I dislike the suggestion that all religions are cults, not because I’m such a fan of religion, but because cults are Extra Bad and not the same. I am greatly bothered by what I think of as “flattening” the impact of harm. I don’t like the Biblical idea that all sin is equal, nor the popular social justice refrain “all your faves are problematic.”
Some faves are a lot more problematic than others. Sure, no one is perfect, but the gap between imperfection and the serial sexual assault committed by Bill Cosby is where most human actions exist. The “problematic” humanity of his victims didn’t cause as much harm. My sins were mostly small and almost never directed outward. I primarily sinned against my self, yet I felt as guilty as possible.
As a child I truly believed all sin was equal. So, when an adult man sexually violated me, the overbearing guilt I felt over a shoplifted piece of candy should have been his. The group therapy for little girl victims of sexual assault that I attended after was held in the same office plaza as a chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and in my mind drunk driving and molestation became linked sins, as if a man who would do one might do the other.
All sin is not equal. All crimes are not equal. Different ways of being problematic are unequal. And churches aren’t all the same either. The Episcopal church I attended just before losing my faith offered free parenting classes, gave me money to pay an overdue utility bill, and the priest gave me his blessing to seek divorce. The cult I was born into abused me, tried to sell me in marriage, and permanently disabled me. They weren’t equally harmful, by any stretch of imagination.
Humans are too complex for simple binaries: God or sinner, pure or problematic, church or cult. We need ways of discussing harm that are more accurate and less simplistic. Because if everyone is a sinner and everyone is problematic and every church is a cult, there’s no point in those labels. They stop meaning what they mean. Even worse, there’s no point in learning how to tell the healthy from the unhealthy churches, or finding the celebrities worthy of admiration, or figuring out who in your personal life poses a risk to you or your children. Flattened harm is disguised harm, camouflaged by less harmful sinners, churches, and problematic faves.