John Saliba’s approach to new religious movements is secular (despite his position as a Jesuit Priest) and well rounded. He begins by exploring how new religious movements are viewed today, how they have been reacted to in the past and why that may be. He examines the original definition of the word “cult” as well as the modern derivations of it and how it affects these new religious movements. By considering multiple opinions on new religious movements as well as looking at the historical, psychological, sociological, legal and theological context in which these religions came to be and attract new followers, he is able to advocate for a more open approach to these new religions and offer a better way to handle them; to respond to them, rather than react.
The word “cult” has a very negative connotation in modern society as a result of it being applied to several religious groups that have violated basic moral or societal rules. It is regularly applied by the media to groups that are considered to be “deviant, dangerous or corrupt” (1). “The Theological use of the word “cult” is most evident in Christian Evangelical literature.” (2) Here, a cult is described by Walter Ralston Martin as “a group, religious in nature which surrounds a leader or a group of teaching which either denies or misinterprets essential Biblical doctrine.”(2) Another definition by Charles Braden is “those religious groups that differ significantly from those religious groups that are regarded as the normative expression of religion in our total culture.” And “a group of people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.”(2). Two very vague definitions that could apply to just about any faith that doesn’t align with what these two particular people believe in.
While their views are in line with a majority of Christians who are concerned about the presence of new religious movements, perhaps it is the views of their leaders, like these, that are adding fuel to the fire. New religious groups are grouped together, regardless of their individual beliefs and are simply viewed as unorthodox and heretical. The basis for these definitions is in doctrinal integrity; if a person or persons deviates from their respective traditional religious background, they are considered to be in a cult. If they do not follow the basic Christian/Catholic/Protestant doctrine, it is a cult.
The CIC, Cult Information Center, based in London identifies cults as groups that “derive their identity from a major religion but differs markedly from the religion in its beliefs and practices; It does not have a codified system of beliefs all its followers are required to accept; It was founded by someone using fraudulent claims (such as false prophecy) to gain credibility and acceptance.” (4) This definition seems to be...