl. When you're living in a Scientology family's basement, spending your days on a phone bank in a Scientology sweatshop calling members to pressure them to come in and spend money on a workshop, having quit your job and spent all of your savings and inheritence on Scientology training yourself, and having alienated your family, and all of your former friends, your belief system might be all you have left, batshitinsane as it is.
posted by Manjusri at 2:07 AM on February 12, 2007


I've been reading history: the Catholic Church celebrated the Reconquista by repeatedly urging the Spanish kings to stop being so damn nice to the Jews, even though Jewish money funded the Reconquest. See The Separdic Frontier by Johnathan Ray: I'm currently in Chapter 3, so far he's saying that the Spanish kings resisted Church and social pressure against the Jews for many years for fear of "slaying the goose that lays golden eggs." Eventually the policy changed from goose-keeping to inquisiting, when the latter became more profitable and expedient, but as the Wikipedia article shows it was not the kings that had the idea first.
posted by davy at 2:58 AM on February 12, 2007


(How did a post about Scientology get turned into YeahOMGbutInquisition!!1! It's the religion-thread equivalent of Godwin.)
posted by brain cloud at 3:49 AM on February 12, 2007


I first read a bunch of "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" (sometimes called the Scientology bible), in 1974. Some years latter, I looked at a new copy. Odd, it had changed.

I asked people at a CoS about that, and they denied it totally. However, I know for a fact that I am right, and they lie.

Therefore, sorry, they are a cult, for some useful definition of the word. If that makes someone unhappy to hear me say so, oh well. Welcome to the real world, where sometimes people say stuff that makes you uncomfortable.

Once I read someone trying to define cult, separate from religion. Loosely, they stated that a religion is what people get raised in. A cult is what people join latter. This is a nice but nebulous twist on the concept. Lots of folks are raised LDS. Lots of people also convert to it.

Back in the 70's, there were some folks amongst the CoS willing to accept that it was a 'religion' only so as to avoid paying taxes on income. I suspect this was before the current bunch running things there came into power, but I don't care enough about it to do the research.
posted by Goofyy at 4:04 AM on February 12, 2007


fandango_matt wrote Just out of curiousity, sotonohito, if "cult" is too offensive, what shall we call the People's Temple (Jonestown), the Branch Davidians, the Solar Temple, and Heaven's Gate, all of which have been labeled as cults?

You, naturally, are free to call them whatever you want, and I'm free to object to your terms if I disagree. I call them religions, because that's what they are. Dangerous religions, yes, self-destructive religions no doubt, but religions.

Religion is not, by definition, a good thing. Its simply a thing. It covers everything from the Aztec with their human sacrifices, to a Jain sweeping the street so he doesn't step on bugs.

Theists often want to restrict the term "religion" to what they see as good religion, while using a separate term for bad religion. That is perfectly understandable, and I'm sure that the pros do have a variety of terms they use to describe actual separations between religions, religious practices, etc. But "cult" is an emotionlly charged term, it isn't used discriptiviely but to indicate contempt, fear, disgust, etc. Look at Mock's statement that he used the term purely to keep people from thinking he was a Scientologist, he just outright stated that his use of the word cult was not descriptive but to indicate that contempt, fear, disgust, etc.

I say this becaue there isn't a generally accepted definition of the word cult that is used by actual students of religion. Lots of people have checklists, all different, and usually tailored to describe a particular religion they don't like. Those lists, if used objectively, will either be so specific that they define just one religion, or so general that when applied objectively they cover at least one generally accepted religion.

"Sotonohito is clearly a Scientologist"

Nope. I am an atheist. My only relation with the CoS is that I once knew a couple of former Scientologists, oddly they never mentioned any trouble or attempts on their life, or anything regarding their leaving the CoS.

"More to the point, why does sotonohito give a damn what we call Scientology?"

Because I like words, and I like to argue terminology. Amberglow and I had a month long argument over the use of the term "radical", in that case I was taking the position that it is a word with a proper and non-derogitory use, while he maintained that it was improper to use due to its negative connotations.

Also, I'm still waiting for your appology for this statement "You've succeeded in convincing yourself the criticial distinctions between the two terms are insignificant enough to be dismissed, so you continue to disfigure this thread with your convoluted logic, pomposity, and befuddlement, the sound of which is indistinguishable from the braying honk of a retarded jackass."

Have you read the definitions I linked and discovered that, amazingly enough, I was correct and that there were no "critical distinctions" I was dismissing?

Manjusri wrote "Since you are comfortable using the word Creationist (implying it is neither a slur nor pejorative) I guess it follows that we can use the term to describe your system of thought."

Creationist is a legitimate term, it has a specific meaning. Much like "Klansman" is a legitimate term that has a specific meaning. If I wrote the sentence "David Duke is a Klansman" it would be accurate, and I don't think he'd take offense.

That doesn't mean other people wouldn't take offense if I used the word to describe them. Were I to write "Manjusri is a Klansman" it (I assume) would not be accurate, and you'd probably be pretty annoyed.

I'm not a Creationist, and while the term is legitimate, I consider the group it describes to be delusional, so I'd be annoyed if you described me as a Creationist.

Unlike "cult", "Creationist" has a specific meaning and is not used purely as a slur. In the context of this discussion, I'd consider it a slur if you called me a Creationist. When talking with my Creationist associates, it isn't. Context is important too.

dreamsign wrote "let's pretend you're not being a willfully obtuse, obnoxious prick."

And you were doing so well up until then.

What I want to know is where all the nastyness came from? I've been looking over my posts and I notice that I didn't call anyone names, I haven't insulted anyone, yet I've been subject to a lot of name calling in return. WTF people?

"consider that there are probably many, many people on MeFi who have studied the psychology of religious experience and for whom "cult" and "religion" are structural terms,"

If that's the case, I notice that none of them have jumped into the discussion to make that point, or offer the definition that makes "cult" and "religion" structural terms and clearly and objectively distinguishes between the two.

Since they haven't jumped in, I think its safe to assume that maybe you are wrong, and they aren't structural terms, but rather both refer to the same thing with one being a pejorative term.

Again, if you want to insult the CoS that's your concern, I'm arguing because people are insisting, wrongly, that there is a legitimate use for the word "cult".

Goofyy wrote after a claim that the CoS has lied "Therefore, sorry, they are a cult, for some useful definition of the word."

In order to qualify as a cult in your book all a religion has to do is lie? So, er, does this mean that the Roman Catholic Church is a cult because it lied about the pedophile priests? Or because Bill Donohoe lied on national television claiming that he'd never said things he's on record as saying?

Again, I note that you are defining "cult" as "religion I don't like". Thats fun, if you want to insult people of that religion, but hardly a definition that produces a clear and objective distinction between a religion and a cult.

in general I think a lot of the problem, especially regarding the odd hissy fits many people are throwing, is that by noting (correctly) that the terms "cult" and "religion" are functionally identical, differeing only in that one is pejorative and the other isn't, many religious people are feeling that I've somehow insulted them.

Out of curiosity, how many of you people blowing their tops and writing posts laden with insult are atheist?
posted by sotonohito at 4:27 AM on February 12, 2007


Out of curiosity, how many of you people blowing their tops and writing posts laden with insult are atheist?

Not me, I'm a sophist.
posted by mock at 4:45 AM on February 12, 2007


heh
posted by sotonohito at 4:49 AM on February 12, 2007


Sotonohito: It's terribly easy to take a statement out of context in order to make it mean something you can conveniently attack. Perhaps this impresses some idiots, but I think you'll find Metfites a little more difficult an audience.

How much $ off are you getting on your dianetics processing, for your efforts here? Your empty arguments really make you sound like nothing more than a shill.
posted by Goofyy at 6:22 AM on February 12, 2007


Goofyy How did I take your comment out of context. First you said the CoS (actually, that's an assumption, you just specified "Scientologists", not that what you got was the official CoS position) lied, and followed it up with a "therefore they are a cult".

To me this looks like you said "when a religion, or its spokesmen lie, it means the religion is a cult". This sounded a bit odd to me, so I asked if you really held that position and used a few examples from the Catholic church (largely held to be not a cult) to explain why I thought your comment sounded odd.

As for the rest of your post, I find it amazing that some people here are unable to believe that a non-Scientologist would object to the word cult. If this were a thread on the LDS and I was objecting to the word cult, would you assume I was an operative of the LDS?

I'm arguing because I like to argue language and terminology, and I think I'm right. There is no objective distinction that can be drawn between a "cult" and a "religion", the only reason to use the word cult is to indicate disgust, to give offense, etc.

I've said multiple times that if you want to express disgust with Scientology, or be offensive to Scientologists, that's your business, my only objection is the claim that the word cult has a non-pejorative meaning, the claim that it draws a valid distinction. It does not. Stripped of all emotional baggage, the two words refer to exactly the same thing, therefore the emotional baggage is the important part.

I'm not in the business of defending the CoS, they're a scam job, same as all the othe religions. They may even be into brainwashing and other quite unsavory practices. I'm just saying that the word cult has no valid meaning.
posted by sotonohito at 6:50 AM on February 12, 2007


quonsar: "spoken like a truly ignorant douchebag! but funny, yes."

Just a second there, professor... I'm a little late to this one, but this is kind of striking: why the pile-on about CoS's set of unbelievable stories being qualitatively worse/more dangerous/more evil than $OTHER_RELIGION's fantastic stories? Maybe I'm offending your sensibilities here, but there's this central set of tenets for Christianity, right? And it's full of stories that make no goddamn sense, and can barely be parsed for meaning except in the most liberal, metaphorical sense? And lots and lots of people really, truly believe that daddy = junior = spooky, and the bits about the water and the wine and the fishes and the loaves and the miraculous healing? And none of those stories are any less innately believable than (say) volcanoes and hydrogen bombs, or reincarnation, or regenerating hymens?

I mean, sure, I'm willing to posit that scientology is more intrinsically evil than your average world religion, because of its horrible and deceptive treatment of members past and present, and because it likes to throw its weight around litigiously, but trying to question the validity of a belief system based on how ridiculous its canon of literature is is going to be something of a liability if you adhere to ANY religion.

Ah, screw it, from now on I'm just going to channel loquacious in every religious discussion we have in here.
posted by Mayor West at 7:19 AM on February 12, 2007


Like I said upthread, sotonohito, I worship Crom, who was invented by fantasy author Robert E. Howard about twenty years before L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology in a sci-fi novel. My cult is older, but, since we have fewer adherents and Howard never realized the financial possibilities of starting his own religion (and therefore never had the wherewithal to mount a campaign for the tax status that religion confers), worshiping Crom is not recognized by the US government as a religion.

