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terranova

Cult or religion

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terranova

I had a heated debate with my sister last night about a friend of hers who is a Jehovah's Witness. My sister was saying being a JW is like living in a community. My argument is that communities don't generally shun members who choose to leave.

 

My thought is that JW is a cult and that her friend is teaching her children that non witnesses are all going to hell and that being gay in an abomination, amongst other things I find repulsive to teach your kids.

 

My sister says it is a religion, not a cult. So where is the line between religion and cult? And where to JW fall?

Edited by OnceUponATime
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2xx1xy1JD
I had a heated debate with my sister last night about a friend of hers who is a Jehovah's Witness. My sister was saying being a JW is like living in a community. My argument is that communities don't generally shun members who choose to leave.

My thought is that JW is a cult and that her friend is teaching her children that non witnesses are all going to hell and that being gay in an abomination, amongst other things I find repulsive to teach your kids.

My sister says it is a religion, not a cult. So where is the line between religion and cult? And where to JW fall?

There often isn't a bright line dividing cults and religions. It's more of a spectrum.

On the extreme end are the fringe cults where things tend to end in mass murder/suicide. A little farther in, but still toward the cult end are those groups that are clearly established around one person for their monetary, sexual or ego benefit.

I don't really see the point of labelling JW as a cult instead of a religion. I don't agree with a number of the beliefs, but the ones that you mention aren't really different from more mainstream Christian beliefs outside of the liberal denominations. I do have issues with the refusal of blood transfusions, but respect the right of adults to make that decision. I don't agree with the way that they interpret scripture, but I consider it to be a sincere belief based upon a reading of the prohibition against consuming blood.

I've had clients who really had to fight for their religious rights as JWs, as foster homes would blatantly ignore the needs of JW kids, or a Catholic husband would try to deprive a wife of custody of the kids on the basis that she had joined a crazy cult. They've been on the forefront of a number of religious freedom cases.

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Peas n carrots

I think cults tend to have a charismatic leader who demands financial, spiritual and emotional support from the community, and uses their position of power to manipulate members into following their bidding. I think there is also an element of social isolation involved in most (YFZ/FLDS, Branch Davidians, Manson Family etc). Controlling followers through sleep deprivation, food and drugs is sometimes practiced.

I don't know quite enough on JW's to comment on whether or not they are a cult or not. I know there are definitely some whack-a-doodle beliefs such as only 140K people going to heaven, door-to-door witnessing etc.

I do have some knowledge on Scientology and I am convinced it is a cult. So many of the hallmarks listed above apply to them.

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VenusDaisy

Having been raised as a JW, I can tell you that they do not believe in the concept of hell. There is no fiery place where sinners go to be tortured for eternity after they die. They are also not supportive of homosexuality nor same sex marriage. I agree with Peas n carrots' assessment that many of their practices and beliefs are whack-a-doodle. But as whacky as they are, they are harmless compared to some of fundies discussed on this board.

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terranova
Having been raised as a JW, I can tell you that they do not believe in the concept of hell. There is no fiery place where sinners go to be tortured for eternity after they die. They are also not supportive of homosexuality nor same sex marriage. I agree with Peas n carrots' assessment that many of their practices and beliefs are whack-a-doodle. But as whacky as they are, they are harmless compared to some of fundies discussed on this board.

I'd be interested to know if you were baptised? If you don't mind talking about it.

Most of the interactions and knowledge I have from JW are from a former co-worker who was disfellowshipped after being raised as a JW and living in the faith for 35 years. It came at a time when she was discovering memories of sexual abuse by a family member as a child and overnight she lost all her friends and her entire support network. It took her 2 years, a battle with alcohalism and prostitution for her to get through being dissfellowshipped. It was such a horrible time for her, it left me with a really bad opinion of JWs.

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charizbarb

There often isn't a bright line dividing cults and religions. It's more of a spectrum.

On the extreme end are the fringe cults where things tend to end in mass murder/suicide. A little farther in, but still toward the cult end are those groups that are clearly established around one person for their monetary, sexual or ego benefit.

I don't really see the point of labelling JW as a cult instead of a religion. I don't agree with a number of the beliefs, but the ones that you mention aren't really different from more mainstream Christian beliefs outside of the liberal denominations. I do have issues with the refusal of blood transfusions, but respect the right of adults to make that decision. I don't agree with the way that they interpret scripture, but I consider it to be a sincere belief based upon a reading of the prohibition against consuming blood.

