April 17th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Rethinking the word 'cult'

Nearly 20 years ago, 76 people lost their lives during an FBI raid near Waco, Texas. CNN's Drew Griffin looks at those events at 8 ET/PT and 11 ET/PT Sunday night in "Waco: Faith, Fear & Fire."

Editor’s note: James T. Richardson, J.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he specializes in new religions. He is the coauthor of the forthcoming Saints under Siege (New York University Press).

By James T. Richardson, Special to CNN

I remember being struck by one of the early stories about 1993’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

Shortly after an initial raid by federal authorities ended in a gun battle that left 10 dead (six Davidians and four ATF agents), a lengthy story appeared in my local paper, the Las Vegas Review Journal, about the history of the Davidian group, which had existed at Mount Carmel, Texas for decades.

The story noted that Branch Davidians were a spinoff sect of the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian denomination. The term “cult” did not appear in the story at all. And yet the headline of this front-page piece screamed “Cult Standoff in Waco” in inch-high capital letters.

Some headline writer had decided that the Davidians were in fact a cult, no matter what the story said.

The term cult also factored into the federal trials that grew out of the Branch Davidian tragedy.

Some survivors of the fire that ended the siege, which left 76 sect members dead, faced a criminal trial in 1994. Early in the trial, the defense made a motion to disallow the use of the term cult in the proceedings.

The federal judge presiding over the trial quickly rejected the motion.

I was intrigued by use of such a powerful, pejorative term to refer to the Branch Davidians, a decades-old offshoot of a Christian denomination that did not fit the definition of the type of group to which the term cult had traditionally been applied.

The term had, over the previous couple of decades, been used to refer to unpopular new religious groups like the Unification Church (the “Moonies”), Scientology, the Hare Krishna and the Children of God. These groups, although usually quite peaceful in orientation and practice, were all newer, and most were promoting religious beliefs and practices that were definitely outside the mainstream of American religious history.

But the term cult had not been used with older groups that were spinoffs of more traditional religious movements, such as the Davidians.

When used against one of the newer religious groups, which most scholars call new religious movements, the term cult suggested that such groups are not “real religions” at all, but trumped-up facsimiles designed to take advantage of allegedly gullible American youth.

Research showed that these youth were members of the best educated and most affluent generation that America had yet produced. But they had rejected American values and culture, which they viewed as racist, sexist and imperialistic, and were exercising their volition to try out some new, usually non-Western, religions. This rejection upset many parents and political leaders.

These new groups became quite unpopular and, as Americans grappled with why many joined them, a theory developed suggesting that these young people must have been brainwashed by gurus who had developed some powerful psycho-techniques unknown to the rest of us.

This assumption was derived crudely from efforts to explain what took place in the 1940s in Communist China and in the 1950s in Korean War POW situations.

Americans needed some explanation for why Chinese people came to accept Communism as their governing ideology and why a couple dozen American POWs chose to remain in Korea after the war ended.

Brainwashing became the accepted rationale, even if scholars have since asserted that this was more propaganda than real explanation. In the 1960s and onward, this same rationale came to be a useful tool to use against unpopular religious groups including, eventually, the Davidians.

This approach gained considerable traction and helped justify claims that so-called cults were not “real religions” and that therefore First Amendment protections did not apply to them or their adherents.

The term cult became a social weapon against unpopular religious groups, new or old. That’s what happened with the designation assigned in the news media to the Branch Davidians during the 1993 siege and during the 1994 criminal trial of the surviving Davidians.

Such thinking about unpopular religious groups in America was mainstreamed in our society and helped justify the kidnapping of thousands of young people out of some of the more controversial groups. A new pseudo-profession of deprogramming was born, with parents of group members paying "deprogrammers" to kidnap their kids.

Many of these young people were then forced to undergo a form of radical and coercive resocialization. The practice continued until the 1980s and still happens in other countries, including Japan.

The practice of deprogramming led to a wave of so-called cult/brainwashing cases in which former members were awarded significant damages by juries who were infused with popular anti-cult sentiments.

It took years for the courts to finally accept the fact that most of those joining new religious movements were of age, that they were exercising their own volition, and that they had rights, including religious freedom - even if they were participating in unpopular movements.

The Branch Davidians lost their criminal case and the civil cases they brought. So the legal victories eventually won by some of the controversial NRMs did not directly translate into similar outcomes for the Davidians.

But most so-called cult cases were eventually either settled or overturned on appeal, as courts recognized that “cults” and their members had rights that were associated with other religious groups.

One such case, which involved the Unification Church, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982. The Unification Church aimed to overturn a Minnesota law requiring any religious group that obtains more than 50% of its funding from non-members to seek government approval before doing fundraising, and to submit annual reports on its fundraising and expenditures.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled in favor of the Unification Church, though a strong dissent questioned whether the UC had standing as a religious group to challenge the law.

