I would define "cult" as any form of faith or belief that is based on an unfounded commitment: a "blind belief," a "blind leap of faith."

To be sure, the believer may be altogether sincere.

The doctrines or teachings espoused may appear altogether noble.

The objectives may seem idealistic and commendable.

Nonetheless, if the commitment is based on purely personal feelings and emotions, if it is devoid of any rational foundation and lacks valid "reasons for the belief" (be they historical or philosophical), then we have no choice but to condemn it as a cult.

This definition applies to any form of theological or philosophical system that is charged with practical consequences; i.e., that would commit its adherents to adopt a distinct way of life and practices.

To determine who would fall into this category one may simply ask: "Why do you follow or accept your belief?"

If the answer contains:

(i) a reason that is more or less defensible from a logical point of view; or

(ii) a reason (or form of reasoning) that the proponent would consider or respect when presented to him in defense of a view differing from (or opposing) his own, then he has shown fair justification for himself.

To be sure, in the latter case he need not necessarily accept the conclusions derived from the other's premises. He may have equally good or better reasons to move into an altogether different direction; but he can at least understand and appreciate the other position - "it does make some sense."

If, however, the premises and conclusions can be shown to be blatantly untrue or invalid; if the reasoning is inconsistent and logically untenable; if the proponent would not accept his own kind of "reasoning" and "proof" when offered by another to justify a radically different or opposite approach, and just stubbornly proclaims:

"Just believe! Just accept!" - then he is shown to be self- serving, senseless, acting out of ignorance and/or pure emotionalism.

He is not reasoning but rationalizing.

He is not in pursuit of truth but of self-justification.

He is mentally blind; irrational; in effect - dishonest.

His system is no better than the worst he would condemn in others.

This yardstick must be applied to the realm of religion more than anywhere else.

For religion is by definition all-encompassing; comprehensive.

When speaking of G‑d and religion we are dealing with ultimate truth, the most important thing in life.

We are not talking about transient values, momentary gains, about "take-it-or-leave-it" propositions. We are not involved with wagers, taking chances.

To the believer, religion is everything.

It relates to his soul, as opposed to his body.

It relates to salvation, as opposed to comforts.

It relates to eternity, as opposed to the here-and-now.

It relates to absolute truth, as opposed to pragmatism or efficiency.

When it comes to buying a used car, or even the simple purchase of a common item, we make the effort to investigate, to evaluate, to consider carefully that the article is worth the surrender of our money.

We all know the relative value of money, and that the loss of even a substantial sum is not an insurmountable tragedy. Yet we go out of our way to protect this transient property.

When it comes to obtaining medical advice, even of a non-vital nature, we make the effort to investigate, to evaluate, to consider carefully, that the doctor is a reliable and conscientious authority.

In more serious cases, as for an operation - even when there are no life-threatening consequences - we go out of our way to obtain a second opinion, preferably the opinion of specialists in the field.

Anyone in his right mind goes out of his way to protect his physical well-being and comfort, and to insure his worldly property and possessions - notwithstanding the fact that these are but transient, here-and-now, and can be protected only up to a certain limit and degree.

How much more so then, must we be careful, critical and investigative when it comes to matters of religion - matters of spiritual well-being, salvation, eternity!

There is no greater absurdity than to be more careful with the mundane, with matters relating to our body and money, than in matters relating to our soul and salvation.

This is the absurdity - indeed insanity and outright self- contradiction - of blind commitments, blind leaps of faith.

This is not faith but credulity.

This is not "conversion" but seduction.

This is not "rebirth" but suicide.

It reduces religion to a level far inferior to anything mundane.

A rational person would not buy something just because of its external attractiveness, or because of the charm or oral promises of the salesman.

How much less so can or should we accept philosphical or theological premises just because of the emotional magnetism of their external attractiveness and the promised dreams of those soliciting.

We all remember Jim Jones and his Jonestown.

We all know horror-stories of youngsters (and elderly) involved with the many other cults of gurus and evangelists.

The trouble, though, is that most people recognize the harm and absurdity of those cults because they are so different from our conventional norms - yet fail to ask themselves whether they are really different in principle; whether their own approach to the ultimate issues is different in essence; whether they themselves are not also seduced and brainwashed by emotional magnets, by the allurements of the world or society around them, by values and practices whose meaningfulness and benefits are but relative to a present time and location.

This applies to our approach to G‑d and religion in general, and to our personal practices in particular.

This applies to the way that many of us seek to mold and shape our religious or ethical principles and practices to our likes and caprices, instead of molding and shaping our likes and caprices to the ultimate dictates and practices of our religion.

An excellent example of this definition and description of "cult" can be found in a very bizarre source.

At the murder trial of the notorious Manson-"family" in California, one of the defendants addressed the jury before sentencing:

"What I did came from the heart, from love. Whatever comes from the heart and flows out of love cannot be evil. You cannot stand in judgment over me....!"

This emotionalism, this centrality of the heart, this obsession with self - that is the ultimate sign of a cult, the distinctive mark of the crudest of all idolatries: self-worship.

True religion deals with the question: "What does G‑d require of man?"

False religion, a cult, deals with the question: "What does man expect from G‑d?"