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Is Christ Another Cult?

Prisca escaped a campus cult, only to be confronted with Christianity. Now Professor Theophilus is trying to explain the difference between the two.

In the last episode of Office Hours we broke off just as Prisca declared to Professor Theophilus that having escaped from her pseudo-Christian cult, she wanted nothing more to do with Jesus Christ:

The wariness around Prisca’s eyes turned into anger. “I think the whole Christian religion is a cult. Don’t you see it? ‘Cult’ is just a name for someone else’s religion. Sarah says ‘Jesus’ makes her religion different, but The Group talks about ‘Jesus’ too. If it hadn’t been for Sarah I might never have listened to their ‘Jesus’ talk. It was ‘Jesus’ who took away my family, ‘Jesus’ who took away my friends, ‘Jesus’ who made me beg strangers for money, ‘Jesus’ who put me on the Shun List, and ‘Jesus’ who gave me only four hours of sleep a night.”

Facing me, she declared in dark tones, “I’ve had enough ‘Jesus,’ Professor.”

We now resume Prisca’s story:

I thought for a little while before I gave her my reply. Her eyes were fixed on me. Secretly I asked God for insight.

“Prisca, could it be that you’re talking about “another Jesus”?

It’s difficult for anyone to be altogether angry and altogether puzzled at the same time. Her anger receded by a few millimeters as she warily considered my question.

“What do you mean?”

“Would you read something for me?”

She was still suspicious, but now even more perplexed. “Out loud?”

“If you don’t mind. That way you can be sure I’m not deceiving you.”

“I suppose. Do you mean something from the Bible?”

“Yes, from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Begin reading here in chapter 11, if you don’t mind.” I handed her the book.

“Which verses?”

“Just start with number three.”

Stiffly, Prisca began to read. “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached” — she glanced up at me, then continued — “or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different Gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

She paused. “Is Paul complaining because these Corinthians had been taken in by a cult?”

“Something like that,” I said. “When he explained the Gospel to them, they received it gladly. But they were very new in the faith, and they bent this way and that according to what they heard from other would-be teachers. Take a look at what he says in the next verse.”

“But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles,'” she read. Instead of looking up, she continued to study the page. Then with a short, wry laugh, she faced me. She was almost smiling. I had rarely known anyone whose moods changed so rapidly.

“So you think I was led astray by ‘super-apostles,’ do you, Professor Theophilus?”

“What do you think, Prisca? Did The Group teach the same Gospel that you heard from Sarah and found in the Bible?”

“No. They said Jesus wasn’t God and Man but a man who became God, and that by doing the right things, we could all become God, too. As for the Bible, they said it was full of errors.”

“That sure sounds like ‘another Jesus’ to me.”

She fell into thought. Then her eyes darkened with renewed suspicion, and I realized that her mood was swinging back. “Wait a minute,” she demanded. “I said Christianity is just another cult. You haven’t denied that. We’re merely talking about what kind of cult it is.”

“You mean that I’ve only shown you that Christianity is a more biblical cult than The Group was.”

“If you understand me, then what’s your answer?”

I meditated. “Some theologians do use the word ‘cult’ to mean ‘religion.’ I certainly don’t deny that Christianity is a religion. Is it just the fact that it’s a religion that bothers you?”

“No, I don’t have a problem with that.”

“Other people use the word to mean not any religion, but an abusive, manipulative religion like The Group. Did you find Sarah and the Christians you got to know through her abusive and manipulative?”

“Well, no.”

“Still other people use the word ‘cult’ for a false religion. The Group’s beliefs are certainly contrary to the Gospel. The question, then, is whether you now think the Gospel itself is false.”

“I can’t say for sure that it’s false. It’s just that at this point I find it pretty hard to believe that it’s true.”

“But why?”

Prisca flashed again. “Because I’ve been burned! What else have we been talking about? Isn’t it obvious?”

“Why should that make a difference?”