So it’s clear that the application of the term cult has become a battleground, and that those opposing the spread of new religious movements have won the war over how to designate them.

But more and more courts have recognized that members of so-called cults have the same rights as other believers. I hope ordinary people are coming around to that point of view, too – and that they begin to rethink the term “cult.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James T. Richardson.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Cults • History • Opinion

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  1. Joseph R Loehering

    Because the earth is off its foundation, and they are all off course and cannot understand, being Socially unacceptable, is too often the will of God!

    Led by Politicians and their Media and their Religious and Secular Educators, my own my Family sunned to discuss Religion and or Politics in the house or working the field or in the market place or when on a vacation trip, making it Socially unacceptable to obey God, and they stopped up their ears and ostracize me for seeking and speaking about our Righteousness Yahweh, and his promised Salvation Yahshua, preferring instead to talk about any Religious and or Political or Business thing but the Righteousness or Yahweh, and his promised Salvation Yahshua, the Archruler at Yahweh's right hand that rules over all Jacob forevermore, having become from the loins of Judah and of the house of David.

    Led by Politicians and their Media and their Religious and Secular Educators, they call throwing off the truth from Yahweh, to Amercanize their Religious Faith, doing away with the meaning of Faith, which means to Believe God instead of Man and their Traditions that contradict and do away with the truth from Yahweh, as they demonize him and anyone who follows his pathway, while they exalt and praise any false pathway, and the devil Spirits that spin and promote those false pathways against the truth from Spirit Yahweh our Righteousness.

    But like as Abram, though I knew not Yahweh, before my time, about noonday being ripped up from my Mother's belly, Yahweh called me by my name Joseph, and brought me out from Father's house, and made me separate from my Brothers, who hated me for speaking of the dreams and visions from Yahweh, and surname me Israel, and made me Socially unacceptable to my Family and all Society, as like Moses, slow of speak and not an eloquent orator, as Yahweh taught me his ways in his visions and dreams making me the Baal of the dreams as he added things daily, as I learned all the knowledge of the Egyptians till I became the fullest filled, and Yahweh caused me to forget all my labors in my Father's house, and showed his acts unto the Children of Israel.

    The house of Yahweh appear in a dream of what was before me, and of what exists now, and of what shall become, Yahweh made me the door unto a great congregation, and Yahshua stands at the door and knocks, as Yahweh made me a Father unto Pharaoh, so that no one comes unto my Son and dines with him, but those coming by me, and no one comes by me unto my Son, but those called by Yahweh.

    Before me from the loins of Judah and of the house of David, before we came together she was found with child by Holy Spirit Yahweh, and she sat before me upon a throne, dressed in a sky blue robe, with a white Jihab, and about a hundred and twenty elders sat before her looking unto her, and I sat as the door unto the congregations with six pillars, three on my left and three on my right, and the heaven above open unto the congregation though they saw me not, while looking steadfastly unto her upon the throne.

    Though they saw her not, one dressed like her the star of the sea upon the throne before me, that one dressed in a sky blue Robe too, as a woman of much greater stature, she came from between the second and third pillar on my right, and stood by me, looking back and forth the full length of the congregation, with about a hundred and twenty precious stones at the base of the crown upon her white Jihab, and as her head turn at the twelve tips of different heights upon her crown, amidst the darkness above, twelve constellations of stars at the the tips of her crown, turn with her as she turn her head.

    And the amidst the darkness of the night, stood a Persian woman, weaving fine tapestry, wearing a earthen brown Robe and white Jihad. And then a gold crown with points came and stood about my seat where I rook me seat, with the five points as gifts of Apostles, and Prophets and Evangelists and Pastors or Shepherds and Teachers anointed from above.

    Yahweh gave unto me the sky about and the earth beneath as espoused unto me, before we came together, and carried my up the top star as the Cosmos rolled off about me, like a worn out garment, and I wondered why is there still Light about me, while there is no Sun or Moon or Stars to give their Light, and as I looked at the Light upon my Right hand, Yahweh turned me about and cast the Cosmos at my feet, and it burst into flames and a flash was gone.

    Hear O Israel, Yahweh place my Lord at my right hand, and I shall not be moved. Hear O Zion, before her pains came, before she travail, she was delivered of a male child, and he was caught up unto the throne of Yahweh, and Yahweh said unto my Lord. "sit her at my right hand, till I set your enemies to stool the feet yours!"

    But Judea and Israel and the Nations made it Socially unacceptable to obey the words of Yahweh which say;

    שׁמע ישׂראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד׃

    Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh first!

    And Judea and Israel and the Nations made it Socially unacceptable to obey the words of Yahweh which say;

    ואהבת את יהוה אלהיך בכל־לבבך ובכל־נפשׁך ובכל־מאדך׃

    And you shall love Yahweh your God within all your heart, and within all your soul, and within all your might.

