This article is on a critical issue facing spirituality and all those searching for it. Today, many people are being persecuted on the internet and media using the “cult” label and the criteria for condemning a “cult,” which this article highlights is so broad that it applies to the teachings of Jesus and practices taught by Buddha. The “cult-hunt” (“witch-hunt”) of our times aims to disconnect humanity from its means of empowering itself spiritually – as persecution movements throughout history always have.
Persecution not only affects those who it is aimed at, but also those who wish to find spiritual truth – as being persecuted makes it very difficult to pass knowledge around and thus for it to reach people.
Jesus Was Persecuted in His Time – Would He Still Be Today?
How could an eminent esoteric teacher such as Jesus, with such an important spiritual message, have been so persecuted and hated by society in his time? Would he still be today? Are there other people teaching esoteric knowledge who are also now persecuted, and why?
This article will delve headlong into answering these questions, by looking at how Jesus might be viewed by our modern society using its method of critiquing minority spiritual groups—the criteria for labeling a “cult”—with some startling results…
Society in the times of Jesus, as today, does not in itself provide the means for spiritual awakening. Jesus came as he said, from out of this world, from outside of society to bring enlightenment to it. But society as a whole rejected him and what he taught—it was only a few individuals from within it that really followed Jesus, back with him to his kingdom of heaven. (For a great explanation on this, watch Belsebuub’s video The Clay Model: The Illusion of Life)
This same scenario has repeated throughout history, wherever and whenever people have wished to reach enlightenment. Esoteric teachers and truths have come into society to help those within it, and to enrich it, only to be chased and hunted out.
This article looks at why Jesus was so persecuted, beyond the traditional explanations, to uncover why modern mainstream society is so at odds with the esoteric.
Jesus – A “Cult Leader” by Modern Standards?
When we think of Jesus, we tend to think of the icon, an idealized, saintly figure, sometimes set amidst clouds or illuminated by a special light—the perfect image of all we imagine to be spiritual. In his own time however, Jesus did not fit the image for many people: he was seen as controversial, blasphemous, and immoral; opposed to established religion; and in the end, surrounded only by a small number of people—Christianity as we know it today did not exist and would not exist for some time.
It was not a time of popularity for Jesus. Back then the response of society, its religion, and government to Jesus and those who followed him? Lies, betrayal, false accusations, claims of heresy, persecution. Only a few people were able to take his message of love. Today, the response of society to those teaching spiritual truth is still the same.
In our world again, we find the same proponents that belong to this story: established religion, persecutors, a society hostile to things outside of the “norm,” and those trying to teach the same eternal truths. But because technology has radically transformed the way in which we communicate, this can easily go unnoticed: trials are now held on television, testimonies are heard on the internet, sentences are handed out in news stories, and truth suppressed with “Google bombs” (I would highly recommend reading this article to better understand the use of the internet in persecuting minority religions).
Society’s means of responding to spirituality outside of the establishment has adapted to its environment, as it has throughout time, but the underlying mechanism it uses remains the same. Throughout history society has always used a word, a label, weighted with demonized concepts, to dehumanize targeted groups of people and therefore mobilize society to cast out and destroy anything which threatens its systems of control. Once blasphemer, heretic, pagan, and witch – now it is CULT.
It’s not hard to imagine Jesus coming to teach his message again today and thus facing the same persecution: instead the cries of “blasphemer” replaced with the modern equivalent—“cult leader,” and the disciples and those who followed him—a “cult”.
Then the Jews surrounded Him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
“I did tell you and you don’t believe,” Jesus answered them. “The works that I do in My Father’s name testify about Me. But you don’t believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, I know them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are One.”
Again the Jews picked up rocks to stone Him.
Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. Which of these works are you stoning Me for?”
“We aren’t stoning You for a good work,” the Jews answered, “but for blasphemy, because You—being a man—make Yourself God.”
