"Cultic" certainly connotates something of lesser degree and threat than does the term “cult,” but as our experience with the terminology concerning the modern concept has grown, the terms have become interchagable. Much also depends on the orientation of the person or organization making the declaration. We now have (validated, statistically solid) tools and inventories for evaluating former cult members that were not available even ten years ago in addition to the information from the field of neurophysiology and brain imaging to aid in the determination of these things.
It is a more exact science, validated by empirical data, and not just soley determined by someone’s very subjective evaluation. It is also no longer governed by avoidance of negative and emotional connotation but has become more understandable. Our understanding of and successes in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), battered wife syndrome and the Stanford Prison Experiment has greatly contributed to our understanding of cults. Since the TM craze and the days of the People Temple/Jones, we have all the subsequent groups and their histories, some of which have spanned decades. Take for instance the Applewhite group/Heavens Gate cult. The surviviors have provided a twenty-year historical account of the development and decline of the group. The extensive study of the Boston Movement of the International Church of Christ is enlightenting as well.
We have the recent Abu Ghraib accounts and history, giving us additional insight into the irresistable psychology of ethinic/religious/political idealism, isolated authoritarian groups and hierarchical systems in isolation. Not only do we have the activities at the prison to consider, we now have information concerning the responses to the serviceman who reported the abuses. He and his family had to enter wittness protection because of the opposition and emotional responses as they were seen as Anti-American. (Read Zimbardo.)
The landmark cult-exit books have now required second editions and revisions. The science of exit counseling has grown into a discrete and well-established body of scientific knowledge, although most people will recall the “deprogramming” of the early seventies as their standard of comparison. Deprogramming (abduction and intense indoctrination) was in some cases as harmful as the cult and has been shown to be unnecessary. Once you get a person outside of the group and give them perspective/support, (as long as they read and educate themselves in their own recovery efforts), their minds and hearts and spirits heal themselves.