    And Judea and Israel and the Nations made it Socially unacceptable to obey the words of Yahweh which say;

    והיו הדברים האלה אשׁר אנכי מצוך היום על־לבבך׃
    ושׁננתם לבניך ודברת בם בשׁבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשׁכבך ובקומך׃
    וקשׁרתם לאות על־ידך והיו לטטפת בין עיניך׃
    וכתבתם על־מזזות ביתך ובשׁעריך׃
    והיה כי יביאך יהוה אלהיך אל־הארץ אשׁר נשׁבע לאבתיך לאברהם ליצחק וליעקב לתת לך ערים גדלת וטבת אשׁר לא־בנית׃
    ובתים מלאים כל־טוב אשׁר לא־מלאת וברת חצובים אשׁר לא־חצבת כרמים וזיתים אשׁר לא־נטעת ואכלת ושׂבעת׃

    And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the pathway, and when you lay down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your doors. And birth as so, when Yahweh your God shall have brought you into the earth which he swear unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you great and goodly cities, which you built not, And houses full of all good things, which you filled not, and wells dug, which you dug not, vineyards and olive trees, which you planted not, when you shall have eaten and be full.

    And Judea and Israel and the Nations made it Socially unacceptable to obey the words of Yahweh which say;

    השׁמר לך פן־תשׁכח את־יהוה אשׁר הוציאך מארץ מצרים מבית עבדים׃
    את־יהוה אלהיך תירא ואתו תעבד ובשׁמו תשׁבע׃
    לא תלכון אחרי אלהים אחרים מאלהי העמים אשׁר סביבותיכם׃
    כי אל קנא יהוה אלהיך בקרבך פן־יחרה אף־יהוה אלהיך בך והשׁמידך מעל פני האדמה׃

    Then beware lest you forget Yahweh, which brought you forth out of earth of Egypt, from the house of bondage. you shall fear Yahweh your God, and serve him, and shall swear by his name. you shall not go after other Gods, the Gods are the people which are round about you, related Yahweh your God as a God jealous for you, lest the anger of Yahweh your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

    And so that Judea and Israel and the Nations may worship and bow to the People that are but Gods about them, they made it Socially unacceptable to believe and obey the words of Yahweh which say;

    אני־אמרתי אלהים אתם ובני עליון כלכם׃
    אכן כאדם תמותון וכאחד השׂרים תפלו׃
    קומה אלהים שׁפטה הארץ כי־אתה תנחל בכל־הגוים׃

    I have said, You are Elohim, Gods, Sons of the Highest of all, but you alike all Adam dying, and alike the first prince fallen. Arise, O Elohim, judge the earth, related your inheritance associated among the nations.

    I say unto them worship and bow not unto the Queen of Heaven, nor bow unto or pray unto any Saint living or dead, because you are both Saints and Gods while yet living, so bow and pray unto Yahweh our God uniquely, but so that Judea and Israel and the Nations may worship and bow to the People that are but Gods about them, they made it Socially unacceptable to believe and obey the words of Yahweh and they say;

    הדבר אשׁר־דברת אלינו בשׁם יהוה איננו שׁמעים אליך׃
    כי עשׂה נעשׂה את־כל־הדבר אשׁר־יצא מפינו לקטר למלכת השׁמים והסיך־לה נסכים כאשׁר עשׂינו אנחנו ואבתינו מלכינו ושׂרינו בערי יהודה ובחצות ירושׁלם ונשׂבע־לחם ונהיה טובים ורעה לא ראינו׃
    ומן־אז חדלנו לקטר למלכת השׁמים והסך־לה נסכים חסרנו כל ובחרב וברעב תמנו׃
    וכי־אנחנו מקטרים למלכת השׁמים ולהסך לה נסכים המבלעדי אנשׁינו עשׂינו לה כונים להעצבה והסך לה נסכים׃

    "The word that you have spoken unto us in the name of Yahweh, we will not hearken unto you, but we will certainly do whatsoever thing goes forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the Queen of Heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the Queen of Heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have been wanting all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. And when we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our Sires? "

    But because they will not stop pouring out drink offerings and will not stop making cakes unto the Queen of Heaven my spouse, nor will they stop making a Hail May Pass to get the Devils that set up and kill the Righteous on their side, instead of resisting the Devil and defending the Righteous and delivering the poor, nor will they not stop bowing to and will not stop paying to other Gods that are but Saints Sanctified by Yahweh our Righteousness giving them Yahshua our Salvation therefore the word of Yahweh came unto me the heir by birthright of the house of Yahweh in dreams and visions making me the Baal of the dreams, according as it is written;

