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This question (as well as a few others by the same OP) is scoped to seek answers from "non-cults." This terminology concerns me greatly, and lead to some comments, and eventually a chat discussion on the matter.

I see two problems with the term "cult" as it applies to our site, and specifically as it is being used in this question to define the scope of the answer.

Either

  1. "cult" is so broad a term that it includes literally every Christian denomination/group/church.

    a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

    By this definition, even "Christianity" as a whole is a cult.

  2. "cult" is too subjective to be a meaningful scope-limiting term.

    a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

    Every group of Christians is called a cult by at least one other group of Christians--to say nothing of what non-Christians say about Christian groups.

Early on we have decided that our site's accepted definition of "Christian" is simply any group that self-identifies as Christian.

It seems to me we ought to apply the same standard to a term such as "cult." If any group self-identifies as a "cult," it ought to be fine to use that term to scope questions. Otherwise, the term, in my opinion, is either all-inclusive, and thus adds nothing to the scope of a question, or the term is used to limit the definition of a "true" Christian (which violates the above mentioned definition anyway) and is entirely subjective, and therefore also doesn't add anything meaningful to the scope of a question.

We also have a question on the main site about the term cult, and the accepted answer says:

There are of course alternate definitions.

and additionally offers the following insight:

While it is possible to be used in a meaningful way, the variety of uses mean you should always check what the speakers definition is. The usage of the term will often tell you more about the beliefs of the person using it than those being described by it.

So in summary:

Is "cult" a meaningful term on this site, for defining the scope of a question?

  • 1
    This is a useful question, but you sure did present it in a biased manner. It's not necessary to put so much of your own opinion -- and include your own answer -- in a meta question. Also, if you're going to link Caleb's post you could at least fairly represent his contribution to the topic in question. – Jas 3.1 Dec 22 '14 at 5:20
  • @Jas3.1: Meta is different than the main site in the way "questions" are asked--they aren't even required to be questions! I'm sorry, though, if you feel I treated the matter unfairly. – Flimzy Dec 22 '14 at 11:47
  • I had a question closed and eventually deleted (I was searching for it) which described Christian Denominations as different Christian Cults. Wielding the English language, it is correct. However society has elevated the word above it's definition. Like the B word and the N word. – The Freemason Dec 24 '14 at 15:34
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I would suggest that this meta post is somewhat more alarmist than the situation calls for. I would also respectfully disagree with David's suggestion of blanket closure for post using this terminology.

Even though I think it is an unfortunate side effect of ignorance and sloppy media usage, I do understand that term "cult" is commonly used as a pejorative, and I don't suggest we support that usage on this site. At the same time this site is scoped to a specific field of expertise and I don't think a blanket restriction on using the correct technical terminology for that field of expertise is a good idea. The term "cult" does have connotations specific to Christianity as I detail in this answer and there are times when using those connotations may be exactly what's needed.

The major caveat to the definition however is that a "cult" really must be a cult in relation to something else. If there is no normative then there are no exceptions. That's where this question and others like it get into trouble: they jump straight to classifying exceptions without defining their normative. We're all pretty much in agreement that "Christianity" is too broad a scope and in the context of this site does not have an agreed upon normative definition. Here, Christianity actually means "Christianity and all her heresies", which basically means all the cults (by any definition, not just mine used above).

The solution is to define a normative scope for each question. Excluding cults is pointless in the absence of a normative scope by which to classify a cult against. In the most common case (the one 99% of people who use the term probably mean) Nicene Christianity or Chalcedonian Christianity is the implied normative by which something could then be compared to to classify it as a cult or not. By excluding "cults" most people mean limiting the scope to mainstream Chalcedonian/Nicene Christianity. In order to keep the peace on this site, this assumption should always be spelled out explicitly rather that left implicit.

I propose the most clear, educational and constructive solution is to add a positive definition of scope to such questions. A simple edit will usually suffice rather than needing to close. In most cases once a normative scope is defined it will be unnecessary to even mention exclusions. Using the term cult is probably un-necessary unless there is some specific reason to do so.

  • Thanks, this is helpful. I wasn't sure what terminology to use, but now that I know I'll use that instead. – Jas 3.1 Dec 22 '14 at 18:25
  • Certainly reasonable. Better than a blanket ban. – David Stratton Dec 22 '14 at 21:24
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No, "cult" has no meaning on this site. The standard usage is derogatory and, in the context of the questions you cited, it clearly means "not real Christians".

From the Help center:

Who are considered Christians here?

As far as the scope of this site is concerned, any group that identifies themselves as Christian are to be considered on-topic and allowed to label themselves Christian. Answers are to be judged based on how well they represent the specific view or tradition they claim to speak for, not whether or not you agree with that position. Good answers thoroughly defend a specific viewpoint or accurately describe a broad range of views. Bad answers wrongly represent the view they claim to speak for, are offensive in their demeanor towards other views, or don't stick to answering the question.

Please see the meta post Christianity.SE vs. Survivor for further discussion of this issue.

This site is not a church! It is neither sanctioned by any church nor sponsored as a ministry site. It is a secular site for asking and answering questions about Christianity. If you are more inclined to resent rather than celebrate the differences between different Christian traditions, then this may not be the site for you.

Please see the meta post Brothers, we are not Christians!! for further discussion of this issue.

Any question that specifically asks for viewpoints from "non-cults" needs to be closed, and the OP needs to be pointed to that section of the help. Such questions have been off-topic since this site was first proposed, before it even went into Beta, and they will be as long as this site is on the StackExchange network.

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Caleb's definition of "cult" (which Flimzy linked, but proof-texted heavily in the question) provides a very useful and objective explanation of why Mormonism is correctly identified as a "Christian cult".

As such, requesting answers from "non-cults (e.g. Mormonism)" does not in any way suggest that Mormon doctrine is off-topic for this site, etc. It simply suggests that I'm looking for the "standard", "mainstream" view on the topic and not the perspective of a fringe cult-leader.

Flimzy (and at least 3 others so far) seem to be equating "cult" with "false Christianity" in their minds, and are therefore taking it as a pejorative label. This probably reveals the importance they place upon remaining orthodox. Good for them, I say, as an orthodox Christian. However, objectively speaking it simply does not mean that. It does not mean "false", it does not mean "un-Christian", and it is not pejorative. It is a useful classification when attempting to ascertain the core beliefs of mainstream Christianity.

Sheesh, even a Mormon would tell you that Mormons are not your average Christians! (They get to go to the real heaven and consider the rest of us apostate!) And so on with JW's, etc.

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    I understood the question so I don't get all the hubbub. I thought it was pretty clear that you wanted mainstream, trinitarian answers. – fredsbend Dec 22 '14 at 6:11
  • @fredsbendtheGrinch: I guessed that this is what Jas meant, but it's impossible to be certain with a word like "cult" which has different meanings to different people. If one means "mainstream, Trinitarian", one should simply say "mainstream, Trinitarian." – Flimzy Dec 22 '14 at 11:50

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