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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A few weeks ago a member of the church (now I wonder if this charming blond was on the verge of a deeper question), suggested that 'you don't really have much respect do you', to which I smiled and did not responde past 'good morning'.

I fear, since the common fellowship that makes their appearance, only numbers at about 35, that the church is held together by shear will, and two more groups that sublet the building.

They are good people, which is the major metric I use to determine my involvement.


Are you perhaps confusing human cultural practices?

At some level, all of these would be baffling to an outsider.  Why handshakes?  Why right-handed handshakes in the West, but left-handed handshakes in the Middle East... and in Boy and Girl Scouts, I believe?  Why remove a hat indoors in the West?  Why tattoos and piercing?  And good heavens, why high heels?

They're all bizarre and meaningless to an outsider.

It's a bit like trying to explain American baseball to a culture that doesn't have it, or cricket to an American.  You're going to get the same look.

Yes I suppose a handshake is the same thing as charging someone 1,000 dollars to wave their hands and claim they've cured someone's cancer through the love of God. Yes. Human cultural practices.

People charge someone $1,000 for shoes, to improve their social standing through the love of the Kardashians.

Any time you have a popular cultural phenomenon, whether it's entertainment or politics or religion or sports, it's going to attract this sort of stuff.   It's somewhere between foolish and despicable, but it should not be surprising.

That's just humanity.

No. When you buy a shoe...you get a shoe.

When you wave your hands in the air begging god to send you shoes...you don't get shoes.

When you pay for advanced chemotherapy you have a fighting chance of survival.

If you go to a christian healing clinic through prayer...you get matastasis.

As I said, foolish and despicable.

Still very human.

It's also foolish and despicable to make a claim about a population based on the behavior of outliers, wouldn't you agree?

Do you have a working definition of "cult" in mind, @Alex?

There's a definition of "cult" in cultural anthropology.  I am not a cultural anthropologist, but I believe that mainstream religions would not meet their definition.  It is sometimes used to refer to subsets of Catholic practice, like the cults of individual saints, though I believe the majority of people in cultural anthropology find that mildly inappropriate/offensive.

Ironically, within Catholicism "cult" is a technical term which does actually refer to those who venerate something or someone, like a saint.   So the Catholic Church might actually agree that it is a cult of the Trinity, though our use of the word is different than the popular one.  The Latin root is also the root of "culture" to give a sense of our meaning.

The popular use of the world "cult" I believe began with the various weird groups that sprang up in the 60s and 70s.  Groups like the Moonies, The Way, etc.   Small groups on the anti-government, anti-religion fringe centered around a charismatic leader who separated his (or her) followers from their families and the rest of society, and kept them separated.  For those of us old enough to remember them, some of those groups were truly creepy and downright evil.  They often targeted lonely and vulnerable students on college campuses for recruitment.

If that's your definition, then no, Catholicism is not a cult.  In fact most of those cults despised Catholicism for various reasons.   Possibly because having strong beliefs and an anchor in a strong community makes it hard to separate people from that support in order to get them to join your cult.

Given that a cult is, by definition, a religious practice based on nonsensical, unsupported ideas, ALL religions and denominations are cults.

Your definition is wrong.

Cults may be ostensibly religious, but aren't necessarily so. Objectivism, Communism, environmentalism/antipenvironmentalism, and even veganism can have cult-like characteristics.

I much prefer talking in terms of cult-like characteristics of a group, since claiming that a group is "a cult" is little more than an invitation to a pointless debate. By cult-like characteristics I mean a charismatic leadership; deceptive recruiting practices; mind-control techniques; isolation from the outside world (esp. family and friends); and strong resistance to anyone wanting to leave, which can go as far as imprisonment for "re-education."

Yes, at times.

Had an interesting experience with 'Earth First' ers several years ago, about 1988. There was one branch of the group that seemed to be promoting a 'human die-off' as a way to save the planet.

Again about 1988, I volunteered at a local hotsprings for a few weeks, and had a conversation about 'global warming'. At the time I was a tender-foot with the subject, and was rather severly 'corrected' by a few members for my skepticism. It would be nearly 20 years latter before I had enough information for a change in position, or confidence. 

During my student days as PSU, our SOS group(Student Atheists-Society of Separationists), a few members seemed to willing to engage in 'violence' against theists. I was the coordinator of the group at the time, and would only support dialogue. Any divergence from civility I would report.

Sadly individuals can take extreame positions while members of groups, fringe or not. It seems to be more about cognition/pathology than belief, but a belief can be used for uncivil actions, and if violence/pathology is held in high regard, extreamism can emerge.    

I wouldn't so so far as to generalize and say that all of Christianity is a cult; however, I have attended many church services of smaller evangelical groups that I would say definitely qualify to be called "the cult of Jesus."

And what's up with that whole "What Would Jesus Do?" thing, anyway? You can't take your own projections of what a 2,000-year-old religious leader would do and apply them to 21st Century issues. But there is one thing I'm pretty sure of: he wouldn't be too approving of mega-churches that raise millions of dollars in his name. He did, after all, chase them out of the temple during his lifetime.

So the next time you find yourself asking, "What would Jesus do?" remember that whips, beatings, and overturning tables are an option.


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