    וירד יהוה בעמוד ענן ויעמד פתח האהל ויקרא אהרן ומרים ויצאו שׁניהם׃
    ויאמר שׁמעו־נא דברי אם־יהיה נביאכם יהוה במראה אליו אתודע בחלום אדבר־בו׃

    "and Yahweh came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and invited Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forth, and he said, 'Hear now my words, if there be a prophet among you, I Yahweh will make myself acquainted unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. "

    הדבר אשׁר היה אל־יוסף מאת יהוה לאמר׃
    עמד בשׁער בית יהוה וקראת שׁם את־הדבר הזה ואמרת שׁמעו דבר־יהוה כל־יהודה הבאים בשׁערים האלה להשׁתחות ליהוה׃
    כה־אמר יהוה צבאות אלהי ישׂראל היטיבו דרכיכם ומעלליכם ואשׁכנה אתכם במקום הזה׃
    אל־תבטחו לכם אל־דברי השׁקר לאמר היכל יהוה היכל יהוה היכל יהוה המה׃
    כי אם־היטיב תיטיבו את־דרכיכם ואת־מעלליכם אם־עשׂו תעשׂו משׁפט בין אישׁ ובין רעהו׃
    גר יתום ואלמנה לא תעשׁקו ודם נקי אל־תשׁפכו במקום הזה ואחרי אלהים אחרים לא תלכו לרע לכם׃
    ושׁכנתי אתכם במקום הזה בארץ אשׁר נתתי לאבותיכם למן־עולם ועד־עולם׃
    הנה אתם בטחים לכם על־דברי השׁקר לבלתי הועיל׃
    הגנב רצח ונאף והשׁבע לשׁקר וקטר לבעל והלך אחרי אלהים אחרים אשׁר לא־ידעתם׃
    ובאתם ועמדתם לפני בבית הזה אשׁר נקרא־שׁמי עליו ואמרתם נצלנו למען עשׂות את כל־התועבות האלה׃
    המערת פרצים היה הבית הזה אשׁר־נקרא־שׁמי עליו בעיניכם גם אנכי הנה ראיתי נאם־יהוה׃
    כי לכו־נא אל־מקומי אשׁר בשׁילו אשׁר שׁכנתי שׁמי שׁם בראשׁונה וראו את אשׁר־עשׂיתי לו מפני רעת עמי ישׂראל׃
    ועתה יען עשׂותכם את־כל־המעשׂים האלה נאם־יהוה ואדבר אליכם השׁכם ודבר ולא שׁמעתם ואקרא אתכם ולא עניתם׃
    ועשׂיתי לבית אשׁר נקרא־שׁמי עליו אשׁר אתם בטחים בו ולמקום אשׁר־נתתי לכם ולאבותיכם כאשׁר עשׂיתי לשׁלו׃
    והשׁלכתי אתכם מעל פני כאשׁר השׁלכתי את־כל־אחיכם את כל־זרע אפרים׃
    ואתה אל־תתפלל בעד־העם הזה ואל־תשׂא בעדם רנה ותפלה ואל־תפגע־בי כי־אינני שׁמע אתך׃
    האינך ראה מה המה עשׂים בערי יהודה ובחצות ירושׁלם׃
    הבנים מלקטים עצים והאבות מבערים את־האשׁ והנשׁים לשׁות בצק לעשׂות כונים למלכת השׁמים והסך נסכים לאלהים אחרים למען הכעסני׃
    האתי הם מכעסים נאם־יהוה הלוא אתם למען בשׁת פניהם׃
    לכן כה־אמר אדני יהוה הנה אפי וחמתי נתכת אל־המקום הזה על־האדם ועל־הבהמה ועל־עץ השׂדה ועל־פרי האדמה ובערה ולא תכבה׃
    כה אמר יהוה צבאות אלהי ישׂראל עלותיכם ספו על־זבחיכם ואכלו בשׂר׃
    כי לא־דברתי את־אבותיכם ולא צויתים ביום הוציא אותם מארץ מצרים על־דברי עולה וזבח׃
    כי אם־את־הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שׁמעו בקולי והייתי לכם לאלהים ואתם תהיו־לי לעם והלכתם בכל־הדרך אשׁר אצוה אתכם למען ייטב לכם׃
    ולא שׁמעו ולא־הטו את־אזנם וילכו במעצות בשׁררות לבם הרע ויהיו לאחור ולא לפנים׃
    למן־היום אשׁר יצאו אבותיכם מארץ מצרים עד היום הזה ואשׁלח אליכם את־כל־עבדי הנביאים יום השׁכם ושׁלח׃
    ולוא שׁמעו אלי ולא הטו את־אזנם ויקשׁו את־ערפם הרעו מאבותם׃
    ודברת אליהם את־כל־הדברים האלה ולא ישׁמעו אליך וקראת אליהם ולא יענוכה׃
    ואמרת אליהם זה הגוי אשׁר לוא־שׁמעו בקול יהוה אלהיו ולא לקחו מוסר אבדה האמונה ונכרתה מפיהם׃
    גזי נזרך והשׁליכי ושׂאי על־שׁפים קינה כי מאס יהוה ויטשׁ את־דור עברתו׃
    כי־עשׂו בני־יהודה הרע בעיני נאום־יהוה שׂמו שׁקוציהם בבית אשׁר־נקרא־שׁמי עליו לטמאו׃
    ובנו במות התפת אשׁר בגיא בן־הנם לשׂרף את־בניהם ואת־בנתיהם באשׁ אשׁר לא צויתי ולא עלתה על־לבי׃
    לכן הנה־ימים באים נאם־יהוה ולא־יאמר עוד התפת וגיא בן־הנם כי אם־גיא ההרגה וקברו בתפת מאין מקום׃
    והיתה נבלת העם הזה למאכל לעוף השׁמים ולבהמת הארץ ואין מחריד׃
    והשׁבתי מערי יהודה ומחצות ירושׁלם קול שׂשׂון וקול שׂמחה קול חתן וקול כלה כי לחרבה תהיה הארץ׃

