Mormonism is a Cult, and So is Radical Atheism

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There are two definitions of "cult." The more common one is pejorative, and is intended to imply that the religion is bogus (or seriously questionable at best), and perhaps that its adherents are brainwashed or duped.

That is not the definition I am using.

The traditional definition I am using, and that many scholars use when they call Mormonism a cult, only refers to the actual beliefs of a particular sect in relation to its parent religion. Mormonism is a cult of Christianity because Mormonism is an offshoot of Christianity that is different in significant enough ways that you can't really call Mormons Christians.

So for example, Mormons believe that there are multiple Gods; that God was once a man; that the Trinity is three separate Gods; that Jesus was not born of a virgin; and so on. Mormons simply are not Christians. Or at least, they do not share the same essential religious beliefs as Catholics and Protestants.

So because Mormonism is an offshoot of Christianity, yet it is not Christianity, Mormonism is therefore a cult of Christianity.

In a similar way, many people think Christianity is a cult of Judaism. The case is a bit less obvious in some ways, but you could just note the fact that Jews do not believe Christ is the Messiah, and Christians do.

This is not a value judgment of the particular religious views. It is a mostly objective look at the differences between related views, with the only real subjectivity of the matter coming in saying whether the differences are significant enough to call one a cult of the other.

I just throw this out there for two reasons. First, because Al Sharpton said Mormons are Christians. They aren't. He does not understand one or both religions to claim that.

Second, because the word "cult" gets thrown around a lot, and sometimes people take offense to it when they shouldn't. I could make the case, for example, that Christianity is not a cult of Judaism because it is a mere fulfillment of Judaism. Many Jews, of course, would disagree. But I shouldn't take an assertion that Christianity is a cult of Judaism as an offense; it's merely a claim that Judaism disagrees in some fundamental ways with Christianity.

Of course, some people probably do call Mormonism a cult in the pejorative sense. But some people say that George Bush is Hitler, so what some people say can be pretty stupid.

I am watching Christopher Hitchens on CNN right now. He says we would be better off without religion. Too bad he can't actually rationally argue the point, since all of his examples are neither unique nor universal to religion. It would be like me pointing out all the ills of Democrats and saying we would be better off without Democrats. Except, of course, that not all Democrats think or do those stupid things, and if we did get rid of the Democrats, other people would come along and do the same stupid things. Without religion, we would still have people doing the same stupid things, just for different reasons.

For example, Hitchens says religion has to "try and impose itself on others." This is quite clearly not true; some religions are not at all evangelical, and most people -- in this country -- don't think merely offering to discuss religion is a serious imposition. And of course, this is not dissimilar from any special interest group, from the ACLU to the NRA to PETA. It's not a religious thing.

He gives an example of the Pope saying we shouldn't give people condoms in Africa to combat AIDS. But that is not religion. That is one man's view of how religion should be implemented. Someone could have the opposite view, that religion dictates we should give them condoms to combat AIDS. And an atheist could have the view that we should simply let them all die and not waste our time and money.

He talked about death threats for cartoonists in Denmark. Yet enviromental terrorists have killed, completely apart from any religious beliefs, and most religious people would never consider threatening anyone's life for drawing a cartoon.

Hitchens made not a single valid claim against religion, or the nature of religion, but merely certain cherry-picked implementations of religion. Of course, the same goes for every single person who has ever tried to attack religion as a whole.

Hitchens and Dawkins and the other irrational haters of religion are a cult, too. But in the pejorative sense: their views are bogus, and most of the adherents to the view are duped.

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