Cult as a word has been around a for long time. Its original form was the Latin word cultus which means worship. As the word evolved it took on a new meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as Worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being or beings and as a particular form of religious worship, in reference to its external rites and ceremonies.
Yet, this is not the word as it is known today. According to Webster s Third New International Dictionary, a cult is a minority religious group regarded as unorthodox. Another definition that is closer to its connotation today comes from the Oxford English Dictionary. a religion or sect considered to be false or unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of the conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
In the current events of today s modern society, cults have many times been brought to the forefront, most often with negative connotations. The now famous cult Heaven s Gate might come to mind. Also, the incident at the Branch Divi dian Compound where self-proclaimed Christ, David Kore sh and most of his followers were killed during an FBI standoff at Waco, Texas. Another example of cults in the media would be the ill fated People s Temple in Guyana led by Jim Jones (Appel 16). There are countless other cults as well. But, those three are some of the most widely known groups because some or all of there members were killed as a result of their cult s beliefs and value systems.
With this sur gence of cult activity over the last three decades, there is need for a more specific definition of the word, so as not to include legitimate religions that are not hindering the rights and freedoms of its members. There is enough ambiguity in the way the word is defined as to cause confusion about whether the organization is harmful and is a cult, or is a religion and does not harm its members. For example, the Catholic Church could be considered a cult by the first definition in the Oxford English Dictionary. Other established religions would also fall under the category of a cult, by the first definition. If all religions, legitimate or otherwise were considered cults, and all cults were considered religions, there would be confusion on the constitutional right to exercise that particular religion / cult . This is why a narrowing of the second definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is needed.
a religion or sect considered to be false or unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of the conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. This definition out of the Oxford English Dictionary is close to what is needed, however it needs to be more precise. First, a few things need to be removed from the definition to make it more accurate. Not all cults are sects or religions, some are independent of any ties or relations with a religion. Organization would be a better term that is broader and more complete.
Second, some things need to be added to make the definition more complete. The final definition should define only harmful cults so that the religion / cult border is more clear cut. There are three areas of the definition of cult that need more added to it or need to be in the definition all together. First, is the idea of what the leader usually is.
The leader tends to be in complete control and is presented as a messiah type figure. This leader is almost never accountable to anyone for his / her actions. Another aspect that is ignored in the definition that needs to be there is the use of mind control. Not mind control in the sense that the brain is taken over, but in the sense that the group is the only thing that matters and all other thoughts and desires are wrong, different cults present this to varying degrees. The third thing cults share is the fact that they are special or better than the rest of the world for some reason (Cult... 1).
Now the definition should be completed as follows. An organization considered to be false or unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of the conventional society under the direction of an unaccountable, authoritative, messiah type, charismatic leader who uses varying degrees of mind control. With this definition, legitimate religions and cults will not get confused.