Scientologists, when cornered, fight tooth and nail to banish the word "cult" from general use, on grounds that all religions could be called cults, and that the only difference is that cult is offensive. There are some real differences between the way the CoS conducts its affairs and arrive at their doctrines, and the way established religions do. This thread is chock full of examples, but, like a cornered Scientologist, you're keening over and over to have "cult" whitewashed out of existence. Is it any wonder that, even though you claim otherwise, many here think you're a Scientologist? You even claim oppression when people here get fed up with your obtuseness.

If you aren't a Scientologist, why go to such lengths to make people think you are? Maybe you are a Stygian, from whose twisted mouths drip only falsehood and fear. No matter; you've sprung your trap so often here that its iron is feeble and worn. And I spied a tunnel that might lead out of this murky labyrinth. Crom! To think, I'll be free of this fool's errand by nightfall, drinking wine in some dusty tavern, a servant girl on my knee. Ah, that gives me the will to fly!
posted by breezeway at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2007


breezeway Actually, I think you could make quite fair comparisons between the way Scientology conducts its affairs and the way the Wahabbi sect in Saudi Arabia conducts its affairs. Yet outside Jack Chick and his ilk, I don't see Islam called a cult. Or for that matter between how Scientology conducts its affairs and the way one of the megachruches (Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo TX) right where I live conducts its affairs.

I will not at all deny that some religions behave in criminal manners, Scientology may well be one of them. My willingness to listen to such claims about Scientology is blunted by the people who go around making Xenu jokes, or saying "The presenter clearly knows about the batshitinsane alien stuff...". Not because I have any particular sympathy for Scientology, but simply because its pretty stupid to make fun of someone for believing in alien nukes when you believe in talking snakes and magic fruit [1].

I maintain, and have not yet seen anyone present evidence to the contrary, that the distinction that supposedly exists between a cult and a religion is not a real distinction. No dictionary lists such a distinction, articles about the supposed distinctions all mutually disagree, etc. Its easy to define "religion". But like "pornography", the word "cult" simply does not seem to have a genuine meaning.

I thought it was inappropriate to use it in an FPP for the same reason I'd think it was inappropriate to use "Papist" in an FPP. I personally don't use the word cult because as an atheist I'm already on shaky ground with theists of all sorts so I don't go out of my way to offend them.

If a person wants to say that Scientology is a nasty religion that brainwashes its followers, sucks them dry of cash, and leaves them an empty husk, that's fine. If they want to admit that the word cult is just a slur, and use it to describe Scientology becuase they feel Scientology should be slurred, that's fine too. But if you want to claim that there is a real, valid, objective, distinction to be made between "cults" and "religions", then link to your definition. Show me reputable scholars who make that distinction and their definitions.

Don't just tell me that I'm obviously some pro-Scientology drone because I don't unquestioningly accept your non-defined term.

Completely seperately I objected to the tired Xenu jokes because as an atheist I find it annoying when people who believe something utterly irrational themselves mock other people who believe something utterly irrational in a different way.

The CoS is self evidently full of crap. Its dogma is utterly irrational, bears no relation to objective reality, etc. In this it is identical to every other religion that has ever existed.

It has been claimed, in what looks to me to be a fairly tinfoil hattish sort of way, that the CoS controls the IRS, routinely gets away with murder, etc. If those things are true it does indeed make the CoS a vile religion. It hardly makes the CoS unique. The modern religion of Islam does much worse on a regular basis, and Christianity in its past was guilty of exactly the same sort of behavior. Religions do horrible things sometimes, its the nature of the beast.

And that last, I think, is what is setting people off here. They want to define "religion" to mean good, and shut away the bad things religion does under a separate word so they can pretend that it isn't religion doing those horrible things. You can't. Religion does horrible things sometimes. It also does good things sometimes. Both fall under the heading "religion".

I do think that a distinction can be made, but it isn't with the word "cult". Just as anthropologists have abandoned the word "race", it seems to me that we have to abandon the word "cult" in order to see the subject clearly.

[1] Note, that's a generic "your", not a specific to you "your".
posted by sotonohito at 8:22 AM on February 12, 2007


Scientology generates more heat than almost any subject I can think of including Iraq & abortion, but I'm going to try to inject a little light into the thread anyway.

If you really have to argue about this, there's no point starting from scratch; there actually are some fairly objective standards to measure how much like a cult an organization is. The two most well known are the Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame & Dr. Robert J. Lifton's Eight Criteria for Thought Reform. One or the other of these should be the starting point for any discussion about the existence of cults or whether a specific organization is one or not.
posted by scalefree at 9:18 AM on February 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Just for completeness, here's some of the other cult checklists.
posted by scalefree at 9:21 AM on February 12, 2007


It has been claimed, in what looks to me to be a fairly tinfoil hattish sort of way, that the CoS controls the IRS, routinely gets away with murder, etc.

Read. The. Book.

There has been nothing tinfoil hattish about what I have written. It is documented fact, published and available in public libraries, and upheld in a court of law as a truthful accounting of CoS history.

You are the one and only person interested in the use of the word cult: "I like to argue terminology."

I suggest you go masturbate somewhere else. You know nothing useful about the CoS.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:38 AM on February 12, 2007


Out of curiosity, how many of you people blowing their tops and writing posts laden with insult are atheist?

Pong. Atheist here, former christian who has done more than a little informal study and had real-world experience with current and former members of "Christian Cults" such as the LA Church of Christ when I was a christian back in the mid-90s.

I have studied the theological, sociological, and psychological aspects of these "Christian Cults" and the International Church of Christ branch which is active around LA, even meeting for several lunches with an LA Church of Christ member who seemed to have taken me on as a project, constantly challenging me why I wasn't out "making disciples of all nations" (a common trope in their lingo for joining their cult and helping it grow) but would lament in oblique references the damage to his relationships with non-members including his family. I considered him a bit of a project as well hoping to introduce a bit of objectivity to his situation, and though nothing ever came of our meetings either way at the time, I hope he at some point extricated himself from a clearly harmful situation.

Therefore, I like to think I have a good grasp of the operative definition (which, as you demonstrated, is somewhat at odds with the dictionary definition) of a cult. Though my personal experience with Scientology is nothing as extensive, I believe I have enough experience to call a cult when I see one. And again, though you may consider the term insulting, I consider it a descriptive, useful and accurate term for CoS -- most notably the more hard-core segments such as the Sea Org.

So I guess the semantic argument remains moot, as many here seem to have a hard time making the distinction between a group with religious beliefs that ultimately do no more than apply simple social pressure to members, and groups who seek to dominate, alienate, and, if they're considered a departure risk, humiliate their members.
posted by chimaera at 10:42 AM on February 12, 2007


Shouldn't he have eaten a placenta by now?

That title text is pure, unimitigated libel. We're going to sue you into paste.
posted by cortex at 10:54 AM on February 12, 2007


What I want to know is where all the nastyness came from? I've been looking over my posts and I notice that I didn't call anyone names, I haven't insulted anyone, yet I've been subject to a lot of name calling in return. WTF people?

You took a particular case ("cult" does not and cannot have any functionally distinctive meaning from "religion") that a number of people here, myself included, still find lacking in credibility, and impied (and then openly speculated) that anyone who disagreed with you is being willfully obtuse. That's not exactly avoiding fighting words.

At this point, you've further speculated that anyone disagreeing on the point is probably motivated by defense of their particular religion, which of course, you regard as nothing more than a delusion. For those who may be motivated that way, you've essentially just called them delusional. For those who aren't, you've misattributed their motivations *and* accused them of believing in a delusion they don't hold. That could get a few hackles up.

But in particular, in the context of the thread, it appears you're trying to make the argument that all religions are functionally identical to scientology. I've seen five fresh fish happily refer to Christianity as a cannibalistic death cult, but I suspect he (among others) looks dimly on being unable to distinguish between outright machinations of scientology (among other organizations) and the general failings attributable to religion.

So it looks like you're trying to equate scientology and pretty much every other religion under the cover of an abstruse semantic point. davy, on the other hand, appears to be doing it openly. Personally, I think it's readily apparent that davy is wrong on that point as well, no patter which if any theologies you like, but it bothers me less because there doesn't seem to be any attempt to hide it underneath a semantic argument. It's out there in the open and there's something nice about that.

You asked.

that last, I think, is what is setting people off here. They want to define "religion" to mean good, and shut away the bad things religion does under a separate word so they can pretend that it isn't religion doing those horrible things.

The argument that "cult" is a word that has (or could well be made to have) a functional meaning distinctive from "religion" is not the same argument that "religion means good religion" or "religion is good." It's the argument that "cult" can be used to designate specific practices. There's plenty of room to assume there are other negative aspects to religion -- either in general or specific to a given religion -- distinctive from "cultishness" even if you accept the given meaning.

If you'd like, we could pick a different word to make the distinction, maybe some nice German amalgam, or something Latin. Cult works for me, though, and what I have meant for a long time when using that word essentially tracks the practices chimaera describes.
posted by weston at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow. You walk out of a Scientology thread for a day and you come back to it to find novel-length dissertations about why everyone is a prick.

You people are SO not clear.

If it's okay, I'd really like to help you. Do you have a few minutes to fill out a simple questionnaire? Maybe we could watch a quick movie together too, if it's okay with you. It won't take long. I promise.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2007


weston wrote "So it looks like you're trying to equate scientology and pretty much every other religion under the cover of an abstruse semantic point."

No, I'm repeatedly and openly, and quite clearly saying that Scientology, Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, etc are all examples of the category "religion". I'm not trying to equate Scientology with other religion, I'm doing it. I've said so in as many words several times above. Religion is religion is religion. Scientology is a religion. Christianity is a religion. Jainism is a religion. The Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon is a religion. Why is this somehow a horrible, underhanded thing?

I never implied that, or anything else, I said it clearly and plainly. I do my best never to imply anything. Implying, hinting, sending singals, and all that is an invitation to misunderstanding; I like to be understood. I say what I mean. If I want to say someone is willfully obtuse I'll say that. I've never said that, so you can assume that I didn't mean it.