I've had clients who really had to fight for their religious rights as JWs, as foster homes would blatantly ignore the needs of JW kids, or a Catholic husband would try to deprive a wife of custody of the kids on the basis that she had joined a crazy cult. They've been on the forefront of a number of religious freedom cases.

I agree with all of this. If mainstream Mormons are part of the Christian religion as a whole and not a separate cult, then JWs certainly are imo. With regards to the disfellowshipping, to be honest a lot of religious denominations have this, for example Catholicism has excommunication but it doesn't make them a cult. Something like Scientology where your life may actually be in danger if you leave is cult-like to me.

Also JWs have definitely had their share of genuine persecution, much more so than the fundies who complain about it do. They were executed in WWII death camps for their refusal to take part in politics (JWs do not vote or get involved in any political activity, not just not running for office). Not that this excuses any bad behaviour by them, but I think people forget about how much they've had to fight for their religious freedom.

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2xx1xy1JD

It wasn't as bad as being killed, but JWs also faced a great deal of persecution in Canada for their pacifist/non-political stance (esp. during WWI and WWII) and for challenging the Catholic Church during the Duplessis era in the 1950s in Quebec.

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charizbarb
It wasn't as bad as being killed, but JWs also faced a great deal of persecution in Canada for their pacifist/non-political stance (esp. during WWI and WWII) and for challenging the Catholic Church during the Duplessis era in the 1950s in Quebec.

Wondering if JWs had the same experiences in the UK during the world wars - my impression that during WWI at least it was mostly Quakers who were targeted but JWs must have got it too.

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VenusDaisy

I am very sorry to hear about your co-worker's harrowing experience. It sounds like she went through an extremely difficult time. I hope she's found the support she needs in order to heal. I really do hope all is well with her. I was born into the JW belief system. My father's side of the family is 99% JW. Many of my uncles hold leadership positions in various congregations through California. Although, I was raised as a practicing JW, my family (including some of my elder uncles) is very liberal. I made the decision to stop practicing at age 16 and abandoned the JW faith all together at age 18. And although I was officially disfellowshipped, my family has never turned its back on me or any of the other family members who have chosen to leave.

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Sola

Any religion which tells a person how to think rather then expecting them to engage in critical thinking and evaluate it themselves, is a cult in my book.

That might be a broad brush to paint things with, as most religions will fall under that. But the way I see it unless you can make up your own mind, then it's a cult.

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charizbarb
Any religion which tells a person how to think rather then expecting them to engage in critical thinking and evaluate it themselves, is a cult in my book.

That might be a broad brush to paint things with, as most religions will fall under that. But the way I see it unless you can make up your own mind, then it's a cult.

I guess for me it depends to what extent that is carried out - in theory most religions tell people how to think, but unless flouting it is punished in some significant way (eg loss of status within the religious community) then it's a bit too powerless imo to be a true cult. In practice it means there actually is a lot of critical thinking going on because people do interpret religious rules differently, even within denominations. Quakerism for example, goes into a huge amount of detail as to how its members should think and behave. However there is no real clerical structure within the movement let alone a system of consequences, so members are perfectly free to interpret those rules how they wish. For me cults are about enforcing and controlling behaviour, not just expecting it.

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crassy
But as whacky as they are, they are harmless compared to some of fundies discussed on this board.

I would say that withholding medical care to children that results in death due to batshit religious ideas is pretty damn harmful.

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latraviata
Any religion which tells a person how to think rather then expecting them to engage in critical thinking and evaluate it themselves, is a cult in my book.

That might be a broad brush to paint things with, as most religions will fall under that. But the way I see it unless you can make up your own mind, then it's a cult.

This

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pomology
Any religion which tells a person how to think rather then expecting them to engage in critical thinking and evaluate it themselves, is a cult in my book.

That might be a broad brush to paint things with, as most religions will fall under that. But the way I see it unless you can make up your own mind, then it's a cult.

Like others, I am somewhat uncomfortable with this definition.

Part of the reason is because I think ultra-Orthodox Judaism does not fit in neatly with your definition. Because ultra-Orthodox Judaism does expect critical thinking in relation to religious learning. The traditional method of studying Talmud at yeshivas is to study with a partner and to teach them and have them teach you and generally to grapple with the information and with each other in how to understand it. That being said, many strains of ultra-Orthodoxy do border on being cults, because even though the (male) adherents sit and study and engage in critical thinking all day long, there are still rules about how to act, how to dress, and you'll face the loss of support of your community if you dare violate these rules.