~ John 10:24-33 HCSB
Imagine someone saying this today – wouldn’t some say it was the statement of a true “cult-leader”? And, as was done then, wouldn’t they use the most potent term of the time to sanction his persecution? For society in the times of Jesus, his way of talking and teaching was equally revolutionary as it would be for someone else talking in a similar way today.
Jesus, Assessed Against Cult Criteria
To determine whether Jesus fits the definition of “cult-leader” in our modern world, he’ll be assessed as most groups and teachers are today—against cult-criteria. Anti-cult groups have created sets of pre-defined criteria—different groups use different criteria, but they all tend to be very similar. It’s important to note here that the criteria used for classifying cults is neither accepted by academics nor psychologists in the field. In fact they reject it, but that hasn’t stopped cult watching groups, the mainstream media, some in established religions, and society as a whole, from adopting it or at least its label into common discourse. This example only serves to highlight the hidden agenda behind it, but in no way supports its validity.
The reason Jesus was chosen for this analysis is because that is what I’m most familiar with, but those who know about other spiritual teachers such as Buddha, Krishna, Moses, etc., will see they may have just as easily been substituted into the cult formula (however, in some instances not enough historical information about them is available).
Here is an overview of what makes a “cult” to give the general idea of what a cult watcher might be looking for in Jesus:
“Singer stresses that all cults are based firstly on a thought reform program. Such programs aim to dilute people’s individuality, change their core belief systems and alter their concept of themselves. This is done by imposing a “totalistic ideology” which “explains everything” Such groups will say they are “THE WAY”, the “ONLY WAY” be it in religion, science, self-help, psychotherapy or politics. Lifton points out that “included in this mystique is a sense of ‘higher purpose’, of ‘having directly perceived some imminent law of social development’, of being themselves the vanguard of this development.” Consequently, all other groups are charlatans, shams, impostors, degenerate, etc. Normally they have authoritarian leaders and lieutenants at all levels and/or they venerate the works of dead leaders to justify their totalistic ideology and actions. Not choosing the group’s Way will usually lead to humiliation, damnation or death.”
Hmmm, sounds like almost every religion described by someone who despises it. That would make cult-watchers who share this mentality out to destroy every religion in existence (except their own), as many are.
Following are a famously used set of cult criteria matched with excerpts taken from the New Testament (note that many more could have been included). According to cult watchers, a group need only meet some of these criteria to be defined as a cult. Jesus fits every single one to some degree.
Here are just a few highlights of the assessment—for the full version, click here.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
~ John 14:6 HCSB
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
~ John 3:16 NIV
The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But you, “He asked them, “who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
~ Matthew 16:13-16 HCSB
Leading figures, either alive or dead, are honored and venerated. Statements are often supported by quotations and sayings from sacred writings or speeches. Predictions of catastrophe or damnation are common.
He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
~ Luke 4:16-21 HCSB
Members are told that they will be destroyed or corrupted by negative pressures, and that they can maintain their purity only within the group’s ranks.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.”
~ Matthew 7:13-15 HCSB
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group.
One man who was there had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.” “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk. Now that day was the Sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”…Therefore, the Jews began persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
~ John 5:5-10, 16 HCSB
In general, new members are usually undergoing a personal crisis and are easy prey for all-embracing solutions.
While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
~ Matthew 9:10-13 HCSB
Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
~ Luke 14:26-27 HCSB
“In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.”
~ Luke 14:33 HCSB
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.” But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
~ Luke 9:59-62 HCSB
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”
~ Matthew 12:46-50 HCSB
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
As He was walking along the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. “Follow Me,” He told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
~ Matthew 4:18-20 HCSB
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Soon afterward He was traveling from one town and village to another, preaching and telling the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary, called Magdalene (seven demons had come out of her); Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward; Susanna; and many others who were supporting them from their possessions.
~ Luke 81:1-3 HCSB
*Note: in this example we see the principle of fundraising—people giving materially so that Jesus and the disciples are able to devote their time to helping others spiritually.
The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.