As for credibility, it is up to a person seeking to make a distinction to provide a clear, objective, and non-blurry definition of their distinction. No one has done that, and I wrote that I think no one has done that because the distinction they are trying to make is invalid.

I won't argue that we can, and should, distinguish between religions both on theological grounds and on the basis of how they behave. I am simply arguing that the term cult carries too much baggage to be a useful distinctive term, and I note that not one person here has produced anything from any religious scholar which shows that this position is wrong.

I will, reluctantly, concede that in general usage there is a neublous, ill defined, highly subjective, collection of traits that attempt (poorly) to draw a valid distinction. However, given that the term is also commonly used as a slur, and most especially that there isn't a clear, objective, definition for cult it shouldn't be used other than in a pejorative sense.

However, it bears mentioning that Mock has stated that he used the term deliberately in a pejorative, rather than distinctive, sense in an effort to emphisize that he is not a Scientologist despite the fact that he was posting something semi-sympathetic to their religion.

Further, even allowing that there is a valid distinction, it is not a distinction between seperate things, but rather a sub-set of religion. The fact that many people here have used variants on the phrase "legitimate religion" indicates that they are of the position that if something is a cult it is not a religion.

There are, no denying it, religions which are much more invasive into the lives of their followers than other religions. But this is a matter of degree. The whole point of religion is to change its followers, to control their behavior. That's why religions have rules, commandments, and the like. Thus we are discussing a difference that is a matter of degree, which while quite valid is also rather difficult.

Also, I think I'm jumping at the word cult because no one applies it evenly or equally. The madrassah in many nations are brainwashing centers which, given the lack of Scientologist suicide bombers, are a bit more effective than Scientology is, the religious leaders in many Islamic nations control the lives of their followers to an astonishing degree, etc. Yet despite the fact that this matches many of the points in the, fuzzy, nebulous, highly subjective, general defitnition of "cult", however no one but Jack Chick and other people widely regarded as loons calls Islam a cult. I'll bet that a post discussing Islam, which called Muslums "cultists" would receive any number of non-Muslims complaining about the use of the word cult.

Among other things, thats why I said that as near as I could tell cult meant "any religion without a broad enough base of popular support to keep me from calling it a cult".

Sorry, got a bit long winded there.

chimaera wrote "do no more than apply simple social pressure to members, and groups who seek to dominate, alienate, and, if they're considered a departure risk, humiliate their members."

What do you define as "simple social pressure". I'd describe domination, alienation, and humiliation as social pressures.
posted by sotonohito at 1:11 PM on February 12, 2007


I was speaking not necessarily of a distinction of kind, but of degree, and I was expecting that that was understood.

Do you have the same difficulty in differentiating between persuasion and coercion? Between flirting and harassment?

I am speaking of very, very different things when I speak of the difference between social pressure and psychic abuse.

We're back at that same impasse again, and suspect that you are now arguing simply to be contrarian, in one answer splitting hairs and in another being unwilling to see the difference between a person trying to persuade someone else reasonably and, say, blackmail.
posted by chimaera at 1:46 PM on February 12, 2007


Word, sohonohito.

It may be the case that the CoS try to eradicate the use of the word 'cult' and prefer to be termed 'religion'. They may be doing it for the reason that 'cult' has negative connotations. They may also be 'right' that the words do not have different meanings. This does not mean that everything else they say is right, nor does it mean that everything that sohonohito says is wrong by associtation with CoS.

The CoS has big money to pay PR and legal organisations to make them look good, like any other business. They have people in think tanks brain-storming new ways to acquire quality mind-space. That is the sad state of affairs that is normality in our world.

I like the fact that they use the word CHURCH of Sci, which has positive connotations in the good ole U S of A. If I said I go to church regularly the jury would be better desposed to me than if I said I go to the cult regularly.

Offending other religionists because they don't think of their chosen faith to be a cult is a risk I'll take. Any one of sound mind would not take umbrage at my use of language.
posted by asok at 2:07 PM on February 12, 2007


I've seen five fresh fish happily refer to Christianity as a cannibalistic death cult...

Good times, good times.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:16 PM on February 12, 2007


Again, there is no need to create definitions or argue over semantics. This is well-travelled ground for professionals who study & deal with cult-like groups. The pages I pointed to offer objective, behavior-based metrics for measuring how close to a prototypical cult any organization is. But for those who can't follow links, here they are again.

First, the Bonewitz Scale (rate each factor from 1-10):

1. internal control
2. external control
3. wisdom or knowledge claimed by leaders
4. wisdom or knowledge credited to leaders
5. dogma
6. recruiting
7. front groups
8. wealth
9. sexual manipulation
10. sexual favoritism
11. censorship
12. isolation
13. dropout control
14. violence
15. paranoia
16. grimness
17. surrender of will
18. hypocrisy

Next, Lifton's Eight Criteria:

1) milieu control (controlled relations with the outer world)
2) mystic manipulation (the group has a higher purpose than the rest)
3) confession (confess past and present sins)
4) self-sanctification through purity (pushing the individual towards an unattainable perfection)
5) aura of sacred science (beliefs of the group are sacrosanct and perfect)
6) loaded language (new meanings to words, encouraging black-and-white thinking)
7) doctrine over person (the group is more important than the individual)
8) dispensed existence (insiders are saved, outsiders are doomed)

Bonewitz is a bit more granular than Lifton, but both are in agreement about what constitutes a cult. And before somebody argues that they're useless because the Army or Catholicism has this or that characteristic, the idea is to evaluate a group based on all points, not just one or two.
posted by scalefree at 4:29 PM on February 12, 2007


It's horrible to equate all religions and scientology because it is an insult to real religions, that don't take advantage of their members and seek to provide spiritual assistance rather than spiritual and intellectual imprisonment. Scientology is a sham, and it takes zero seconds flat to understand that once you objectively study the situation. It's a cult, it's a cult, it's a cult. Religions and cults are not the same thing. The Unification Church is also cult-like, for example, and its relatively entrenched status does not exempt it from such. Scientology, I might also add, is a very wealthy entity. No one is taking advantage of their outsider status to brand them a cult-- we're looking at their shockingly mainstream status and observing that their cultish tactics have made them frighteningly powerful.
posted by Embryo at 4:35 PM on February 12, 2007


Religion is religion is religion. Scientology is a religion. Christianity is a religion. Jainism is a religion. The Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon is a religion. Why is this somehow a horrible, underhanded thing?

Those are also different statements from "there is no functional difference between the terms 'religion' and 'cult'," and I don't have a problem them, as long as you don't take the preposterous step of asserting "there is no substantial difference between these religions."

I say what I mean. If I want to say someone is willfully obtuse I'll say that. I've never said that, so you can assume that I didn't mean it.

"Naturally, I think the obtuseness goes the other way, and that you and the others are simply unwilling to admit that the word is nothing but a derogitory term."

I will, reluctantly, concede that in general usage there is a neublous, ill defined, highly subjective, collection of traits that attempt (poorly) to draw a valid distinction.

That's something, but I don't see how you can argue it's impossible to draw a valid distinction between, say, invitations to return versus blackmail, or even between intimations that God Ain't Gonna Love You No More versus beatings. There's nothing subjective or hard to discern about the differences between those things, and the frequency with which any of those items occur or degree to which they are are institutionalized within a given religion may even be outright quantifiable.

However, given that the term is also commonly used as a slur, and most especially that there isn't a clear, objective, definition for cult

The problem I have with that last statement is that those definitions clearly have been offered, if nowhere else, in this thread, but scalefree's links offer evidence that chimaera is certainly not the only person to draw these kinds of distinctions.

Because descriptive usage matters, I think you have half a case in the idea that many people aren't careful to use the term in any particular way. But then again, that's "literally" the case with the way many terms that have perfectly servicable precise meanings are thrown around. And in any case, the distinction behind the definitions offered here seems to be real whether or not you want to use the term "cult" or "DunklerHaltenGlaussen" or something else.
posted by weston at 8:10 PM on February 12, 2007


most especially that there isn't a clear, objective, definition for cult

I just posted two of them (twice even!), written by two of the leading experts on the subject. What about them is unclear or subjective?
posted by scalefree at 8:29 PM on February 12, 2007


Guess it all depends on what you mean by clear.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2007


Well, don't leave us in suspense, scalefree. Apply those definitions already and tell us clearly and objectively whether Scientology is a cult or not. This discussion has gone beyond boring to fascinating and back to boring again, so let's get a wrap-up.
posted by boaz at 10:00 PM on February 12, 2007


By my estimate Scientology rates at the high end of the Bonewits scale on all points except maybe 9, 10, 14 & 16, & even with those there's no shortage of anecdotes, it's just not institutionalized as with the others. It actually has specific policies on how to manage 6-8 & 11-13. As for Lifton, it measures strongly on all 8; again, it has specific policies for several of them (3 & 6 come immediately to mind). Scientology is pretty much the canonical example for many points in both systems. I could give examples of doctrines & case histories to support each point but I think everybody gets the point already.
posted by scalefree at 12:15 AM on February 13, 2007


Sorry, Sonohito, but "cult" does have a structural definition. It's base components have been offered in this thread by others than just me (afraid I can't be more complete; my texts are in boxes thousands of miles away), and I was referring to this comment by you:

let's not pretend that you're using a proper term

which I believe I made clear in my comment.

Just because you don't draw a clear distinction doesn't mean that academics have not, that it is not a valid distinction and should not be used, and to assume all of this because it is not your experience is the height of arrogance and wilful ignorance.

See: schizophrenic, idiot, moron, hysteria, paranoia, psychotic, and many other examples of field terms used and misused in common conversation. Claim that the common usage differs, that the narrow, technical definition is not appropriate; but to claim that anyone's use but your own is simple mud-slinging is being a bit simple, yourself.
posted by dreamsign at 2:03 AM on February 13, 2007


Embryo I'm mentioning him first because he illustrates many of the points I've been making. For Embryo, as evidenced by his writing, a cult is not a type of religion, but something separate from religion. Religion is good, cults are bad. Anything bad can't be a religion, its a cult. And that is one of my prime objections to the use of the term. It isn't distinuishing between types of religion, at least not for many people, but saying "over here is religion, and completely seperately there are cults".

He also wrote "we're looking at their shockingly mainstream status and observing that their cultish tactics have made them frighteningly powerful."

