Theblogogy - The Blog of Theology and Questions

The Blog of Theology and Questions

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cults versus Christianity

I recently watched several documentaries about cults (such as Going Clear and Holy Hell). I've also spent many Saturdays happily talking to cult missionaries about what they believe and why. And let me tell you: If you see all religion like this, I can see why you're scared.

Because cult stuff is nuts, right? People laying hands on one another imbuing power or mystical experiences. These charismatic and crazy leaders who ultimately use their power to abuse people. Kool-aid. Suppressives. Service. Secrets. And so on. This focus on rites and rituals can lead to dangerous and damaging outcomes.

And here's the deal: Any religion -- including Christianity -- can become cultish. I have a friend who grew up in a pretty strict sect that threatened excommunication to anyone who left their “religion” for another brand (denomination) of Christianity. That may not quite be a cult, but that's certainly tending that way.

What makes faith in Christ different?

I'm certainly not an expert -- and I welcome your input on this -- but let me suggest the following to consider:
  1. Historicity - Jesus Christ is a robust and revolutionary historical figure. Compared to Mohammed or Buddha, we know a lot about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (despite what the Jesus Seminar or Dan Brown suggest). Now, we're not typically very good students of history -- I blame the boring classes -- but when you dig in, the content on Christ is pretty remarkable.
  2. Challenge - A complaint I recently heard was that it's almost impossible to critique Christianity because there are so many different versions of it; Christians disagree about everything (not just the color of the carpeting or how long a girl's skirt should be). And that's a fair complaint. But I love what this means: We encourage questions. If something doesn't seem right, dig into it. Wrestle with it. Try to break it., does everyone in Christianity do this? Of course not! ...but that's something else to challenge, right? We're certainly not perfect, but Christians challenge one another to be more Christ-like, even as we disagree on what that means.
    [Side note: What Christians ultimately believe is pretty consistent throughout history, so the critique that you can't know what Christianity teaches is also inaccurate.]
  3. Rebuke - When people leave a cult, the horrors come with them and a few brave individuals speak up (and are often branded as evil by the group they left). Please note: bad things happen in Christian churches, too. But here's the difference: The bad stuff is in opposition to the teachings, not part of it. Predatory Catholic priests go against what Christianity stands for. Followers of Christ should be the first to condemn such evil. Sacrificing a virgin, on the other hand, is the film icon of what it means to be a cult. The deeper you get into a cult, the more horrors you find baked in.
  4. Secrets - Many cults exhibit a form of Gnosticism, or a reliance on secret knowledge that members slowly gain or earn. The major monotheistic religions -- including Christianity -- don't do this. Instead, you are encouraged to study. You can find the questions and the answers people have had throughout history. You can read current and old versions of the Bible. You can explore the many heresies and doctrines. Thus, the historicity is regularly challenged, leaving room for us to rebuke things not in line with Christ, which leaves no secrets.

There is more to explore when it comes to religion (and Christianity) compared to cults. We can certainly dig into this even further. But, for now, I want you to remember that Christianity is different from a cult in historicity, challenge, rebuke, and secrets.

I'd be thrilled to hear your thoughts and what you've learned about cults and religion.


No comments :

Post a Comment