Which is why I think that people are right that the true hallmarks of a cult are power imbalances and serious punishment for straying.

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deelaem
Any religion which tells a person how to think rather then expecting them to engage in critical thinking and evaluate it themselves, is a cult in my book.

That might be a broad brush to paint things with, as most religions will fall under that. But the way I see it unless you can make up your own mind, then it's a cult.

I agree. I think the danger lies not in identifying cults too easily, but in not identifying them easily enough. Who knows what kind of harm is being done in cults that fly under the radar just because they aren't currently arming themselves, or the claim religious freedom?

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Arete

One of the best professors I ever had at my very secular university defined all religious movements as cults. Didn't matter if you were Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Bahai'i etc, they were all considered cults according to him. A lot of the students tried challenging him (and not just Christian students by any means), but he could more than hold his own. He would tell us that all religions shunned members who left in some degree or another, that they all had a set of "correct answers" and it didn't matter how much time they put into it, that all exercised control in different aspects of their followers personal lives. So yeah, if you want to be fair, all religious traditions can be broadly classified under the "cult" umbrella.

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mirele
Having been raised as a JW, I can tell you that they do not believe in the concept of hell. There is no fiery place where sinners go to be tortured for eternity after they die. They are also not supportive of homosexuality nor same sex marriage. I agree with Peas n carrots' assessment that many of their practices and beliefs are whack-a-doodle. But as whacky as they are, they are harmless compared to some of fundies discussed on this board.

Heh. I worked with several JWs, every one of them very nice. I remember going to a party and there was a discussion about Mormons going on in the background. I didn't say anything, but the general drift was MORMONS ARE WEIRD! It was funny hearing it from JWs, who are considered weird by mainstream society.

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2xx1xy1JD

I guess a key question for me is "why is it important to label something as a cult?".

One of my favorite books on cults is Moonwebs, by Josh Freed. It focuses primarily on the Moonies (Unification Church) and his personal experience in getting a close friend kidnapped and deprogrammed, but there is also a section at the end about the larger issue of mind control and what makes humans willing to give up autonomy. He sees links between groups like the Moonies, political movements like fascism and even more mundane aspects of society (mainstream religion, education, media) when it comes to being aware of individual autonomy and how we give it up.

So, if someone learns about cults and then applies that to a critical examination of the forces in their own lives, and becomes more aware of the importance of free thought and the threats to it, that's all good. I don't think that all movements and religions are the same - as I said, it's a sliding scale. Identifying cult tactics can help someone see where their own group may fall on that scale.

What concerns me is when the word "cult" is used exclusively to apply to the Other. In other words - when it is used as a nasty label to stick onto others, as a way of marginalizing them and possibly depriving them of rights, and to claim that they are very different than your One True Religion/Regime. Google "Jehovah's Witnesses Duplessis" if you want an example of what I'm talking about, or "falun gong China". In both cases, powerful political interests brutally cracked down on relatively small religious groups and delegitimized them. In both cases, the groups doing the persecution were engaging in far more control over people than either group could hope to achieve.

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Terrasola

Accepting the religious beliefs of others is a sacred precept of our society. Unfortunately, that has led to the lack of critical examination of unhealthy and/or harmful beliefs and behaviours of some religious groups and/or individuals. Attaching the label of "cult" to a religious group makes it more acceptable to openly critique those non-benign beliefs and behaviours (think discussions of Baptist or LDS teachings vs those of Co$ or FLDS).

I think it is unfortunate that freedom of religion seems to be a free pass to teach all manner of dreck and act in abominably, incalculably hurtful ways that would be unacceptable in a secular context.

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lizziesmom

Freedom of religion should include freedom from religion. The fact that churches are tax free and are usually given a huge amount of latitude in this regard makes for lots of abuse IMO. I might actually respect any organized religion that didn't spend all its time trying to crank in money.

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2xx1xy1JD
Accepting the religious beliefs of others is a sacred precept of our society. Unfortunately, that has led to the lack of critical examination of unhealthy and/or harmful beliefs and behaviours of some religious groups and/or individuals. Attaching the label of "cult" to a religious group makes it more acceptable to openly critique those non-benign beliefs and behaviours (think discussions of Baptist or LDS teachings vs those of Co$ or FLDS).

I think it is unfortunate that freedom of religion seems to be a free pass to teach all manner of dreck and act in abominably, incalculably hurtful ways that would be unacceptable in a secular context.

Freedom to teach crap is also tied up with freedom of speech.

