Where is the line between religion and cult?

The BBC recently broadcast a programme called My Brother The Islamist (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12900460). I found the content fascinating and when I compare it to my own experience of fundamental Christianity I can’t help but stop and ponder, how close is the extreme end of religion to a cult?

In the BBC programme, a man tries to answer the question of what happened to his step brother to turn him into an extreme Muslim. One quote in particular jumps out at me.

“You see all this filth, all this munkar, it will all be gone when the Sharia comes in,” he remarked, scanning disdainfully around him.

By “munkar” he meant sin, evil. He was disgusted by what surrounded him

This strikes a chord with me as its how I remember feeling at times. I would look around and be offended at all the perceived sin around me and see it as evidence of the devil at work in this wonderful Christian land that was so obviously turning its back on God.

Now I know that the brother featured here and my own brush with fundamentalism are both small representations of the religious spectrum. I know too that the vast majority of those who practice religion are more moderate.

This is why the difference between a cult and an extreme religious sect intrigues me. Cults are normally identified by their forceful encouragement of members to cut all ties with friends and family outside of the cult. Its this aspect of a cult that rang a warning bell for me with the story of the Islamist brother and had me wondering how much further down the extreme spectrum does a religion have to go in order to be a cult.

When pondering this subject I was reminded of The Nine O’Clock Service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_O’Clock_Service). This was a specific service that was part of an Anglican church here in the UK and eventually grew into something potentially more dangerous. I am fairly sure that when the news broke, that the word cult was used by some to describe it. Mind you there are many who would happily call anything religious a cult so that in and of itself does not make it a cult.

The thing with The Nine O’clock Service is that it started innocuous itself and then, without the right accountability, grew into something dangerous. This was my concern with the BBC story of the brothers, does something start looking like its becoming a cult and what can be done about it?

I don’t have answers to either but I hope that moderate religious people being aware of the dangers are able to spot the act early. Certainly for those in the centre of it, its very hard to spot what is going on.