World Religions: Exploring Diversity

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Author: Adekola Taylor
January, 2015

Introduction


World religions can be classified into two based on their origins. They are mainly Semitic religions and non-Semitic religions. Semitic religions originated from the descendants of Shem the Semites. Some of the descendants of Shem are the Jews, Assyrians, Arabs, Phoenicians, etc. The non-Semitic religions can be divided into Aryan and non-Aryan religions. Aryan religions originated from the Indo-European speaking people, the Aryans. Religions in this category are Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. While the non-Aryan religions are Taosim, Confucianism, Shintoism, etc.

Every religion in the world believes in the Ultimate Reality that is unchanging and eternal. The concept of Ultimate Reality can be defined as follows: a personal and loving God, and eternal truth that rules the universe, and an impersonal being. The concept of God varies with different religious traditions. God has been described as a powerful, supernatural, humanlike being, the Ultimate, the Transcendent, the Absolute Infinite, the Ground of being that cannot be understood. The general conceptions of God include agnosticism, monotheism, apatheism, atheism, henotheism, deism, ignosticism, polytheism, pantheism, theism, transtheism, etc.

  • Monotheism is the belief that there is only one god
  • Theism is the belief that one god separate from the creation
  • Pantheism is the belief that the world is equal to god, in other words, one god existing in the creation
  • Agnosticism is the belief that there is no clear knowledge of whether god exists or not
  • Polytheism is the belief in many gods

  • The Monotheistic Perspective of God


    Monotheism is the religious belief in existing of only one God. The Christian thought about God is enshrined in His omnipotence (all-knowing), omniscience (all-powerful) and omnibenevolence (supremely good). That is to say that God has power over all things, knows all things and He is supremely good. The Christians believe that there is only one God. There is another term called monistic theism which happens to be a variant of monism and monotheism. Monism is the belief that all is of one substance, essence or energy. Monistic theism considers God as both transcendent and immanent. These are prevalent views in Hinduism.

    The Polytheistic View of God


    The essential feature of polytheism is the belief in more than one god or goddess. Like that of Western understanding of Zoroastrian dualism, they can be a few as two and they may be uncountable as that in Hinduism. They are many kinds of polytheism as characterised by responses to belief. They all believe that many gods exist but with different belief responses. For instance Henotheists only worship the most powerful or worth of the many gods. The polytheistic gods in Hinduism are all accepted by Ayvayazhi. In Kali Yukam all gods are unified into Ayva Vaikundar to destroy Kaliyan.

    The Pantheistic View of God


    Pantheism is the belief that God is himself the natural universe. Baruch Spinoza happens to be the most famous Western pantheist. There is a variant of pantheism which believes that physical world is part of God, that is to say God is more than the physical universe. In other words, pantheist believes that God is the world and the world is God. A variant of pantheism believes that the world is God but God is more than the world.

    All major religions almost believe in monotheism. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all monotheistic religions but they are significant differences. The West believes in monotheism and more are of atheism as opposed to pantheism. The characters of the god of the West are captivating, although there are questions concerning some attributes of the deity. Over the years, the concept of deity originated by the Israelites, the Only Supreme God has influenced the Greeks and Romans in Europe and the Zoroastrians in the Mesopotamia. The Greek Philosophers had the idea of the single source, and all and good perfect being. The idea which must have been influenced by the concept of deity of Israelites. The god of deity of the Christian, Islamic people, and that of the Jew all have these characteristics associated with him and they are All-powerful, Omniscience, All loving, Eternal Being, Supreme Being, All Good, etc.

    The Islamic Concept of God


    Centuries after the Ascension of Jesus Christ, Mohammad, a visionary from the Arabia had series of visions which made him to establish the Islamic religion. Islam has features that are similar to the tribal religions of Judaism, Arabia and Christianity. The sacred book of the Islam is called the Holy Qur’an. According to Zakir Abdulkarim, Islam is a Semitic religion and it means submission to the will of Allah, and the word of God revealed to Prophet Mohammed called Qur’an is accepted by Muslim. Islam believes that messengers and prophets are sent by Allah throughout the ages. Muslims believe in the faith of the earlier prophets beginning from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, John, Jesus and others. The Chapter 112: 1 – 4 of the Qur’an states as below:

  • Allah, the eternal, Absolute
  • He is Allah, The one and Only
  • And there is none like unto Him
  • He begets not, nor is He begotten

  • Assamad is an Islamic word that refers to Allah as absolute existence. It is well-known that the Islamic world refers to God as Allah. They believe that Allah is independent on any person; we are all dependent on Him The Surah Ikhlas (Chapter 112 of the Qur’an) refers to God as the touchstone of theology. Islamic adherents prefer calling Allah to using the word God. They believe there is no plural form of Allah unlike English where we have gods. They believe that God is immortal that God does not become a human being; their concept of God opposes the concept of divinity of Jesus Christ by the Christians. They do not subscribe to the idea that God becoming a human to live among men as believed by the Christians.