And that's another thing that bugs me. The term cult always implies dangerous, frightening, etc. But the CoS is vastly less dangerous than virtually any other religious organization I can name. Anyone who says that they are a Scientologist instantly loses all of his credibility, and while the CoS has money, it isn't particularly comparable to the money held by any other religion. People routinely talk about the influence on the national elections that Christian grops opposed to sex education, contraception, women's rights, science, etc have, yet I've never yet heard a story about the mighty CoS vote swinging an election.

What's frighteningly powerful is the Catholic Church, the various Protestant Churches, Islam, Jewdiasm, etc. The CoS, the Unification Chruch, the United League of Satan Worshipers Who Practice Real Magic So You'd Better Watch Out, etc are pretty much powerless non-entities from a threat point of view [1].

So it bugs me that we're using this big scare term to describe some of the least threatening religious institutions that exist.

Scalefree, those are indeed impressive lists. But there are, literally, dozen of other lists which often disagree with those lists. Who's do we use? I can define "religion" quite easily, without long, mutually disagreeing, checklists. Heck, I can define just about anything quite easily without long, mutually disagreeing, checklists. That's one of my key objections to the term.

It isn't well defined, its fuzzy, and that fuzzynes allows it to be used quite selectively.

Worse, is that no one applies any cult checklist to any religion with a certain degree of power / influence / respectability / etc. Selective use again.

Take, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, it matches not just one or two points, but almost all points on the Bonewitz Scale:

1. internal control -- Yes, tight hiearchy of control easily able to conceal horrific crimes for decades.
2. external control -- Maybe, able to influence members enough to prevent them from revealing horrific crimes for decades.
3. wisdom or knowledge claimed by leaders - Yes, Pope is the viccar of Christ on Earth, the Church claims infabillity.
4. wisdom or knowledge credited to leaders - Yes, claims original revealed knowledge from God and various Saints.
5. dogma - Very much yes.
6. recruiting - Active, requirements that any members who marry non members raise any children as Catholic, etc.
7. front groups - Many
8. wealth - Incalculable
9. sexual manipulation - Strong. Both in coersion of its members (no contraception, no sex without Church approval, controls on partners, etc) and in abusive behavior by priests.
10. sexual favoritism - Yes. Men are exclusively able to attain priesthood.
11. censorship - In the recent past (up until 1966) yes. Today, maybe, strong evidence that the Church surpresses information on contraception where possible.
12. isolation - Not especially
13. dropout control - Depends on the area, in the US, not so much, in heavily Catholic nations there is more, does not appear to be extreme.
14. violence - Depends on the area. Strong evidence of Catholic violence against sex educatiors, etc in parts of Africa. Mostly not so much these days, in the past extreme use of violence.
15. paranoia - Not so much.
16. grimness - Pretty damn grim. The world is fallen, man is a disgusting creature God hates and can only tolerate following special rituals, everyone *deserves* eternal torture, etc.
17. surrender of will - Not so much.
18. hypocrisy - Extreme. Church claims infallibility, claim moral superiority, conceals evidence of sexual crimes by its favored members.

So, out of 18 points we get a definate 11 points, with an extra 4 depending on the area. Yet, I'll guarantee that no one here will accept calling the Roman Catholic Church a cult.

Let's try Islam:

1. internal control - Not so much.
2. external control - Extreme
3. wisdom or knowledge claimed by leaders - Yes.
4. wisdom or knowledge credited to leaders - Yes.
5. dogma - Yes, yes, yes
6. recruiting - Yes.
7. front groups - Yes.
8. wealth - Difficult to figure, no central religious authority exists.
9. sexual manipulation - Extreme.
10. sexual favoritism - Extreme
11. censorship - Extreme
12. isolation - Extreme
13. dropout control - Extreme
14. violence - Extreme
15. paranoia - Extreme
16. grimness - Not as bad as many, actually.
17. surrender of will - Extreme (Slaves to Allah, willingness to suicide for religious reasons, etc)
18. hypocrisy - Hard to figure.

Islam gets, wow, 14 out of 18 without counting any of the maybes. So, will you now call Islam a cult? Of course not, its too big and respectable, and calling Islam a cult makes anyone who does so sound like a raving right wing fundamentalist. I'm certainly not going to call the Roman Catholic Church, or Islam a cult.

Lifton's list is even worse, as far as selective applicability. Out of 8 points it looks to me as if 5 are characteristics of all religion (that'd be points 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8). I'll guarantee you that no one applies that list to all religions.

And that's my main, huge, super annoyed, objection to the use of the word cult. It isn't applied evenly. If it really were a valid, descriptive, term it could be applied evenly without problems. Since it isn't really a descriptive term, but rather a pejorative term, it can't be evenly applied.

Part of the problem is size. Islam, for example, varies extremely depending on where it is. Islam in the US is quite different from Islam in, for example, Saudi Arabia. Similarly the Catholic Church gets away with stuff in some African nations that'd stun any American. So, is the entire church a cult, or just one part of it? With the Catholics its problematical because they do have a central command structure, and one that seems to exrecise a great deal of internal control, so one assumes that they must be aware of, and allow, the activities of its African branch. Islam is less problematical in this way because there isn't a central command structure.

Another part of the problem is history. Its considered perfectly acceptable for a religion to tell you what type of person you can marry, that you can't have sex without church approval, etc. But when new and different controls are applied, people become worried. So the word cult isn't evenly applied.

So "cult" winds up being exclusively used to describe small, relatively powerless, religions, and that doesn't seem right to me, so I object to the term. Especially since it is such a loaded term.

For the record, and just to avoid any confusion, I will absolutely concede that there is a diffrence between, for example, the Branch Davidians and the Baptist Chruch down the road. But no one seems to be able to define that difference specifically, and the word "cult" does not seem to me to be the proper term for that difference. I'm also fairly sure that both the Unification Church and the CoS aren't actually in the same category as the Branch Davidians.

If we want to make distinctions we need a more fine grained system, simply classifying religions as mainstream or cults is too broad and easily abused, and that's my point.

[1] With the Unification Chruch being potentially harmful because of its ownership of the Washington Post and its huge financial donations to various politicians. It still doesn't have 1/10th the influence the Catholics do though.

Also, I meant "theat" in the "threat to us in general" sense, they may well be quite threatening to their members, but that's a different thing.
posted by sotonohito at 4:12 AM on February 13, 2007


On use of the term "cult" via the Cultic Studies Journal. Select quotes:

Rutgers University professor Benjamin Zablocki (1997) says that sociologists often distinguish "cult" from "church," "sect," and "denomination." Cults are innovative, fervent groups. If they become accepted into the mainstream, cults, in his view, lose their fervor and become more organized and integrated into the community; they become churches. When people within churches become dissatisfied and break off into fervent splinter groups, the new groups are called sects. As sects become more stolid and integrated into the community, they become denominations.

We try to direct inquirers’ attention to potentially harmful practices, rather than to a label. In essence, we say: "These are practices that have been associated with harmful effects in some people. To what, if any extent, are these practices found in the group in question?

Thus, we advocate a nuanced, evidence-based approach to definition and classification. We do not ignore or disparage evidence indicating that some groups may closely approach the theoretical type, “cult.” Nor do we deny the necessity to make expert judgments about whether or not a particular set of group processes harmed a specific person or persons, a judgment that mental health clinicians and other professionals sometimes have to make in therapeutic or forensic contexts. We do, however, advocate that these kinds of judgments should rest on careful analyses of structure and behavior within a specific context, rather than a superficial classification decision.

(emphasis mine)

Note that nowhere, in the pieces I quoted nor in the broader source article, do the beliefs of the group lead to this label being used. Rather, the structure and practices of the group do.

Some people toss around the term, but that doesn't mean everyone does.

posted by dreamsign at 5:23 AM on February 13, 2007


darn open tag. Last two paras mine as well.

And note that no one is saying that the word "cult" does not have negative connotations. Rather, those connotations, indeed those associations, stem from the practices of certain groups, not from their beliefs, as I stated in my earlier comment.
posted by dreamsign at 5:25 AM on February 13, 2007


sotonohito: you could also apply that same scale to, say, Orthodox Judaism as long as you were willing to do it from a very biased and uninformed viewpoint, and come up with the result that Orthodox Judaism fits the definition of a cult. Are you willing to do that?
posted by contessa at 6:52 AM on February 13, 2007


dreamsign And I do understand that. I'm really not trying to be an ass here.

The problem is that the term itself is so loaded, so vague, and so often used in an invalid sense that it simply needs to be abandoned.

Also it isn't fine enough grained. I've been thinking about this since I started on this argument.

There are definate, quantifiable, differences between the Branch Davidians and the CoS, just to take two examples. Yet even if we take the word cult in the sense you were quoting they fall into the same category despite being demonstorably, and significantly, different in their practices.

Even in general use we have a wealth of terms to describe the differences in beliefs, but when it comes to practices religions are either mainstream or cults.

Possibly people who study religious movements do have a nuanced, fine grained, specific, set of terms they use to describe a religious group by its practices. I'd hope so, and if they do then I'd argue we need to work on popularizing those terms.

I'm not even particularly objecting to negative connotations. The terms "racist", or "white supremicist" have negative connotations but can be accurately used to describe certain groups, I'm sure those groups don't like it but if they object, the objections don't float because the term has a specific, objective, meaning and is (roughly) evenly applied. I'm sure that whatever term is used to describe the Branch Davidians, and whatever other accurate term is used to describe the CoS will likely have negative connotations, but those terms would at least be accurate.

As far as negative connotations go I'm mostly objecting to the fact that in general usage the word cult doesn't have any specific meaning, just that negative connotation. While terms like "racist" and "white supremicist" retain their meaning even when used in general conversation.

I think I'm objecting on grounds similar to my objections to the use of the term "fascist". Among people of my political persuasion the word fascist is often tossed around without any consideration as to its actual meaning, and it is used as if it means "people who support authoritarian politics I disagree with". In general conversation it's lost its meaning, and all that's left is the negative connotations.

None of which addresses the fact that in the context of this thread the word was being used in both a descriptive and pejorative sense, sometimes by the same person, and it detracted from the discussion rather than adding to it. I think that my argument stands: the word is too vague, too unevenly applied, and too tightly associated with its pejorative meanings to be useful.
posted by sotonohito at 6:56 AM on February 13, 2007


contessa I'm not arguing that either Roman Catholocism or Islam are cults. I'm arguing that the lists are so vague that if they were evenly applied both of those groups could easily be called cults.

If you'd read what I wrote, you'd have noticed the part where I said: "I'm certainly not going to call the Roman Catholic Church, or Islam a cult."

I've previously stated that I don't use the word at all myself becuse as an atheist I figure I'm already offensive enough to most religions that I don't need to add to it by using words like cult.
posted by sotonohito at 6:58 AM on February 13, 2007


Either by dint of study or bias against all unprovable assertions, I just tend to put cults and religions into the same camp, value-wise. I think the former are far more dangerous, but the term is relatively neutral to me because I view all such otherworldly belief systems largely akin.

It also doesn't impact on my views regarding the right to believe whatever you want and practice accordingly. Falun Gong, for example, has some pretty wacky beliefs, but I don't practitioners should be persecuted for them.

I disagree with the way you have characterized the RCC with regard to internal and external control, on the other hand. I think you could at best come up with anecdotal evidence of bullying and coercion in the RCC, whereras a characteristic of cults is its use as standard, endorsed practice. (I say this as having been raised RCC but having no love for the organization) What you say about the journey to becoming "mainstream" is partly true, but acceptance isn't just a step in that path, but also a transformative element. If you look again at the piece I quoted from the JCS you'll note the Zablocki assertion that fervor and structure are linked. I think this is true. In a sense, this makes the distinction almost trivial; the RCC is elaborately hierarchical because it suits its style of management while the charismatic leader requires more direct contact. Likewise, entrenched doctrine carries social acceptance such that its teachings need not (if they could be) kept secret, and other perspectives need not be curtailed, while new, equally bizarre teachings may require some control of information in order to prevent skeptics from leaving and outsiders from levelling criticism devastating to membership.

It's not mainstream = church because mainstream = ok/mentally healthy/acceptable ideas.
It's partly non-mainstream = coercive methods required to collect and keep membership in the face of the mainstream, be that mainstream atheist or other-theist (polytheist, etc).

So yes, "cult" is a useful divider when talking about methods, issuing warnings about groups using those methods, and also in talking academically about the difference in structure, sometimes necessarily, between more established religious groups and newer ones.

It is, however, also used to paint some groups unfairly. One commune I'm aware of was constantly called a "cult" and rumours of sexual abuse were levelled not, I think, because they were true but rather because people wanted them out of town. Not that I know for sure one way or another. But they were just too "different" for people to tolerate, it was clear from the start.
posted by dreamsign at 7:49 AM on February 13, 2007


I don't know where to begin. sotonohito, for starters you just abused the hell out of the Bonewits scale. Each point needs to be rated on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being essentially at the base level you'd find in society as a whole & 10 being a defining characteristic. It's not a simple Boolean yes/no. And the same is true for Lifton, but without the numbers to rate with. It's the centrality & abusiveness of the points that's the key. I reposted the lists because you had ignored the links, but maybe you need to go read them anyway.

As for Scientology's dangerousness, how soon we forget. It was not so many years ago that they were threatening the integrity of the Internet itself. That's nothing to sneeze at.

And among experts cult can't mean religion because there's political cults (LaRouche), psychological cults (est), probably environmental & health-related cults as well.

You're just a great big ball of misinformation all around. Maybe you should do a little more reading on the subject. I can recommend some starting points if you like.
posted by scalefree at 9:38 AM on February 13, 2007


I'm arguing that the lists are so vague that if they were evenly applied both of those groups could easily be called cults.

I'm not sure I would call your example an "even application" of the lists to either Roman Catholocism or Islam. In quite a lot of your points you're presenting actions done by one person, or one small subset of people, and attributing to the religion they belong to. Which is why I invited you to do the same for Orthodox Judaism, just to see what you'd do, but obviously there are some boundaries you're not willing to cross. I also think there are several points that you attempted to slip through that are outright false. (Catholic front groups? Care to name a few? You do know what a front group is, right?)

Meanwhile, Scientology would be scoring 10 out of 10 on most of the Bonewitz factors. Why? Because that's the whole structure of the entity that they call their "church." You can play semantics all you like, but there's a huge gaping chasm between the practices and organization of Scientology, which is a cult, and established religions that clearly are not cults.
posted by contessa at 10:15 AM on February 13, 2007


I don't know how you can justify accusations of misinformation if you're dubbing Scientology less dangerous than other religions/cults, scalefree. Scientology did indeed level some lawsuits that tested the resolve of Usenet, but you seriously want to compare that to, say, a mainstream religion? The state of Kansas won't teach the fundamental theorems of biology because of the influence of Christianity. People routinely strap bombs to their chests and suicide-bomb population centers because of the influence of Islam. Dogmatic adherence to ANY set of religious beliefs has an enormous potential to turn out badly.

I understand that you're all trying to make a semantic differentiation here, but sotonohito makes an indisputable point: any metric that you can apply to try to tease out the 'cult' status of a group of people with odd beliefs (for any value of 'odd') will probably turn up positive for widely-accepted major religions, as well as for fringe groups. This is a DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC of belief sets: belief in things that inherently make no goddamn sense, and some sort of organization around said beliefs to propagate the memes. You can dance around the hypothetical Bonewitz scores of Catholicism vs. Scientology all day, because they're subjectively defined criteria: I personally think Catholicism would have a few 10's, but trying to quantify that belief will just lead to a lot of name calling among people who have more invested in Christianity than I do.

Dreamsign has it: the difference between 'cult' and 'religion' is a linguistic construct, which lets us do things like praise Buddhism and condemn Branch Davidianism in the same breath, because it reduces the amount of cognitive dissonance we're forced to deal with. The negative connotations of 'cult' are sufficient to explicitly condemn a group just by uttering the word as a descriptor of them, even though it's really impossibly difficult to devise a blade fine enough to pry apart outlying religious splinter groups from bona fide crazies.
posted by Mayor West at 1:56 PM on February 13, 2007


any metric that you can apply to try to tease out the 'cult' status of a group of people with odd beliefs (for any value of 'odd') will probably turn up positive for widely-accepted major religions, as well as for fringe groups.

Take, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, it matches not just one or two points, but almost all points on the Bonewitz Scale

There is the matter of weight and degree, one that it seems to me you're glossing over.

For instance:

Its considered perfectly acceptable for a religion to tell you what type of person you can marry, that you can't have sex without church approval, etc....

Let me suggest some specific differences I think you'd be likely to see if you zoom in on this particular point:It's one thing to say "I think ALL of these are examples of coersive influence on individuals." That statement is somewhat defensible, though I think overstating the case. It's something else, though, to say "There is no functional distinction between these things." And I think if you were to zoom in on each point on these scales, you could make similar kinds of distinctions.

I will absolutely concede that there is a diffrence between, for example, the Branch Davidians and the Baptist Chruch down the road.

That's a sign of good faith. Thank you.

What's frighteningly powerful is the Catholic Church, the various Protestant Churches, Islam, Jewdiasm, etc.

Social influence is powerful, and frightening in the hands of ideological opposition. And yet that doesn't make it the same thing as the kind of direct manipulative meddling people are referring here when talking about cultishness. It's akin to the difference between idealogical pressure of a political movement, and machinations and direct use of force involved in an organized crime syndicate.

I think I'm objecting on grounds similar to my objections to the use of the term "fascist".

While we're on the subject of etymological analogies, some of my objections to describing the term "cult" as merely a pejorative are similar to saying the same thing about "terrorist." There are absolutely people (especially nowadays) that sling around the term terrorism in the worst way -- the term itself has probably been twisted and tortured and mutilated worse than most Guantanamo detainees. But there's also people who say "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," suggesting there's no functional distinctions available.
posted by weston at 2:16 PM on February 13, 2007


Contessa wrote "Which is why I invited you to do the same for Orthodox Judaism, just to see what you'd do, but obviously there are some boundaries you're not willing to cross."

We seem to be misunderstanding each other. I picked Roman Catholocism and Islam because they're big, well known, and both are widely recognized as non-cults. However, there is an even better reason why I didn't pick Orthodox Jewdiasm: I'm largely ignorant about Orthodox Jewdiasm and therefore unable to put it to that test. Therefore it has nothing to do with being unwilling to it, I'm simply unable to apply those lists to Orthodox Jewdiasm because I know very little about it.

scalefree I'd argue that the term religion is broad enough to cover EST and LaRouchism, actually, so I see no conflict there.

As for the lists, I did read them when you originally posted (and was familiar with some of them before reading your links), I ignored them because I think my argument that they are contradictory, not evenly applied, and highly subjective stands. I later used them because it seemed as if a couple of examples would be worthwhile.

I still maintain that Islam, especially, can quite easily be defined as a cult by the even application of those lists. If you disagree please use the lists to show why I'm wrong, don't just tell me I'm not using them the way I should.

It appears that the only unwavering attribute that people use to define cult is the amount and degree of coersion that is employed to keep people in the organization. By that standard Islam easily beats Scientology in that in many areas Islam threatens defectors with death, torture, exhile, etc, not occasionally, but as a standard and accepted method of dealing with those who leave the flock. Further it acknowledges publically that it takes this position, while the CoS maintains that it does not use coersion and that those who do so are violating CoS policy. We can argue as to whether the CoS really believes that or not (for the record, I'm quite willing to accept that the CoS is lying, and actively promotes such behavior), but the fact remains that the offical stance of the CoS is non-coersive, while in many areas the offical stance of Islam is quite coersive indeed. So, is Islam a cult?

In Saudi Arabia, just to take one example, it is illegal for any citizen to be non-Muslim, and not only will religious enforcers employ coersion to keep people Muslim, they are backed by the full force of the state. Again, does this make Islam a cult?

I emphisize the coersion aspect because its the only constant I can see in the various, mutually conflicting, lists people use to try to define cult.

Again, I don't think anyone would accept calling Islam a cult, which from my POV invalidates the term because it means it is being selectively applied. If it is a valid term indicating a distinction then it must be applied universally to *any* religion or organization that matches the definition of the term, selective application utterly invalidates the term.

"As for Scientology's dangerousness, how soon we forget. It was not so many years ago that they were threatening the integrity of the Internet itself. That's nothing to sneeze at."

Since I'm the one who originally brought that up on this thread, I think its hardly accurate to say I forgot anything.

I definately disapprove of the CoS for its actions in forcing anon.penet.fi to disclose, but let's not engage in hyperbole, it hardly threatened the integrity of the internet. Anon servers are not part of the basic structure of the net, they're nice, I like them, and I think its awful that the CoS broke one, but they are not critical to the functioning of the net. If the CoS had tried to shut down the DNS servers, had tried to force an alteration to the TCP/IP stack so that it included Xenu references, or something like that, I'd agree that they had threatened the ingegrity of the net itself, but they didn't, so I can't agree with that assessment.

