How Cults become religionsWatch
You could say that all religions were once a cult, but that not all cults intend to, or ever will, be a religion. However, there very much are distinct differences between what makes a religion and what makes a cult.
- Cults will tend to limit information flow about other beliefs --> e.g. Scientology (cult) - it's not until you get into the upper echelons of the Church of Scientology that you find out they believe in an alien lord named Xenu/Xemu who is the head of the "Galactic Confederacy"; compared to the Roman Catholic Church, the largest denomination of Christianity, has all of its teachings available on the Vatican website (particularly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which specifically outlines Church doctrine and teachings)
- Cults will penalize people with negative punishments, rather than reward with positive things (this is a common way to distinguish mainstream religions and their cult equivalent)
- Cults will break your spirit before you join them. This often involves telling someone how terrible they are (good way of identifying a cult missionary from a regular missionary) and how their cult can fix you
- Cults usually demand money rather than voluntary giving. Many cults hide this ‘demand’ behind a need to buy specific equipment or books --> e.g. Scientology - you need to keep purchasing these books, lessons, auditing, etc. to advance in the Church of Scientology, whereas in the Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) you can voluntary donate/give things to your temple/church/mosque (just because they suggest you should doesn't mean you have to, unlike how money is required in the Church of Scientology)
Take mainstream Christianity (eg. Presbyterian Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Anglicans (Church of England), etc) as an example: it is open to their members learning about other religions, supports both its members and welcomes new people positively, They promote instant forgiveness (particularly the protestants), And they do not demand a tithe. Mainstream Christians are usually willing to provide a bible for less than production cost, or even free.
Religions try to persuade their members, cults try to control their members. Religions put the power in the believer, cults put the power in the leader.