I am currently reading Geek Love by Katherine Dunn and it has inspired several different posts that will occur over the next few days, I suspect. This is the first one. In the story, one of the characters, Arturo, develops a cult following around him. This cult is made up of people who amputate parts of their body in a hierarchical order starting with fingers and toes progressing to limbs and the final step becomes a lobotomy. Oh, I guess I should mention that Arturo is the Aqua Boy and has no limbs. So anyway, I got to thinking at what point does a cult become a religion. As defined by Websters a cult is, a system of religious beliefs and ritual. A religion is, a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. These definitions sound awfully similar to me. And didn't most religions have to start off as a cult, the cult of Jesus became Christianity, the cult of Mohammed became Islam and the cult of Abraham became Judaism. Even looking at Eastern religion the cult of Sidhartha Gautama becomes Buddhism. We can even look at more modern forms of this such as Mormonism which seems at least initially to be a cult of Joseph Smith. Although this would seem to also be a different way of reading the Christian text as well, if I understand Mormonism which I may not. So, how many people constitute a religion versus a cult? How long does a cult have to exist before it becomes a religion?
I think of two different philosophies that I am sure most people do not consider a religion, Hare Krishna and Scientology, and yet how are they that different from a religion? According to Websters, again, Hare Krishna is a group of people dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Krishna. According to Wikipedia (because Scientology was not in the Websters online dictionary) the Church of Scientology says that Scientology is concerned with "the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life I am not arguing that either Scientology nor Hare Krishna are religions, merely the opposite, all religions are merely cults that have in some way gained acceptance in society. So I come back to the question, what is the difference and I guess the difference is another definition for cults that Websters lists, this one says that the belief are considered unusual within society. So as a society we determine what is a cult and what is a religion. So, I have decided that fundamentalists of all stripes Christian, Moslem and Jewish are now cults and should no longer be taken seriously by their mainstream counterparts.