How To Identify A Cult In One Question
Cults don't let you leave.
I have one question I use to identify whether or not something is a cult:
“Can you leave?”
There are all sorts of groups that have strange beliefs, rituals, or practices. Humans do weird stuff. Everyone has the right to their strangeness, as long as it is chosen. If someone is not allowed to leave then the nature of the group shifts from belief to control.
This is a question of consent. One could rephrase this question as “are you allowed to say no?” If you can say no, you can consent. If you can’t leave, it is no longer a choice.
While other definitions of cult focus on practices or beliefs, this inability to leave is the part that matters. What makes a cult a cult rather than a belief system is the way they control their members. The practices and beliefs of any group are no problem unless you cannot walk away from them.
“Not allowed to leave” can take many forms. For example, if a group permanently alters the body, one can’t “leave” their scars. Nor can one “leave” mass suicides or murder. Children cannot consent, and groups that initiate children into their ranks in ways they cannot later undo also fail the “can you leave” question.
Perhaps the reason the word “cult” is often defined through long complicated checklists rather than a simple definition or question is that when this definition is applied, many mainstream organizations, religions, and belief systems are revealed to function as cults. Once you apply this question, you’ll see it in many unexpected places.