Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Christianity: religion or cult?

In general, US law enforcement and other government authorities treat churches with kid gloves. This is a long standing tradition based both on constittional grounds and the unofficial special status Christian churches have in the socio-political community. Occasional exceptions occur with regard to churches pushing the boundaries of their tax-exempt status or in the mistreatment of members on health and welfare grounds, especially children. The recent mass removal of children from a Mormon camp in Texas was a dramatic increase in government intervention, thought subsequently overturned by the courts.

I suspect, however, that such interventions are going to be more frequent. Fundamentalist groups are being seen more often as outside the norm of "acceptable" religion. Their more extreme behavior and beliefs are drawing increased scrutiny from the press and independent watchdog groups. I think law enforcement is going to be under increasing pressure to intervene in alleged abuse cases and are going to feel freer to do so.

The news today
features the story of a fundamentalist church's graphic YouTube video of their exorcism of a 16-year-old boy. The objective was to cast out a "homosexual demon" from him. Calls are being made for an investigation by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. An incident like this raises a question being asked by nonreligious people: What really is the difference between a religion and a cult and doesn't Christianity behave increasingly as much like the latter as the former? We are likely to hear more often of extreme example of Christian beliefs and behavior being branded as crazy and/or illegal--and not without justification.

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