I am a closet atheist, and I have a Catholic family and I hear from other atheists about how Christianity is a cult. I am wondering is Christianity a cult and if so why?

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As far as I can tell the only difference between a religion and the common usage of the term "cult" is the number of people who follow it or how relevant it is to today's society.

I did some thinking and I came to the same conclusion, I hate seeing my fellow family members get brainwashed in a belief that has so many errors.

Just curious, @Alex.

What makes you think your family is being brainwashed?  Have there been some priests that kidnapped them and took them off to small cells in order to perform extended mental conditioning?

I think as rationalists folks should probably avoid hyperbolic nonsense statements like "brainwashing", which quickly turn into sophomoric rants like @Davis's below. 

Say rather that you disagree with your family's viewpoint, and really can't find any rational basis for what they believe.  That's both respectful and mature.  We can disagree with people and continue to live with them and be fellow citizens with them all the time.

When we call them brainwashed cultists, though, we send in the ATF to burn out their compounds.  I'm not sure that's any better than the discriminatory or violent behaviors people criticize religion for.

@Alex Decesare
Maybe "brainwash" is too strong a word. Brainwashing is usually a brutal process, done by your enemy, and over a relatively short period of time. Indoctrination, on the other hand, can sometimes be subtle, over a long period of time starting at a very young age, and it is often aided by family and friends and "experts" who claim to have knowledge they can't possibly have. Cults and shadowy government agencies brainwash. Churches with 2000 years of experience in these matters indoctrinate.

I also think people should be able to disagree and still live together respectfully. In my experience, religious aren't too tolerant of nonbelievers unless their ultimate goal is to bring the poor soul back into the fold in the long run, which is neither respectful nor tolerant. If you don't know absolutely for sure which way your parents would go, don't put all your cards on the table yet.

Brainwashing may often be done in a brutal way, however it's not defined by how it's done but by the result.

True.  The result from brainwashing is that the brainwashee's old values/beliefs/whatever are washed away and replaced with whatever the brainwasher wants to put there.  The church likes to catch 'em young and implant values and beliefs before there are any old ones to wash away.

From a 'free thinking', 'rationalist' perspective, if early on we establish some framework  for intellectual or 'belief' commitments, provisional or otherwise, we might exclude some position latter on that might be 'nutty'.

As I have 'matured', I have passed through numerous positions, which at the time seemed reasonable, but latter, as my knowledge base enlarged or improved,  I had to excape or leave behind as my horizons became more expansive.

Even by passing through 'nuttiness', we can learn something about ourselves, our cognition, and how others function. If we can keep our heads, we seem to be condemned to our own transcendence, but sadly this might also mean that we fall 'outside' of our culture's cognitive space/frame. Under this condition, classications/lables of devient, terrorist, infidel, sinner, revolutionary, or my favorite 'un-employable' often arise. This lonely 'place' is likely a serious negative reinforcement to stay outside, as a person with no country, or understandable' creed. I have heard multiple calls to 'conformity' over my life, and to the lives of others. It can break the less hardy it seems.

Our culture seems made up of these, the 'outside & lonely' condition is not always permanent. Which then brings us to 'Think Atheist'. Sadly some of us really do like being the 'iconoclast', or the 'provocature', and short of a stay in prison or hung, would we change.     

You make it sound like a cynical conspiracy in which people knowingly plant false ideas in kids' heads for sinister reasons. I assure you, at least in the case of mainstream religions, they are simply teaching the young what they themselves believe to be true. 

In many cults, Scientology for example, the leaders are quite aware that what they are teaching is horseshit and that they are essentially scamming their members for money or free labor or easy sex or all of the above.

About 1998, I was asked to go to an EST gathering in Seattle. It was a rather fun and insightful day trip up, and back with an overly long exposure to EST.

Over about 5 hours at the gathering we were interviewed by multiple 'handlers', and sorted to tighter groups for special attention. I was sorted to the 'Hard case' group(I like the tension), where we were asked many questions about our philosophical commitments, experiences, and income. They seemed to be sizing us up for the coming gauntlet of the more open group where EST members would cross examine us, looking for weaknesses, testing resolve, and trying their methods of conversion.

Sadly for them, I meet a few other followers of the 'open path to enlightenment', folks that had also been invited, but were such independent cuses that nothing short of an act of 'GOD' would convert us to EST, or anything else. We started to compair notes, one gal was a Communications major, I Philosophy, another fellow Engineering. It was clear that there was a method that EST was using for new recrutes, but it was grossly nieve, and meet for the nieve.

Since we were all stuck in Seattle for the day  with 'rides', we had to pass through the 'bombing' of the EST members every few minutes, from the cute blond gal, to the mousy fellow trying to get his $3000 back for his 'training'. As our time was drawing to a close, I was really feeling put upon by all of it, and was approached by one more fellow asking the same questions, trying to shake my hand then I blurted out 'BUGGER OFF!'  

The last thing I said the the Communications major, 'I do hope you can save your freedom for something that matters! Take care!'

EST, along with a lot of the programs run by self-improvement or self-help gurus (Tony Robbins, for example) can be cultish.

Another very common phenomenon that can be cultish is Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs.

Like I say, I avoid name groups as cults, I just note cultish tendencies. It allows me to talk about their negative aspects without having to defend my name-calling.

"The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own"
~Frank Zappa~

I just read a whole page of Zappa quotes. That man was not afraid.

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