“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
~ Matthew 7:3-5 HCSB
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
“Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you…”
~ Matthew 23:33-35 HCSB
“For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
~ John 8:24 HCSB
Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
“Have faith in God. I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.”
~ Mark 11:22-24 HCSB
Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
~ Matthew 26:40-41 HCSB
*Note: ancient practices like meditation and chanting here are already assumed to be ‘mind-numbing.’ Meditation is a key practice in Buddhism, as are mantras in Hinduism, and Gregorian chanting to many Christians!
The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).
Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” “Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered,” Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.” “I have kept all these,” the young man told Him, “What do I still lack?” “If you want to be perfect, Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
~ Matthew 19:16-21 HCSB
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.
“Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters.”
~ Matthew 12:30 HCSB
“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.
The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it.”
~ Matthew 10:34-39 HCSB
Whenever historical facts or the truth doesn’t fit in with the cult leader’s designs and aspirations, they simply change it.
The Jews replied, “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and You’ve seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.”
~ John 8:57-58 HCSB
The direction of the group comes from a shadowy leadership, rarely seen and with little or no real democratic controls.
When He entered the temple complex, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question, and if you answer it for Me, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men?” They began to argue among themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we’re afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
~ Matthew 21:23-27 HCSB
The group supplies ready-made answers for everything, thus helping to reduce insecurity and fear. Everything is seen in terms of black and white, pure and the impure, good and evil.
His disciples approached Him and said, “Explain the parable of the weeds in the field to us.” He replied: “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; and the good seed—these are the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Therefore just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.”
~ Matthew 13:36-43 HCSB
The group’s leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).
“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to Him, “You are testifying about Yourself. Your testimony is not valid.” “Even if I testify about Myself,” Jesus replied, “My testimony is valid, because I know where I came from and where I’m going. But you don’t know where I come from or where I’m going. You judge by human standards. I judge no one. And if I do judge, My judgment is true because I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent Me judge together. Even in your law it is written that the witness of two men is valid. I am the One who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”
~ John 8:12-18 HCSB
Don’t forget, if you want to read the full length version, go here.
Jesus Would Be Found Guilty of Being a “Cult-Leader”
One after the other, each criteria takes a principle from what Jesus taught and turns it into cause for suspicion, fear, persecution, and judgment. The anti-cult movements have decided, the verdict is in. Jesus is found guilty on every single charge, and even if it were only most would still be enough to hand out that terrible sentence: “cult!”
He would be pinned up on websites and forums across the internet, accused of brainwashing and manipulating his closest followers to give up everything in life and devote it to the group, of not working for his money but instead living off the goodwill of others having defrauded his followers to support his work to teach, and obviously worst of all he declares himself to be a God-man with a direct link to the spirit, telling people that if they don’t follow him they are going to hell.
Yet Jesus today is worshiped as a spiritual figure by at least 2.1 billion people (that’s 33% of the world’s population), and as you’ve seen above from even a basic analysis, he fits cult criteria. What is going on here?
Haven’t those who’ve believed in this criteria and used its label failed to understand true spirituality—and worse, the people who’ve put it together have something underlying against it? If Jesus, the spiritual leader of the world’s largest religion, can be found guilty of being a “cult-leader,” doesn’t that make every Christian group there ever was a “cult”? But then why are many established Christian denominations involved in persecuting “cults” today?
Isn’t it time to really get to the core of what is going on with spirituality in our world today? Isn’t it time to rethink and most importantly question society’s view of it, the one we’ve all seen in the media and been told we better believe because the “cults” are coming to brainwash us, take away our sons and daughters, and threaten the morality which holds society together?
Digging deeper, you’ll discover that the powerful use esoteric knowledge while keeping it from humanity. This has been going on for thousands of years – there is a struggle between the forces of darkness and light (those who use esoteric knowledge for evil, and those who use it for good) that most are completely unaware of. Most are both the unwitting victims and accomplices of a dark and hidden agenda that is using the mainstream media to influence society and culture on a mass scale.
~ Lara Atwood