In Things Fall Apart, Achebe introduces two opposing societies - the African native culture, and the white missionary culture. Yet, it is hard to tell which society he would like his readers to deem “good,” and which to deem “evil.” Instead, he shows positive and negative aspects of both, reminding us that, as Uchendu says, “What is good among one people is abomination among others” (141).
I think this raises a question that relates to modern day: what differentiates a religion from a cult?
In the context of Things Fall Apart, I have gained a particular understanding, but I know it is probably just my own personal interpretation. I see the white missionaries as cultish, and the African natives’ practice as more religious. Why? The main differential point I see in the two is the idea of recruitment. While the Ibo people keep their practices to themselves, the missionaries come with the intention of “saving the heathens” and spreading their beliefs. Furthermore, it is only once the white newcomers infringe upon native traditions by threatening their gods that the natives act brusquely. The missionaries have a righteous air about them as they recruit new members, and through their insistent recruiting they make coexistence impossible.
The word “cult” typically has a negative connotation in modern society, but I believe sometimes it is applied to groups undeserving, and not often enough to those groups which are notorious for their recruiting. I view recruitment as an eerie, cultish practice, because to me it implies that an individual is somehow unable to make his/her own lifestyle decisions. In this sense, the groups that keep to themselves and do not aspire to grow or destruct the ideas of others are truly admirable.
How do you guys discern between “religion” and “cult” ?