Sometimes Protestants will learn about Catholicism, and the religion will seem odd to them. They’ll usually observe the rituals of the Catholic Church and begin wondering, “Is Catholicism a cult?”
Then they go looking for an answer online.
Sometimes they find Catholics saying that Catholicism is not a cult.
Of course they say that.
And sometimes they find Protestants who call Catholicism a cult.
Of course they say that.
And sometimes they find Catholics and Protestants who are trying to say the thing that suits their interests without looking transparent.
You can’t trust any of these people.
And realizing that brings us to the real answer to the question.
So, is Catholicism a cult?
It is if you want it to be. If you want to believe Catholicism is a cult, then you will find a way to convince yourself it is. If you do not want to believe Catholicism is a cult, then you will find a way to convince yourself it isn’t. You shouldn’t spend your time worrying about this.
I know that’s not the answer you were looking for, but it’s the right one. And if you accept it, then the quality of your character will improve because you did so.
The Problem with Defining a Cult
How do you answer this question?
The Problem with Dictionary Definitions
Some people will use a dictionary to define what a cult is. But this is not helpful, because there are many different dictionaries with many different definitions. And realizing this raises several new questions.
Which dictionary should we use?
Why that one and not a different one?
Which edition is acceptable?
Which definition should we use in the case that there are multiple definitions?
The person who uses the dictionary definition of a cult does not have a reliable way to answer these questions. So he uses his subjective tastes to do so. In which case, the definition of a cult is dependent upon the person defining it even if they’re using a dictionary.
So the choice to use a dictionary to define a word is really just a method of masking one’s subjective tastes with the guise of impartiality.
The Problem with Personal Definitions
Alright, so if the choice to use a dictionary definition of a cult is really just a way to disguise one’s prejudices, then why not define it ourselves?
Here’s the short answer: You can’t be trusted.
You are a human with biases, feelings, experiences, interests, and limited information. And the things which you create are the product of all of these.
This includes your definitions. Every definition you create contains both your strengths and your shortcomings. And it can only be as reliable as those.
Moreover, your personal definition, being a reflection of your unique and irreproducible outlook on life, can never be fully copied by another person.
So your personal definition of a cult should not be treated as the definition. Because nobody else can fully understand or use it.
The Problem with Authoritative Definitions
Well, what if we just trust some experts to define a cult for us?
This is also a bad idea. It’s bad because there are many experts, each has their own differing view on what a cult is, and trusting them requires us to decide which ones whom we should listen to.
And we usually pick the experts whom we listen to based on whether or not they’re telling us what we want to hear.
If two equally qualified experts give us conflicting information, then we tend to listen to the one who tells us what we want to hear and ignore the other. Then we start rationalizing to ourselves about why that choice was the right choice.
So the choice of an expert to whom we will listen is still a reflection of our subjective tastes.
In which case, the way that we choose to define a cult is till dependent upon our personal biases.
So, in the ways that I have mentioned, and for many which I have not, the choice of a definition for cult is dependent upon our personal biases.
What does this mean for our answer to the original question?
It means that you will say that Catholicism is a cult if doing so suits your biases, and you will say it is not if calling Catholicism a cult does not suit them. In both cases, your biases lead you away from the truth.
And now I will explain how people in the two camps will go about answering the question.
I will begin with the people who want to say that Catholicism is a cult.
How People Tell Themselves What They Want to Hear
- First, they begin with their conclusion. The conclusion is that Catholicism is a cult.
- Next, they produce their own notion of what a cult is.
- Then, they look for similarities between common Catholic practices and their own definition of a cult. While they look for points of similarity, they ignore points of difference.
- Then they unite the points which they have conveniently selected into an argument which they can then use to justify their assertion that Catholicism is a cult. If they lack enough points to make their argument compelling, then they begin lying and misinterpreting things in order to fill out the empty spaces within their argument.
- Now the anti-Catholic answerer starts testing the argument he tells himself by putting it up against othe rpeople. If they find the argument agreeable, or if their counterarguments lose, then the rationalizer feels confident in his assertion that Catholicism is a cult.
In this way, willful ignorance, misinterpretations, lies, and debate tactics are used to convince oneself that Catholicism is not a cult.
And people who want to believe that Catholicism is not a cult do essentially the same thing. Although they emphasize different points.
And in both cases, they darken the light of truth just a bit.
Now, how did this behavior come about?
The Genealogy of the Question: Is Catholicism a Cult?
The question, “Is Catholicism a cult?” began with Protestants. Neither Catholics nor Orthodox would ask this question if they had not first heard it from Protestants.
The Protestants who first asked this question saw some Catholic behaviors which made them feel uncomfortable, and they were unsure of how they should respond to them.
When Protestants first asked this question, they did not do so with the intention of calling Catholics cultists. They did so out of ignorance and genuine curiosity.
However, Protestantism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive. You cannot be a Protestant and a Catholic. And Protestants who begin to learn about Catholicism realize this shortly after they begin.
When the Protestant realizes that Catholicism requires a rejection of Protestantism and vice-versa, he then begins to look for excuses to justify his rejection.
One viable excuse is the claim that Catholicism is a cult. The Protestant may justify himself by claiming that Catholics are cultists and, therefore, not Christians.
So the question of Catholicism’s status as a cult became an ideologically motivated one, and people stopped caring about the true answer.
Is Catholicism a Cult? Don’t Ask the Question
If you ask the question, “Is Catholicism a cult?” then you want to hear a certain answer.
Protestants want to hear “Yes.”
Catholics want to hear “No.”
If you hear the answer that you like, then you’ll feel a sense of self-validation. If you hear the answer that you don’t like, then you’ll feel angry.
Meanwhile, neither answer will make the listener a more virtuous person. Nor will the answer enhance your ability to function in the world around you.
In fact, the opposite is true.
If the Protestant hears what he wants to hear, then he’ll develop a feeling of superiority over Catholics. He will give himself to pride.
If the Protestant hears what he does not want to hear, then he will either accept or reject the answer. When he rejects the answer, then he will behave as though he had heard what he wanted to hear. But if he accepts it, then he feels a sense of relief around Catholics.
If the Catholic hears what he wants to hear, then he feels a sense of relief because he has dodged an insult. But it would have been far better not to have to dodge it at all!
And if the Catholic hears what he does not want to hear, then he goes on the defensive and begins lashing out at the people wh have decided to insult him. Animosity between the Catholic and those around him then increases. This is not good.
Alternatively, people may simply not care enough about the answer to do anything with it. In that case, the question and the answer were both a waste of time.
So, of these six potential outcomes, only one produces a good result. The instance in which the Protestant hears what he does not want to hear and accepts it. This also happens to be the rarest event. The other outcomes are either bad or indifferent.
And you don’t need to know the answer to the question anyway. There is no answer to the question which would make you a better person, and you can live a full life without it. Billions of people have already done so.
Conclusion – Is Catholicism a Cult?
So, is Catholicism a cult?
I don’t know.
And it’s better that way.