Sect is known to the group of people faithful to an ideology or religious doctrine, and that is presented in a sector or section that emerges from a broader set. Or, a group that has broken away, separated or cut off from a larger one, in all cases the word sect has a connotation of rupture or division.
Originally it began to be used to name communities or political parties with common affinities such as: religion, esoteric, political, cultural; The same that through their rites or teachings differed from other social groups.
It was later that the word sect began to take the meaning of ‘heresy’, or separatist beliefs or group that diverges from its original source, or that differs from the religions with more followers, almost always showing pejorative connotations.
It was in the 80’s that it was given the title of “religious movements”, this in order to differentiate it from the popular negative concept of “sects”, and thus avoid its persecution of minorities. At present, the civil authorities ensure the eradication of several sects that have historically been dangerous to the health and integrity of their members and society .
Sect comes from the Latin ‘sequi’ from which sectatorios and sectátor come from: ‘segudor’, ‘adherent’. Its more concrete meaning is related to the idea of separation. The less pejorative term like “new religious movements” is also used to refer to innocuous sects.
The problem of terminology is of great importance since it is defined from different areas of thought and the way in which science classifies it. Some English-speaking sociologists use the word sect: cult, creed, or sect. They consider them religious groups that reflect a high degree of tension, but within them each belief is consolidated as absolute truth.
In ancient times, those who followed the teachings of a philosopher to the letter were considered “sectarian.” The writings show that the first Christians were labeled ‘Sect of the Nazarenes’, as the Jews recognized them (Acts 24: 5).
In the NT and the Pauline letters the word hairesis (lesson, chosen, alternative, faction) is used to refer to the subdivisions of Judaism and the divisions within the Christian community.
Among the first Christians, the word hairesis began to be used more frequently to refer to the deviations of dissident Christian groups from the original community, over time they were considered as heresies, that is, false doctrine, this even more so when it was he compared them to a definite orthodoxy.
This idea was consolidated and supported by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and was then forcefully applied to the ‘Lutheran sect’ or Protestants, who had separated from them for not respecting the doctrines they professed. However, this definition was dropped in the 20th century.
There are religions where the term sect is still applied to all that different doctrinal thinking. The American Episcopal Methodist pastor and minister Charles Samuel Braden gave this definition: “A sect, as I define it, is a religious group that does not accept the thoughts and practices of religious groups that contain normal speech guidelines.”
Controversies generated by the Sects
Since ancient times sects have been synonymous with controversies, the accusations for which several problems have been generated are:
- Restrictions on the freedom of worship against the sects due to their practices and the legal measures that have been applied, and within them due to the prohibitions of the leaders against the abandonment of said group.
- Restriction of religious freedom recognized by international law and national constitutions towards emerging religious groups, whether they are a minority or not.
- Restrictions on the freedom of expression of the members of the groups, mainly the State.
- Restrictions on the free movement of group members within and outside a nation.
- State interference in moral or belief matters within the group.
- Economic exploitation of members for long hours of work and under a minimum wage. In addition to the vulnerability of children and sexual abuse.
- Tax evasion, fraud, breaking of laws, among other statutes.
- Worship the leader of the group, which at the same time gives you full control over each member.
- Inability for some children to access education, medical care and visits from relatives outside their group.
Tragic events caused by cults
There are isolated cases of violence caused by sectarian leaders and sects themselves, below we show the most famous cases.
- Seventies: Ervil LeBaron, who was the leader of the ‘Lamb of God’ sect that had split from the Mormons, orders the murder of 25 of his main rivals.
- Seventies: Paul Schafer, leader of ‘Colonia Dignidad’ in Chile, sexually abused children and tortured political opponents of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
- 1978: The ‘Temple of the Peoples’ a religion that ordered its 900 members to commit suicide, this happened in Guyana.
- Eighties: The ‘Nation of Yahweh’ sect, led by Yahweh Ben Yahwwh is sentenced for nearly two dozen murders.
- 1984: several bars in the city of The Dalles in Oregon were victims of the follower of the guru Osho who infected with salmonella to more than 750 infected individuals.
- 1989, Jeffrey Lundgren, leader of a separate sect of Mormons, murdered five members of a family that had retired. This happened in Kirtland, Ohio, in 2006 he was executed.
- 1993: There were disturbances of the sect called the Davidians, in this confrontation 4 policemen and 80 members of the sect died. It happened in the USA.
- 1994: The Order of the Solar Temple sect decided a mass suicide of 74 members, this massacre stopped until 1997.
- 1995: the Aum Shinrijyo sect commits an attack on the Tokyo subway with poison gas. In this event, 12 people died and another 1000 were injured. This is considered the attack of a sect against people outside of them in modern history .
- 1998: the members of the Training Center for the liberation of Atma energy are arrested and accused of attempting to carry out ritual suicides in Parque de España.
- 2000: in March of that year the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God that was located in Uganda assassinated more than 1,000 of its members.
- 2002: Deguisers of Swami Omkarananda, founder of the Divine Light Center sect, attempted to assassinate his opponents.
Cults and their legal definition today
In sociological, legal, religious and scientific contexts, the term sect is rarely used . Today religious groups are called ‘organizations’ or ‘religious movements’ .
Max Weber claims that the difference between a sect and a church is the growth mechanism. In concrete terms, a cult is a dynamic community, in it people must make a personal decision and after a thorough examination of the cult the member can join. As churches, according to Weber, a cultural identity is inherited.
Peter L. Berger, sees in a sect a mechanism of collective self-sufficient organization for the minority. Its philosophical basis is an orthodoxy, the anthological truth of an earlier concept. A community or organization where understanding the fundamentals of life become dangerous and blasphemous. Peter L. asserts that inculcating true doctrine requires an organized influence, and not just an indoctrination of each human being.
Another of the strongest currents differentiates a sect from a church based on the foundations of ideologies. In a “normal” religious ideology you will never find conflicts to cope with your social environment.
Bainbridge and Stark define religion as an organization created by humans with the objective of preparing compensation for people’s deprivations based on supernatural assumptions. These indoctrinations are based on three dimensions:
- Earthly or worldly: awarding worldly privileges, primarily in churches.
- In another world: donations to comfort people devastated by tragedies, mainly in cults.
- Universal dimension: the fulfillment of the deepest desires of each person without seeing their social situation.
H, Richard Nieburhr assures that the birth of new sects are schismatic movements of the great churches , and over time these tend to be movements that attend to the deepest need of each person, but that if they fail to cover it, more divisions arise. Based on the above, he considers that the transitions between the Sect and the Church are smooth.
Another current ensures that the real difference between a sect and a church is the number of followers. In the sects you see small groups, but it must be considered that Christianity and other religions also began being labeled as sects as they were a minority, this changed until they became numerous groups and were then considered as a religion.
Groups that promise compensation are distinguished by these magical promises especially of manipulation of the environment for their own purposes, or of general compensation according to a universal model that explains the world. This distinction dates back to Emile Durkheim.
Generally the “magic” offered by these sects arises when scientific data is not accepted . That is why most sects are based on magic and that leads them to grow, this was the case of the Dianetics sect, which over time became a pseudoscience in a Church of Scientology.
New religious movements
Because initially the word “sect” was used as a pejorative and arbitrary use, in the seventies and eighties, some sociology and theology students began to leave it in disuse to give way to a new term like “new religious movements”. In this way, references were made to any newly created religious, spiritual and ethical group.