The Cult Phenomenon: Fad or Fact

Introduction

Before we can discuss the legal strategies available to counter the new religious cults, we first must discuss whether the cults should be countered, and, if so, why. We must, in short, discuss what I call the cult phenomenon. This involves consideration of several questions. What are the new religious cults? Are they really a new phenomenon, or are they similar to religious cults that have existed in the past? How many new groups have been created? How many members have they attracted? Are they a fad that will pass or a permanent part of the worldwide religious scene? Are they dangerous, or are they a welcome addition to religious and cultural pluralism?

Sociologists define cults as deviant groups which exist in a state of tension with society. Cults do not evolve or break away from other religions, as do religious sects, but offer their members something altogether different. Although by definition cults conflict with “the establishment,” there are degrees of conflict. The greater the commitment the cults demand from their followers, the greater the hostility they meet from society.

Religious cults have always existed, particularly in unstable and troubled times. The Roman Empire, for example, which allowed great religious freedom, was deluged with apocalyptic movements that sprang from the meeting of eastern and western cultures. Throughout history people, both young and old, have sought personal fulfillment, peace, mystical experience, and religious salvation through such fringe groups.

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