    In Islam, Jesus Christ is regarded to as a prophet of God, not as a Son of God. In the Bible, Abraham’s son Isaac received the promise that the Messiah would come through his lineage, and Abraham’s other son Ishmael, would become a great and contentious nation, however Ishmael would not obtain the blessing but the Islam believes that Ishmael is the blessed son, although both religions believe that Ishmael travelled east to Arabia to become the ancestor of the Islamic peoples (Northforest.org).




    The Concept of God in Hinduism


    Hinduism is not a monotheistic religion, but it is characterized by multitude of philosophical and religious trends. Hinduism is the most popular of the Aryan religions. According to Zakir Abdulkarim, Hinduism is commonly perceived as a polytheistic religion because Hindus attest to this, by professing belief in multiple gods, some believe in the system of three gods while some believe in the existence of thirty-three core i.e. 330 millions gods. There are three major patterns that can be observed in Hinduism and they are henotheism, pantheism and dualism. Henotheism is the religion of the ancient Vedas, Vaishnavism and Shaivism which believe that many gods exist but only one is the most important. Pantheism is the religion of the Upanishads and Vedanta which believes that Ultimate Reality is an impersonal transcendent being. Dualism is the religion perspective of the Yoga darshan of Patanjali and Samkhya that recognizes two ultimate realities.

    The oldest sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the four Vedas (Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Veda) and they are four collections of hymns (Samhita) describing deities, their works and the praises that must be addressed to them in religious rituals, each of the four collections of Vedic hymns is associated with three other kinds of Vedic literature - the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads and together they represent the most sacred religious literature (Shruti) of Hinduism (Ernest).

    According to Faithology.com Hinduism beliefs can be stated as below

  • Deities: Hindus are polytheistic, believing in an expansive number of deities, though these deities are not all worshiped by all sects. Generally, Hindu sects centre on the worship of a specific deity, exalted above all others.
  • Sacred Texts: All Hindus recognize the sacred legitimacy of the Vedic scriptures.
  • Caste System: All Hindus adhere to a strict social caste system with extremely limited mobility. The four main social classes (in descending order) are broadly defined as priests, warriors, merchants, and farmers.
  • Reincarnation: Hindus believe that they are constantly reincarnated after their deaths. The goal of the Hindu religion is a release from this cycle. Generally, Hindus believe that this release can be achieved by seeking unity with either Brahman or the deity they worship primarily, such as Vishnu, Shiva, or Shakti.
  • For Hinduism, Brahman is considered to be the ultimate reality that is unknowable and unknown.

    Concept of God in Buddhism


    Buddhism was founded in north-eastern India during the 5th or 4th century BCE by a man named Siddhartha Gautama (c. 6th- c. 4th cen. BCE). After attaining nirvana, Gautama became known as the Buddha (Faithology.com). Gautama Buddha was a son of a rich man who having seen the pains, hardships, diseases, and human suffering wandered away in search for enlightenment. He developed the concepts of Karma, reincarnation, rebirth, and the way humans can escape the cycle of death.Enlightenment is the ultimate goal of Buddhist religion through the elimination of suffering.

    Acccording to Faithology .com Buddhism Beliefs are stated below

  • Nirvana: Though they follow various paths, Buddhist sects have the same aim—to attain nirvana.
  • The Three Jewels: Buddhists revere and uphold the Three Jewels of Buddhism:
    The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama
    The Dharma
    The Sangha
  • Doctrine: The doctrines held by Hindus include:
    Dharma ––the natural law.
    Karma ––cause and effect.
    Samsara ––the cycle of reincarnation.
    Ahimsa ––non-violence.
  • Avoiding attachment: Buddhists generally believe in avoiding attachment to all things. Attachment is often broadly defined as anything that causes an urge to "have" or "control" something else, including love. The monastic life is viewed as the main way to live freely from these attachments.