    This the word that came to Joseph from Yahweh, saying, Stand within the door of the house of Yahweh, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of Yahweh, all you of Judah, that enter in at these doors to worship Yahweh. Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, amend your pathways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust not within lying words, saying, "the temple of Yahweh," to a temple of Yahweh, related the temple of Yahweh, are these, related if you throughly amend your ways and your doings, if you throughly execute judgment between a Sire and his neighbor, if you oppress not the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk by other Gods to your hurt, then will I cause you to dwell in this place, within earth that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk by other Gods whom you had acquainted not, and come and stand before me in this house, being invited by my name, and say, 'We are delivered so that we can do all these abominations? ' Has this house being invited by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, says Yahweh. But go you now unto my place which birth in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these works, says Yahweh, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but you heard not, and I invited you, but you answered not, therefore will I do unto this house, being invited by my name, wherein you trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim. Therefore you pray not for this people, neither lift up cry nor pray offers for them, neither make intercession to me, therefor I will not hear you. See you not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the Queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto Saints that are but other Gods, that they may provoke me to anger. Do they provoke me to anger? says Yahweh, do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? Therefore thus says Yahweh God, behold, my anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon all Adam, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground, and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched. Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices, but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people, and walk you in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them, yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck, they did worse than their fathers. Therefore you shall speak all these words unto them, but they will not hearken to you, you shall also call unto them, but they will not answer you. But you shall say unto them, This is a nation that obeys not the voice of Yahweh their God, nor receives correction, truth has perished, and is cut off from their mouth. Cut off your hair, O Jerusalem, and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on high places, for Yahweh has rejected and forsaken the generation of his aggression. For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, says Yahweh, they have set their abominations in the house being invited by my name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places like of Tophet, which had been in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that when no more invites Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter, because they shall buried in Tophet, till there became no place left to bury, and the carcases of this people shall become meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth, and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and outside the streets of Jerusalem voicing mirth, and voicing gladness, invites the Bridegroom, and invited the Bride, related wasted birth the earth.

    Within Egypt, the Children of Israel foretold of me as the Holy one of Israel, bowing unto and naming me Lord, but the Children of Israel cast off Yahweh our Maker, and burnt incense unto me their foretold of Baal, like as according as it is written of me where they translate not my name יוסף, Joseph, from Hebrew in Isaiah 29:13-24, so that they could deceive many to lay in wait for me;

    ויאמר אדני יען כי נגשׁ העם הזה בפיו ובשׂפתיו כבדוני ולבו רחק ממני ותהי יראתם אתי מצות אנשׁים מלמדה׃
    לכן הנני יוסף להפליא את־העם־הזה הפלא ופלא ואבדה חכמת חכמיו ובינת נבניו תסתתר׃
    הוי המעמיקים מיהוה לסתר עצה והיה במחשׁך מעשׂיהם ויאמרו מי ראנו ומי יודענו׃
    הפככם אם־כחמר היצר יחשׁב כי־יאמר מעשׂה לעשׂהו לא עשׂני ויצר אמר ליוצרו לא הבין׃
    הלוא־עוד מעט מזער ושׁב לבנון לכרמל והכרמל ליער יחשׁב׃
    ושׁמעו ביום־ההוא החרשׁים דברי־ספר ומאפל ומחשׁך עיני עורים תראינה׃
    ויספו ענוים ביהוה שׂמחה ואביוני אדם בקדושׁ ישׂראל יגילו׃
    כי־אפס עריץ וכלה לץ ונכרתו כל־שׁקדי און׃
    מחטיאי אדם בדבר ולמוכיח בשׁער יקשׁון ויטו בתהו צדיק׃
    לכן כה־אמר יהוה אל־בית יעקב אשׁר פדה את־אברהם לא־עתה יבושׁ יעקב ולא עתה פניו יחורו׃
    כי בראתו ילדיו מעשׂה ידי בקרבו יקדישׁו שׁמי והקדישׁו את־קדושׁ יעקב ואת־אלהי ישׂראל יעריצו׃
    וידעו תעי־רוח בינה ורוגנים ילמדו־לקח׃

