Peterson & Hamblin On the Word “Cult”:

The following was written by Daniel Peterson and William Hamblin in the FARMS Review, 1999, in a review of How Wide the Divide? entitled “The Evangelical is Our Brother.” It addresses the issue of anti-Mormons using the term “cult” when referring to Mormonism.

In this light, we cheer the joint call by Professors Robinson and Blomberg to retire the term cult from discussions about Mormonism (p. 193). That word is deeply offensive and insulting to Latter-day Saints, and, while we can certainly understand its utility in stigmatizing and thus marginalizing us, it is hardly conducive to respectful conversation or good community relations. What if, for example, certain groups of people found themselves labeled jerks, idiots, and imbeciles, and discovered that they were being discussed in books bearing titles like Confronting the Jerks at Your Door, Chaos of the Cretins, and When Idiots Ask? It would not help much for some self-proclaimed “Ministry to Morons” to explain—as many have attempted to do with the word cult—that no offense was intended, that they were using the term imbecile in a technical and very precise way to refer, say, to pretribulationists or to those who deny the gift of tongues. Why choose such a demeaning word? Few evangelicals would acknowledge themselves to be “cretins” even if a self-anointed expert on cretinism pointed out that the term derives originally from the late Latin christianus, meaning “Christian,” via the early French chrétien, and that she was using it in a clinical and dispassionate way as a theological term. And it would hardly soften the insult of the title When Idiots Ask were the author of that book to explain that he intended the original sense of the Greek idiotes (“a private person,” “an individual”), as a scientifically neutral way of describing those who hold to their own opinions instead of to the classical creeds. The insulting character of words like idiot, imbecile, and cult renders them useless for serious interfaith discussion.9

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3 comments on “Peterson & Hamblin On the Word “Cult”:

  1. Matt says:

    The comparison in word use is very good, surely everyone who uses the word cult doesn’t even know what it means or is purposely trying to be insulting and contemptuous.

  2. James says:

    Thanks Matt, I obviously agree.

    When someone indicates that the LDS Church is a cult, I often ask them to define the word “cult”. Because they have never actually put much thought into that question before, they usually make up something on the spot that they regret later.

    For example, “Cults follow a charismatic leader.” So…..what about Jesus and his followers? Wasn’t Jesus a charismatic leader?

    That kind of thing is fun.

  3. Aaron says:

    I completely agree with this statement. Calling someone by a hurtful name (like cult) does not help the critics cause even if he/she can justify the use of the term. In the end, it just resorts to name calling and confusing the reader into thinking his/her family member or friend (who is a Mormon) is in a “Jonestown” like organization.

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