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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

soundoff (960 Responses)
  1. Girish

    The article shows how ill informed this author is despite his supposed scholarly credentials. He refers to `Hare Krishna' as a cult. If this is so 70 % of India's population would belong to this `fringe cult'. All radical offshoots of any religion are alike. They are more about exploiting the gullible rather than about teaching tolerance, kindness and moral values. Hare Krishna is not in this mould at all.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      'He refers to `Hare Krishna' as a cult. If this is so 70 % of India's population would belong to this `fringe cult'.'
      No they wouldnt. Hare Krishna is not the same as Hinduism, its like a davidian version of an offshoot.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Sally Li

      Another post asked, "Is Islam a cult?" It isn't in Saudi Arabia. It wasn't in Spain, 1,000 years ago. But it was in Fort Hood, Texas, a while back. Islam was also a cult in Arabia, at the time it was founded. And it is a cult today in the Philippines, where it once held sway as the established religion.
      Is the Krishna religion a cult? Well, if you dig deeply enough into the formative layers of the Bible, you will find that much of
      the linguistic foundation of the Bible is SANSKRIT. Krishna devotees who are quite familiar with their own religion, and with Christianity, consider Christianity to be a recent heretic cult which branched out from orthodox Hare Krishna teacings. But the person who offhandedly said that Hare Krishna is a cult is right – it was a cult a few years back in airports across the United States, because America is not India, and because in America, Christianity is the established religion – and because there are so few Krishna devotees in America.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  2. CEL1

    After 63 years of living, I have come to believe that ALL religious groups, including the Catholic Church and The Baptists, etc, are ALL cults. No one has the truth, they all have their own beliefs based on what they CHOOSE to believe. They are ALL dangerous.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Truth?

      I fully agree. There are so much "convenient" truths to fit each religious sect's needs. As far as I'm concerned, you're "brainwashed" if you're religious. Then again, have McDonald's and Apple (+ add in any big corporations) brainwashed us into believing their products?

      April 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  3. ranch111

    The Federal gov't. should be brought to justice for the murders of the Branch Davidians.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Sally Li

      There is a man who is holding his breath waiting for this to happen. His name? Walt Disney.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  4. kenneth

    How should we refer to law enforcement agencies that load tear gas canisters with ether?

    April 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Sally Li

      Sleeper cells.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  5. Dave in FL

    As one posts notes, most if not all religions are cults. That's just their historical nature.

    As to worrying about the perjorative, honestly, who cares? Then again, the author is an academic out there somewhere in the Reno sticks with nothing else better to do. Personally, I think Dr. Richardson needs to get a life. (An obvious reason "academic" itself has become a perjorative).

    The Founding Fathers made an attempt to separate church and state. Great idea. Lousy execution. I'll use the annual Red Mass for the Supreme Court as a flaming example that's still blindly accepted as de rigueur.

    Do I really need to mention the massive funding of political figures and causes?

    Wow. Imagine we really put some teeth into separation of church and state. Forbid religious organizations from funding political causes or lose their tax-exempt status? I can dream, can't I?

    ...and that Red Mass? Dump it.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • gary davis

      thank you very much for exicuting the truth . good job . bravo . what a great day that would be seperation of church and state hmmm makes me get all goose bumpy .

      April 17, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  6. Rich

    Religions ARE cults. There is no difference.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  7. FParanha

    The only difference between the Davidians and the aCtholic Church is that Davidian elders preferred young girls instead of young boys.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Zamiel

      ZING!

      April 17, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  8. Sagebrush Shorty.

    Is Islam a cult?

