As a Christian-based organisation, at Cultwatch we have two main definitions of what a cult is.
First, a group that uses manipulative psychological “mind control” techniques to recruit and control their members. These techniques might be “love bombing”, instant friends or emotional blackmail. At extremes it might include keeping people away from their friends and family and isolating them both physically and emotionally.
The second definition we use (which is the historical definition of a cult) is any group which claims to be a Christian group yet teaches something that is not primarily a Christian belief. For example, a group that teaches that Jesus was an alien from another planet but claims to be Christian.
Note that other mainstream religions (such as Buddhism) are not cults under either of these definitions but may contain cults within them.
This area of the Cultwatch website is designed to get people thinking about what they believe. The cults can survive because their members rarely think about what they believe, this is unhealthy. Let us not emulate them.
When this section of our website is finished it will,
1) Help you understand what religion is.
2) Get you thinking about what you believe.
3) Provide information about your belief system (as long as it is one of the major World Religions).
4) Provide searching questions about your belief system for you to consider.
To make this section easy to use it is presented as a number of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) pages.
Be aware that this World Religions section is under construction, we hope you find it useful even though it is not finished.
What is Religion?
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary definition of religion includes,
- The service and worship of God or the supernatural.
- Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.
- A personal set or institutionalized system of religious beliefs, and practices.
- A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.
In regard to an individual person, a religion is their belief system. The belief system which they are sure is true – meaning that they are sure that their belief system is an accurate description of reality, an accurate description of how things actually are.
And since they are sure their belief system is true, it heavily influences their thoughts and actions.
In day to day living a person’s religion is a context from which they view the world. It can also be called their “world view”.
What is a World Religion?
Some people have religions which they have created themselves from a mishmash of different beliefs. However most people believe one of the “World Religions”. A world religion is one of a number of the most common belief systems held by people around the world.
A world religion can be thought of as a “package deal” where the belief system is supplied to you. There is nothing unusual in this concept since we all avail ourselves of other package deals; such as those regarding cars, computers, homes and holidays.
Who is religious?
A religious person is a person who has a belief system.
Therefore, everybody is religious, since everybody has a belief system.
Everybody believes something about reality. That belief system is their religion, whether it is a popular world religion or not.
How does a person’s religion effect them?
Since their religion dictates their world view, their understanding of reality, it is used as a set of base rules to help formulate their decisions.
A Christian would not be keen to be involved with a séance; because she believes that there is a God, that God wrote the Bible, and since the Bible commands that people avoid necromancy (communication with the dead) she had better obey that command.
A Hindu may not want to eat beef since he believes cows are sacred and he would generate bad karma for his next life.
An Atheist or “Naturalist” may believe that there is nothing beyond the material realm, and finding this thought depressing she might turn to some form of escape to dull the pain of the “pointlessness of life”.
A Muslim may take a trip to Mecca, since he believes that the God of Islam has commanded every Muslim, who is able, to do this at least once in his lifetime.
How do people validate their belief systems?
Firstly, it is surprising that a great deal of people never spend time validating their belief system.
Many people who would carefully examine a school before sending their children there, or would carefully research a company before investing in it, never set aside time to investigate what they believe. We would suggest that examining your belief system is an extremely wise thing to do.
Now back to the question; the common ways people validate their religion are by asking the following five questions:
1) If the religion makes historical claims how valid are they? For example if the religion is based on a historical figure, then is there strong historical evidence that the person actually existed?
2) Does the belief system make sense, is it consistent? For example if the religion teaches that you must own a hat, and also teaches elsewhere that you must not own a hat, then that is contradictory. It does not make sense. If a religion is true then we would expect it to have robust internal integrity, and not contradict itself.
3) Does the belief system reflect reality? For example, if the religion in question teaches that all people are basically good, do we see evidence of this, or is the opposite true? If the opposite is true then we must question that religion. So it is reasonable to expect a belief system to have good external integrity, and accurately reflect the reality we see around us.
4) Does the religion have good explanatory power? In other words does it give first-rate explanations of those things which puzzle us most? Things like the nature of being, where we came from, where we are going, the problem of guilt, the origin of logic, love, good and evil, and so on. We can expect a true belief system to cast light on these questions.
5) Lastly how does it stack up against other belief systems? If we were to consider one religion which had no historical evidence, no internal integrity, no external integrity, and weak explanatory power, against one whose history was verified, which suffered no major internal or external integrity problems, and offered reasonable explanations for many of life’s mysteries. Then common sense dictates that we choose the latter over the former. Ultimately we must compare belief systems and settle on the strongest.
These questions of course are not the only tests which allow us to validate a belief system.
Religion is often described as a quest, a quest for the truth. Arguably the most important quest of someone’s life.
Aren’t all religions the same?
People that teach all religions are the same claim that religions “differ on the minors but agree on the majors”. In other words all the religions may have superficial differences but where it really counts they are the same.
Surprisingly, this well intentioned idea is a religious view itself. It is a belief about reality. The adherents to this belief system are often kind hearted people who think that by making all religions the same they will help eliminate wars and other types of suffering. Unfortunately, as nice as the idea sounds, it is not supported by the evidence. For example, one belief system claims that God is outside of the universe and not part of it, another religion claims that God is the universe. These statements can not both be true since they are contradictory. Either the first belief is true, or the second belief is true, or neither of them is true, but they cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way. While a number of beliefs are shared between some religions, the reality is that most religions differ significantly from each other. And they differ in vitally important areas of belief. Just peruse the World Religion’s subsections if you doubt this.
It is intellectually dishonest to claim all religions are the same. It is more honest to recognize their differences and compare them to each other, with the purpose of figuring out which one, if any, is most likely to be correct.
Does it really matter what I believe?
If there is life after death then it probably matters a great deal.
Imagine you are in a jet plane over the ocean. This plane has an amount of fuel left. You do not know how much fuel, but you do know for certain that there is not enough to get you to land.
If you do not find a way out then you will die when the plane plunges into the sea.
Inside your plane is a whole bunch of parachutes. Each parachute has been designed by different people and reflects their thoughts on how a parachute should work.
Some designs are clearly suspect, like the “Acme Anvil Parachute” which on pulling the cord ejects an anvil attached to a rope. Others seem more likely to work; like the one which promises to sprout feathered wings and flap you gently down to the ground. Then there are those which seem really good, a few of them claim to eject a wing of silk attached by hundreds of strong threads, and as a bonus they even claim to have a life raft attachment.
However on investigation you find one of these great sounding parachutes is actually made of tissue paper!
Clearly in the time you have left, before the jets engines suck the fuel tanks dry, you will invest a lot of effort in discovering which parachute is most likely to work.
Now all of us are, metaphorically speaking, in a doomed plane.
At some finite time in the future you will die.
At some finite time from now the blood will cease flowing in your body. You will stop breathing. Your brain will shut down. No longer will your body repair itself, instead it will fall apart. There will be a definite point when you cease to have life.
If people are able to see your eyes when you die they will be able to tell the point at which life leaves you, it’s like a light being switched off.
And that is going to happen to you. It’s inevitable. It’s only a matter of time.
In general people are scared by the prospect of death, and as things go it’s a pretty worthy thing to be afraid of. Even people who joke about death, or say they are not scared of it, when the time comes are petrified.
“It is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.” – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 1961.
Now while death itself is scary, what is even more frightening is the prospect of life after death being a reality and you having the wrong parachute.
So does it really matter what I believe?
Yes it does.
Ask yourself, are you prepared to take the risk of believing the wrong thing? Because in the end you’re the one who must suffer the consequences.