5 August 2011

Sect or religion?

I really don't understand what the difference is between a sect and a religion. It appears that the only difference is political. For some Christians, Jehova's witnesses is a sect. For some Muslims, Sufism is a sect. Etc. It is totally arbitrary. Indeed, since religion (as well as all its off-spins, creationism, intelligent design, etc.), by definition, is based on hot air. What constitutes a sect can change with time and location.

Maybe you read today about a certain Warren Jeffs who was  convicted of sexual assault. The linked BBC article refers to his religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as "fundamentalist" and as a "sect". Why, I wonder. Why is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints more of a sect than, say, the religion headed by Patriarch Kirill I? It is a matter of convention.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is known for advocating polygamy. In fact, it seems that this is precisely what made it popular in the first place. Brigham Young, the 19th c. leader of this religion, had 55 wives. He used religion and god in order to justify this, and, apparently, had many followers. Today, there is a university which goes bears his name. Rather embarrassing, isn't it?


  1. Timea (Euthymia)5 Aug 2011, 14:14:00

    Yes,where there are political issuses, there are economical issues... For big or older religions sects mean less followers=less income...
    When I was a vegetarian and practiced yoga a catholic priest "accused" me of belonging to a sect... I could just laugh at his stupidy. 20 years ago in Transylvania vegetarianism was rare,so I had to be labelled somehow...(Sects did not yet exist then there.But I suppose I could call the Ceausescu dictartoship a sect,as well:politics+money+brainwash on as many as possible)

  2. Timea (Euthymia)7 Aug 2011, 18:37:00


    have you read this article?

  3. I think sect simply has to do with the number of followers -- or a sect can be used to describe a specific flavour of a religion (eg. the Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism). Maybe you were talking about the pejorative sense in which case the more likely word is cult.

    It's a nice quip that the difference between a cult and a religion is time and acceptance but I don't think it's strictly true. From what I've listened to in interviews with academics/experts on cults, a cult is defined based on the presence of many behaviours from a checklist. This includes expecting members to give their life savings, forbidding members to interact with those outside the cult etc. This is not necessarily tied to the actual content of the cult's beliefs -- they are often religious but there are also UFO cults, sex cults and even (IMO) a cult of rationality in Ayn Rand. Conversely, despite all the other problems they bring, many mainline versions of large religions probably don't have a great deal of checkpoints from the list.

  4. Michael: Thanks for the clarification. Yes, perhaps I'm mixing the words cult and sect. However, the word sect is often used pejoratively. See, e.g., "sect" in wikipedia:
    "The term is occasionally used in a malicious way to suggest the broken-off group follows a more negative path than the original."
    Elsewhere on the Internet, I read that the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint", is a branch of Mormonism.
    I would prefer the word branch to sect, because the latter has a negative connotation.
    (Not that I support or care about it, of course!)

  5. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201108/religion-vs-atheism-which-side-fights-dirtier
    is interesting indeed.
    The problem with (many) religious people is that they can justify their acts without reason. So, anything goes. We know many people who kill in the name of god(s) (G.W. Bush, e.g., is one of them; he started a whole war because god told him so: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/oct/07/iraq.usa )
    In the name of religion, both good and bad are possible. Indeed, anything can be justified by appealing to the absurd. This is why some people devote their lives in the name of religion, while some others become vile and nasty, also in the name of religion.



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It's about counting, but when things get too large.
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The principle of dynamic programming

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