    April 17, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  9. M. Akers

    cult   /kʌlt/ Show Spelled
    [kuhlt] Show IPA

    –noun
    1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
    2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
    3. the object of such devotion.
    4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
    5. Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
    6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
    7. the members of such a religion or sect.
    8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

    I would note that by this definition, any mainstream religion could be considered a cult, in addition to those that are not mainstream. As a neo-pagan, I am accused of belonging to a cult on a regular basis. I suppose, by several of the definitions given here, it's true. But so do you.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • peick

      What I'm not seeing in these arguments so far is identification of the presupposition, or value, that leads us to want to use one word (cult) over the other (religion). If you set up the definition right, you can apply either term to whatever movement you like. So by making the term too broad, you risk robbing it of its meaning. But it takes a lot of arguing to make it apply to what you yourself consider a cult. The dictionary generally uses the current accepted definition based on usage. Usage changes, and so the dictionary adds more and various meanings. This is still not useful for argument. What are we really arguing about in this chain of comments? Not the definition of the word, but some deeper value. I think the value is adherence to a religious system versus independence from a religious system. Those who belong want to avoid being labeled, and those who reject systems want to boast about their "free-thinking" in order to validate themselves. Maybe there is something else going on.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  10. chef dugan

    All religions are cults in the larger sense. If you think the Davidians were nuts accepting what some other nut told them was the truth look at the catholic church. Only their head nut covers up child molestation rather than preaching it.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Jesus

      What's nuttier than stories about a guy living in a whale, another fellow loading two of every animal on a boat, and a guy rising from the dead (we call them zombies in "B" movies today)? The definition of a cult has nothing to do with the insanity level of a religious business. It has to do with the ability of that religious organization to grease the palms of members of Congress or getting him or her votes.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Sally Li

      If you are referring to the Bible, the Bible never says that a man lived in a whale, (see Jonah 1:17) or that a fellow loaded two of every animal on a boat (see Genesis 7:2). The existence of Christianity in America has nothing to do with bribery of anyone in Congress. Christianity in America predates Congress by well over a century. In fact, the only religious cult which has a record of bribing Washington insiders is Rev. Moon's Unification Church and its associated organizations. And as far as the Bible asserting that a man rose from the dead – if that is not true, Jesus, then how were you able to post your comment?

      April 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  11. pacoder

    I'll make you a deal, I'll stop considering all organized religion a cult but you have to stop considering me a marxist for believing that we shouldn't let children and the elderly starve to death or be denied access to health care. How does that sound?

    April 17, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • chef dugan

      It sounds like you are a a loyal democrat trying like hell to spend MY money on YOUR liberal ideas.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  12. You're So FullOfIt

    Here we have a typical liberal holier-than-thou 'scholar'. I suppose that intimate relations with children and the murder of 4 ATF agents executing their duties serving a legal search warrant is OK in your book too.

    cult (klt)
    n.
    1.
    a. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
    b. The followers of such a religion or sect.

    Look it up yourself Mr. Scholar.

    Branch Dividian followers of David Koresh more than fit the definition of the word cult.

    There is serious question as to whether they were really Branch Dividians or not as David Koresh had encouraged his followers to think of themselves as "students of the Seven Seals" rather than as "Branch Davidians." During the standoff one of his followers publicly announced that he wanted them to thereafter be identified by the name "Koreshians".

    BTW – you neglect to mention that Koresh himself ordered the firing of the Mount Carmel Center, a pre-planned tactic.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Here we have a typical liberal holier-than-thou 'scholar'.'
      lol, and you are getting this from where?

      What is really funny is that there are a number of people posting here complaining about it was all big government invading a peaceful compound. Want to take a bet of which side of the political spectrum these 'defenders' of Koresh are from?

      April 17, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Dredd

      So your saying that Koresh ordered the ATF to send in the tanks that shot the fire into the building that was quite evident by watching the videos of it all???? Heck the US government has allready admitted they started the fires and yet your still saying Koresh did it???

