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Is Christianity a cult?

By Peter Bowden - posted Thursday, 10 June 2021


Is Christianity a cult? The answer is maybe yes, maybe no, depending on how one defines a cult. One dictionary definition is a cult is a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. Some sociologists have argued for the definition should differentiate those groups that may be dangerous from groups that are more benign. If we use Christ as the cult object, however there is little doubt that Christianity is a cult. Christ must have been a magnetic figure, able to draw several hundreds to listen to him. There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, making Christianity the largest religion on the planet. Roman Catholicism is the most prominent denomination (although not in the US).

If we compare Christianity to cults started in the United States, such as the Branch Dravidians, the Jonestown compound in Guyana where over 900 people died, Heaven's Gate, the religious group that organized their own mass suicide in 1997, Christianity is not an evil cult. The US is the most religious of all developed countries, with a widespread belief in the existence of god, yet it has created these crazy cults. US appears to generate more cults than the rest of the world combined.

In fact, if we use the teachings of Christ as a guideline, particularly the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Sermon on the Mount, then it is a good, even beneficial cult. These two teachings echo a moral guideline that we have heard for thousands of years – King Solomon (Proverbs 3:27 and 3:29), and the major Asian philosophies: "Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you cannot help them, at least don't hurt them," from the Dalai Lama. In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophies, this concept is that of Ahimsa, "Do no harm". Several modern philosophers who also embrace this concept are John Stuart Mill, William Frankena, Bernard Gert, Thomas Beauchamp and James Childress.

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Christianity has not been without its evils, - the inquisitions, the crusades, the warring and whoring popes, the selling of indulgences, the abuse by the clergy. The support of Donald Trump by the evangelical right might be included. It certainly was misguided. But they may explain some of the inconsistencies in religious behaviour in the US.

A global Gallup Poll in 2009 asked "Is religion important in your daily life?". Percentages for "yes" and "no" answers are listed below. They often do not add up to 100% because some answered "don't know" or did not answer

United Kingdom 27% Yes 73% No

Australia 32% 68%

United States 69% 31%

Sweden 17% 82%

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France 30% 69%

The figures on France are surprising to this observer, who long thought of France as a strongly religious country.

Not only does the US have more Christians, it has a greater belief in God. Research by the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago shows that 60% of people in the United States believed in god. This compared with 18% in France,17 % in Great Britain and 25% in Australia. The highest beliefs were 62% in Poland (which is 90% Catholic), and 84% in the Philippines (86% Catholic).

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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