One of the best things you can do for yourself as an honest student of religion is to throw away the common concept of a ‘religious cult’.
The student who has accepted my notion of Modern Religion and has discarded the concept of religious cult (or ‘secte’ in French) as a rogue religion, will be able to explore these religions, whether or not these religions function within accepted laws or cultural norms and regardless of their modern expression, denomination, or relationship to the state.
The ‘cult of a god’ is a term that goes to the heart of all religion, both the living traditions and those that are extinct.
All recently founded religions, for example, Scientology, Rev. Moon’s Unification Church, Mahikari No Waza or The Summit Lighthouse, (and there are many, many more) fit well into a category of Modern Religions.
In addition, those religions that have ended in tragedy, for example, Heaven’s Gate, the Branch Davidian and The People’s Temple of Jim Jones, should also be introduced and studied as Modern Religion.
There are many hundreds of modern religions and they share much more in common than just their late origins. modern religion
Knowledge of the term ‘cult’ is essential for the study of religion and must be understood from its Latin origin cultum or culta, as this Roman term describes the perpetual conduct and practice at the center of all religion.
At the outset of any serious religious studies, we need to isolate the use of the term ‘cult’ as routinely applied in common American English. This pertains to the term ‘secte’ in common French usage, and in similar use in other European languages.
The word ‘sect’ in both French and English must be restored to its original meaning: ‘branch of a religion’ or ‘subgroup of an existing group’.
The ‘cult of a god’ in antiquity is the forefather of all religion, and all religion resembles this single ancestor.
The members of the cult distinguished themselves from other cults by their specific lifestyle, their behavior, and their festival practices. Every cult had a calendar and interdictions, rules, laws and instructions for making their god happy.
The devotion of the members of any cult of antiquity was expressed primarily in caring for the god’s ‘needs’ with a home (temple), food (sacrifice) and song, praise and obedience.
In addition to our need to recuperate this valuable term, it is equally important to avoid the mutual disapproval between religions. Every religion looks out at other religions and declares them invalid in some way. This is the true purpose of the contemporary use of the term “religious cult”.
There is no such thing as a cult; this defamation of another’s religion is contrary to the fundamental principle of religious studies. The term ‘cult’, with the specific derogatory meaning of ‘rogue religious group’ should be dismissed entirely by the diligent student of religion.