      April 17, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Heck the US government has allready admitted they started the fires'
      no they didnt.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • You're So FullOfIt

      From several reliable sources much as you would like to disbelieve. Google is your friend. Denial is not.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • You're So FullOfIt

      @Dredd: First of all, the government made no such statement. You said you were 'there' so what's all this nonsense about videos? Didn't you see it in 'person'? (not). Your denial continues unabated.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  13. Ian

    The only difference between a cult and a religion is the number of believers.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Jesus

      Add to that, their ability to influence a member of Congress (usually with cash). Look how long Jim Jones hung in there with smiling politicos giving their support. A cult is simply a religious business that hasn't yet garnered the support of a member of Congress. In other words, they didn't pay the guy off with the appropriate "campaign contribution".

      April 17, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Truth?

      LOL... I agree with Ian- 110%

      April 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Dredd

    I am from Texas and was in that area when this all went down. The ATF was claiming the Davidians were making automatic weapons and that was the reason they gave for storming the compound. Koresh was in town the day this all started, went to the bank, post office and the store, the ATF was there also during that time. IF the ATF wanted to have a peaceful end to this all they had to do was detain Karesh while he was in town and question him, then take him out to the compound with the search warrants that were not issued until the second day this all started. Mr Clinton and Ms. Reno did all they could to cover thier tracks, the accusations of child molestations (which the members not killed that day have said never happened) and all that garbage came into play after they raided the compound and found nothing to prove thier reason for doing it. The Davidians were some of the nicest folks in Waco and that area and all were well respected, they had been there for years. Whatever intel Reno used to justify this action was flawed and she committed a crime by doing what she did. Every person involved, including Bill Clinton should have been brought up on murder charges.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • You're So FullOfIt

      Still mired to the hubs in denial are we? Are you one of the cult that left?

      April 17, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Dredd

      Your the one in denial that our government covers thier butts everytime. I was there, not a member, but I was in that area when it all went down. The ATF went thier on a specific mission and that mission had nothing to do with doing things peacefully. The same crap went down with the Republic of Texas leaders that were pushing for Texas to succeed from the US, ATF went in and killed them. Koresh, was a Republic of Texas member also, which is the true reason I believe they went in anyway.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Jesus

      The ATF was simply a grossly incompetent group of dolts. Very similar to our Federal Bureau of Incompetence in 2001. They knew that terrorists would want to hijack a transcontinental plane and pilot it into an iconic structure, but failed to montior ANY commercial airline pilot schools (Note: the hijackers took ONLY courses in Florida on how to steer a commercial jet while in the air, nothing about takeoffs and landings) or middle eastern flyers on transcontinental flights. They were too busy (as we later learned) playing computer games and downloading p–orn. Those are the guys that should have been fired and imprisoned.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • You're So FullOfIt

      Being 'there' has nothing to do with it much as you would like to think. We were all 'there' as much as you were, watching live coverage. The ATF attempted to serve a legal search warrant, were denied and ultimately fired upon. Deal with the truth for a change and you'll feel better about yourself.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • doug

      well this guy has more information than anybody here so far and i have seen this happen elsewhere . where law enforcement goes out of their way to make a situation as dangerous as possible.dredd thanks for your input there is a lot not being brought up.koresh had ties with the government and Iran contra affairs.yeah some people should be brought on on charges .if koresh was molesting those children and deserves what he got what should happen to the people that are responsible for there deaths

      April 17, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Sally Li

      You are exactly right, Dredd – and I remember reading that in published news articles shortly after this happened. These people who are catcalling you cannot change the fact that the facts are on your side.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  15. John

    Really? I don't think the term is abused at all. Here is a very good checklist that pretty well sums up the term CULT for me, at least many of the items in the checklist do:

    http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm

    April 17, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  16. Tony

    Seriously?

    How was this article of complete nonsense ever allowed to be published?

    I watched as the Davidians held their standoff with the government and allowed themselves to be be burned alive with their so-called leader. Any sect or religious group that acts in a similar manner must surely be called a "cult".

