Every once in a while a person with some academic title will come up with a rehashed, relativist argument that lets destructive cults off the hook.
The latest in this line is one Ali A. Rizvi, he has a profile on Richard Dawkins.net if you want to view his credentials.
He states: ‘Every religion was once a cult. Every mythology was once a religion. In essence, all three are the exact same thing.’
I disagree with his analysis. A cult has a very specific set of characteristics and when we look at the cost in terms of human tragedy, one can only conclude that Rizvi’s claim is dangerously reductive and serves only to protect the manipulators and prolong the suffering of those trapped in cults such as Scientology.
This is Margaret Singer’s criteria, and I cannot fault it.
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.