    "And said as Lord, 'Inasmuch as this people draws near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of Adam, therefore, behold, I Joseph shall proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid. Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from Yahweh, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who sees us? and who acquaints us? Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? Is it not but a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the Scroll, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in Yahweh, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, because the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off, who make Adam an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproves in the door, and turn aside the just for a thing of naught. Therefore thus says Yahweh, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. They also that strayed from the Spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine. '" kingofisrael.blogspotDOTcom

    July 10, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • John

      So first crazy person of the day.

      July 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  2. Avser Bastian

    COMMUNISM IN EASTERN EUROPE TODAY(2011) !!! http://sloveniatoday.blogspot.com or http://easterneuropetoday.wordpress.com/ OR COMMUNIST GENOCIDE IN "SLOVENIA" WHERE GERMANS(also Croatians in Croatia) ARE GETTING WIPED OUT TODAY IN 2011 UNDER RUSSIAN FLAG AND GREATER BYZANTINE SERBIAN(new Yugoslavia) AGENDA 66 YEARS AFTER WWII OR 20 YEARS SINCE THEIR "INDEPENDENCE"(independence on paper only) JUST AS PREVIOUSLY IN VOJVODINA. Is Merkel truly great diplomat or is simply trading our lives behind our backs with worst enemies(LIBERALISM = RETARDISM = COMMUNISM = IDIOTISM = ZIONISM = CRIME) !!? Visit also DICTATOR OBAMA = STALIN = BUSH or USA = SOVIET UNION http://avsecbostjan.blogspot.com/ or http://avsecbostjan.wordpress.com/ ...TO LEARN WHO, HOW, AND WHY RUINED YOU…FROM 911 TO WHITE AMERICAN REFUGEES IN EXILE SEEKING ASYLUM RIGHT NOW !!! TIME TO DETERMINE WHOSE INDEPENDENCE/AMERICA, WE CELEBRATE TODAY(who want to erase us and denies us the right to exist) !!!

    July 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • John

      Crazy #2. All caps does not cause people to read your comments more.

      July 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  3. Disciple Mikey

    Lee I understand where you come from. A lot of religions today do teach false doctrine for the sake of being popular and I can understand why people call them cults. But not all christians are this way. Like you said Jesus did once walk this earth as God's son to humbly pay back a debt that no man could. I can understand why some people can believe in evolution and that there is no God considering the condition world is in today. But it's not possible for the Earth to be perfectly DESIGNED to sustain life. It cant all be a coincidence.

    July 8, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • John

      All religions are dangerous cults.

      July 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  4. TheyNotHim

    The brilliance of xtianity as a cult is that it offers up the person of Jesus or God as the cult leader, therefore anybody willing to thump a bible loud enough can take on the characteristics of the leader and brainwash his followers. Islam gives you Mohammed, Mormonism gives you a council of elder prophets, Scientology gives you money to worship, Judaism gives you guilt to worship, Catholics give you the Pope etc..

    All organized religions are cults...there just is no getting around that. Live with it I guess...

    July 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • John

      Couldn't have said it better myself!

      July 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  5. Ray Tokareff

    Republicans are a christian cult not a political party.

    July 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  6. Mohammed luvs kidz

    Is he talking about cult – as in ISLAM?

    June 13, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I'm pretty sure he's talking about christianity too...

      June 13, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  7. Dean Fox

    The Branch Davidian fiasco was very badly managed by the FBI and that resulted in the tragic deaths. The fact the group was a cult is immaterial; the same would have resulted if the group had been a bunch of survivalists.

    Some cults are better than others. While the term cult seems to have changed meaning over the years to suggest a more abusive and damaging group it is still really used to mean a separatist religious group that typically has a lot of dogma.

    Cults such as the church of scientology and the Unification church have far more critics and ex-members claiming abuse than others; such criticisms should be investigated with the same zeal that the Catholic church was and still is investigated over paedophile cover up allegations. There is certainly too much smoke around some groups for there to be no fire.

    Organised religion is about control and manipulation, the use of a set of teachings to get people to conform to a set of ideals. Some organised religions are benign others are not. The older religions tend to be more benign because that's largely how they've survived and evolved. The newer ones tend to be less so, but this is not a rule without exceptions.

