Religion is a matter of faith or belief. We know that there are multitudes of beliefs in the world and certainly no way to substantiate any one belief as truth. Hence, we live in a world filled with different religious teachings. But can there be good religion and bad religion? In the last article I discussed the idea that there were general accepted ideas about what constituted religion and religious belief and that alternative ideas that contradicted these norms were often viewed as deviant. However, deviant does not mean bad, only different. The world is full of alternative religions, that is, religious belief that does not follow traditionally accepted norms and behaviors. While one’s personal beliefs may be at odd with alternative religions, those who practice or support these alternatives pose no threat to others. There is no bad religion. However, some groups do cause harm to their members and society and often under the guise of religious belief. Such groups, in fact are not alternative religions, but cults. A cult is any group that under the guise of religion causes harm to its membership. What becomes confusing is that although a cult may claim a religious foundation, often the group is not about religious or spiritual belief at all, but is an economic ploy for the group’s leader. Often establishing a group officially as doing harm and thereby a cult can be difficult, but there is a list of criteria that can help evaluate a situation. 1. Are group members isolated from their family or the larger society? 2. Does the group’s doctrine and belief focus on the supernatural experiences of the group’s leader? 3. Is the group’s leader living? 4. Is the group less than 25 years old? Answering yes to these questions if often a flag to investigate a group further. Legitimate alternative religions do not dictate relationships of their members, whom they can visit, associate with etc. Likewise, alternative religions, like mainstream religion is often based on ancient history that has its roots hundreds or thousands of years ago. This is not the case for cults. However, answering yes to these questions alone, does not make a group a cult. The key questions are: 1. Are any group members being physically or emotionally harmed in any way? 2. Are group members allowed to leave the organization? Can they be with non group members or by themselves for an extended time? 3. Are group members living in poverty while the group’s leader gains wealth? Often what clearly identifies a group as a cult in the fact that the members of the community are poor, hungry and often in need of basic material goods, while the leader of the group has many households, possessions and is living in luxury. Sadly, group members may not consider themselves as being harmed by this situation, but for those examining the group externally, we can see physical harm occurring. Likewise, in most cults, the leaders of the group are aware that the situation they have created is not legitimate. To protect themselves, they do not allow their membership extended access to any one out side the group. Cult leaders are fearful that group members may realize that the situation is unjust and therefore try to limit the member’s contact with the outside world. Cults are not considered alternative religions, though they may be structured like a religious organization and claim to be a religion. Most of the time, cults are founded on economic purposes, not even ideological factors. The bottom line, cults are harmful to their members. Source: Alternative Religion or Cult?