by Greg Neyman
© Old Earth Ministries
First Published 4 March 2013
In my ten years of examining young earth creationists on this website, I have generally resisted using the term "cult" when referring to YEC's. My resistance to the use of this term, however, does not mean that I totally reject the idea of referring to YEC as a cult. I do believe that people who adhere to young earth creationism do in fact demonstrate many traits found in cults, and the leaders of the young earth movement, such as Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, use the same tactics used by cult leaders, in order to keep young earth followers in line with young earth teaching.
What Exactly is a Cult?
If you look up cult on Wikipedia, it is a negative term for "a religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre by the larger society." How does this tie into YEC? Our society today accepts that the earth is billions of years old, so our society would consider those who believe in a young earth to be abnormal. Society views YECs as rejecting modern scientific findings in favor of a theory that has no scientific proof. If we stick with this simple definition, then YEC easily qualifies as a cult.
Of course there is more to a cult than just beliefs. Cults can be characterized into different groups based on their beliefs. Just to name a few, there are religious cults, doomsday cults (fearing the end of the world), political cults (let's not get into that one), and destructive cults, who physically injure or kill members of their own group or outsiders. While YEC's fit the general definition of a cult, they are neither doomsday, political, or destructive (unless you count the fact that I've received threats from YEC's in the past). If they are to be considered a cult, they are simply a religious cult, who do not pose a threat to anyone.
How Does One Become a Cult Member?
The psychological aspects of why someone joins a cult has been studied in depth. The most often quoted study was done in the 1960's, by a sociologist John Lofland. He noted that the efforts of the cult members to win new converts were ineffective, and that most of the people who joined did so because of personal relationships with other members (often family members). This sounds a lot like young earth creationists. They are mostly ineffective in evangelizing society in general, due to society's acceptance of modern science.
Where does YEC get their converts? Looking at YEC websites, they are full of articles on how important it is to teach children to believe in a young earth...they know that the only way they can survive in the future is if they indoctrinate children while they are young. This is particularly effective, as young children during their formative years are much more easily trained (indoctrinated, brainwashed).
YEC websites also present articles with testimonies from adults who convert to YEC (such as this example, from last week). If you look at their past, before they became a firm believer in YEC, there was usually some type of young earth influence in their life, so that later on in life, when they are evangelized by a young earth creationist, or are bombarded by young earth propaganda, they respond, because the seeds for YEC were already planted years prior to this time. As a general rule, modern scientists and lay people, who accept that the earth is billions of years old, only vary rarely convert to YEC belief.
What about Cult Tactics
On the homepage of this website is a link to a video series by a retired police detective, who had training in cult issues. He lists five cult tactics that are commonly used by cults, which he also sees in young earth ministries:
1. Convince followers that everyone else is wrong.
2. Misrepresent God's Word and change what the Bible really means.
3. Mix in just enough truth to make the lies believable
4. Other teachings present a danger to the religion or society as a whole.
5. Warn followers to never listen to other doctrines or they will be deceived.
Can you see these five tactics when you think about young earth creationists? If you have ever argued with a young earth creationist, you know that he/she is convinced that you are wrong, and that your old earth views present a danger to the Christian religion. How many articles have you seen on young earth sites, warning followers of the dangers of millions of years, or the dangers of evolution? Too many to count! Have you ever been successful at getting a YEC to listen to your explanation about an old earth, and have them give it serious thought? Sure it's happened, but not often. Most YEC's are trained to ignore any doctrine contrary to a young earth, and they are very good at it. When you present them with solid scientific evidence, do they accept it? Usually not. They are impervious to scientific truth...it rolls off them like water off a duck.
The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) lists characteristics associated with cultic groups. YEC's do not fit every characteristic, but here are the ones they do fit:
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the truth, as law (i.e. Ken Ham and others are idolized...for example, the proposed Creation Hall of Fame)
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (which is why Ken Ham broke with the Australian branch of Answers in Genesis in 2006)
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.
...(members) often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group (I occasionally post emails sent to the ministry. In some emails I receive, the YEC's asks that I keep our conversation private, for fear of their friends finding out)
Do we call young earth creationism a cult? If you look at the loose definition of a cult, YEC fits the description. If you look at the five cult tactics used to keep members believing in the cult, YEC leaders are guilty of using all five tactics. However, YEC's fit some, but not all, of the characteristics of a cult. I've only listed some of the considerations for cult identification--I'm certain there are more factors to consider.
I believe one can call them a cult, but I also recognize that others are uncomfortable doing so, and I respect their hesitation to call YEC's a cult. Most of us have YEC friends, so calling them cult members may be a little uncomforatble.
Even if we consider them a cult, we should not go around calling YEC's cultists. If we want to reach them with the truth, we don't want to immediately turn them off and make them mad. I believe the issue of reaching a YEC, and breaking him free of the mind control techniques of young earth ministries, needs to be studied in-depth.
One could say why bother? We are both Christians, so let each other be. The reason this is so important, I believe, is because of the great harm that young earth creationism is doing to the church. Think back to the definition at the top of the page... "a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre by the larger society." Do we want the church to be considered by our society to be abnormal? I certainly don't! YEC's are making a concerted effort to push their beliefs upon the church, and it is causing great harm to the church. I believe we must fight their efforts, for the survival of the church.
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"I'd like or start off by saying how much of an inspiration you've become to me. I absolutely love this website, it has helped me defend myself in so many ways. You see, I'm 15, and live in a rural area where everyone seems to base their beliefs on YECism. The churches in my area take the same stance. I've always been a heavy believer in a Old Earth, and firmly believe that Science and Scripture do not have to be two separate things. Because of this, I have had my beliefs attacked time and time again by fellow Christians saying that I cannot believe in Old Earth and be a Christian at the same time. I try to respectfully defend myself and always make sure it's known that my goal isn't to "convert" anyone, just to get them to understand that even though I'm a believer in a Old Earth, I am still a devoted Christian! My arguments never seem to be strong enough, though. I can knock down many if their arguments, but sometimes they pull out one I don't have an answer for, and they use that said argument as proof saying I'm completely wrong. Thanks to this site, though, I've now been able to prepare myself for whatever is thrown at me, and am reassured that I truly can believe in a Old Earth and be Christian! I cannot thank you enough, and I look forward to using my new Geologist's Hammer!"