From what I can tell, "cult" is a word used by mainstream Christians to describe anyone who believes differently than they do.
Exactly. The term "cult" makes an Other out of religions alternative to the mainstream. Pagan gets used in a similar way, only, because of its Latin historical origins, it tends to demarcate that which is specifically non-Christian rather than say…Christian churches that perform snake-handling.
Anyway, by the definitions Brandon listed every spiritual practice people enjoin in can be considered a cult. However, because the term carries with it a pejorative connotation, no one is going to come out and readily agree that their form of worship is a cult. In addition, if everyone calls his or her religion a cult, then a new term would crop up for people to use when bad-mouthing another religion: which is really the crux of the term. Words like "cult", all racial slurs, and umbrella terms like "the homeless", "the rich", and "the people" are used primarily to distance the user and his or her audience from the group in question. If a person says, "The gays are taking over Hollywood and they’re filling the minds of our children with sexually deviant ideas" then that person is dehumanizing the group; it’s much easier to fall into an US vs. THEM mentality when people begin talking like that.
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