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Renewing Your Mind


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Cults and World Religions

Examples and Consequences

On Friday, March 17, 2000, in Kanungu, located in the southern portion of Uganda, the approximately 330 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God moved toward their church. This was not an unusual event and the people of the village watched, probably with some amusement over the strange and strict habits of the church members. But this day would be different from other church gatherings. For on this day, suddenly and without warning, the village was startled by the blast of an inferno from the church. The fire was swift and deadly. When the blaze was ultimately extinguished and investigated, the entire church was found to have committed mass suicide. The reasons behind this tragedy remain unclear.

Further, as the investigation continued, it was determined that some cult members had apparently been killed prior to the fire. The Roman Catholic bishops of Uganda issued a statement saying that the sect members “were misled by obsessed leaders into an obnoxious form of religiosity completely rejected by the Catholic Church.” Sect leaders included several defrocked Catholic priests and nuns. Catholic-like icons were found at the movement’s church. 5

A related story from the BBC carried interviews and comments from the reading audience over the meaning of cults. To quote from the related story,

“The dividing line between a cult and a religion is often difficult to draw. Are cults a danger to society or just to themselves? Do we have a right to restrict their activities or should members have the right to die as they chose?”

Comments to consider in response to this discussion question include:

A couple of thoughts are brought home by these comments. First, the world is spiritually bankrupt. This comes across whether one is Christian or something else. Just review the feelings expressed above.

Second, cults are dangerous – but the danger lies in different areas for differing religious views. Some fear the social differences. Other fear the death results from events such as Uganda. For the Christian, the difference lies in the knowledge that those not following Jesus Christ will spend eternity in a state of punishment and torment.

A third factor apparent from the entire line of quotes is the new tolerance which is being built into society. Each must respect the others rights, so long as they do not harm the other person. Thus, organized religion is seen as evil because it forces itself on the individual, demanding a decision against both the individual and society. Any cult, on the other hand, is not evil, because the individual has chosen to join and nothing is forced on society. That the individual may die is irrelevant because “that event does not affect me!”

One other point should be apparent from the above discussion – everyone uses the same terms, but what is meant by a cult has different meanings for different people. But, if things go “bad” all of society thinks the group is a cult. In other words, a cult is a group which does not do things the way “society” would want. And, frequently, the results are tragic. Working backwards from Uganda, consider the following:

Society views these cults as scary and of great concern. And, certainly, they are. But what of the millions of people lost to false religions, people who never discover God, people who will spend eternity in a state of punishment and separation from God? These are the cults which this course will address, for these people can be saved. If we can witness to them and address their needs, the Christian community can save some souls for God’ kingdom. But it is a difficult struggle, for, as the reactions above suggest, most of the world views Jesus and religion differently than the true Christian. The true believer is in the minority.

The Christ of the Gospels is certainly the best-known Jesus in the world. For Christians, he is utterly unique – the only Son of God and, as the pope put it, the one “mediator between God and humanity.” But alongside this Jesus is another, the Jesus whom Muslims since Muhammad have regarded as a prophet and messenger of Allah. And after centuries of silence about Jesus, many Jews now find him a Jewish teacher and reformer they can accept on their own terms as “one of us.”

Jesus has become a familiar, even beloved, figure to adherents of Asian religions as well. Among many contemporary Hindus, Jesus has come to be revered as a self-realized saint who reached the highest level of “God-consciousness.” In recent years, Buddhists like the Dalai Lama have recognized in Jesus a figure of great compassion much like the Buddha. “I think as the world grows smaller, Jesus as a figure will grow larger,” says Protestant theologian John Cobb, a veteran of interfaith dialogues.

Perhaps. Each of these traditions – Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism – is rich in its own right, and each has its own integrity. As the pope calls for better understanding among the world’s great religions, it is important to recognize that non-Christian faiths have their own visions of the sacred and their own views of Jesus. 6

This is the position faced by the modern Christian. Religious tolerance has become the buzz word of the day. Everyone has adopted Jesus in some form, therefore, everyone should be able to talk to everyone else on some meaningful level. The term for all of this is “pluralism.” Pluralism is religious tolerance at the extreme which says that all roads lead to heaven, regardless of the path. To the world view, everyone gets to God, as long as everyone remembers that the religion next door may get there too. When the religion next door starts to claim theirs as the only path, there is no tolerance. To quote from the same Newsweek article:

But there is at least one unbridgeable difference: a Christian can never become Christ, while the aim of every serious Buddhist is to achieve Buddhahood himself.

Put this into other terms – the goal of almost every religion is to achieve god-hood, to be a little god! Again, quoting from the same article,

Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. In Islam, the story of Jesus’ death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself. Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful samadhi, a yogi who escapes the degradation of death. The figure of the crucified Christ, says Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, “is a very painful image to me. It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to Jesus.” There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence – and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead.

Even so, there are lessons all believers can savor by observing Jesus in the mirrors of Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. That the image of a benign Jesus has universal appeal should come as no surprise. That most of the world cannot accept the Jesus of the cross should not surprise, either. Thus the idea that Jesus can serve as a bridge uniting the world’s religions is inviting but may be ultimately impossible. A mystery to Christians themselves, Jesus remains what he has always been, a sign of contradiction.

This should all come as no surprise to the Christian. Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to eternal life with the Father. There will be no bridge uniting the world’s religions. There is a clear choice, Jesus or anything else. The world does not understand this. The key concept of the Pope’s Middle East trip, again, as summed up by Newsweek was “Reconciliation, a key word in the Christian vocabulary . . . the goal of Pope John Paul II’s turn-of-the-millennium activity. . . Reconciling does not mean giving up identity, whether in families or religions. . . Reconciling means becoming liberated from the confining, obsessive desires to keep score, to seek revenge, to prolong hostility.” 7

This is the world’s view of what we are about to talk about. Paul writes,

2 Timothy 4:3-4
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, beey will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

It would seem this time is here!

Yet, none of this is new –

Ecclesiastes 1:9
That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.
King Solomon, King of Israel, writing around 935 B.C.
Ephesians 4:17-19
17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Paul the Apostle, writing around A.D. 60

Satan has no new tricks. Like Madison Avenue, he just repackages the same old products!!!

5. Information taken from various news articles at BBC News Online: World: Africa, Later news stories report the finding of even more graves (100+).
6. Newsweek US Edition: Society,, March 27, 2000, “The Other Jesus,” by Kenneth L. Woodward, written in conjunction with the visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel, Jordan, and the surrounding area.
7. Newsweek US Edition: Society, March 27, 2000, “The Long Road to Reconciliation,” by Martin Marty.




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