    Basically criticisms of any religion should not be ignored and cannot be countered with claims that they're the result of misunderstandings or fear. A lot of the criticisms stem from the real experiences of ex-members and close family to members.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  8. Shawn

    Cults differ from religions in several key areas.

    Any religion that implements control tactics to keep members from leaving the church. (Scientology not allowing members to contact ex members even if they are their parents.)

    Any religion that punishes its members for seeking knowledge outside that of the church. (If you read are caught googling Richard Dawkins you are punished with demeaning duties.)

    Any Religion that keeps its structure, finances and or doctrine secret from the outside world. (i.e. Scientology keeping its upper levels secret. Especially any mention of Xenu which they firmly deny.)

    Any Religion that requires phyisical service, monetary contribution or loss of property to gain 'status' or 'rank' within the organization. This is a part of every religion the difference is between it being a free gift with no actual reward (donation) and a purchase of added rank or status.

    June 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • WWRRD

      I agree with these criteria of defining "cults". The separation from non – members including families is a biggie.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  9. Kati

    Following this thought you could say that atheists are a cult. Seriously, you are going to tell me that an "explosion" containing anit-matter happened at the right time at the right place to create enough matter to produce intricate DNA for many species that eventually evolved into different animals, vegetation, and thinking human species out of the same amoeba. If that's not brainwashing, I dont' know what is. How about you go and blow yourself up another galaxy? There has not been a single explosion that has created anything, even on a small scale. You believe the scientists that tell you that there used to be such a thing as anti-matter that they cannot recreate today. really? Forgive me for my scepticism.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • frank

      Don't follow the CERN project much, do you?

      June 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Epidi

      Uh, who says anti matter does not exist today?

      July 6, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  10. William Demuth

    A cult is where boys get molested, and the molesters go free.
    A cult is where little old ladies and idiots are cheated out of their money
    A cult is where people are brainwashed into believing bulls__it

    Christianity is a cult!

    June 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  11. William Demuth

    Christianity = Cult.

    Ritual canabilisim, hell, demons, exorcisims, possesions, rapist priests and a former Nazi as the Pope!

    I mean, exactly what else would you call it?

    June 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  12. waitasec

    religion is a cult plus time and money...

    May 21, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • James T. Richardson should shhhh!

      notice this guy has a degree in socialogy not thelogy this means he knows nothing about religion. CNN dont let someone write an article in this section unless they have a degree in Theology.This guy has no clue what he is talking about and only has a degree that says he knows how to talk to people. He has no degree in any religion and is probably one of those who thinks you get to heaven through your inerself. So he takes a little bit of all the religions which ever part he likes. He does not know the one true way is through Jesus Christ.

      May 31, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Hey SHHH

      A degree in theology is like a degree in Star Trek trivia.

      It usually indicates nothing more than a person who can't get booty through normal means, so he surrounds himself with the trappings of a culture devoid of any reality.

      You are better off with a mail order degree from a madrasa in Dipsh_tistan!

      June 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Demuth- Hateful much?

      June 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • John

      D hit it right on. Theology is like toilet paper. Cheap and good for one time use.

      July 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  13. nina

    I have always thought that a religion was just a cult that lost it's amatuer standing and gone pro over time and number of members.


    May 12, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • fkruis

      I think that's exactly right. it's the same with freedom fighters and enemy troops, what you call them has nothing to do with what they are, it just explains something about what you think of them.

      July 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  14. Analog Kid

    ALL religions are cults. Every single one of them brainwashes and indoctrinates their children into forced belief that fairy tales are reality.

    May 4, 2011 at 6:17 am |
    • Lee

      its not called brainwashing, its called comfort. It gives little kids hope. but some parents are just trying to keep kids away from all the bad things in the world. and no ALL religions are not cults. Grow the H3ll up. Ever heard of christ. hes not a brainwasher. so you need to go and sit down somewhere.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Sophie

      Lee you need to grow the H3ll up. Did you even bother to look at the definition of a cult? Probably not. So here you go. "a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies."

      You are so brainwashed you don't even realize it.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Bob

      Luke 19:27 "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.'" – Jesus. Sounds like a pretty dangerous cult leader to me.

      May 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • William Demuth


      So you call what the preists do to little boys comfort?

      Even your indoctrinated self can't be that sick!

      Religion is POISON to childrens minds, and damns them to a life of ignorance!

      June 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  15. Gavin

    This is no different to the stories, missinformation and propaganda that bought on the "war on pot" in the 30's. The oil companies and pharmaceutical companies invented srories and turned the world against this wonderful plant. This plant could save our world.

    May 4, 2011 at 1:56 am |
    • rh

      And people like you don't understand that many people are allergic to pot, and some get psychopathic episodes from it.

      What might be good for you is not good for all, and pot should be treated as a pharmaceutical. Many people take Valium or Percocet because they "need it", why not just make pot available by prescription for people like you? As long as you use it at home, who cares?

