Cults, Religions and the Occult: How Do They Compare?

Introduction

Definitions:

  1. Christianity – defined by system of belief, not culture (Christian vs. Arab) or denomination; comprehensive worldview includes source of authority, nature of God, nature and work of Christ, nature of man, etc. It is summarized in the ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Nicæno-Constantinopolitan, Chalcedonian) and confessions of faith (Belgic, Westminster, London).

  2. Sect – a group with roots in and shared beliefs with Christianity, but with distinctives (often receiving an unbalanced emphasis) that distinguish it from “mainstream” Christianity; may be considered a cult by some Christians

  3. Cult – a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrine system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Cults use much language in common with Christianity but with significantly different meanings for terminology. Roman Catholicism (listed in “ Other World Religions”) is not a cult since it does not deny a central Christian doctrine nor is it a sect; it was the “mainstream” for centuries. Yet given what the Roman Catholic church teaches on each central doctrine, it is distinct from Protestantism in general and evangelical Christianity specifically.

  4. Occult – belief in or study of the action, influence or use of supernatural power or knowledge. It is comprised of three basic categories — divination, magic or sorcery, and spiritism. Though there are many theories today as to how or why it works, according to biblical theology it originates from, and constitutes interaction with, demonic spirits. Hence, it is expressly condemned.

Distinguish between what the system teaches and what is believed/practiced by particular individuals

Missionaries” and average lay participants have different knowledge sets; founders and insiders have an even different understanding of truths contained in the particular system. In some systems, inside information is withheld or masked from beginners. Even when there’s no secrecy, not everyone in a particular system understands or holds to the entire system; not everyone consistently practices what their system teaches. Often the actual belief system of individuals (particularly average nominal followers) has elements of syncretism – President Obama’s public statements, e.g.

In a 2004 interview Obama stated clearly, “I am a Christian.” Yet in the same interview he says “intellectually I’ve drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith” and “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.” Obama thinks religion is “at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt.” He thinks “Jesus is an historical figure . . . he’s also a wonderful teacher”. He defines sin as “Being out of alignment with my values.” Additionally, he says he feels the most centered and most aligned spiritually when he’s being true to himself and that he’s a “follower, as well, of our civic religion.”

Distinguish also between “denominations”, spectra within groups:

Christian denominations
Latin vs native-language Mass; charismatic congregations within Roman Catholicism
Sunni/Sufi/Shia Muslims
Hindu monotheism, polytheism, atheism
Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Hasidism, and Kabbalah movements within Judaism

Symbols:

  1. Freemasons – square and compass; the Square is an emblem of virtue in which “we must square our actions by the square of virtue with all mankind”. The Compass exemplifies wisdom of conduct,… the strength to “circumscribe our desires and keep passions within due bounds”. When these 2 Masonic tools are placed together with the Great Architect (God, the Creator, Supreme Being, Generating force) as the central focal point… (just as King Solomon built God’s Temple, first… and then built his house around it), peace and harmony is the result.

  2. Taoism – yin yang; impartial force governing the cosmos through a self-generating process rather than the work of a Creator. This force has two aspects whose interplay causes the ever-changing phenomena of the universe. Yin is the dark, receptive, “female” aspect; yang is the bright, assertive, “male” aspect. Wisdom lies in recognizing their ever-shifting, but regular and balanced patterns and moving with them. This creative rhythm of the universe is called the Tao, or “way”. Yin and yang interpenetrate each other as represented by the small circles. As soon as one aspect reaches its fullest point, it begins to diminish, accompanied by an increase in its polar opposite.

  3. Buddhism – wheel of life; in the center are animals representing lust, hatred, and delusion. The next circle shows the fate of those with good karma (left) and bad karma (right). The third circle represents the six spheres of existence from the gods to the infernal regions. The outer rim shows the chain of cause and effect. Grasping the wheel is a monster representing death, impermanence.

  4. Sikhism – a Khanda includes three different items which have a symbolic meaning: 1) A double-edged sword, also called a Khanda, in the center; 2) A Chakkar which is circular; 3) Two single-edged swords, or kirpans, are crossed at the bottom and sit on either side of the Khanda and Chakkar. They represent the two characteristics, one being Miri (Temporal power) and the other, Piri (Spirituality). In the symbol the sword to the left represents truth, and the sword to the right represents the willingness to fight for what is right- dharma (religion). The circle in the middle means that there is only one God, never beginning and never ending. The Khanda represents knowledge of God, the Chakkar represents the eternal nature of God and oneness of humanity, the two swords represent Miri (political sovereignty) and Piri (spiritual sovereignty).

  5. Islam – crescent moon and star; The crescent moon and star symbol actually pre-dates Islam by several thousand years. Information on the origins of the symbol are difficult to ascertain, but most sources agree that these ancient celestial symbols were in use by the peoples of Central Asia and Siberia in their worship of sun, moon, and sky gods. The city of Byzantium (later known as Constantinople and Istanbul) adopted the crescent moon as its symbol. It wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire that the crescent moon and star became affiliated with the Muslim world. When the Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they adopted the city’s existing flag and symbol. Based on this history, many Muslims reject using the crescent moon as a symbol of Islam. The faith of Islam has historically had no symbol, and many refuse to accept what is essentially an ancient pagan icon.

  6. Wicca – pentacle; the Pentacle is a 5-pointed Star contained within a circle. It is drawn in a continuous line, without breaks or lifting the pen (or whatever) from the writing surface. The five points of the Pentacle stand for the four directions and four elements, plus Center/Spirit. It represents the unity of all facets of the world into one expression of the Divine. It is no coincidence that a human standing with all limbs outstretched forms a rudimentary star shape. This human star inside the circle of the aura creates a living Pentacle. The Pentacle is the prime energy-containing Wicca symbol. It contains, in essence, the Universe within it. Part of the Pentacle’s power of protection relies on the fact that it is drawn with a single unbroken line. This leaves no gateways for unwanted energies to enter, or for Power to dissipate.

Essentials:

  1. Authority

    1. The question must be: what is the ultimate authority governing the faith and practice of devotees?

      1. If there is a conflict between two “authorities”, which rules? how is conflict resolved?

      2. It can also be helpful to know what the most basic presupposition is. What is the logical starting point of the system of thought, that which is accepted without proof. (There is a God and he has revealed himself through his Word, the Bible.)

      3. Many cults and religions would acknowledge the Bible as an authority, would quite readily acknowledge other authorities or important people/writings, only when pressed (in conversation with a non-devotee) acknowledge a higher authority than the Bible.

  2. Theology (Proper)

    1. What does the system of belief teach about God?

      1. Is there a god and what is God like?

  3. Christology

    1. Who is Jesus?

    2. What was/is his purpose in history?

  4. Anthropology

    1. Where did man come from?

    2. What is his nature? (Dualism – physical/spiritual or material/immaterial; Monism – material only; spiritual only)

    3. Why is man here? What is his purpose? Where/how do you find meaning in life?

  5. Soteriology

    1. What is man’s natural condition? Does man have a problem?

    2. If man does, what is the solution?

  6. Ethics

    1. What is the standard of right and wrong?

    2. What is important in life? Why is that important?

  7. Eschatology

    1. Is there an end and, if so, what happens at the end?

      1. What is the goal of history?

Especially when dealing with cults it is of utmost importance to clearly define terminology first, words like redemption, divinity/deity, Son, resurrection, salvation, heaven, Holy Spirit; for clear and effective communication to take place, both participants must be applying the same concepts to terms that are used.

Religions_Comparison (pdf comparison of world religions and cults formatted for 8-1/2 x 14 legal size paper)

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