Updated: Jul 25, 2021
Recently I caught up with Melissa Martell, host of the D:Programmed Podcast (formerly The Secret Door), a program that discusses psychology, comparative religion, and politics (among other topics) typically through the lens of cults. There is a reason that some journalists, psychologists, sociologists, and various levels of law enforcement spend their whole careers studying, analyzing, and engaging with cults. Cults are highly multi-faceted, and while the extreme examples are easy to pick out of a line-up (you know the classic Rogue’s Gallery of cult leaders), defining the line between a cult and a school-of-thought, spiritual discipline, religion, fan-base, or even a political ideology can be difficult.
You can find the youtube link of our live-recorded conversation here, including audio and video. https://youtu.be/ipsG5DXstdw
It would be self indulgent of me to not admit out the gate that defining this line is not exactly something that one person can do. There are very little defining factors between a cult and religion, but what we will find is that while there are a sparse handful of objective differences, the greatest difference between a cult and a religion is the people’s collective opinion.
Perhaps the greatest (if not only) objective factor is that cults are essentially geared towards a small collective that is antithetical to the overall survival of the human species, whereas a religion generally tends to help a person integrate healthily with the survival of the species.
But, even this definition doesn’t properly encompass the difference between a cult and a religion, and it’s really no wonder we were able to come up with an hour and a half of conversation about it.
At the end, we also talk about some lesser-known cult activity, like some of the old research I’d once done into the Son of Sam murders and their likely connection to the cult, the Process Church of the Final Judgment. While I’m not a primary source on this thread of research, I have spoken with several different primary sources involved with the investigation of the Son of Sam, in both law enforcement and journalism, and I give a brief version of my take on the story here with Melissa!