Looking At Worldly Religions
Part of human growth and identity is discovering how we, as individuals, fit into the big picture. During this journey we often find ourselves asking the age old questions, “What is the meaning of life,” or “What is truth” and “Is there something greater than myself?”
Everyone has a belief about reality, but not everybody has thought through what theirs is. Do you know what you believe about the nature of reality, or have you blindly accepted what you have been taught? If we don’t think this through, we become fodder for people who want to manipulate us. They may have good intentions (like our parents), want us to do something (like advertisers) or want us to support their view and power base (like politicians).
WHAT IS RELIGION
When what we believe matches a set of organized beliefs, it is sometimes called a religion. Before we dig into defining the word “religion,” it must be clarified that “religion” is not a “denomination” or a “church.” Religion is not an organization. According to the Webster Dictionary, religion is “a cause, principle or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” In other words, everybody has a religion. It may not be something you think of as a religion, like atheism or scientific materialism. But, everybody believes something about the nature of reality and human beings, who we are, how we got here. Since none of us can prove our belief be replicating creation, we have to take it on faith.
How we understand what is happening in the world today is based on this core set of beliefs. What we understand certain words to mean and what other people are saying is also based on these core beliefs. Many of the arguments and even wars that are being fought today have at their core a misunderstanding or difference in one of these core beliefs.
WHAT IS A HUMAN BEING
In order to discover the answer to these deeper questions, we must look at the very basics of our identity: W hat is a human being? You can’t very well figure out how you fit into human history if you don’t know what you believe about the nature of human beings. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe that a personal God created human beings who have both physical and spiritual components. Other belief systems are based on human beings having spontaneously developed, having arrived on space ships or a variety of other possibilities. So, what do you think? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I believe that I have both a physical and spiritual nature, only physical or only spiritual?
- Do I believe that I am the same or different from animals? If I believe I am different from other animals, what are those differences (self awareness, ability to reason, ability to talk, ability to project into the future, ability to sacrifice for others, etc.)?
- Do I believe that I have to answer to anything other then myself (and my parents)?
HOW DO I DISCOVER WHAT I BELIEVE?
In order to discover your place in history, continue to break down the larger questions. Then look at how your answers fit into the major belief patterns that exist in our world. Here’s some context to consider:
1: Where am I? or What is reality?
Do you believe that reality is:
- only material, what we can see touch and feel
- only spiritual and what we perceive as the physical world is simply a mirage
- Both material and spiritual?
If you selected both material and spiritual, a further question to contemplate is what you believe is the nature of the relationship. For example, Plato believed that the physical realm and the spiritual realm were in conflict with each other.
2: What’s wrong?
Pretty much all people think that there is evil in the world. This question addresses the issue of why and how we have evil and catastrophes. Does God cause bad things to happen? Are there opposing forces that define good and evil? Is pleasing God or gods the determining factor for the amount of evil inflicted on the world?
3: What’s the solution?
While there are several belief systems that agree on the answers to the first two questions, the answer to this last question becomes a defining issue for many. Christianity distinctly believes that the solution is through salvation in Jesus Christ. Other perspectives place their hope in prophets, kings, gods, etc. While still other viewpoints believe there is no solution.
Spend some time thinking about these questions and talking about them with your friends. You may be surprised at the assumptions lurking beneath the surface.
WHAT ARE POPULAR WORLD RELIGIONS IN WHICH MY VIEW WILL FIT?
Agnostics believe that truth about reality is either unknown or unknowable. Many people who have not thought through what they believe about the aforementioned questions also identify with this group. Some agnostics do not believe any god (or God) exists, but allow that it is possible, while others believe that a God exists, but believe it is not knowable.
Atheists believe there is no God or gods. Generally they believe that there is no spiritual realm, although some accept some form of supernatural power. Scientific Materialists, who believe only in what they can test and reproduce in a laboratory, would fall under this category. Secular Humanists, while difficult to define as they reject dogma, would also fit here due to their belief in human reason and science as a basis for moral decisions without any god.
Deists believe that reason and observation of the natural world proves that an all-powerful being created the universe. However, this being is not a personal being and does not intervene in human affairs. Zoroastrianism is a form of deism worshiping Ahura Mazda and believes that the greatest virtues are pure thoughts, good words and righteous deeds.
Pantheists and Panentheists believe that god exists and in fully integrating into every part of nature. Pantheists say god is everything, whereas panentheists say everything is god. There are many religions that can fall into this category, including Christian Science, which believes that there is not material reality, that we are all simply thoughts in the mind of the universe. Animism with their belief that everything has a spirit and are constantly living to try to please these spirits would normally be categorized here. Shintoism, or the way of the gods, originally a form of nature worship is another form of this belief. Wicca, normally worshiping a male and female gods believed to be part of a greater pantheistic god is another variation of this belief.
Theists believe that there is at least one God. Monotheists believe that there is only one God. Judaism, Islam and Christianity are all Monotheistic religions. Judaism and Christianity believe God invests in His creation personally.
Though it may feel like these questions are deep and hard to answer, it’s essential to dig into your personal thoughts. Ironically, the more willing you are to dig, the easier you will find it to answer these questions.