A cult is a social group that practices a particular religion. The term is essentially identical to sect. Thus we must define religion.
Religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men and women by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.*
Mood are fluctuating, temporary states of being; motivations are propensities to behave in a certain way. A patriotic citizen may have a persisting tendency, a chronic inclination to perform in prescribed ways in specific situations, for example, to stand when the nation's flag (here understood as a sacred symbol) is carried by in a parade or when the national anthem is sung. This motivation is ever-present no matter what the citizen is doing, although it is not always observable. It stems from a sense of belonging, from self-identity as an member of a Nation with all its privileges and obligations. Moods, on the other hand, are temporary sensations. The patriotic citizen may experience a sense of exhilaration when the flag passes by, or she may feel angry when it is publicly burned. Even the protester that has chosen torching the cloth as an act of defiance is appealing to a shared sense of the sacredness of the flag as a symbol of the Nation, of its values, and of its history. Mood reflecting the entire range of human emotions may be invoked. Moods and motivations are both elements in an established pattern in which symbols act as the vehicle that conveys a sense of the nature of society into behavior consistent with such a perception.
Civil religion, thus, gives rise to patriotic cults in the same manner that western history is overrun with Christian cults and their wars of animosity towards one another, and their animosity towards Muslim cults.
*Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), p. 90.