Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jan 18, 2014 12:08 pm

This follows on a conversation with friends.

I know that Jehovah's Witnesses object to their lifestyle being called a 'cult'. Leaving aside any discussion on the merits or otherwise of religion, is there any insult or otherwise implied by the word 'cult'?
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Bob in Wales

Re: Cult

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jan 18, 2014 3:23 pm

That rather depends on what you consider an insult.

At the very least, the word implies a degree of obsession, and sometimes identification with an in-group of cognoscenti or enthusiasts, that revolves around some kind of (frequently esoteric or non-mainstream) cultural phenomenon:
For a while, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was something of a cult film

Lou Reed possessed a considerable cult following

In its latter period, Soviet Communism ostensibly frowned on the 'cult of the personality'
When applied to a religion, it has additional connotations of disregarding inconvenient truths or facts that contradict the beliefs of the adherents, plus a willingness on the part of the adherents of the cult to be brainwashed and follow rigid rules prescribed by the leaders or organizers (which have often involved surrendering one's earthly possessions to those leaders).

The most notorious incidents ever associated with a religious cult, at least in modern times, are probably the Jonestown Massacre of November 1978 and the Waco siege of early 1993.

Some religious cults have also been active politically and/or militarily. It can be argued that the original incarnation of al-Qaeda exemplified this type of cult.
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Re: Cult

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Jan 18, 2014 6:35 pm

I've known someone who, when told off for using a term generally acknowledged to be a slur, said "They shouldn't take offence, because I didn't mean any." Insults are in the eye of the beholder.

However, this can be taken too far. I've heard of some people who didn't like the new sense of 'gay' meaning 'wacky' or 'wobbly, damaged', but didn't support those people who complained when the original and still-used sense/s (carefree, bright) were sidelined.
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Re: Cult

Post by hsargent » Sat Jan 18, 2014 7:36 pm

Paradoxically, Jesus and his disciples were a cult relative to the culture they lived among.

Most Christians, including Jehovah Witnesses, consider Mormons a cult.

My opinion would be calling Jehovah Witnesses a cult shows mostly a lack of understanding by the speaker rather than a insult.
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Re: Cult

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jan 19, 2014 1:27 am

.. Bob I do believe that in certain circumstances the word cult is designed to be an insult .. this is almost entirely in relation to religious organisations .. using the word cult to describe an organisation immediately conjures up in modern ideas brain washing, confinement, sexual excesses, a charismatic person as the leader who skims off the money and lives a grand lifestyle .. it carries with it the idea of being outside mainstream thinking and even outside the law with followers believing what they are told to do even if this contravenes local laws .. it is what I think of as a carry-bag insult in that once used it allows the hearer to reach into their own bag of understanding and pull out all their own prejudices ..

.. the insulting use is very much a context driven situation ..

WoZ of the Word Cult
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: Cult

Post by John Barton » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:40 pm

Whether or not offensive in themselves, there is little doubt that both 'cult' and "New Age" are usually used pejoratively. On the grounds that a 'true' religion must not be either cultivated (mad-made v. God bestowed) or deficient in the hoariness of time.
Curiously, our scriptures must be ancient, and our medical books recent, for validity.
The terms also indicate a laziness of thought, and unwillingness to admit that anything time-hallowed - even man's interpretations - could be wrong or correctible.
Christianity at its inception certainly must have been considered both of these by the Romans.
Although usually applied to elaborate systems of ritual and dogma, people often apply these terms to basic ideas from remote antiquity. Reincarnation, for example. In these cases, the terms seem to connote : "don't even look into it", and are often accompanied by "conspiracy plot". "Cult" is used for "bizarre", "New Age" for "out on a limb".
But in the more literal sense, Catholicism (with its advanced ritual and belief system, and historically recent innovations) perhaps most fits these two terms.
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Signature: John Barton, New Plymouth, New Zealand

End of topic.
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