    The guy that wrote this is must be a moron.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Christina

      Exactly.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • gary davis

      or mormon they married many wives . the more children the more minds and souls you can steal . sicko's

      April 17, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • JH

      Yes, "seriously". For starters, it's not an article. It's an Op-Ed piece. Second, just because you disagree with his definition (after an apparently cursory and uniformed skimming) does not, actually, make him a "moron". And third, by YOUR definition of "cult" (which you've decided upon arbitrarily and reductively), Judaism is a "cult" (remember Masada?), and likely, the participants of the Texas Revolution (the Alamo?). The decision to die for something you believe in rather than transitioning into what you see as akin to slavery is *not* the definition of "cult".

      April 17, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Sally Li

      By your inventive logic, the people who perished in the Holocaust "allowed themselves" to be burned alive, etc., in their "standoff with the government" of Nazi Germany. Pardon me, but you are blaming the victims, and letting the real perpetrators off the hook.
      If you call people morons, please do it with logic and grammar that is not twisted. Otherwise, think first, and then get on the soapbox.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  17. Matt

    He's got one thing right: there's no real difference between cultists and mainstream religious believers. Both groups believe bizarre things for no good reason. I'm glad these groups are starting to be considered synonymous.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • alex

      Religious groups viewed as cults? The same as cults? Because they believe things for no reason? That's a stupid argument. You give no reason for what you believe either. You can't "prove" what you believe either, you have no justification for saying one group is wrong and another group is not wrong. Turn your arguments on your own world view and way of seeing things. It will show you that what you are saying is inconsistent.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • peick

      It seems like there is never any requirement that those who say such things as "there is no difference between religions and cults" don't have to justify that statement with anything more than a "harumph!" Logically, you first would have to define each term and then see if the definitions match. What is on trial here is the term "cult" and what it means. The author is saying that we don't all have the same meaning for that term, hence the problem. I'm glad Matt got his two cents in, but it adds nothing to the main point of the article. I will offer that sometimes a cult differs from a religion in the pressure and tactics it uses to recruit members. But that's a slippery slope, because large religious movements can use pressure to recruit members (love bombing, isolating people from their families, etc.). I think you also have to decide whether you think anything is true. If so, then anything which teaches the opposite is at least erroneous if not a cult. But that's as far as I can get without more study.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Sally Li

      There are only five differences between religious establishments and cults: time, geography, money, land and power.

      April 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  18. Heavy H

    "Horse Hockey", It amzes me how "the left" can rationaliize reality into some "pollyanna" BS where there is no "wrong". Everything, if you smoke enough dope and "spin it like a top" can be reasoned to be someone's or some group's inalienable right. David Koresh was "bedding" young girls (children) while their parents where outside the door praising him as the next Messiah. Were these people brainwashed? Are you kidding? You don't have to believe as I do but at least aknowledge reality.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Zamiel

      I fail to see how this has anything to do with being liberal.

      I'm as left as it gets. I think Koresh was a villain who deserved his fate. The ATF was reckless and their carelessness led to deaths when they might have been prevented.

      Waco was a clusterf- all around. There are no heroes in that story.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Malkav

      This is no different than another supposed Messiah who came along and told everyone what they were learning, religiously speaking, was wrong and to follow him. The band of 12 disciples was a cult, pure and simple. We have no idea if this "man-god" was pure and without sin, or if he bedded the wives of his followers. Centuries of tweaking and adaptation have made Xtnity what it is today. Its main stories and ideas are embodiments of multiple religions that existed before it. Yes, even the resurrection story and the virgin birth were done before. Who's to say the Davidian "cult" didn't have a new Jesus? Religion is a personal matter and a matter of faith. They believed Koresh was the newest "man-god." They, like all Xtians, are awaiting the return of their Messiah. He just happens to look a little different.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • David

      David Koresh learned how to handle children from priests of a much larger cult.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Sally Li