  • The Dimensions of Religion


    Religious tradition such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam involves a huge variety of forms. This entails differences in the Sub traditions: Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Jehovah Witness. Various religious traditions have numerous belief systems. Because of this, many a philosopher concluded that religion cannot be defined. In the model developed by Smart, the model attempts to find one that is inclusivity of worldwide religion while restraining the definition of religion to that which can be classified as of religion. There are seven dimensions of religion and they are Ethical; Ritualistic; Doctrinal; Mythical; Institutional, material and Experiential.

    The Ritual Dimension

    The ritual dimension is the method with which people confirm and express their mythological beliefs through action. These are what the adherents of a religion practise as part of their religion. Prayer is a good example in this dimension. It may be accompanied with noisy chanting and singing, kneeling down, full prostrate, private and solitary moments of quiet reflection on God. For example, chanting from the Holy Qur'an and the bowing down repeatedly in the direction of Mecca. Ritualistic dimension may also involve ascetism, possession, and modes of dress, pilgrimage and ritual. Ascetism may entail sever self-discipline, martyrdom, yoga, self-mortification, etc. Some perform pilgrimage to Holy lands e.g. Mecca and Jerusalem. Sacrifices are also part of this dimension, the Aztec sacrifices human beings to their gods, the Hindu – buffalo sacrifice, Christian: Death of Christ as the ultimate sacrifice. Ritual also involves initiation into the religious community, ritual killing, circumcision, etc.

    The Material Dimension

    This involves the physical embodiment of a religion. In other words, the structures e.g. temples, churches and synagogues, the architecture, the representation of divine beings, the ritual substances and objects, natural features and sacred cities. Ritual objects are physical objects e.g. the cross, food masks and scripture. Sacred mountains, rivers and trees are among the natural features e.g. River Jordan for Baptism. Sacred cities include Mecca, Jerusalem etc. Theology, religious practice and architecture are connected, for instance the way people build their communities or homes may reflect their religious view, also doctrine and theological debate are enshrined into architecture e.g. Cistercian and Calvinist churches. Another important material dimension of religion is the representation of divinity e.g. Protestant and Orthodox Christianity Icons. These icons may include carving of holy figure, devotional painting, etc.

    The Ethical and Legal Dimension

    This is the question of what is good or bad. Every religious tradition has acceptable behavioural standards, a set of rules or guidelines of conduct in respect how a community judges a person. Religions have code of ethics that the adherents are expected to live up to. It should be adopted and be a way of life to the adherents. The Ten Commandments in the Bible, the 613 commandments of the Jewish Law, the Vatican Edict on Birth control are all good examples. Among others include Covenantal ethic of Judaism, the ethic of love in Christianity. The law dimension may be praying five times daily, giving alms, Sharia law, etc.

    The Doctrinal and Philosophical Dimension

    This is the intellectual aspects of religions. It may be simple or complex. The importance of doctrinal and philosophical dimension of religion is to spread and maintain the continuity of scriptural ideas and beliefs. For instance the doctrine of Trinity in Christianity, the way to explain Jesus Christ as God in Flesh , also within the Buddhism the Buddha presented himself as the path to salvation. Theology cannot be divorced from doctrinal dimension of religion.

    Conclusion


    It is crystal clear that religious perspectives all over the world are complex and multifactorial in nature. There is no generally accepted standard that can be used to judge the truism of any religion claims. I believe the experiential dimension of religions rooted in diverse experiences and environmental encounters brought above different religions all over the world. It is evident that there is a part of humans carving for the supernatural, this part of us has to be satisfied if we really want to lead a fulfilled life. Religions have charming and captivating impact on us, we believe in the supernatural and different religions devised the way to get in touch with the supernatural. My own religion experience has made me to believe in the Almighty God, the Creator and Architectural Designer and Programmer of life, who sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to the world to redeem mankind from the power of death and sin. No scientific method of empiricism can be used to prove this, but for the fact that my claims cannot be proven by empirical methods of science, does not make my claims nonsensical, this is the case of religions.

    References

    Ernest Valea "The Ultimate Reality in World Religions" Web.14.Jan.2013.

    Faithology.com. "Buddhism Overview" (2013). Web.14.Jan.2013.

    Faithology.com. "Hinduism Overview" (2013). Web.14.Jan.2013.

    Northforest.org "World Religions" (May, 2012). Web.14.Jan.2013.

    Zakir AbdulKarim "Concept of God in Major religions" Islamic Research Foundation. 1-29.Web.14.Jan.2013.

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