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The difference between a cult and a religion

Within a healthy religious environment, family bonds are upheld and even strengthened, questioning of the leader and basic tenets is accepted, and the leader lives in a similar manner to the followers. One is offered all the information necessary to make an educated decision about joining, and once involved, people can choose the amount of involvement that feels right to them.

A cultic environment tears families apart, does not accept any questioning, and has a leader who claims to have an exalted position and to be above reproach. The cult is designed to solely advance its own goals, to abuse the members’ trust, and to use fear and shame to manipulate the followers. It freely utilizes deceptive techniques while recruiting new members and fundraising, misuses scripture, and declares other belief systems as false. Because it is not under the umbrella of a recognized religion, there is no governing body and the leader is, therefore, free to do as he or she pleases.

We have compiled the following comparative list to address this question, though there is no definitive answer.


Deceit in recruitment Information offered up front
Totalitarian Allows freedom of thought and members have a say
Destroys that family unit Promotes the family unit
Isolates its members Works within society
Keeps non-believers out Open to general community
Limits development of individual Interested in promoting potential
Exploits and manipulates its members with mind control techniques While there are guidelines members are not systematically controlled
Commitment is encouraged during recruitment process Thought before commitment is encouraged as part of conversion process
Criticism is met with threats of legal action People are free to speak out against the tenets of a religion
Leader and follower consider leader to be above reproach Clergy are expected to be responsible for their words and actions
Questioning the leader, or basic tenets, is not allowed Critical thinking is allowed and sometimes even encouraged

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