5 Distinguishing Features Of A Cult – And How To Tell It

There are a lot of people each year that fall victim to those that want to take advantage of a vulnerability. This can happen in the form of convincing someone to join a cult, which is defined as “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” From the outside, you can be fed a bill of lies that sound good on paper but can end up being dangerous.

Then, there are those that truly want to help you through organized religion, which in most cases can be great for your spirituality and help you find meaning. If you’ve had people try to convince you to join any sort of organization, there are ways to tell the difference between a cult and religion. Here are five distinguishing features between the two.


The most surefire way that you can tell the difference between a cult and an organized religion is the sheer size of the group. If someone asks you to join a following where there are only a dozen people or so, then that’s almost a guarantee that it’s a cult. Religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and more have millions of followers around the world.

When it comes to these small groups, there is often a leader that’s trying to get people to follow them and they aren’t too concerned with developing a large following, they just want a loyal one. A cult is defined as having a following of at least two people but can be upward of a few thousand. If it isn’t in the millions or even hundreds or tens of thousands, you’ve probably come across a cult.


Any legit organized religion will never, ever expect you to spend your hard-earned money on them. Sure, many of them will ask if there’s anything that you can give to help the congregation go as there are bills to pay when operating an establishment, but nothing should ever be expected. When it comes to a cult, though, you’re typically expected to invest almost all of your time and money.

In most cases, all of that money will go to the person (or handful of people) that’s leading the cult. There have been a lot of horror stories from those that escaped a cult that said that they had $0 to their name when they got out. That’s because a cult leader wants you to be entirely dependent on them.

Governmental Recognition

There are well over 200 organized religions that have been listed by the United States Department of Defense. This list is often changing with new actual religions that pop up every now and then that have shown that they don’t have cult-like behaviors. The first thing that you should do when offered to join a new organization is to check and see if it’s on the DoD’s list.

If it’s nowhere to be found, it’s either a brand new religion with good intentions that could one day be on the list, or it could be a cult. Either way, it’s best to wait and see if the organization gets added before you commit to anything. After all, even Jedi from the “Star Wars” franchise is listed as an officially recognized religion because it doesn’t have cult-like features.

Belief System

In almost all religions, there is a belief in a higher power. In a cult, however, almost all belief is put into the leader of that cult. Religion worships either a supernatural being or someone that has departed the Earth long ago, and a leader of a cult will often think that they themselves are gods that are walking amongst mere mortals.

Always check on what the belief system of an organization is and who is worshipped. There should be a clearly stated mission that the organization follows, and if there’s the worship of the leader, then that’s an instant red flag that there’s a cult. You can also check to see if there are other legit religions that share very similar interests that would help make the group valid.

Recruiting Process

We’ve all had people knock on our door to try and get us to join their religion. You can easily tell which ones are legitimate religions when they simply leave you alone when you don’t want to join. For cults, though, they can be extremely persistent and hope that you give in and join.

When you’re being contacted regularly in hopes of recruiting you to join an organization, it should be a college sports team. Anyone that tries to get you to join an actual religion will never be that persistent as you’re free to choose any worship that you want.

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