Weston Re: "terrorist" as a term. I see where you're going, but let me observe that while there are differences (now blurred thanks to the overuse of the word "terrorist") between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, both belong to the larger category "asymetric warrior". I'm arguing that both mainstream religions, and all the groups labeled cults (whether accurately or not) belong to the larger category "religion".

"It's akin to the difference between idealogical pressure of a political movement, and machinations and direct use of force involved in an organized crime syndicate."

Disagree. Islam uses direct, physical, force to enforce its religious dictates quite frequently, and the only thing stopping many Christian groups here in the US from doing the same is that a (apparently shrinking) majority of Americans are still opposed to such thuggery. Again, no one will call Islam a cult.

When we start looking into why no one will call Islam a cult, it seems to come down to history and size. Its too old and big, cult is a term restricted exclusively for new and small religions.

one more thing I'm still working on why I'm so annoyed by the use of the term cult, and I've discovered another facet of my position. Wish I'd realized this sooner, but I'll toss it out now.

Many people here are arguing that the term cult refers to a structural aspect of a religion, however I think this is not entirely accurate.

To me it seems that the word cult is inexorably tied with assumptions that the group labeled as a cult has invalid theology. Since I hold that all theology is equally invalid, I find the term obnoxious. This also seems to be related to why, from my POV, no one is apllying the term evenly, the big, old, religions have been around long enough that no one is willing to use a term for them which implies that their theology is invalid.

If we want to make a distinction between coersive religions and non-coersive (or at least less coersive) religions, I'll agree that its a valid distinction. But the word cult isn't trying to make just that distinction, so I don't accept it.

Moreover, we need to be finer grained. Islam in Saudi Arabia is incredibly coersive, but Islam in the USA is not. I'd argue that once a religion gets large enough that they can't all live in the same compound it becomes quite difficult to describe the entire religion as coersive or non-coersive. Accepting of coersion, or indifferent to accusations of coersion coming from some places is also bad, but not the same as what David Koresh was doing. They can't all fit under the same term.
posted by sotonohito at 8:44 AM on February 14, 2007


Thank god. I thought we'd run out of Scientology apologias yesterday.
posted by cortex at 9:21 AM on February 14, 2007


When you're an OT, you get to ignore it when other people spell "Judaism" correctly; it's not being obtuse, it's being clear.
posted by breezeway at 9:52 AM on February 14, 2007


If we want to make a distinction between coersive religions and non-coersive (or at least less coersive) religions, I'll agree that its a valid distinction. But the word cult isn't trying to make just that distinction, so I don't accept it.

Sure it is; or more accurately: we are, with it. That others throw the term around, or that you do, I'm sorry, isn't conclusive of its worth as a term.

To me it seems that the word cult is inexorably tied with assumptions that the group labeled as a cult has invalid theology.

Perhaps as I outlined -- just a theory -- that accepted doctrine permits an openness that new sects must strive to avoid until their doctine becomes "respectable" too, but you know, that's only half the story at best. That still doesn't require the kind of elaborate and vicious measures taken by groups like the CoS. And that's back to practices, not theology. If you're honest with yourself, sotonohito, you're going to find an awful lot of us (especially on MeFi!) who find both camps equally ludicrous in their beliefs, so you are, in complete and utter honesty, barking up the wrong tree on that point.

And thank you to those others who better explained what I was trying to get at re: the RCC -- either you're talking about an unrepresentative splinter engaging in extreme acts comparable to a group like the CoS, or the degree of "control" exercises is comparably so minimal as to be laughable. (and yes: "front groups"?!) You have to stretch awfully far to paint these groups with the same brush, and you are stretching so very far, sotonohito. It's also not convincing anyone. There's plenty of documentation available, thankfully, for people to see for themselves what this "church" is up to.
posted by dreamsign at 11:04 AM on February 14, 2007


sotonohito, you're swallowing camels & straining at gnats. To say that a political party, however wacky it is, is a religion is to enter the land of Alice where words mean what you want them to mean.

As for coercion, it's only one driving force that defines a cult. There's also deception, which you yourself admit most Islamic sects fall short in. Cults derive their power from a confluence of forces that combine to control their followers & effectively remove their free will without their consent. There's a difference between giving yourself over to serve God & being tricked & manipulated into serving a group that claims to speak for him.

Getting back to Scientology, they did much more than go after anon.penet.fi. The sum of their legal, illegal & technical attacks threatened the social fabric that's what really holds the Internet together, at a time when it was quite vulnerable. I was there, you weren't.
posted by scalefree at 11:31 AM on February 14, 2007


Disagree. Islam uses direct, physical, force to enforce its religious dictates quite frequently

I think it's important to consider the "machinations" part of my statement along with the "direct violence" portion. This is why I used organized crime. The setup and behavior of the organization is more inherently esoteric than I imagine you see with a typical Islamic community. That's one potential distinction. I see that scalefree makes it too, and dreamsign gets at some of the potential reasons.

I'd also reiterate one other point made w/respect to the Bonewitz scale: that a useful baseline for each rated point should be the society which is the context for the cult. My guess is that normalizes a good chunk of Islamic behavior. It also makes a distinction between something like the Spanish Inquisition now, and something like the Spanish Inquisition 600-700 years ago.

but let me observe that while there are differences (now blurred thanks to the overuse of the word "terrorist") between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, both belong to the larger category "asymetric warrior". I'm arguing that both mainstream religions, and all the groups labeled cults (whether accurately or not) belong to the larger category "religion".

I mostly agree with this (the idea that the set of cults is a proper subset of religions). As other posters have pointed out, though, there appear to be non-theological groups that whose dogma is based around psychology or supposed esoteric health products etc, etc.
posted by weston at 7:56 PM on February 14, 2007


scalefree wrote "I was there, you weren't."

Don't be deliberately obnoxious and/or condesending, its unbecoming in a debate. Also, you are factually in error, the event in question happened in early 1995, I was online at the time, I wittnessed the events firsthand (though I'll admit I didn't join any of the debates). If it matters in the slightest, I'm 32 now, and was 20 then.

Your characterization of the times, the events, etc strike me as being wrong in all particulars. I remember the lamentations over Eternal September two years earlier, and I'll argue that AOL allowing its members to access the usenet was vastly more harmful than the CoS ever dreamed of being. Though mostly I'll argue that in a semi-humorous manner.

"To say that a political party, however wacky it is, is a religion is to enter the land of Alice where words mean what you want them to mean."

Not at all. While a political party per-se is not a religion, any number of things can become religious. Let me toss out a definition of religion here:

Religion: a system of beliefs based on revealed dogma.

You'll object to that because it doesn't mention spirits, gods, supernatural beings, and so forth. But before you do, consider Buddhism which is universally regarded as a a religion and its quite non-theistic (or at least some sects are). The acceptance of Buddhism as a religion indicates that the word really has nothing to do with gods, as many sects of Buddhism don't involve gods of any sort. Siddhartha never discussed afterlives, souls, gods, or anything else and while later Buddhists have added those elements to their sects, other sects ignore them. The belief system came to Siddhartha after he supposedly attained enlightenment, its dogma, its a religion.

EST is a religion, it is a system of belief based on revealed dogma. The dogma came from Erhard, supposedly in a vision, and is dogma, its a religion.

LaRoucheism, as with any political movement, is not necessarially a religion, as you observe it was a originally political movement/party but it acquired religious status when it became a belief system based on the revealed dogma of LaRouche. Its a religion.

The rise of non-theistic religions, such as est or Ryndism, etc is a great triumph by their founders in that they avoid ever calling their religions by that name. People in the US are mostly Christian but while on the one hand Christianity isn't really satisfying for many of them, on the other hand its so much a tradition that few are willing to outright abandon Christianity. By claiming that the new religions aren't, actually, religions their founders were able to gather a large body of followers, largely avoid the cult label, etc.

Followers of est can tell themselves that they're Christian because est isn't a religion. Isn't that amazingly convenient for the con men who founded the new religions? Its the new religions that actually take the label "religion" that get in trouble, because they're directly and obviously competing with the established players.

When the new religion becomes powerful enough it often tries to oust other religions. I'll argue that communism, like Ryndism, has acquired religious status over the years and is no longer simply an economic system. The efforts in communist nations to eradicate other religions are neither surprising nor new, historically that's been SOP for any dominant religious force in a nation.

For that matter, while science per se isn't a religion, there are people (usually those ignorant of science) who treat it as such. Rather than taking science is it is presened (ie: a collection of ideas that make rational sense so we're urged to accept them until they're proven wrong) they take it as dogma. There's probably even a few scientists who have fallen into that trap, and its surprisingly seductive for non-scientists, after all, science demonstorably works which is more than can be said for any religion.

Once a collection of ideas goes beyond the "hmmm, this appears to be rationally correct, I'll go along with it until its proven wrong" level and enters the "this is the One Sole Truth and I'll defend it to the death!" level it has become a religion, at least for the person who has entered that level.

"There's also deception, which you yourself admit most Islamic sects fall short in."

I'm not quite sure what you mean by deception in this context. Really, I'm not playing dumb here, I'm just not sure exactly what is meant. Could you elaborate please?

"Cults derive their power from a confluence of forces that combine to control their followers & effectively remove their free will without their consent. There's a difference between giving yourself over to serve God & being tricked & manipulated into serving a group that claims to speak for him."

And this differs from shoving an unsuspecting kid into one of the more fanatic Islamic schools where he is essentially brainwashed in what way? People don't just sanely and rationally decide to become suicide bombers.

Again, I'm not arguing that we should call Islam a cult, simply that if the term were applied evenly it would be. I'm arguing that the selective application of the term invalidates it.

But, let's not bandy words about, you've got a list. Take the Bonewitz Scale you say I musused, use it the way you consider to be proper and show me that it proves Islam isn't a cult by your definition.

weston wrote "I'd also reiterate one other point made w/respect to the Bonewitz scale: that a useful baseline for each rated point should be the society which is the context for the cult. My guess is that normalizes a good chunk of Islamic behavior"

Which rather proves my contention that the definition highly subjective and isn't being applied evenly. If, rather, we shy away from calling something a cult once its achieved a certain level of size and history *regardless*of*its*practices* then the term is worthless.

