Religion pervades the fabric of every society and one man’s religion is another one’s apostasy. For some, it is the love of money; for others, the adoration of a deity. Still, whether it’s one of these or something in between and recognized or not, every man has a religion.
Indeed, its ineluctable nature is demonstrated every day in every part of the world. Regardless, none of these facts makes religion either timeless or, for that matter, particularly important. Instead, those particular characteristics are reserved for the Almighty.
Since the dawn of civilization, religion has been created by every society to reflect its basic philosophical and moral prerogatives. Ostensibly, each religion is generated to explain Life, the Universe and Everything. Instead, they actually end up providing a far more telling glimpse into the motivations of the particular adherents themselves.
The modern categorization of religions divides them, justifiably or not, into three major classifications, the Western, the Eastern and the “rest.” With this premise in mind, here is brief overview of the world’s more widely recognized religions.
The three major Western religions are all born of the Middle East. In fact, they all share a common fount. Incredible as it may seem Judaism, Islam and Christianity all point with pride to a common forefather, the prophet Abraham. While Abraham is unequivocally Jewish, the other two religions have a remarkably high regard for this man.
This theology is divided into various denominations of which Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant are the most common. All believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and state that he died and was reborn to redeem the souls of all believers. The influence of this theology has been so powerful that the modern calendar begins with the birth of Jesus Christ. The Church has remained powerful throughout the intervening years. Even when divided by the breakup of the Roman Empire and its splintering into dozens of factions during the Reformation, the Christian, it has remained a powerful force, both morally and financially.
Through dozens of versions, the Holy Bible contains their teachings and is considered the Word of God.
Persecuted throughout history and blamed as scapegoats for many of society’s ills, the Jews have exhibited a remarkable tenacity for maintaining their beliefs under the most incredible circumstances. The Holocaust of the mid-twentieth century is not the only time or place where another group has sought their total extermination.
This theology is divided into dozens of movements with Orthodox, Conservative and Reform being the largest. Though small in numbers, the Jewish peoples have had a significant effect on every society they inhabited for the last 3,000 years.
This religion is guided by the Torah which contains the knowledge of Yahweh and by a collection of rabbinic decisions known as the Talmud.
The last of the three major western religions to develop, Islamwas founded by the prophet Muhammad in 610 A.D. based on numerous revelations from Allah. Muslims believe that he restored the one true religion based on the teachings of earlier prophets like Abraham and Jesus. Mohammed, himself is the last of the prophets.
Islam was born of struggle as Muhammad and his followers were forced to leave Mecca and journey to Medina where they fought several battles to establish Islam as the preeminent religion of the area. The recollection of this journey is a cornerstone of Muslim tradition and every able-bodied Muslim man is required to duplicate it once in their lives.
There are two main sects of Islam, Shia and Sunni, and their holy book, the Qu’ran, contains the accumulated knowledge of Allah. This book like the Bible is considered by adherents to be the verbatim Word of God.
Buddhism, Hinduism and Shintoism are the largest of the Eastern religions although there are dozens of other significant religions including Jainism, Taoism, Sikhism and Confucianism. All of these religions are fundamentally different from the Abrahamic religions in that they are less concerned with a single deity and more with the personal development of an individual.
Although there is considerable overlap in many of the teaching, doctrines and ceremonies, each of the Eastern religions has a devoted following that only recognizes their faith as the correct one.
Literally meaning “the way of the gods”, Shinto embraces both nature and one’s ancestors. The practitioners of Shinto value family, nature and tradition in their core beliefs. Cleanliness, self-mastery and a strict adherence to rituals are the basis for everyday religious observation. It is believed that a proper respect for these values is necessary for a balanced life and spirit.
It is impossible to concisely define the teachings and beliefs of this religion as the vast majority of Hindus do not believe in any one unifying principle. Instead, vast body of scripture leads one on a spiritual journey.
In Hinduism, karma and dharma test the character of every individual. The tests are not limited to one’s immediate life but continue through successive rebirths. Generally recognized as the oldest extant religion, Hinduism relies most heavily on the Vedas and Upanishads for moral authority.
Founded in the fifth century B.C. by, Siddhartha Gautama, the one and only Buddha, this religion concentrates on attaining enlightenment or Nirvana. This awakening is not just about knowledge but is the culmination of multiple lifetimes of experience that finally breaks the cycle of reincarnation and frees the adherent from worldly suffering.
The principles of Buddhism are based on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
There are any number of less popular, but no less fiercely defended, religions that have garnered significant numbers of devotees. In Mormons in the West and the Baha’i from the East are two notable examples. Each competes with the others to convert unbelievers and non-believers. In every case, the devotees offer up their innocence and get repaid with scorn.
However, in most case, no reward or punishment will alter the perspective of the devout. For the believer, there is no other way, recognize the truth or remain forever doomed. Is this the height of folly or the epitome of faith?