Evidently when it comes to using the word “cult” there’s “skittishness” in news stories about religious or spiritual communities claims Mark Killner in a piece over at GetReligion. “Church historians, sociologists and others debate definitions of this term and much can be learned by paying attention to their discussions.” Killner has the story:
Anyone who has followed the history of new religious movements in the United States and elsewhere knows that, since the 1970s, the word “cult” is one four-letter word newspapers have often been loath to apply to controversial groups.
That wasn’t the case before and after the 1978 Jonestown massacre, when newspapers saw cults under almost every rock.
But now, there’s a great reticence at using this particular four-letter word in many news organizations. What, however, can a newspaper do when a group really and truly has the markings of a, well, cult, at the level of sociology and human behavior? Do you use the word or bury it?