      I get very ill if I even smell pot, and my friend ended up in the ER the one time she smoked a joint. Marijuana allergy and severe side effects definitely happen, but you keep your buzz going and you'll ignore the medical community. And enjoy your gynecomastia!

      May 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Amused

      "psychopathic episodes" ???? That is complete HOGWASH! That is contrived baloney that was depicted in the fictional movie "Reefer Madness" . You are repeating blatantly false information designed to scare people into agreeing with you. Go get a life....

      May 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • mr.peanut

      Hi im your real dad tell your mom i said hey.
      remember there are 2 types of people in this world those wiht loaded guns and those who dig, get digging!

      May 31, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • John

      You are a idiot.

      July 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  16. Joe Redbear

    Im Loving this one.... Give churches a Tax Break? Really? There allready a non profit orginazation. Hope i spelled that right. Anyhow....Churches have taken over this country like roaches.... Spread there diesease....lay there egg's in your home...and populate more little roaches. Put your boots on....and stomp out thease roaches.

    April 25, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • James T. Richardson should shhhh!

      As Winston Churchill once said there are no atheists in foxholes.

      May 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • John

      There are atheists in foxholes just to clarify.

      July 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  17. Nate

    A scam is a scam whether it's secular or religious. At least many organized churches use donations to help the community in a small way. Cults, because that's what they are, suck resources away from members and too the leaders. That's why the Amish don't count as a cult, but FLDS do.

    April 21, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  18. Jeane


    Weber introduced the concept of charismatic leadership into our vocabulary. But most people have taken the term without reading what he really said. He said that a charismatic leader is granted authority by followers and it is taken away by his followers when he loses those qualities that attracted them in the first place. There is no "brainwashing." It is an interactive relationship between seeker and leader. If you examine the chilling final tape of the Jonestown suicides, you will hear one woman argue with Jim Jones that drinking the punch is not necessary. Yet, she still decided to drink the punch. This is what we struggle to comprehend. We study how ordinary people who can decide for themselves make these kinds of choices.

    Attributing these cases to "brainwashing" and "mind control" may comfort us or help us find closure on why someone would accept a leader like Jones. However, the social scientist is compelled to dig deeper and to really understand what is going on.

    Social scientists of religions always study group behavior. Religion is a group phenomenon. Psychologists study individual behavior. Scientists like Durkheim and Weber have given us good ideas about what can happen in a group situation that we can apply to Jonestown and other cases. Their ideas fit the data better than psychological theories that do not take religion into account as a strong factor in human group behavior. We believe that people who seek answers to their religious questions and seem to find them in the messages of people like Jones and Koresh are motivated by "ultimate concern," and that their ideas are more important to them then their very lives or the lives of their children.

    Hard as it is for us to comprehend this, it happens in case after caee.
    This is one reason why cult theory leads to a know-nothing position. It is a false answer to a set of very complicated questions.

    April 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • rh

      I would argue the reverse, that the people who fall for Jim Jones, Osama bin Laden, etc., are brainwashing themselves – they *want* to believe, they *want* guidance, they *want* a leader, or in some cases, they *want* to share the power that the leader has.

      As for the term "cult," all religions are cults, and I would challenge you to find more than a few members of each "organized religion" who believes exactly the same thing, references exactly the same books only, and has exactly the same religious leaders. al Qaeda is a cult preying on young men who are allowed by the leaders to break all the tenets of Islam to become martyrs – martyrs so that those in charge can make money and try to change governments, all for power and none of it for Allah.

      May 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  19. skaur

    I am 70. I am not religious. A foundation, a cosmology if you will, that has prepared me to navigate this life very well came out of my experience of 13 years of living in a "cult". I am very fortunate. There many of us, we just don't make a fuss. It's a strength I would not have otherwise. Thank you for your article. S.

    April 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • mr.peanut

      Do you mean cosmatolog? I cut peoples hair too.

      May 31, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  20. Nicholas Voss

    What is a cult? You can test one by comparing the religous group in question to the Nicene and Chalcedon Creeds. Islam is therefore a cult, not one of the so-called Abrahamic religions as it professes.

    April 18, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • John Sirmon

      Nicholas you are in fact dead wrong. Being a cult has nothing to do with being Christian (following one of the creeds you listed). Also yes, Islam is an Abrahamic religion because part of its tradition is handed down from the man Abraham (just like in Judaism and Christianity). Posting such comments gives people the wrong impression about the world cult and Islam, a largely peaceful religion that is well established and certainly not a cult. I would hope that you will take the time to take a comparative religions class in the near future to help you clarify some of the misconceptions you have.

      April 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • SupremeAmerican


      May 7, 2011 at 3:41 am |
    • mr.peanut

      A cult is when your group leader tells everyone to sit down for some punch.

      May 31, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.