In many cases, freedom of religion is not absolute and does not give carte blanche to harmful actions. I disagree with states that allow parents to withhold treatment for religious reasons, but most jurisdictions have ways for the state to override parental objections.

Many of the beliefs that you don't like in the JW faith also exist in the Catholic and non-liberal Protestant denominations, but those don't get labelled as a cult. It makes no sense to give them a free pass but single out a much smaller minority religion for criticism.

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deelaem
One of the best professors I ever had at my very secular university defined all religious movements as cults. Didn't matter if you were Jewish, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Bahai'i etc, they were all considered cults according to him. A lot of the students tried challenging him (and not just Christian students by any means), but he could more than hold his own. He would tell us that all religions shunned members who left in some degree or another, that they all had a set of "correct answers" and it didn't matter how much time they put into it, that all exercised control in different aspects of their followers personal lives. So yeah, if you want to be fair, all religious traditions can be broadly classified under the "cult" umbrella.

He sounds like an awesome professor! What was his subject?

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deelaem

Freedom to teach crap is also tied up with freedom of speech.

In many cases, freedom of religion is not absolute and does not give carte blanche to harmful actions. I disagree with states that allow parents to withhold treatment for religious reasons, but most jurisdictions have ways for the state to override parental objections.

Many of the beliefs that you don't like in the JW faith also exist in the Catholic and non-liberal Protestant denominations, but those don't get labelled as a cult. It makes no sense to give them a free pass but single out a much smaller minority religion for criticism.

This is why I made the point of saying that we don't do enough to identify organizations as cults. I personally agree with ArteJo's professor who said that all religions are cults. They all operate on the principles of mind control through coercion and fear. Sure, in some of them a person who leaves isn't threatened with loss of family or even death, but the guilt and ostracism have lasting effects.

I know that as long as humans are humans, we will struggle with issues of control. But I really hope we ride out the current wave of backasswardsness (!) and evolve into a society that allows for more personal responsibility and expression. Of course, I think that would involve taking down the patriarchy, but that's another story. :twisted:

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jenny_islander

The word "cult" has been used to mean a lot of things. From memory, here are the markers of a cult as in a social group that does harm to its own members and possibly to outsiders:

1. There is one set of teachings for outsiders and another set you don't get to learn, or perhaps even hear about, until you've been in for a while. (Hail Xenu!)

2. Members learn a jargon-laden version of their own language that makes communication with outsiders difficult.

3. There is one standard of conduct for the rank and file and another for the upper-ups. The higher you are, the more you can get away with.

4. Followers are supposed to spend a lot of time doing things that blunt the ability to think: going without sleep, going without food, chanting, performing repetitive motions, overworking, etc.

5. Followers are taught that the only safety in this world (and probably in the afterlife) is to be found within the group. Outside the group there is only danger. Possibly the outside world is portrayed as constantly seeking to destroy the safe harbor of the group (although the outside world may be barely aware that the group exists).

6. The leaders attempt to cut off all sources of information that have not been vetted and approved by them. No unauthorized books, media, etc. Even contact with outside relatives may be frowned upon--or restricted to preapproved scripts.

7. The leaders batten on the followers. They are visibly richer than they were before they founded the group or got to the top of the group, and their followers tend to become poorer and sicker. This may be the reason the group exists. If not, perhaps this is the reason:

8. The leaders feel free to do things to the followers that would get them jailed if they did them to outsiders, but they can use the threat of being thrown out of the safety of the group or cite reasons in their ideological framework to keep the followers compliant. They can bully, rape, order mass acts of abasement, etc., with impunity. If this is not the reason the group exists either, there is a third possiblility:

9. The leaders may see themselves, and teach their followers to see themselves, as the last clean souls left in a world that is rapidly headed for destruction, great people with a great secret (although to the outside world they are a bunch of grimy quarrelsome debt-ridden losers in a run-down compound). They may even call for group members to accelerate what they see as the coming apocalypse by committing violent acts. If they run out of ways to prop up their grandiose fantasies, they may succumb to paranoia and call for mass suicide, so that the group can ascend to a better place. They may decide to make it suicide by cop for extra drama.

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Arete

He sounds like an awesome professor! What was his subject?

deelam, I originally had him for "The History of Religion", a very broad overview course. Liked him so much I went on to take "The Old Testament" and "The Abrahamic Tradition" with him. His area of specialization was the cultural and religious traditions of the ancient semites. It would be very hard for anyone taking any of his classes to look at their religious tradition the same way again.

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