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Cult and Religion Differences Essay

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2020


There is a huge difference between a cult and a religion. A Cult involves people following certain beliefs as in the case of a religion. However, practices and actions of a cult are unconventional compared to those of a religion. Cult members often live according to the dictates of their leaders. A religion is more open-minded compared to a cult because its adherents often hold beliefs in divine power through their faith. A cult is different from a religion because it does not conform to societal values. In addition, a cult has an education system that brainwash its members. The teachings of a cult often contradict those of a religion. Therefore, a cult is dangerous to followers, mainstream religions, and the society as a whole.


The differences between a cult and a religion are mainly based on beliefs and tenets founded on faith. Although the two concepts are popular amongst various groups in society, certain features distinguish one from the other. The main distinguishing element is the controversy surrounding their definition. A cult is defined as a religion or a sect that is generally considered nonconformist, revolutionary, or false (Tucker, 2004). It has a system of religious beliefs, rituals, and interests that are followed with embellished zeal.

Cult members usually follow the directions of their leader, who instructs them on what to do in various situations and circumstances (Carden, 2006). Religion defines a cult simply as a spiritual conviction that is different from theirs and one that causes harm to its followers either directly or indirectly. Compared to a cult, a religion is more open-minded because people often hold beliefs in divine power through their faith. A religion holds a strong belief in a supernatural power that has total control over human destiny (Carden, 2006).


The main motivation for forming a cult is to gain control over people while that of a religion is to help followers find happiness, satisfaction, truth, and balance in their lives (Tucker, 2004). Studies have established that a cult is dangerous both to their followers and to religion. Experts argue that if a certain religious conviction exists for several generations among a group of people, it gradually develops into a religion. In addition, they argue that passing a system of beliefs adopted by a cult through subsequent generations is difficult, especially when members are exposed to danger (Tucker, 2004).

A cult is often characterized by unconventional practices such as mass killings and extremism. Such practices often draw the attention of authorities that react swiftly to limit its growth. A cult is different from a religion because it does not conform to societal values and it has an education system that brainwashes its members. Adherents are conditioned to believe that they can do anything as long as they follow the teachings of their leaders (Tucker, 2004).

Cult leaders are often highly influential individuals who have the ability to change people’s perceptions about certain societal values and ways of doing things. Their biggest strength is the aptitude to indoctrinate their followers. In contrast, a religion adopts a system in which leaders guide people towards living in accordance to the will of God, as well as in harmony with societal values and ideals (Carden, 2006).

Another characteristic feature of a cult is the deterrence of members from questioning their system of beliefs and practices (Tucker, 2004). According to religious experts, denying people a chance to understand the beliefs and practices they follow limits their ability to strengthen their faith and increase knowledge.

The main reason why a cult does not allow its members to ask questions is because it has an apocalyptic belief regarding life and the end of the world. Unlike a religion, which allows its members to interact freely with others, a cult often limits the relations of its members. According to experts, this plays a crucial role in strengthening beliefs by cult members due to limited opportunities for enlightenment (Carden, 2006).

Another common feature of a cult is excommunication of members who defy rules, take legal action against cults, or even cause harm to other members. Studies have established that a cult grows along a spirit of togetherness, which allows members to treat each other like family (Tucker, 2004). No one is allowed to go against the rules, question leaders, or expose any secrets. Although a religion also advocates for the spirit of togetherness, a cult abuses this concept by asking its members to participate in immoral practices.

According to experts, cults are responsible for societal vices such as terrorism, abductions, rape, murders, and human trafficking among others (Carden, 2006). A cult acts completely opposite from what is morally and socially acceptable. Studies on the emergence and growth of cults have established that people who fail to find happiness and satisfaction from a religion often rebel because they question the teachings they receive. They question teachings regarding the value of human life, the right way to live, and eternal salvation.

Experts also argue that a cult instills fear into members in order to prevent them from decamping or questioning the manner in which things are done. Studies have revealed that a cult threatens its members against shifting their loyalty to other groups. The reason for this is that it fears losing members and eventually becoming weak, which could lead to disintegration (Tucker, 2004). The concept of cultism has also been growing among various religions due to scramble for power and followers. Stigmatization and discrimination based on religious beliefs has propagated cultism among various religions (Carden, 2006).

Why a cult is dangerous

A cult is dangerous to its members, a religion, and society as a whole because they promote immorality and advocate for degrading life ideals (Tucker, 2004). Some of the most dangerous practices practiced by a cult include idolizing its leaders, isolation of members from the rest of society, control over their lifestyle, and deterrence of from questioning the manner of doing things. A cult often brainwashes its members into adopting different and unconventional ways of finding satisfaction in life.

A cult member acts and behaves in accordance with the practices in his or her respective group (Carden, 2006). Leaders assume full control over the lives of their followers by making important decisions such as the mode of dressing, the food to eat, places to visit, and the people to associate with among others. Isolation of cult members from other society members helps to strengthen the bond of unity. Unity helps all members to work in unison, especially when practicing their rituals (Tucker, 2004).


A cult is profoundly different from a religion. A cult is often characterized by unorthodox and extremist ways of doing things. On the other hand, a religion is more open-minded and allows people to learn new things through asking questions. Unlike a cult, which limits interactions of its members with the rest of society, a religion allows its members to interact freely. Studies have established that a cult is dangerous because it brainwashes its followers through degrading morals and values about life, as well as belief in God.


Carden, P. (2006). Christianity, Cults & Religions. New York: Rose Publishing.

Tucker, R. A. (2004). Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions, and the New Age Movement. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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