      The entire original roster of the Clinton cabinet was farther to the left than any other Administration in American history, and Janet Reno's dismal record as US Attorney General is an example of leftist, politically correct statism. The Branch Davidians were (are) not an example of leftist philosophy, but are an example of defiant and assertive religious literalism. The divergence between the Branch Davidians and the American majority can be explained by simple mathematics. During the time when the Hebrew Scriptures, the Bible, the Talmud and the Qur'an were written, the threshold of adulthood was 14 for men in Rome, 13 in Jewish custom, and even younger in some religions and traditions, such as HInduism. The threshold of adulthood for females was even younger – 12 in Jewish tradition. And no, I am not making this up – it is solidly proven in the ages for Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs today in Judaism – 13 and 12 respectively – and in the fact that colleges as recently as the Renaissance (and Harvard is old enough to be included in this) graduated students with college degrees, typically at a much younger age than today. As educational requirements began to become more elaborate, and as universal education expanded in bulk and scope, the threshold of maturity was delayed and pushed back, again and again. The original voting age across the USA – 21 – was not originally considered the beginning of adulthood as it has been more recently – it was considered the beginning of mature political reasoning. In 1775, Americans in many if not most cases were considered old enough to defend their country, plow a field, drive a carriage, hold a job, drink a brew, own land, pay a debt – or marry if they really wanted to – at the age of 14. They weren't considered old enough to vote until the age of 21, because they hadn't been adults long enough to acquire sagacity. The same is true of the age at which regents would turn over full authority to a king or queen not yet of age for political wisdom – they hadn't been adults long enough to know how to rule an entire kingdom. The pushing back of the threshold of maturity not only to 21, but even deeper into the 20's, and 30's, and in some cases even later, is a result of the influence of the higher education industry in America – and it has created an embarrassing cultural exceptionalism which refutes America's own history and religious and cultural heritage. What David Koresh did when he reviewed the Bible is to simply read the book – and nothing in the Bible condemns "underage" marriage – just as no statement of Jesus condemns same-gender relationships! The type of marriage most roundly attacked in the Hebrew Scriptures is marriage between Jews and non-Jews. The book of Ruth, praises a widowed child bride now in her early 20's, at the height of her fertility, for marrying an elderly scion of wealth (Boaz), and condemns the idea that women in their 40's should remarry! It also represents the notion that young girls should marry young men, as inferior to the idea of marriage between young females and much older men. (Ruth 3:10) Now, if you don't like what the Bible says, then please don't be a hypocrite in acquiescing to it. Raise your voice and object to the fact that every President who takes the oath of office places his hand on the Bible, and object to the fact that the Bible is used for the same purpose in every court of law in America – including courts which prosecute men for conducting themselves toward younger females in a way that is only considered criminal in 21st century America, but not in any other country, and not in any previous time in America. Come on! Let's hear you! Speak up!

      April 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  19. Hurley

    All religions were cults at one point or another. The only thing that changes is a cult into a religion is the number of members it can get. Then suddenly the weirdo stuff they make up is untouchable canon, not weirdo stuff (people raising from the dead, parting the Red Sea, saving two of every animal on a boat on Earth, etc)

    April 17, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Krista

      I was going to say...how about we just call all religions cults and get it over with. Looney groups.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • peick

      So before I got to the comments, I figured there would be some angry guy who would boast that all religions are cults. Thank you for not making me wait very long. Why is it that in our culture there is such hostility against religious faith and such pride in rejecting it? Other countries don't have this as strongly, but Canadians, Americans, and a lot of western Europeans are so vocally anti-religious. I still haven't got my head around that one.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • gary davis

      well said . a cult is acult and a child molester doesn't change he or she just uses a scam to make it easier to accomplish . castration works for me . or exicution , maybe both . eye for an eye

      April 17, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Christina

      Silly, you are wrong. All religions are cults, as well as any other organization. What defines a destructive cult is its effect on members lives.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • alex

      Hurley,

      whatever you believe is a cult too... i'm sure your beliefs have hurt people... or your way of life...