A vertebrate is a vertebrate no matter what environment its in. A democracy is a democracy no mtter what environment its in. If a cult isn't a cult, no matter what environment its in, then the term is worthless.

And that's my point in a nutshell. Cult is a term reserved exclusively for relatively powerless organizations, and that just isn't right.

re: violence It seems to me that you are saying that we need to reserve the scare word "cult" for organizations so powerless that they must resort to covert, behind the scenes, violence, while once an organization is powerful enough it can exercise violence in an overt manner we should then apply the legitimizing term "religion". If I'm not misunderstanding you, that seems really messed up. Shouldn't the scary word be used for the more frighting organization?

I'm a *lot* more worried about violence from Christians or Muslims than I am about violence from the CoS. How many people per year are savagely beaten in the US by members of the CoS? According to the FBI 1,484 homosexuals were assaulted in 2004, most of them presumably by Christians since they make up over 75% of the US population and most anti-homosexual rhetoric here comes from Christian sources.

So why are we using the scary word to describe a group which, at best, has assaulted a couple hundred people in that same year?
posted by sotonohito at 4:48 AM on February 15, 2007


How many of those religions drowned the Judge's dog as a threat to coerce him into finding in favour of their case?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:20 AM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish Dunno. I do know that various Christians have directly threatened the lives of judges they disagree with, and killed at least one.

I do know that Islam caused the death of 15 young women because they tried to flee a burning building without "proper" clothes. I do know that Islam resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 Americans in an attempt to coerce the US government into favoring their cause. I do know that Saudi Arabia alone has executed over 300 people in an attempt to coerce homosexuals to become hetrosexuals.

Look, you've got a mad on against the CoS. I don't know why. Maybe you personally know someone who got screwed over by them. If so, I'm sorry for you. But let's face facts, the CoS is, when compared with the major religious organizations, a powerless non-entity. This doesn't mean that the CoS is good, or that we should ignore the crimes you alledge, it does mean that they are, objectively, not nearly as harmful as the big religions.

The victims of other religions are measured in the thousands, the tens of thousands. If we count the AIDS victims in Africa the Roman Catholic Church now has a victim count in the millions as a result of its tireles efforts against condom use, education, and distribution.

I'm not saying the CoS is good. I am saying that they're like little back to the land, hand made, craftsmen when it comes to victims; and the big boys are busy mass producing victims by the thousands. After we've stopped the big religions from harming thousands, then I'll start really worrying about stopping the CoS from harming its few. If you want to focus your attention on the small fry, feel free, I certainly can't tell you what to do.

Which is all separate from the use of the word cult. I continue to object to the term "cult" becaus I consider it to be invalid for a few main reasons, and no one has yet really addressed any of these, or at least not to my satisfaction.

1) It is unevenly applied, the big religions are exempt from that label regardless of their actions.

2) It is a scare term that is *only* applied to the small and relatively powerless religions, which strikes me as being pretty unfair since the big religions are a lot more scary.

3) It is undefined, or at best, fuzzily and subjectively defined. Like people trying to make a distinction between "erotica" and "pornography".

4) Its history as a pejorative term invalidates its use as a distinctive term.

5) It carries implications of theological invalidity which also make it inappropriate as a distinctive term for religions.

If you want to say "The CoS is a coersive religion which uses brainwashing and threats to cow its members" thats fine. But the word "cult" isn't shorthand for that.
posted by sotonohito at 4:16 AM on February 16, 2007


Which rather proves my contention that the definition highly subjective and isn't being applied evenly.

There's a big difference between "subjective" and "relative."

A vertebrate is a vertebrate no matter what environment its in. A democracy is a democracy no mtter what environment its in. If a cult isn't a cult, no matter what environment its in, then the term is worthless.

This argument sounds an awful lot like "Relative measurements are useless," which is an even more dubious statement than "Relative measurements are subjective."

Mountains have an absolute height, but those traversing or observing them are often more concerned with the rise from the valley floor. Not only is using society-wide baselines probably an acceptable practice, but I suspect anyone studying a sociological phenomenon would be remiss if they didn't.

I'm a *lot* more worried about violence from Christians or Muslims than I am about violence from the CoS. How many people per year are savagely beaten in the US by members of the CoS? According to the FBI 1,484 homosexuals were assaulted in 2004, most of them presumably by Christians since they make up over 75% of the US population and most anti-homosexual rhetoric here comes from Christian sources.

There's nothing wrong with being concerned about this. It's certainly a problem.

But it's a mistake to say that it's the same problem as the one Scientology presents. This is one of the reasons that I think it's useful to have a term that distinguishes between "cult" and "religion," because they present different kinds of problems, and if you fail to distinguish them or try to address them the same way, you will fail at one of them, possibly both.

You know you can't have the ATF rounding up every Christian in the country, not without destroying what America means. But by the same token, you can't stop something like the Church of Scientology from perpetrating its crimes -- which, whether they're smaller scale or not, still have just as profound an effect on their victims -- by pushing along in a social or political movement as you might stop crimes perpetrated under the guise of faith, any more than you could stop organized crime this way.

I'd also point out that if Christians do make up 75% of the US population, then that makes about 225,000,000 of them here. That means that if every last reported assault on homosexuals took place by people in that category, that's a rate of occurance of less 7/10,000 %. An incidence of one such event event among a posited 50,000 scientologists would make the rate of occurance about three times larger. CoS is fairly ambiguous about homosexuality specifically, so I don't know if that comparison matters specifically, but it works as an rough illustration. If you start to compare areas in which Scientology *does* seem to frequently get in trouble for in a similar way (say, issuing or carrying out threats on those involved in legal cases against them), it becomes clear that the incidence is ridiculously high unless you make your baseline comparison is organized crime.
posted by weston at 2:46 PM on February 16, 2007


You can no more tag all of Islam with those incidents than blame all Christianity for the Olympic bombing or Waco. Islam has a billion & a half adherents with a wide range of beliefs & practices, your brush is painting with far too broad strokes to have any meaning.

As to your 5 points:

1) Size has nothing to do with it except possibly as a limiting factor in that groups with virulent beliefs have a hard time growing past a certain size & a harder time staying there. For example, look at the explosive growth of Aum Shinrikyo, followed by its equally spectacular fall. To me as a student of social systems from an engineering perspective, it starts to outline a rule regarding information control & decreasing ROI. The larger you get, the harder it is to maintain stability in an information-controlling environment because you have to expend ever-increasing amounts of energy to control the system. However, there are some counterexamples as well, for instance North Korea & to a lesser degree Libya & until recently Turkmenistan. But they all have certain advantages not available to smaller groups, like sovereignty over territory & standing armies (not that they haven't tried, for instance Jonestown & Koresh).

2) As I already said, it's not all of Islam that's scary, just some fairly small offshoots of it. Just like Meir Kahane doesn't represent all of Judaism.

3) If you squint hard enough you can make a car look like an apple tree. I've done the best I can to give you an objective standard, but if you prefer your own personally concocted alternative, you're free to use it instead. Just make it clear when you do use the word, you're going by your own definition & not the commonly held one.

4) If you want to cling to a misdefinition of the word I can't stop you but you need to recognize that most people who study these things don't define the word the way you do.

5) Again that's an abuse of the word & not in the accepted definition.
posted by scalefree at 7:55 PM on February 16, 2007


scalefree regarding your first point about size, that's part of my problem with your usage. The word, almost by definition, is limited to small religions.

There's also this. You wrote "You can no more tag all of Islam with those incidents than blame all Christianity for the Olympic bombing or Waco."

If that's our standard for applying the illigitimizing term "cult" to a religion, then its likely that the CoS isn't a cult by your standard. Has all of the CoS been drowning judges dogs, or whatever else the CoS is accused of here? Of course not.

Anecdotially I know two former Scientologists who left the CoS, and feel pretty bitter about their experiences there, yet despite that they didn't report any threats or other coersive action against them when they left. If that sort of thing must be universal before a religion is a cult, then the CoS doesn't count as a cult by your own definition.

Since you have not applied the lists to Islam and the Roman Catholic Church, but rather simply objected to my application on the grounds that the two religions are too big, does this mean that I can assume that if you applied the lists you'd get the same result I did, and that you'll be retracting your statement that I'm somehow abusing the lists because their even application produced a result you didn't like?

You've accused me of misusing the lists scalefree, I'm asking you to show me how to properly use them. Use the lists and show that Islam and the Roman Catholic Church aren't cults, should be easy if your lists are really workable. If you can't, can I get an appology for your accusation that I was somehow misusing the lists and an admission that the lists are worthless?

As for my point 4, that's hardly addressing it. If you want to argue that the term has a different meaning for social scientists than it does for the general public, that's fine. But, in case you hadn't noticed, the people here tossing around the word cult aren't social scientists and I know for a fact that the person who first used the word did so in a pejorative sense because he said so himself. So don't talk about misdefinition when I'm using the definition that is appropriate to the people using the term.

Personally, I don't think your claim that the term is generally accepted and used by social scientists is accuate. I could be dead wrong, and I'll admit upfront that I'm a computer geek and a historian in training so its outside my area of specialty.

I doubt that simply because no one has yet linked to an actual definition for the term. You've shown me several mutually inconsistant lists, but the simple fact that there's more than one list seems to indicate that the term has no precise definition.

I know that when I look in the dictionary the definition for cult is functionally identical to the definition for religion. I also know that at least some academics who study religion have expressed a similar position to my own. Neither of those facts seems to reflect your position that the word has a specific, well defined, non-pejorative, meaning among scholars.

There's also this. You are arguing for the use of a special word, with many negative connotations and a history of being used as a pejorative, to apply to small religious movements which are harmful / scary / etc. Leaving aside the fact that in general usage cult just means "icky religion I don't like" let's accept for the moment that it has a legitimate use as well. So, where is the term for major religions which are harmful / scary / etc?

What I mean is that the word cult is a deligitimizing label and religion is a legitimizing label. But causing harm is hardly limited to small religions, so where is the matching deligitimizing term for big religions which cause harm? The answer, of course, is that there isn't one. Once a religion gets big enough that people can claim, as you just have, that the term cult can't apply because they have too many followers so calling them a cult would be painting them with too broad a brush it automatically gets the legitimizing label and there's something wrong with that.

weston You are, of course, correct. There is a difference between relative and subjective. I'm also not going to argue that relative terms are inappropriate.

