While I was a Mormon, and even after the transition out, I wondered why I would hear Mormons referred to as a "cult". Cults, to me, were sects like Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, Jonestown (Peoples Temple), and usually anything that is associated with the occult.
According to Webster's dictionary, any religious group can be considered a cult. I believe that the definition of cult, and the idea of cult are two different things. The idea of cult has mostly a negative connotation. So I did some research and found this checklist on www.csj.org. This is from a group called International Cultic Studies Association. I took the checklist and added my own experience with Mormons, mostly to prove to myself why I used to be a member of a cult. Please, if you can think of other related things, post a comment.
Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups:
Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
*The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
Follow the prophet. Praise to the man.
*Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
September 6, temple worthiness interview.
*Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
Chanting: recitation of articles of faith, YW theme, hosanna shout. Other mind-altering practices: bearing of testimonies, fear of consequences (such as outer darkness) Debilitating work routines: 3 hours of church, various meetings on Sunday, YW/YM night once a week, RS once a month, temple attendance once a week, family home evening on Monday, date night, etc.
*The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
Perfect the Saints, Word of Wisdom, standards of 'chastity', family home evening, date night, interviews with Bishop and SP for marital permission (if temple marriage).
*The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
"Peculiar people", "one true church", "celestial kingdom", "redeem the dead".
*The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
"Mission field", honed duty to "Proclaim the Gospel", "one true church".
*The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
Gordon B. Hinkley is accountable for the whole church, yet the church has no say what he does. There is no sustaining vote to buy up property for new temples. The way tithing money is spent is not up to the people, and it’s not accounted for in detail.
*The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Countless stories about guilt with masturbation, questioning existing or new revelation, drinking caffeinated sodas, having too few (or no) children.
*Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
Focus shifts to "what can I do for my church?" upon membership. Family members cannot witness a marriage that takes place in a temple.
*The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
"Proclaim the Gospel". 52,000 fulltime missionaries in the field.
*The group is preoccupied with making money.
Temple attendance is conditional on full payment of tithing. Temple attendance is 'required' for eternal exaultation.
*The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
This was me about 1 year ago. Another thing is that they absolutely cannot recognize it as a cult until they are outside looking in.