      Your statements are inconsistent... you have a faith you can't prove... turn your arguments on yourself once in a while and see if they hold up... if they do, you may have something, but if they don't... stop posting stupid things like this.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Alverant

      Well, peick, other first world countries don't have cults (like christianity) working so hard trying to make their beliefs law and use secular authority to force people to join. As the article pointed out, minority religions were and are still marginalized and the majority religion feels it's OK to force people to return to the flock.

      If that's not cultish behavior, what is?

      April 17, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Hurley

      alex: in case you didn't pick it up from my post I don't have faith or belief in any religion.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Hurley

      peick: apparently you haven't lived in America if you don't think it's religious. There are so many wingnuts here it's sickening. They even try to put religion in science class. But they are also very hypocritical, for instance they'll drive around with a "What Would Jesus Do?" sticker then shout racist things at Muslims and people they don't like. They hate the poor and support war, things Jesus wouldn't do. Religion is a big joke, it always has been. You have the Catholic church that has a city built of gold and that's killed people by the millions. You've got Muslims convincing it's members that they need to blow themselves up and murder people. Actually those are the two worst - if those two religions went away tomorrow the world would be a much, much better place.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Gbird

      Not to mention Alex that, by definition, faith is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Truth?

      All religions are cults. 1 question- why do we need religion?

      April 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  20. Bill

    Sounds like he sympathizes with the child molesters.

    April 17, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Dredd

      Bill all the child molestation garbage Clinton and reno were propogandizing us with was just that a bunch of garbage that was never proven. Those charges emerged AFTER there were no automatic weapons found.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Sally Li

      You must realize that the real child molesters in this case were the Government bureaucrats (including the Attorney General of the United States) who "had to destroy the village in order to save it". The Government KILLED CHILDREN in order to save them, in this case. This is the same Federal Government which has handed out hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits to unwed mothers in their early to mid-teens, under AFDC, housing programs, and other similar support measures, which have given millions of males some kind of special license for profligate fatherhood with impunity. The fact is, no matter what your opinions on "child molesters" are, all of the children who were killed by the Government to save them would have been better off alive and left alone by the Government, than perished from the earth of the Government, by the Government and for the Government. You politically correct people love to brandish "child molestation" (most of which never happened) by "predators" (many of whom are not predators at all) as your trump card to overturn due process and impose all kinds of dictatorial and destructive measures. Your hypocrisy and witch-hunting will be exposed. Many of the children who were supposedly victimized or at risk will grow up to refute such nonsense, especially when it was directly perpetrated by authorities supposedly on their behalf. And many of the "outraged" people who point the finger are really trying to hide something that THEY are doing, and creating a smokescreen. This in itself is a major news story.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Gbird

      Hey Dredd, the guy in this story, Clive Doyle, was a Branch Davidian. His daughter started sleeping with Koresh when she was 14.
      http://www DOT cnn DOT com/2011/US/04/14/waco.koresh.believers/

      April 17, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • David

      Are you referring to Catholics or Davidians?

      April 17, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Bison Bob

      Even the current members openly admit that Koresh slept with their underage children (as young as 13 years old) and the parents knowingly let him do it because they did and still do consider him the personification of God. They have been quoted recently again about this so stop saying there is no proof.

      The post-raid sympathy toward this group by people like Richardson is really disturbing. Whatever one thinks about the raid, no free, law-abiding person should excuse what Koresh did as an honest expression of religion.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Cookiesand

      The PC word for cults is NRM (new religious movements), and does not have preloaded meaning that the world "cult" has. But this sect is defiantly a NRM or a cult. There is no denying the ATF used unneeded force, there is no denying that "child molestation" is a slander. Never the less the saying that some of these NRM are "harmless" is completely symptomatic to the new "left" post modern researchers. The dear professor relativistic conclusion can be used to "not judge" the Nazis in the extreme spectrum of this trend. Simply put he is saying we cannot "judge". If the professor continues like he does, he might find that he can tell the difference between black and white, and paraphrasing Douglas Adams, run over by a car in nearest crosswalk.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:20 am |
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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.