Give me a bit, and I'll explain why I think its a bad idea to make the definition of cult relative. I am objecting to that, but I need a bit more time to explain why. Sorry. I think at least part of my objection comes down to the fact that the word cult is highly negative, so therefore labeling a religion a cult penalizes that religion, which means we're penalizing religions that are objectively not as bad as other religions. Which is a huge run on sentence and not very clear.

Getting to your other points. Actually, I think that's another reason why I object to the word cult. It implies that its ok to have the ATF round them up and/or burn them all to death. After all, they aren't a real religion, so it isn't like they get the same protections and difference we give to real religions, right?

Take the Waco incident as a good general example. They were thought of as a cult, and that term implies danger, fear, and not-really-a-religion. So rather than simply serving a warrant to search for illegal weapons the ATF staged an incompetent military style raid. Can you imagine the outrage if anyone did that to a Roman Catholic group? Even Opus Dei, a group which is sometimes called a cult, is protected by the legitimate status of the Roman Catholic Church to the point where a Waco type raid simply won't happen.

I won't argue that the nature of the harm caused by the smaller, relatively powerless, religions differs greatly from the harm caused by the larger, vastly powerful, religions. That difference doubtless calls for a different approach. But two things. In the first place no one seems to be bothering with doing anything about the harm caused by the major religions, how many undercover agents or police invstigations are currently active in trying to crack the Roman Catholic Church over the problem of rapist priests? In the second place, by using the legitimizing term for big religions, regardless of their harm, it tends to imply that they aren't really a problem, that they don't really cause harm, so there's no need to be doing anything about the problems they cause.

Re: homosexuals. As far as I'm aware the CoS is pretty anti-homosexual, considers it to be a disorder, etc. However I'm going to guess that none of the gay bashers were Scientologists because if they had been we'd be hearing about it all over. Many Christian leaders are desperate to spread the blame for gay bashing, if they can put some of it onto a "cult" it'd really take the heat off them.

There's also the fact that all of the anti-homosexual groups that are really active are Christian, you can't even find an Islamic anti-homosexual group here in the USA despite the fact that Islam is, literally, violently anti-homosexual.
posted by sotonohito at 4:55 AM on February 17, 2007


Bonewits on the Roman Catholic Church:

1. internal control -- I put this at maybe a 5 because although the Church is clearly hierarchical, doctrinal dissent is allowed & there is slow but persistent movement towards transparency; witness the American schism over abortion & Vatican II.

2. external control -- There are a few issues where the Church exercises control (abortion, birth control) but overall it's not such a dominant force in most member's lives that the Church is effectively making life decisions (where to live & work, who to marry) for them. I'll say this is a 3.

3. wisdom or knowledge claimed by leaders - There is the doctrine of Papal infallibility, but in practice it's been pretty limited. Do you know when the last doctrine was declared Ex Cathedera? 1950. I give it a 2.

4. wisdom or knowledge credited to leaders - This means trust in the reliability of special revelation given to the priesthood, I don't see that as a real factor but I'll be generous & throw in a couple points. 2.

5. dogma - Catholicism is nothing if not dogmatic, but even the Popes show signs of flexibility from time to time. 7.

6. recruiting - Catholicism in America isn't terribly evangelical, but it actually is fairly aggressive in the Third World. I'll balance it out & give it a 5.

7. front groups - I think you misunderstand the nature of a front group. When a cult's reputation has been trashed by its misdeeds, it creates groups apparently unconnected to it to lure new members in without having to explain about its embarrassing past. I can't think of a single example of a Catholic front group by this definition, 0.

8. wealth - This is a gimme, although most of the Church's wealth was accumulated over centuries & not scammed out of followers in massive chunks & the priesthood & sisterhood pretty much all take vows of poverty. 8.

9. sexual manipulation - Yeah this is a major issue for the RCC. Another 8.

10. sexual favoritism - Sexual favoritism means advancement through sexual favors. I don't see that as a problem in Catholicism, do you? 0.

11. censorship - RCC does censor information on birth control & abortion, but it's quite open about its doctrines. I'll split the difference & say 5.

12. isolation - Membership isolation is nonexistent but there are convents & monasteries. But I give it only 2 because staying in them is voluntary.

13. dropout control - I'm sure the Church does its best but I don't think it has a real problem with using illegitimate means to retain members. 2.

14. violence - I think Church-sanctioned violence is pretty much limited to Dan Brown's novels. 0.

15. paranoia - The RCC doesn't strike me as particularly paranoid. 0.

16. grimness - Grimness is a function of the sense of humor members tolerate about the group, or rather a lack of it. If you ever want to add to your collection of God jokes, just ask a priest. 0.

17. surrender of will - Not an issue for most Catholics. 0.

18. hypocrisy - It's going to take a long time to recover from the whole molestation scandal. 9.

I get 58 out of 180. Sorry, no cult here.

Let's try Islam. I'm going to have to paint broadly here, keeping in mind that Islam contains many sects.

1. internal control - Sharia is all about the rights of Muslims. 0.

2. external control - The flip side of Sharia is that it does extend control into many areas of a Muslim's life. 8.

3. wisdom or knowledge claimed by leaders - Muslim scholars do nothing but argue with each other about doctrine, but they do so on the basis of reason not revelation or position. 0.

4. wisdom or knowledge credited to leaders - In Islam you're a leader as long as the people listen to you. 3.

5. dogma - The Shia/Sunni split alone requires me to set this pretty high. 9.

6. recruiting - As a universal religion Islam is aggressively evangelistic. 9.

7. front groups - Name some front groups that hide their association with the religion, else this sits at 0.

8. wealth - I don't think this is an issue within Islam. 0.

9. sexual manipulation - I'll set this fairly high but note that in Islam it's all about limiting sexual choice & not sexual abuse. 7.

10. sexual favoritism - I don't think anybody sleeps teir way to the top in Islam. 0.

11. censorship - Pretty high but not absolute. 7.

12. isolation - Islam has issues integrating into Western culture & there is the whole isolation of women thing, but it integrates pretty well in many Eastern cultures. 5.

13. dropout control - There's certainly pressure to keep the faith but does it cross the boundary into illegitimate means? 5.

14. violence - Yeah, 10.

15. paranoia - I'm not sure how much of it is caused by Islam but paranoia seems to be pretty high in Islamic cultures. 7.

16. grimness - Muslims have absolutely no sense of humor about Islam. 10.

17. surrender of will - Muslim literally means "surrender to God", so I'll just put this at 10.

18. hypocrisy - I think most fundamentalist religions have a problem with this, but Islam no more than the rest. 4.

And the total for Islam is 94 out of 180. Islam is pretty controlling but it doesn't particularly engage in deception, so it too falls short of what I'd call a cult.

Sorry, I'm just too tired to answer the rest of your post.
posted by scalefree at 1:29 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. I was assuming that "sexual favoritism" meant favoring one sex over the other, ie: only men can be ordained.

Still, we're still wrangling over subjective metrics. What makes Islamic grimness a 10 instead of a 9? Things like that. What's the matter with a simple definition instead of an akward checklist? I answer myself by saying "because no one can really come up with a simple (or evenc complex) definition." So we wind up with stuff like Justice Stewart's famous "I know it when I see it" line.

I agree completely that some religions are quite deceptive, manipulative, etc. But what's wrong with categorizing religions as "coersive religions" and "non-coersive religions" (or at least "less coersive religions" because that entire "believe what we say or you'll be tortured for all eternity" is coersion, albeit a mild form of coersion in most religions)? Why insist on hanging on to a the word "cult" when it doesn't have a good, solid, definition, carries such baggage, etc?

I'm also curious how you'd score the CoS on that list? I'll bet it doesn't score that much higher than Islam, really.... I mean, the simple fact that it is larger than the Branch Davidians means it is not possible for it to be as controlling, etc. Similarly, now that Hubbard is dead, technically the leaders don't claim any paricular knowledge that the masses don't have.
posted by sotonohito at 1:01 PM on February 19, 2007


Christ on a pogo stick, you know nought about the CoS. Your last paragraph should damn well embarass you.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:58 PM on February 19, 2007


Still, we're still wrangling over subjective metrics.

It's not as objective as a physics equation, no. But it highlights many the elements that go into creating a cultic environment.

What makes Islamic grimness a 10 instead of a 9?

I set it at 10 specifically because of the recent example of the Dutch cartoons. We can argue over exactly where to set the level for individual elements, but without a high score in many of them you don't get the toxic, controlling, deceptive environment that removes the free will from its membership that's the hallmark of a true cult.

What's the matter with a simple definition instead of an akward checklist?

Because there are many factors that combine to create the environment and you have to include them all if you're going to understand how they happen & what it is that makes them so dangerous & illegitimate. There is no definition of cult that's both simple & accurate.

Why insist on hanging on to a the word "cult" when it doesn't have a good, solid, definition, carries such baggage, etc?

For better or worse it's the word the public knows, just like "hacker" is the word the public associates with "people who break into computers". Many have tried valiantly to offer up alternative words for both over the years, but none of them ever stuck. The best we can do at this point is offer up as comprehensive and meaningful definition of the word as we can.

As for where Scientology stands under Bonewits, you'd lose your bet. Didn't we already go over this? Yeah, here we go:
By my estimate Scientology rates at the high end of the Bonewits scale on all points except maybe 9, 10, 14 & 16, & even with those there's no shortage of anecdotes, it's just not institutionalized as with the others. It actually has specific policies on how to manage 6-8 & 11-13.
I'll add that Scientology absolutely nails the meter to the wall in points 6-8, 11-13 & 15-17. That's 90 points right there. Looking over the rest of the list I can't see a single area that I'd rate below a 5. Even discounting the current leadership's lesser status than Hubbard, they still act as a gatekeeper to his supposed wisdom, over which they're massively protective. This thread really needs to end now but you should educate yourself more about some of the things they've done, it's really quite unbelievable.
posted by scalefree at 3:10 PM on February 19, 2007


Well, I'll agree that we should end the thread. I'm not convincing you, you aren't convincing me.

I still think that the word cult is improper to use (when referencing any religion), you obviously still think it is proper to use.

I'd like to emphisize, especially for the benefit of five fresh fish, that I'm not arguing that the CoS is good, or non-harmful. Simply that I think the word cult is not a valid term. But yeah, it doesn't look like we're going anywhere here so I'll quit.
posted by sotonohito at 4:35 AM on February 22, 2007


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