The term sect comes from the Latin “secta” and is a description of a movement, political party, school or teaching. Basically, in our linguistic usage a sect means the separation of a religious community from its mother church. Unlike the classical schism within a church, where there are no fundamental new theological views in the divided parties after the separation, sects are often founded precisely because of possible theological differences within the church.
Sect – From late antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages, there have been major church schisms and divisions, such as the separation of the Eastern and Western Churches around 1054 CE, the Western schism within the Catholic Church in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the Reformation in the 16th century initiated by Martin Luther. From the beginnings of the reformation there were ever more splits, also within the reformed churches. Up to the present day, hundreds of new denominations have emerged in this way – all with a Christian background, apart from the many non-Christian sects and groups.
If the term sect or the meaning of this word is analysed in a neutral way, the result is that most people who belong to a religious denomination today are members of a sect. However, in the recent past, the term sect has been applied, usually in a very emotional way, to smaller churches and faith communities that may have different values and world views than the great masses. It has even been misused to impose a stigma on followers of another faith, thus negatively influencing this neutral term.
Since then, the term “sect” has been misused by all kinds of organizations for propaganda purposes. Members of religious, spiritual groups or simply dissidents have often been defamed and discredited, perhaps because there is a lack of understanding for them among the population. From this follows a so-called fighting term. It is almost as strongly charged as the term “Nazi”, although in contrast to National Socialism it does not mean a tyrannical or dictatorial movement. The trivialisation of National Socialism through the incorrect use of the term “Nazi” is almost as manipulative as calling a dissenting opinion a cult member. From what has already been explained, it is clear that by definition no mystery school or esoteric school of thought can be a sect!
Since it has already been mentioned that most of the so-called churches are in fact sects – and since we are free to choose our own world view, religion or cult practice on the basis of the freedom of religion, which is anchored in human rights – the question is actually much more about whether a grouping is “dangerous” for a society or not. Steven Hassan, a US-American psychologist, has developed the B.I.T.E. model for this purpose, which can be used to assess the influence of a group. B.I.T.E. stands for the control of the following areas exercised by the group:
According to the intensity with which the individual areas are controlled by the group, conclusions can be drawn as to the dangerousness of this community. However, this is usually impossible for outsiders, because psychogroups and dangerous groups often appear to be more harmless to the outside world than they are. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the common definitions that so-called “recognized” churches use for “dangerous” sects themselves apply 1:1 to them as well!