Is it a Cult?
I don’t really like to refer to the LDS church as a cult, but the question is often posed… Is it?
The problem is, when members hear the question it’s an accusation and appears offensive because it implies brainwashing and devilish intentions. I don’t agree. I agree with cult expert Steven Hassan who says simply, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I’m going to organize a cult” or “I’m going to follow a cult.” But in promoting and establishing false teachings, it seems that cult-like behavior is the only way they will survive.
In simple terms, a cult is any organization that takes away or encourages an individual to willingly give up his or her sense of individuality. All I can say is that the LDS Church did that to me or I allowed it to. I think there are times a religion may be a cult and other times, to other people not. Take the Catholic Church for example. To most run of the mill Catholics who attend mass twice a year, I’d say that church isn’t a cult-like presence in their lives. But in some orders (Opus dei) and some branches of the Catholic Church it is very cult-like. Mormonism is the same. An LDS mission fits just about every definition of a cult that I’ve ever read.
Here’s a list of identifying marks of a cult and my remarks as they relate to the LDS church:
1. “The group focuses on a living leader to whom its members appear to be extraordinarily committed.”
The prophets are almost deified. Many even seem to place Joseph Smith as high as Jesus. They certainly believe he’s second to Him in importance. Then there is the command to obey the prophet and church leaders above all else. “Follow the Prophet” is ingrained into kids’ brains even at a young age. This is what cults do. Singing Happy Birthday to him when he isn’t even present…stuff like that
2. “The group focuses heavily on recruiting new members.”
LDS Missionary program. And a full disclosure of what investigators will eventually have to go through is not given. Only the milk is taught before getting people hook, line and sinker.
“Every Member a Missionary”… There’s a lot of pressure to recruit and do missionary work. Many member/non-member interactions are clouded with the hope and expectation that new friends will become interested in “the gospel”. Sometimes the effort at making the friendship is for this reason in the first place. I’ve heard several people tell me that once they were clear with their Mormon friend that they would never have any interest in joining their church, the Mormon friend dropped them like a hot potato.
3. “The group focuses heavily on making money”
Tithe or you won’t make it to the celestial Kingdom. However you look at it this it is paying for indulgences. The more financially successful a person is, the more likely they will have a significant calling in the church.
4. “Members who question, doubt, or dissent with the group’s beliefs are discouraged or punished.”
It is common knowledge that a number of Mormon intellectuals have been excommunicated for their writings. Dr Murphy was recently threatened with excommunication over his paper on DNA and the Book of Mormon. It was only after bad press for the Mormon Church that the excommunication was dropped. If someone questioned, doubts or dissents publicly he is not be allowed to use his priesthood or attend the temple. He might even be excommunicated like the infamous September Six. We were counseled against reading anything that offers a different voice than the church’s whitewashed one.
5. “The group uses techniques that numb the mind to suppress doubts about the group and its leaders. These include long work routines, denunciation sessions, meditating, chanting, or speaking in tongues.”
Ok, there’s no denunciations or chanting (except in the temple). Suppression of doubts and free-thinking is readily apparent in the church. Frequent meetings that keep them from their families also helps to numb the members. It’s not uncommon for members to be involved doing church work during every spare moment. Almost every ex-Mormon I’ve talked to refers to their experience in the church as “mind-numbing.”
6. “The group’s leaders tell members how they should act, think, and feel. For example, members love life and jobs must be of the approved kind. Leaders may tell them what kind of clothes to wear, where to live, how to raise their children, etc.”
Need I say more about this? I cdertainly made job choices based on church teachings. I was told what underwear to wear (and this influences my choice of clothes), what color of shirt to wear to church, how to interact with my family through programs such as Family Home Evening and father’s blessings. I’m told when to allow my children to date, what extra-curricular activities to have them to participate in (scouting). A woman is told how many earrings she can wear and the regulation underwear dictates her clothing choices even more than mine.
7. “The group sees itself as especially and uniquely blessed; for example, the leader is believed to be a Messiah or avatar, or the leader and the group have special orders to save the world.”
The Mormon church sets itself up as being the actual one true branch of Christianity. This is judgmental and non-Christian. They even call all non-members “gentiles.” It’s “the one true church.” The prophet is second only to the Messiah. They believe they can save the world through missionary work. The church believes they’ll save the constitution of the U.S through their righteousness.
8. “The group has an us-versus-them outlook, which puts it in conflict with mainstream culture.”
Mormon history and philosophy tell the story.
9. “The group’s leaders are accountable only to themselves and are not guided by or disciplined by any higher authorities as are, for example, military officers, and the ministers, priests, and rabbis of mainstream religions. The group believes its goals justify methods that members would have considered unethical before joining, such as raising money for fake charities.”
The church does not report to the membership where the money is being spent. I do not know of any reputable business or charitable organization that takes part in a similar practice. There are no checks and balances in the power of the Quorum of the 12 and the First Presidency.
10. “The leaders manipulate the members into feeling guilty in order to maintain control.”
You must be sinning if you doubt or question what the church teaches. Spend time with any Mormon man or woman and you’ll be able to measure the guilt or the smugness. It’s tangible. They usually flip back and forth between the two and some favor one more than the other.
11. “Because members become subservient to the group, they cut ties to friends, families and the personal goals and activities they had before joining.”
This isn’t something that’s commanded but you can see it happen. How many former friends does the new member maintain that he had before becoming active? Even life-long members cast personal interests aside when they become more committed to the church. I did it with theatre and my wife did it with soccer.
12. “The group expects its members to devote inordinate amounts of time to it.”
Look at all the meetings and callings that are expected of members. What of the family?
13. “The group encourages or requires its members to live or socialize only with each other.”
I’ve seen this plenty over the years. Mormons get friendly with someone and then drop them like a hot potato when they would not join the church. How many LDS people have non-Mormon friends that they spend time with? This is why member missionary work is such a dismal failure.