Cults....what are they really?

Since Wednesday night Jews around the world are spending part of their day eating and sleeping in temporary shelters with roofs that are incomplete and with walls that rattle in the wind.  Each morning we will get up and grab a palm, myrtle and willow branch with a large citrus fruit that looks like a lemon on steroids and shake them in every direction.  This is the way of celebrating Sukkot, a festival that connects both to our ancient agricultural past, Temple times and a devotion to hospitality in the Jewish tradition.  Though it may seem odd to outsiders, to Jews this is a normal ritual. 

I have been thinking about this because religion has worked its way into the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States.  A preacher, close to Gov. Rick Perry called Mormonism a cult.  So I began to wonder what is a cult? Originally the word cult was a way to describe a a collective set of rituals and then generalized to the people who practiced them.  Today is is almost exclusively used in modern vernacular to be a people with a bizzare set of beliefs and rituals.  To call Mormonism a cult is an attack on the religious tradition.  I don't mean to apologize for the Mormon faith.  I don't fully understand it.  But I was thinking is it bizzare or misunderstood rituals that caused this Pastor to call them a cult?  Well he should visit a Jewish home this week, but of course he wouldn't call the Jews a cult, because his faith tradition grew out of the Jewish faith.  So maybe it is the fact that Mormons have an additional book of the Bible, a different form of revelation of God.  One could call it a New Testament but that was already taken by the very Christian tradition that the Pastor belongs to when in the 1st and 2nd century a New Testament about a new revelation of God started to take hold among people in the ancient near east and the Greco-Roman world.  So that can't be it.  It seems the Pastor just didn't like what Mormonism teaches and so leveled what he thought was an insult.  Funny the early Christians would have been considered a cult by the kinds of people this Pastor shares ideas with.

Religion will always play a role in Presidential politics and in some cases it should.  But attacks on an entire faith tradition to smear a candidate is not only wrong it is completely without basis.  In fact Gov. Perry has shown his Christian faith has influenced his actions in office to perhaps even violate the Constitution of both Texas and the United States, while Gov. Romney and Gov. Huntsman, both Mormons, seemed to have avoided their faith having such a big role in their actions.  Both Presidents Kennedy and Obama have had to justify the role of their religion in their governance.  President Carter was attacked for his devotion to his Christian faith as was President George W. Bush.  Oh so was President Thomas Jefferson.  But in the end what we find is that our faith is a personal matter that will influence everything we do but also does not have to totally control it.  If I became President I would build a sukkah in the Rose garden, but I would never make anyone take up the lulav.  Nor would it distract from the work of the day.   In fact it would remind of the fragility of life in general and might make me a more compassionate and thoughtful President.  And isn't that what religion should do?


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