How do you distinquish a sect from a religion?

The Mormons have given Cardinal Cassidy the “John Simpson Standing for Something(?)” award. I wonder how he reacted? I wonder if he had to turn up to the award giving ceremony? I wonder how he felt? If it were me, I would have felt pretty silly.

It is very easy to see what the motivation is in this handing out of awards. There is an ancient saying (or at least there should be) that “giving awards honours the giver”. I have seen other groups use this method as a way of gaining respectability in the Interfaith world.

The difficulty we are facing in this new world of interfaith harmony, is how to distinguish between a religion and a sect. The new VCC document “One Faith – Multifaith” document speaks of “the great religions” that have “stood the test of time”, in such a way as to exclude the newer international sects, such as scientologists, Mormons and (what used to be called) the Unification Church or Moonies. This is what I call the “respectability by longevity” principle, and I have heard it defended on the basis of the Gamaliel Principle from Acts 4 “If it is not of God, it will not last”.

However, at this time, there is an increasing desire on behalf of these new sects to be regarded as venerable traditoins and to take their place at the Interfaith table. How do we react? We need a better theology than the “longevity principle”, which, after all, is not even closely adhered to in the Interfaith club. For some reason, the Club is happy to allow the Bahai religion a place at the table, when they are surely no more “respectable” or “ancient” than the Mormons (just more in touch with the “enlightened” relativistic syncretic modern ideas of religion).

If we are going to start accepting awards from these groups, we better have an answer ready when we fail to invite them to the next interfaith do.

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