She was dumfounded. “You must be crazy to ask me that. How could it not make a difference?”

I smiled a little. “I’m not unsympathetic, Prisca. I know that you suffered in The Group. But I’m a teacher. I try to rely on logic. How one feels about a line of reasoning doesn’t determine whether the conclusion of the reasoning is true.”

“I don’t understand you at all.”

“It’s like this. Before getting mixed up with The Group, you heard the Gospel from Sarah and accepted it as true. When she first explained it, didn’t you have any objections?”

“Of course I did. I didn’t like hearing that I had a sin problem and needed a Savior.”

“Did she reply by telling you to accept the Gospel anyway because it would make you feel good?”

“That would have been stupid. Besides, I just told you that my first feelings about the Gospel were bad.”

“How did she really reply to your objections?”

“She answered them by giving me reasons to believe that what she said was true.”

“Just as I would have expected her to. So at what point in these conversations did you accept the Gospel?”

“When I was — No. Not when I was convinced. When I was convinced, and also willing to admit that I was convinced.”

“Now listen carefully. Sarah gave you reasons to believe. Since that time, have you found any better reasons not to believe?”

“It just seems made-up to me now.”

“What do you mean, ‘seems’?”

“I mean that after what I’ve been through, it feels unreal. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but listen to what you just said. It feels unreal. That’s an expression of a feeling, not of a reason.”

“I suppose so.”

“So I put the question to you again. Since hearing the Gospel from Sarah, have you found better reasons to disbelieve it than the reasons she gave you to believe?”

She hesitated. “I would have said so at the time I joined The Group. But my main motive was the desire to belong. It’s not as though I reconsidered Sarah’s reasoning and saw through it.”

“Then aren’t the reasons Sarah offered you for believing the Gospel just as strong as they ever were?”

“I guess — Now that you put it — I never thought —” Prisca trailed off into an agitated silence. But that wasn’t the end, for on her face I saw the slow dark signs of yet another change. She gathered up her energies.

“The heck I don’t have a better reason for disbelief!” she exclaimed. “I’ll tell you my better reason! If Jesus is so strong, so wise, so full of love that he knows when the sparrow falls, then why didn’t He care enough to stop me?”

We had reached the crux of the matter — you might say the Cross of it. It was so unfair, I thought. She was blaming Christ that she had abandoned Him, instead of accepting the forgiveness that He had won for her with His blood. Instead of thanking Him for bearing her guilt, she was calling it His and making Him bear it. It wasn’t so much her unfairness that bore me down, as God’s. I had talked and talked, yet we were back where we had started. Why did He make it so hard?

So unfair. Job had thought so too. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” I murmured. It was God’s answer to Job when he demanded the reason for his sufferings.

“What are you saying?” she demanded. “I can’t make out your words.”

God’s answer had been enough for Job. It might have been for Prisca. Then again, God had answered Job from out of the whirlwind. No whirlwind here. Just me. So unfair.

For a moment I resented Him almost as much as she did, because He wasn’t present to help. Then I caught myself and repented, and in that moment I knew exactly in what manner He was present.

“He did stop you,” I said.

“What?” she asked, face flushed. “What are you talking about?”

“I said He did stop you. It took Him longer because you pushed Him away. Didn’t he send Sarah to you? And then, through her, to me? And then, through me, to your parents?”

There was something in her face I couldn’t identify. Anger was still there, but it wasn’t anger.

“Who do you think was doing all those things, Prisca? It wasn’t Sarah. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t your parents. He did stop you. He is stopping you even now. That is the measure of His love.”

Silence, then a wracking sound. At first I thought it was rage, then I recognized it for a sob. Just then Sarah appeared at the door, eyes round as saucers as they took in the scene.

In minutes they were gone. They had done those things God has gifted young women to do; Sarah, of course, began crying before she even knew why Prisca was. I believe there was a great quantity of hugging.

Slowly my breath steadied. I read a psalm.

Copyright 1999 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

J. Budziszewski

Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

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