With posts like these, I can't see how John could have possibly made it to getting three Master's degrees. And, based on knowledge from past experiences (most of which can be dug up fairly easily), I'd have reason to believe John might be bullshitting everyone when he claims to possess such credentials.
John bases his argument by defining Christianity as a cult (and by cult, you can almost be sure that he isn't referring too "small religious movement" but instead the types of groups that are nortorious for forcing their followers to drink posoined punch) on a link from the "How Stuff Works" site (manufactured by the same exact webmaster responsible for "Why Won't God Heal Amputees" and the like), and pretending as though he can use it for "scholarly" purposes. What a joke.
I don't think it should take someone with even half a brain to see that this is the same exact thing as arguing from Wikipedia. In fact, "How Stuff Works" is contributed by countless authors on a variety of topics, and while probably more efficiently moderated than Wikipedia and not as open-based, the same basic principals apply: There are no gurantees that what said author is saying is verifiably credible, or even worthwhile. The fact that John would argue like this says tons about just how much of a "critical" thinker he really is.
So...to get deep into the guts of whatever John is trying to point out, let's look at the HSW website now, shall we?
Firstly, an example of a cult organization is revealed in the article's introduction:
"While most small, non-mainstream religions are harmless, certain circumstances do make them an easy breeding ground for destructive practices. The People's Temple began as a charitable organization in the United States that ran a free medical clinic and drug rehabilitation program. But you probably know it as the doomsday cult whose Kool-Aid mass suicide/murders took more than 900 lives in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978. How can something that began with so much hope go so very wrong? There's a lot of speculation about what happened to the members of The People's Temple, but for the most part, what went wrong is what goes wrong with most destructive cults: the leadership."
Most of what proceeds hereafter is elaborating more specifically to the types of dangerous leadership that is so common to cults. Yet from what can be gathered, these points do not make a case against general Christianity, as John would prefer it to be the case at hand. In fact, the examples provided and the article's wording only gives more assurance to this simple fact to bear in mind: None of these cults took their motives directly from doctrines. Theology had no influence in the "destructive" and sucidal behaviors of these cult-leaders and their followers. The heart of the argument is that a cult is driven to do dangerous things based on their authority figures, and not any scriptural text or justification of any kind. This differs from mainstream denominational Christianity, because the Christian movement relies on its scriptures in order to exist. Cults only require leaders who can psychologically manipulate those who are willing (which eventually becomes an unwilling participation) to follow. While this does occur, from all branches of Christianity in their church groups, this is not definitive of Christianity itself. It can even be argued that the practices of leading televangelists would contradict the basic principles of the Christian faith.
The author of the article provides a list of characteristics of what we can point out when trying to properly classify what a "cult" is:
- Charismatic leadership
Deception in recruiting
Use of thought-reform methods
Isolation (physical and/or psychological)
Demand for absolute, unquestioning devotion and loyalty
Sharp, unsurpassable distinction between "us" (good, saved) and "them" (bad, going to Hell)
"Inside language" that only members fully understand
Strict control over members' daily routines
One large difference between religions and cults might be that cults depend on group participation, while a religion depends mostly on theological doctrines. From there, you have what is called spirituality, which depends on neither except for the personal views that may be held by one person alone. It would be dangerous and stupid to group all three of these together and pretend as if they are one in the same. They aren't, and the criteria the author attempts to utilize becomes a failure, because you could apply many of those things to governmental sectors and police forces, yet I'm almost positive the author would not try to argue that the government, especially the military, works on cult-like principals. Yet by accepting her argument as absolute, we would simply have no choice.
But then again, it would also be fallacious to assume that the author's opinions reflect those of her readers, and especially the interpretations of her articles through her readers. Here's a specific outline in mind:
"For the remainder of this article, when we refer to techniques employed by "cults," we're talking about destructive cults, not the small religious groups that keep to themselves and don't hurt anybody."
Mmmmm....sounds like John's argument just went into the crapper and got flushed out. Maybe John's motives caused him to glance over this at his convenience, I wouldn't doubt it being the case. In order for John to define Christianity as whole, including its denominations, as a religious cult (according to the author's defining terms), then Christianity would have to be harmful in every aspect. But like every religion and philosophy, it varies significantly and from group to group. A primary demonstrative example is the spectrum one gets on Creationism: In Christianity, you have three different groups, Creationist, Intelligent Design proponent (IDer or IDiot, as atheist sites are found of saying), and Theistic Evolutionist. All three believe the basic doctrines of Christianity, but believe so in different contexts. I don't think we would need to go any further or cite any more of this article to bring out the point trying to be made here. Simply put, Loftus has never put up a solid argument, and it doesn't look like he ever will.