An accusation that pops up every so often in conversations with atheists is that Christianity is a “cult”. This is not really an “argument” per say, it is really just an emotional assertion. As we shall see, however, the claim that Christianity is a cult is entirely dubious.
Now, a cult is commonly considered to be a “bizarre” and small religious following full of strange and oftentimes dangerous rituals. However, some people claim that it is unfair to define a cult as a “non-traditional” belief or as a “heretical” group. They point out that such a definition is unfair to those that profess such beliefs, and that to them it is the other view (i.e., Christianity) that is actually “heretical” or “non-traditional”. Therefore, a cult should really be defined as any religious belief whatsoever. Thus, under this rubric, Christianity is indeed a cult.
Essentially, I agree with much of this. It seems a bit subjective to label certain groups as “cultic” because it begs the question as to whether or not their belief or ritual is actually odd or in any way contrary to truth. However, the real problem with the person who claims that Christianity is a “cult” is that they are trying to sneak in the negative connotation of the word “cult” in order to stir the emotions.
After all, if a cult is merely synonymous with “religion”, then there is nothing inherently wrong with being in a cult. In fact, the word “cult” becomes superfluous. However, non-Christians know that the word “cult” carries with it much emotional force. Things like bloody mutilation and unhealthy obsession with rituals and beliefs come to mind at the mentioning of the word. The nonbeliever is merely trying to shove emotional baggage of such activities on the shoulders of the Christian faith. Such an approach is clearly deceptive.
So, the claim that Christianity is a “cult” is really just an emotional non-argument. The word “cult” should either be discarded or given a more specific (and perhaps subjective) meaning than general religious belief.