Cult warning signs: Jargon and peculiar vocabulary

Not long after I became an atheist, a couple of family members attempted to talk me back into the fold of Christianity. Both were rude about it (and naturally accused me of being rude about it). But one of them was more interesting than the other. I’ll call my cousin “John” for the sake of this post.

John was deeply troubled by my deconversion. Honestly, I think he took it as a personal insult. And for some reason, he seemed to believe that my former faith was evidence of the veracity of Christianity. “Oh yeah, well you used to believe in God and Christ!” I mean, so what? That’s what happens when you change — you no longer believe the things you used to believe. What does that prove?

red flag


But John was interesting for another reason. He and one of his faith-brothers, let’s call him Jack, bombarded me with arguments about why I’m wrong. And it wasn’t until they did that I noticed something others probably noticed about me during my days with The Way International and its offshoots. John and Jack are in a cult, and they don’t even know it.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that “cult” is a loaded word that means different things to different people. I’ve seen some fun definitions.

  • A cult is what a big church calls a little church.
  • A cult is a religious movement where there’s someone at the top who knows its a scam. A religion is the same thing, only that person is long dead.
  • A cult is a religion that thinks your religion is wrong.

There are others, usually concocted by cults to deflect the “cult” label. For this post, I’m going to use this broad definition, recognizing that others may apply: A cult is a sect of a larger religion with unusual doctrinal interpretations considered heretical by the larger group. These doctrinal differences, in the cult’s view, make them better than the larger religion and are signs that the larger religion has been corrupted.

Your group can be a cult without fitting that description, but if your group fits that description, there’s a good chance it’s a cult. I don’t know. I’m not a sociologist.

Take the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re Christian. But they don’t believe Jesus Christ is God. And they don’t believe in immediate life after death. And they don’t believe in a literal hell. And they think if you’re not a Jehovah’s Witness, you’re not a true Christian. You’re part of false Christianity, the counterfeit to their genuine article.

Or The Way International. They also reject the Trinity and immediate life after death. They reject the personality of the Holy Spirit, believing instead in a thing called “holy spirit,” a mystical sort of substance that is God the Father’s nature (analogous to humans being made of flesh). This holy spirit is given to each believer at the time of the new birth. What other Christians call “the gifts of the Spirit,” enumerated in I Corinthians 12, The Way calls “manifestations of the spirit.” In Way theology, every believer has the inherent ability to demonstrate the presence of holy spirit in their lives in those nine ways (speaking in tongues, interpretation, prophecy, receiving a word of knowledge from God, receiving wisdom from God, discerning spirits, acts of faith, performance of miracles and performance of healing).  Other Christians are still Christian, according to The Way. They’re just less properly instructed about what real Christianity is. The second president of The Way used to refer to the rest of Christendom as Christian-Dumb.

The Way and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are cults. Not necessarily the same kind of “wait for them all to commit suicide next time a comet comes by,” but cults in the sense of “how did Christianity get by without us for 1900 years?”

John and Jack belong to another such cult, and you can tell by the peculiar way they use words.

“Jargon” is a common characteristic of cults. It goes beyond born again Christians talking about the “new birth” or being “filled with the spirit.” For a cultic expression to be “jargon,” it really has to be unique to the cult, or used in a way that’s unique to the cult.

In The Way, for example, when we called someone “religious,” it was an insult. Religion was the opposite of Christianity. We talked about “administrations,” periods of time during which God had different ways of dealing with mankind because of the circumstances. Other sects of Christianity call these time periods “dispensations,” and there’s much disagreement about whether that is a correct Biblical view. But “dispensations,” the word used by other Christians, wasn’t good enough for us. So we called them “administrations.”

Ever heard of “the rapture”? You could spend a lifetime in The Way without ever hearing that expression. But they teach it. They just call it something else: The Gathering Together.

Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, there’s a lot of jargon as well. One expression that always stuck with me was the “system of things.” This is how Jehovah’s Witnesses describe the way the world is now, as opposed to the way it’s going to be (under, I’m being serious here, “the new system of things”). If you want to know “the Truth,” when you’re in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “the Truth” is the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (even when “The Truth” is a long list of failed prophecies).

Jargon helps fellow cult members find each other.

John and Jack used so much jargon, they weren’t even aware of it. John also expected people to follow arbitrary rules that would only make sense if you were in his cult. For example, when he accused me on Facebook of worshiping the devil, I responded logically: I do not believe Satan exists. Therefore, I do not worship him (by the way, neither do most Satanists. But I digress).

Well, my statement was all John needed. “I see you capitalize the name of your lord!” he said. You could almost hear him saying “Gotcha! Checkmate, Satanist!”

In grammar, you capitalize proper names. Satan is the proper name of the devil in Christianity. I also capitalize Christianity and Jesus Christ. And Yahweh. And Hitler. And Boba Fett. That doesn’t mean I worship any of them. Incidentally, I also don’t worship my cousin John.

That’s a sign you’re in a cult: when you make up an arbitrary rule and mock outsiders for failing to adhere to it.

In my “Way” offshoot, we used to bristle whenever anyone said “good luck.” Luck, we were told, is when the devil takes his foot off the hose. Yeah, whatever pal. I just hope you do well on your math test, jerk.

While talking to John and Jack, there was a particular word that kept coming up. The word was “kenites.”

You see, after Eve had sex with the devil and bore Cain, Cain’s descendants became known as WAIT, WHAT?!?!?!

Yeah, that’s another sign you’re in a cult. When there’s a secret story behind the story you thought you knew so well, there’s a great big fat beautiful chance it was generated by a cult.

In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s the Star of Bethlehem. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Satan made and guided that star. Yup. He wanted the Magi to find Jesus so that Herod could kill him. You didn’t know that? It’s right there in Matthew Chapter Jehovah’s-Witnesses-Made-That-Up.

In The Way, there’s a hilarious theory (taught as truth) that Judas did not hang himself immediately after betraying Jesus. No (get this), he returned to the fold of the apostles, was forgiven by Jesus and remained in the company of the apostles until the beginning of Acts, when he finally is overcome with guilt and kills himself.

Don’t let a little thing like the Bible not mentioning a word of this dissuade you from this fascinating bit of early church trivia!

Anyway, for John and Jack, the fascinating new doctrine is that Adam was not Cain’s father. Satan (I don’t know the rule on capitalizing the S when it’s the first word of a sentence) was Cain’s father. And his descendants are the Kenites. And they’re not nice people. And I’m not saying they’re today’s Jews, but they’re totally today’s Jews.

I could barely contain my laughter. Listen, if you’re in a group that’s warning you about the Kenites, you’re in a cult. If you’re in a group that thinks capitalizing Satan’s name is an act of worship, you’re in a cult.

Take it from someone who’s been there. Twice.

Disclaimer: One might get the impression I’m talking about Pastor Arnold Murray and Shepherd’s Chapel in this post. That’s because I am.



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