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No offense intended, but let’s talk about religion

No offense intended, but let’s talk about religion

Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:24 am

By SANDY MURRAY

Special to the Press

Let’s talk about religion.  

First of all, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not an expert at religions.  I am not attempting to disparage or endorse one religion or belief system; I am only attempting to enlighten the reader as to the existence of other views.  I have spent nearly two months researching this topic, and found conflicting information on the definition of religion.  The most comprehensive came from Wikipedia, as it contained most of the information that I had read in the other sources.  “Religion is an organized collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.”   

Also included in the many definitions was the fact that many religions have books, symbols, traditions and histories that relate to the meaning and origin of life.  Wikipedia goes on to state “a religion may also include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration of deity, gods or goddesses, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, [or] public service. . .”  Oftentimes religion is referred to as faith or belief system but Emile Durkheim proposes that religion is not synonymous with one’s private beliefs in that religion is “something eminently social.”  

Uhhhh!  So what is the definition of religion then?  Depends on what you read.  The usual dictionary definition posits that religion is the “‘belief in, or the worship of, a god or gods’ or ‘service and worship of God or a supernatural being.’”  I think this fits the common perception of the definition of religion, but is narrow in its perspective.  Narrow in that it immediately leaves out certain organized religions or belief systems whose believers worship sacred things rather than beings.  Durkheim indicates that these sacred objects can be “a rock, a tree, a spring, a pebble, a piece of wood, a house, in other word, anything can be sacred.”  

However, after discussing this with various members of the community, I think the definition provided by The Free Dictionary by Farlex provides a definition that more clearly states what the inhabitants of the Bible Belt believe religion to be.  This definition is “belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator of the universe, a personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.” This definition provides little tolerance for those who do not participate in an organized religion, may participate in a less traditional form of religion such as Wicca, or Santeria, or has a belief system different from what we assume is a religion.  

When I searched for a list of religions and belief systems I found 73 listed on the A-Z Religion Index provided on the ReligionFacts website.  However, there was also a disclaimer that this list is not exhaustive.  The list did not include all denominations of religion like Southern Baptists, etc.  So I did another search and found an even longer list.  Since I don’t want to compete with “War and Peace” I am going to limit the discussion to some of the more widely recognized, and often misunderstood, religions or belief systems.  This will not be done in one column, but will rather be spread over several submissions.  I will go in alphabetical order of the more widely known religions or belief systems, based on The Big Religion Chart from ReligionFacts, and give some basic facts and practices for consideration.  This information will hopefully provide some brain fodder for the reader and spark more understanding of others.

But first let’s look at some of the history of larger world religions/belief systems. Keep in mind, that I have waded through about 15 different accounts of the timeline and tried to figure out which came first – a little like deciding which came first, the chicken or the egg. So here is my attempt at a sketchy history.  From what I have read the first religion was Judaism, which is reported to have been founded by Abraham in 2,085 BC.  (Who even knew it was two thousand years before Jesus?)  So here comes the puzzle as to whether Jesus was a Jew or just from the Land of the Jews.  In Mark 15:2 Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews.”  Depending on where you get your information Jesus replied either, “It is as you say” (New American Standard version of the Bible) meaning that he considered himself to be King of the Jews, or  “Thou sayest it” (King James version of the Bible) meaning that Pilate has said so but Jesus is not saying so himself. Others interpret Jesus’ response to mean that he is either from the land of the Jews or is a Jew.  The many interpretations of the Bible site Mark 15:2 as the qualifying statement.  But then when you read Matthew 27:42 and Mark 15:32 he is referred to as the King of Israel.  Again, it is the interpretation of the original writings and whose version of the Bible you read!  I’m not making that decision, just sharing information.  You decide for yourself.

My sources then indicate the Hinduism was founded in 1500 BC but no specific founder is listed.  Then come Taoism by Lao Tzu in 550 BC, Jainism in 599 BC, and Christianity by Jesus Christ in 30 AD.   Between 50 and 100 AD Gnosticism was founded.  Roman Catholicism was developed after Constantine in 590 AD with some confusion being given as to the founder.  Some say St. Peter and others Pope Gregory, depends on where you get your information.  Islam was founded by Mohammed in 610 AD.  A huge deviation for the original beliefs of Christianity occurred in 1515 AD when the reformers Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin broke from Christianity and Protestant Reformation came onto the scene.  This division marked the beginning of denominationalism, which is evident today.  The Dalai Lama founded Tibetan Buddhism in 1650 AD.  After 1700 AD a flurry of religions/belief systems cropped up.  These include the Shakers in 1784, Joseph Smith’s Mormons in 1830 AD, Baha’i in 1844 AD, Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1870, Christian Science in 1879 and many others – many of which will be addressed in future submissions.  

No matter where I looked, I found contradictions.  Even in the translations of the original manuscripts of the books of the Bible, one can find significantly different verbiage.  Then I watched a series of shows on the History Channel that dealt with the decisions made to determine what books would be included in the Bible and when these books were actually written.  I’m not even going to get into that. It will make your head throb.  I think the main point here is that we all have our own interpretation based on our upbringing.  What I am trying to do is make you aware of the many worldviews that are in place, and help you be more willing to see the similarities that exist.  Your choice of religion or belief system is just that – your choice.

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