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The word adherent can be used as an adjective. In that case, it means that the object being described is stuck to a surface.

However, adherent is more commonly used as a noun. In that case, it refers to a person who follows (adheres to) a philosophy, a political party or a set of ideals.

There are, of course, millions of adherents of the various religions still around today. Some ancient religions used to have adherents, but rarely do today. When someone follows a religion that was thought to have long ago become extinct, it is rarer to refer to that person as an adherent than as a nut job.

Speaking of nut jobs, how can you tell the difference between an adherent of a religion and an adherent of a cult. It sounds like I’m leading into a joke, but I’m not. That’s a serious question. What’s a religion, what’s a cult, and where do you draw the line between the two? And why is an adherent of the former considered normal, while an adherent of the latter is considered to be looney tunes?

How do you identify a cult? Some people believe that, whether it’s an offshoot of an existing religion or not, if a group believes that a seemingly normal, currently living human being is a deity, the child of a deity or a prophet of a deity then that group is a cult.

If that’s what you believe and you are a Christian then would you call believers of Jesus who were alive at the time of Jesus a cult? No? So, why are people who believe in a currently living human child of a deity a cult?

Or, if you are a Muslim, what would you say about people living at the time of the Prophet Mohammed who believed that he was a prophet of Allah? Would you label them a cult?

Groups that believe that space aliens created humans and those aliens will one day come to Earth, rescue believers from our troubled world and take them into space with the aliens are also usually labelled as cults. Yet Western religions usually don’t believe that their gods are confined to earthly boundaries. So, isn’t He a space alien. In addition, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have variations on End Times myths, in which their god will rescue believers from whatever tribulations are to befall our material world. It doesn’t sound very different from those space alien “cults,” does it?

So, is someone an adherent of a religion or a cult? The primary difference between religions and cults is how many adherents they’ve gathered and held onto to-date. There’s strength in numbers. Everyone else is a cult.

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