The “C”-Word

I’m telling you to stop using the word “cult.” The “C”-word. Just stop it.

Why? I challenge you—if you can show me a sentence where the word “cult” isn’t demeaning, I’ll back off. Write to me here.

Monks walking up steps
Photo by Michael Arnault/

Everyone knows of the problem with the “N”-word. “LGBTQ” is now used in place of a lexicon of crass and cruel calumnies. Think of ANY ethnic minority and you can probably recall a derogatory generality for that group. All those words do is trespass on brotherhood and compassion.

The “C”-word is simply another such slur. So stop using it. But beyond that, stop thinking with it. People are people. If you use the “C”-word, or think with it, you stop treating them as people. You treat them instead as an amorphous generality. I’m not saying people don’t do unrealistic things and hide behind odd groups and ideas. Of course they do.

But so what if people believe whatever it is they’re going to believe? As long as they don’t stomp on your right to believe whatever you want to believe, SO WHAT? Does everyone have to fit into your definition of the universe? That’s just majority-rules thought police. That’s mob-think. Don’t look now, but that’s exactly what you think a cult does. And mob-think is what brought us the Salem witch trials, World War II, and probably all of man’s atrocities.

How about a better paradigm? You respect me, and I’ll respect you. We’ll probably learn to like each other in the process.

When a man in a saffron robe offers you a flower outside the airport, do you think “cultist”? If so, you’ve been brainwashed. That’s another human being.

You may believe that human beings are no better than animals—possibly high-grade, but animals just the same—and that one lifetime is all you get. I happen to believe that the life force in each of us is spiritual and does not die with the body. Right now, in America, I’m in a minority. Someday, hopefully not. So what happens when I’m in the majority? Do you really want me to consider you crazy, to permit bloodletting, death and grief to befall you just because yours is the minority view? If there’s anything we know from history, it’s that circumstances change.

How about a better paradigm?

You respect me, and I’ll respect you. We’ll probably learn to like each other in the process.

Here’s an idea: any consideration you’re holding that puts distance between you and your fellow man—ditch it.

The Waco siege
The Branch Davidian Mount Carmel Center in flames near Waco, Texas.

In 1993, 80 Branch Davidians (and four ATF agents) died because the anti-cult movement convinced the media and the federal government that the people living in that compound were a “cult”—wacko, unable to be communicated with, strange beyond belief, and that the only way to deal with them was with force, all demonstrable lies. As a result, 21 children and 59 adults were gassed, incinerated, suffocated, shot and crushed to death by tanks in their home outside of Waco, Texas.

Prejudice has a price.

Tolerance isn’t passive. It takes practice. It takes exercise. If someone wants to give you a flower, or a Bible, or a Dianetics book, and you don’t want it, just say no. What harm done? Wow, are they different, you may think. OK. But don’t recoil. God help us if we all settled in to watch the same “The Big Bang Theory” reruns at the same time each week.

As a whole, our society is making tremendous inroads against prejudice. The list of previously denigrated groups that are now recognized and respected is constantly growing.

The last great frontier is religious diversity.

It starts with the words we use.

Leland Thoburn
Leland has been a Scientologist for 45 years. His writings have been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, including Foliate Oak Review, Writers’ Journal, Feathertale Review, Calliope, Vocabula Review and others. Formerly an executive at EarthLink Inc., he works as a business consultant.