What is a cult? There are many definitions for the word. For example, for the first few hundred years of Christianity, the religion was considered a dangerous Jewish cult by the Romans. So we must be clear what we are talking about. Today, the word ‘cult’ has very unique connotations. A cult can be a very dangerous and damaging phenomenon. When many people think of cults, they think of David Koresh or Jim Jones. These were charismatic figures who brainwashed people and then took them to some isolated area and were cut off from the outside world. We know that David Koresh then led his followers into a bloody standoff with government agents in Waco, Texas, where they were burned alive in a dramatic last stand. And we know that Jim Jones led his people to South America where everyone committed suicide together by drinking poison. These are clearly examples of dangerous ‘cults.’ Therefore, to be safe, we should honestly investigate whether or not any new religion is a dangerous cult.
The Baha’i Faith, by this definition, cannot be considered a cult. It does not cut people off from the outside world. In fact, Baha’is are encouraged to serve, respect, and love their families. For example, Baha’i marriage requires that the groom and bride get consent from the parents—whether or not they are Baha’is. Is this isolating? Is this dangerous? If anything it respects the family so much that it often drives Baha’i brides and bridegrooms crazy, and it serves the purpose of maintaining family unity. Additionally, the Baha’i Faith is not dominated by charismatic figures. All leadership in the Faith is elected for set periods, and all decisions are made by majority vote. Baha’is also do not brainwash. Instead they have a fundamental principle of ‘individual investigation of truth.’ This means that no one can tell you what to believe; instead you must investigate truth for yourselves. Finally, suicide is against the Baha’i Faith, and so is disobeying the government, so Baha’is cannot have standoffs with the ATF or commit mass suicides in the jungles of Central America. Clearly the Baha’i Faith is not a cult by these standards.
But the word ‘cult’ is often thrown around irresponsibly by people. People often put everything they do not agree with into a general catch-all category of ‘cult.’ So Baptists might call all Muslims cultists. Catholics could call Presbyterians cultists. Orthodox Christians could call Mormons cultists. Everyone could call everyone else cultists, and vice-versa. For a Baha’i this is all immaterial and unimportant. As Baha’u’llah said, we must guard ourselves against such religious fanaticism that leads to bigotry, closed-mindedness, and fear. As is written in the Bible, “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31)—not a slave to fear, superstition, hate, tradition, and dogma. Baha’u’llah wrote, “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.” (ESW, p. 13).