Cults, much like religion, have been a prominent part of human civilization since about the time we started recording it. Changing definitions have given the word cult a new meaning, largely in the West, and made them more taboo than religions. Nonetheless, there are plenty of active cults still around today according to both the older and the newer definitions of the word.
Defining a Cult
The older definition of cult quite simply means a group that worships a specific god. For example, there could be a Cult of Zeus. The modern definition states that a cult is as a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.”.
List of Active Cults
Founder: Sun Myung Moon
Founded: 1954 in South Korea
The Unification Church is an active cult that is very similar to Christianity but with some differences. For example, “Moonies,” as adherents are jokingly referred to, believe that the Christian God is both masculine and feminine. The bible is at the core of their religion. However, several things make them different from mainstream Christianity and can be found in “Exposition of the Divine Principle.”
As for what makes the Unification Church a cult, there are accusations of brainwashing, which is quite common in cults. Another thing that sticks out is the sheer wealth of Moon, who Moonies believe is the Second Coming of Christ. In 1982, Moon was jailed for tax fraud in the United States. Fraud and accumulation of wealth are also common among active cults.
Founder: L. Ron Hubbard
Founded: 1952 in the United States
Scientology is a highly litigious, allegedly dangerous, wealthy, and widespread cult. Some countries have it listed as a legitimate religion while others recognize the group as one of the craziest cults around. The church’s belief system stems from the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer who said that people have the spirits of immortal aliens within them, but they have forgotten this. They have to give the church exorbitant amounts of money to get the “counseling” necessary to rid themselves of this alien spirit or is it to remember it? Does it really matter?
Related: Heaven’s Gate Cult
Activities that lead to countless people believing Scientology is a cult include the secretiveness of their recruiting methods. The cult freaked out when a recruitment video starring Tom Cruise leaked. They are very litigious regarding any individual or entity that speaks ill of them or reveals cult secrets. The church collects a staggering amount of money. Oh, and there is that whole “some of them have gone missing” thing.
Church Universal and Triumphant
Founder: Elizabeth Clare Prophet
Founded: 1975 in the United States
Elizabeth Clare Prophet founded the Church Universal and Triumphant based on some of the existing teachings of her husband. As far as cults go, this one is relatively harmless. It pulls in elements of Christianity along with numerous other cults, religions, and beliefs. Ideas such as Chakra and karma make appearances in the Church Universal and Triumphant.
The main reason for the negative attention this active cult gets stems back to the Prophet and her husband telling followers that a nuclear war was coming. This led to many of them building very expensive fallout shelters and Prophet’s husband buying firearms with a fake i.d.
There has been no violence attributed to them, but few things spark the interest of the government more than a religious group that is prophesizing the end of the world and purchasing firearms using false identification.
Founder: Joseph Smith
Founded: 1830 in the United States
Labeling any organization as an active cult is controversial, and Mormonism is no different. Some sects of Mormons do not behave like cults at all. At least, they are not dangerous. Mormons are Christians who believe that Joseph Smith had a series of visions and that his “Book of Mormon” is a collection of wisdom from ancient prophets of the American continent.
Unfortunately, some of the early “wisdom” imparted by Joseph Smith caused his followers to become polygamists. Well, this by itself is not objectively bad, unless you are a mainstream Christian. What irked nearly everyone was the fact that some Mormons, including Smith himself, took to marrying children. This officially ended in the Latter Day Saints church. However, Mormon groups have been caught continuing this tradition in recent years.
Founder: Claude Vorilhon
Founded: 1974 in France
Raelism is a UFO cult that believes the gods and angels were aliens they refer to as Elohim. These aliens misled humans to trick them into believing they were angels and gods. Our lives are supposedly created by this alien species. The group often uses the swastika as a symbol in spite of its connotations. However, the group does not appear to have racist sympathies and does change the symbol to promote goodwill in certain countries.
Interestingly, Raelists sometimes call their religion “Intelligent Design for Atheists,” forgetting that Raelism asserts that the angels and gods do exist. They are just aliens. Other than flying in the face of some of the religions that helped birth it and offending individuals with symbolism that has taken on a horrible meaning, Raelists are pretty benign.
There are still countless active cults in the world. Moreover, religions will argue endlessly over which sect is a cult and which is legitimate. To be fair, many mainstream religions display the same “dangerous” habits as despised active cults, so it is hard to decide what to be afraid of. Whatever the case, one thing is certain. Cults are still alive and well, no matter which definition you prefer.