The word "cult" can be used in a large number of ways. Below
are listed several ways for a group to qualify as a cult, and it's possible
for a group to qualify as a cult in more than one of the ways listed.
These categories are not exclusive of each other, and it is possible
to have, for example, an Eastern/Hindu education mind control cult.
Control Cults | Religious
Cults: Christian cults,
Eastern cults, Original
Non-religious Cults: Business
cults, Education cults,
Personality cults, Political
Mind Control Cults
This is the stereotypical cult - any group with an elistist cause
and view of itself that abuses people's rights and freedoms, especially
its members'. It uses significant amounts of mind control to manipulate
and control its members. The members may have no idea that they are
being used and controlled. For more information see Techniques
of mind control.
Groups which on the surface appear similar or very similar to a main
religion but have serious doctrinal differences with that religion.
Christian cults. Seemingly Christian
groups which deny most or all of the fundamentals of Christianity.
Most Christian cults get all of these wrong. These fundamentals are:
- The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
- Jesus Christ - God incarnate (God in flesh), and part of the Trinity
(Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
- The virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus Christ's sacrificial atonement (that He paid the penalty
for our sin by dying on the cross).
- Bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and that he will bodily return
at some unspecified time in the future.
- Salvation by grace alone. (Cults insist that some sort of work
must be done, normally in the service of the cult.)
For more information about the essential beliefs of Christianity,
see CARM's article Essential
Doctrines of Christianity or their Doctrine
Grid. (Note that biblical inerrancy - number 12 in the grid -
should actually be listed as a primary essential, since all the other
essential doctrines depend on it.)
Eastern cults. Many groups have
come from India and other eastern countries, and are a modified form
of Hinduism in a similar way to Christian cults being a modified form
of Christianity. These eastern cults often centre on the teachings
and person of one guru who is commonly of Hindu origins. The guru
is often worshipped as a god. Example: Hare
There are also animistic cults in Bhuddist countries that have sprung
Original cults. There are also
cults which are based on "original" religions. Particular
beliefs are taken from all sorts of places, particularly the New
Age Movement. UFO cults come into this category. Example: Raëlians.
These cults are not necessarily non-religious - they may or may not
be religious - but they do not depend primarily on religious beliefs.
Instead they have other traits in common.
Business cults. Businesses may
have very little in the way of religious beliefs, but instead sometimes
substitute belief in unproven medical products such as fringe dietary
supplements. (However, that alone would only enough to earn them "quack
product" status.) Business cults have the prime purpose of making
money for the leaders (normally at the expense of the members), and
the prime lure of members/recruits being able to make money*. To this
they add mind control practices such as deceptive recruitment, deceptive
marketing, etc. Pyramid schemes and multi-level
marketing schemes are very likely to fall into this category.
Before getting involved, ask yourself if success in the business will
depend on you recruiting other people to the scheme. Examples: Amway,
* Some business cults manage to substitute idealism and saving the
world for the lure of making money, especially if they are mixed with
New Age philosophies.
Education cults. Organisations
which offer training as their primary drawcard. If the education or
training offered is of a religious nature the group is obviously a
religious education cult.
Personality cults. This type
of cult may not have a formal group, but instead are a collection
of people simply bound by a common focus of their attentions on the
teachings or person of a highly charismatic or persuasive individual.
This leader encourages his/her followers to devote their attentions
to him/her and to change their life or lifestyle. Film star fan worship
is not an example of a personality cult.
Political cults. Groups with
an extreme politically oriented agenda. Often the agenda will be based
on a misinterpretation of the Bible or other religious texts. Example:
For an alternative list of the types of cults, have a look at CultFAQ.org's
cult types list.