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A New Religious Movement (NRM) is a general term which applies to all faiths, philosophies, and religions that have arisen worldwide. In the broadest sense, an NRM is one which has started relatively recently and is different than other existing faiths or religions. There is no specific criteria to decide when a religion is an NRM. Some consider it to be the end of World War II in 1945, while others feel that the creation of the Church of Latter Day Saints in 1830 is more appropriate.
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A New Religious Movement is usually founded and led by a charismatic leader and its faith is based around that leader’s teachings or writings. There is no consistent doctrine or rites among NRM’s as they have their basis either as branches of traditional religions, or are new faiths. Throughout history, NRM’s have started because of conflicts within churches, because of changes to society or in opposition to those changes.
NRM is often used interchangeably with the term cult which has a negative connotation but there are significant differences between the terms. In his book Combatting Cult Mind Control, author Steven Hassan defines a cult as “a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in recruiting new members.”
Both NRM’s and cults share that they have someone or something to follow. NRM’s, however, differ from cults in a number of important ways. While an NRM is more likely to let potential members decide if they want to join, a cult will often rush or provoke a person into joining. A cult will make a person believe that they must join. In this way, cults control people rather than guide them. An NRM or church will not watch their members to make sure they are following their rules, where cults will watch their members’ every move to make sure that they follow their beliefs.
Members of NRM’s join in a number of ways, they can choose to join because of marriage, desire to improve social status, because of a network of friends, are born into the group if the NRM has been around long enough, or they may be compelled by authority to join.
New Religious Movements often suffer the same fate as many organizations or businesses by failing to exist on an ongoing basis. Statistically, only about 1 in 1,000 will attract more than 100,000 followers and last for more than 100 years. This means that only 0.001% of NRM’s actually succeed. The reasons for failure vary greatly from group to group. In some cases, the founder dies without creating a succession plan causing disagreements between members which causes fighting within the group and leads them to dissolve. In other cases, the government or other churches opposed the groups to the point where they ended.
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While World Religions and New Religious Movements have many differences, there are some similarities as well. Many NRM’s are sects of World Religions and share many of the same beliefs. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, started as a response to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which itself is a division of Protestantism. Likewise, some NRM’s seek to combine the beliefs and practices of several World Religions into their teachings. Other NRM’s take the original beliefs of a given World Religion and either adapt it to their needs or corrupt it for their own benefit.
New Religious Movements usually begin as a response to changes in society, disagreements with main stream religions or are trying to fill a gap or need within their community. They have often been misrepresented as cults but are significantly different in a number of ways.
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