By Francis Nye
Last Tuesday the trial of James A. Ray, a motivational speaker began in the central
Arizona town of Verde. Ray who is being accused of contributing to the deaths of three of his followers during a sweat lodge ceremony will be tried by a jury of his peers. The prosecution will argue that Mr. Ray’s negligence caused the deaths of three people in October 2009. Mr. Ray’s lawyer will dispute the deaths as accidental and the victims had voluntarily entered the sweat lodge of their own accord. Also, that the victims were adults and had made their own decisions and that Mr. Ray held no power over them and that they were free to leave at anytime. Camp
Ray probably is responsible for the deaths because he didn’t take steps to ensure the safety of his followers but that is for a jury to decide and not me. However what is really interesting and maybe not so apparent is that the definition between cult and religion is really what is on trial.
I say this because one of the accusations is that theses people were under a “cult” influence and therefore had no control of their actions. That if this was a true religion then they would have presence of mind and therefore would have known their life was in danger. This whole situation made me start to think, is this cult any different from any other religion? And what is the difference between a cult and a religion anyway?
The traditional definition of a Cult is:
“A new religious movement that has a limited number of followers and whose practices may or may not be mysterious and possible unsavory.”
Whereas the traditional definition of a Religion is:
“A method of thought that is meant to give meaning to man’s life by putting him in communion with a higher power through stories, rituals, and beliefs.”
But isn’t that what Mr. Ray was trying to do? Wasn’t he trying to give these people a deeper meaning to their lives by putting them in communion with a higher power? This is what he advertised after all. Wasn’t he using the sweat lodge as a vehicle to deliver his message, rituals, and belief system? A resounding yes he was. So by this very definition he has a bona fide religion and not a cult as everyone is accusing him of having. So therefore isn’t the word cult really more of a term used to insult another’s religion. In fact what you are really doing when you call someone’s faith a cult is denigrating a person’s personal belief system and demeaning their higher power experience. Let’s make no bones about it in fact you could call any religion a cult and any cult a religion depending on your point of view.
Some have said that what Ray was doing was a cult because he was in it for the money. Nine thousand dollars seems a bit extreme I must admit. But if you really think about it Ray is no different then some of today’s followers of Christ. I am speaking of course about the televangelists that flood the air waves with their message of Jesus. The televangelists who want you to send them money (they call it a gift) so that they can pray with you? I personally don’t see why you have to pay to pray but that is another discussion all together. Suffice it to say I have heard of people giving vast sums greater than $9000 to these Christian network organizations in hopes of achieving a spiritual equilibrium. So the amount of money given cannot be a factor in determining the difference between a cult and a religion.
It is easy to call someone else’s faith a cult when your not part of their group because their ideology and their dogma seems so comical when seen from outside the “fish bowl”. I think that sometimes people forget that while your thinking that some one else’s religion is a cult that they are thinking the same thing about you. This kind of mentality is what often leads to war, death, oppression, and all the other trappings of religion.
Not convinced? Let’s look at how someone outside of Christianity may think it is a cult. This of course can be done with any religion but let’s use the Jesus faith for our example. Christianity is just one of the 19 main stream religions of the world. It is well established. It has been around for 2000 years. Has 2 billion followers world wide. Now let’s look at it from the point of view of someone that knows nothing about it and hears about it for the first time. At first glance you see its followers worship a man that was put to death as criminal. Three days later he came back to life. Today the followers of Christ remember his death and resurrection through the rite of communion. If you ask a Catholic (the oldest of the Christian faiths) they will tell you that Jesus actual body and blood are being consumed during this rite of communion. From the Catholic point of view nothing is more holy than to have Jesus within your body. However to the outsider who you were explaining this to would be seen as cannibalism, a serious taboo among civilized people. Also an outsider might think that Christians are nothing more than Zombie worshipers since Jesus was reanimated after death. That Christians were in league with an evil necromancer capable of bringing the dead back to life though black magic. Could you then fault someone who didn’t know better of labeling Christianity the Cult of Christ or the Christo-Pagan cult? However, this is not the case. Christianity has done such a great job of branding itself over the centuries that most do not consider it to be a cult. Christianity is considered a serious religion. But what Mr. Ray did does not even come close to rising to the level of presumed craziness that Christianity does and his faith is the one considered a cult. Ray didn’t ask anyone to eat a zombie, believe he was born from a virgin, or claim he could raise the dead. He just asked them to have a good sweat. Something the American Indians in the Southwest have been doing for centuries. Something people pay to do at their local gym’s steam room. The real tragedy here is that Ray should have taken better precautions in regulating the heat.
Bottom line cult or religion they are both the same by definition. They both induce people to belong to a group. They both offer an explanation to the meaning of life. They both separate you from your hard earned money and both ask you to believe some really weird stuff. Ω
What are your thoughts on this situation? Please let me know below in the comment section.
Religions are Cults: