Jan 26

Beautiful Beliefs: A Perspective on Religion

I know, I know… religion and politics, dangerous territory. Bear with me, though. Yes, my last post was about a woman’s right to choose and though it might seem political, I’m of the view that such a personal decision shouldn’t be subject to the whims of politics. Today, however, there is no doubt about it; this one takes on religion. (All the good stuff, mind you.)

Having been raised as a Catholic, I’ll begin with a confession: I’m not a devout anything and I know fairly little (maybe embarrassingly little) about the religions I’m about to list. Sure, I could let that stop me, but … nah.

One more caveat before I begin: This list offers a lot to digest, but if you decide to give it a skim, try keeping something in mind: there are two (or more) threads running throughout these religions. One is a belief in the capacity of humans to do good; another offers guidance provided by some form of The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Okay, it’s go time:

Agnosticism – All right, maybe not a religion, but worthy of mention. Agnostics believe it is not–and may never be–possible to prove or deny the existence of a god or gods. However, though we cannot know everything, we have the opportunity to investigate and learn.

Atheism – Again, maybe not a religion, but anywho…. Atheists don’t believe in the existence of gods or goddesses, but feel humans are capable of being morally responsible without having to answer to a higher power.

Baha’i – Founded by Baha’u’llah in Iran in the 19th century. The central idea of Baha’i is unity. All humans are members of a global community and should work together for the sake of humanity; all humans are different, but equal; all religions are valid, as different expressions of one God. 

Buddhism – Founded by Siddhartha Gautama in what is now Nepal, around the sixth century BC. Through becoming self-aware and by living, speaking, and acting in ways that do not cause harm to others, we not only avoid bad Karma (each action has an equal reaction, which can occur in this life or another), but also move along the path to spiritual Enlightenment. Just as the word “Buddha” means “awake,” at the heart of Buddhism is the belief that a calm, pure mind encourages the emergence of wisdom.

Catholicism – This is a branch of Christianity, but like I said, I was raised as a Catholic, so I’m taking the liberty to include it. Among the Christian faiths, Catholicism is the one that venerates Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the model of perfect love. (Mary’s importance had a humanizing effect on the religion for me; also, as a female, it meant a lot to have such a powerful feminine presence in my belief system. I wasn’t the only one in my family who felt this way. As a child, I was told, “If you really need to be heard, pray to Mary.” I’m almost certain my grandmother had her on speed dial.)

Christianity – Based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, who began his ministry at age 30, over 2,000 years ago, in Northern Israel. Jesus spoke up for the poor and needy; he reached out to the outcasts of society. He healed such people, he treated them with respect, he showed them love. Likewise, in a time when women’s statuses and freedoms were severely limited, Jesus treated women with dignity and esteem; they were among his closest friends. He was the best kind of feminist, if you ask me.

Hinduism – Elements of Hinduism date back thousands of years, but it has no founder and no fixed upon teachings or scripture; it is widely practiced in India and Nepal. Like Buddhists, Hindus believe in Karma and Dharma (the power that upholds the universe and society, which gives us the capacity to be moral beings), as well as the ideal of Ahimsa (*see Jainism for more on Ahimsa). Hindus believe all life is sacred, worthy of love and reverence; they believe no religion teaches the only way to salvation, but that all paths are valuable as evidence of God’s Light.

Islam – Revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over 1400 years ago in Mecca, Arabia. Muslims believe that Allah is all-knowing, all-powerful, and just, but merciful; Allah is neither male nor female. Despite the belief that Allah knows all that will happen, humans are seen as having free will. They should be honest and self-disciplined, while seeking to free themselves from the love of money or possessions. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, giving to charity is compulsory; however, Muslims are also encouraged to give as much as they can voluntarily.

Jainism – Practiced largely in India, Jainism is an ancient religion without a single founder; it was revealed by a number of “tirthankaras” (prophets). Like Hindus and Buddhists, Jainists believe in the ideal of Ahimsa, which means one should avoid harming any living thing in thought, word, or action. This idea encompasses avoiding any type of harm–physical, mental, or emotional. Jains believe that to save your soul, you must protect every other soul.

Jehova’s Witnesses – This is a Christian-based evangelical religion, which in the 1880s, under the direction of Charles Taze Russell, grew out of the American Adventist tradition. Members see themselves as part of a worldwide brotherhood. While they believe some members are chosen as the “Anointed,” who will eventually spend eternity in heaven, other Jehova’s Witnesses, as well as members of other religions, will spend their eternity in a paradise on Earth. This will fulfill God’s original plan for the Garden of Eden.

Judaism – Founded over 3,500 years ago in the Middle East, Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions. Jewish people believe God is interested in each follower as an individual; therefore, each is able to have a personal relationship with God. As an act of gratitude for all that God has given them, practitioners seek to bring holiness into their daily lives. Judaism is seen as a family faith; much of the religion is based around family activities and home life.  

Mormonism – Founded as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith in New York, US in 1830. Mormons believe in a humanistic God, who has a physical body, is married, and can have children. Likewise, they believe humans are capable of becoming gods themselves in the afterlife. They believe in doing good to all men and in living honest, virtuous lives, with a focus on family life. They believe God continues to instruct through an ongoing process of revelation.

Paganism – Paganism is an overarching term, applied to a number of contemporary religions which share a reverence for the natural world. At the heart of Pagan belief is the recognition of the divine in nature and a will to live in harmony with the natural environment. Pagans believe divinity is present in every aspect of the living Earth and that they are part of the natural world, not set above it. They also emphasize an equality between the sexes; this is reinforced by the divine occurring in masculine, feminine and non-gendered imagery.

Quakers – Known as the Society of Friends, the Quaker religion began as a Christian denomination in England in the 1600s. They believe in direct communion with the Divine. As there is not a specific protocol for belief or worship, believers are encouraged to find an individual path to spiritual growth. Living lives of prayer, reflection, and faithfulness allows them to discover these personal beliefs.

Rastafari – Founded in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of King Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, in response to the effects of colonization and slavery. Rastafarians believe God reveals himself to his followers through his humanity and that he is found within every man. They believe in the preservation and protection of human nature, and share a deep respect for animals and the environment.

Santeria – A religion which grew up out of Cuba, Santeria is a “syncretic” religion, as it combines beliefs from a number of faiths, including Afro-Caribbean faiths and Roman Catholicism. Santeria focuses on relationships between human beings and powerful, but mortal spirits, which are essentially manifestations of God. The spirits help followers fulfill the unique destiny which God has planned for them and, in return, the followers must care for the spirits. Worshippers may share a house of worship, or ilé, and relate to one another much like members of an extended biological family.

Shinto – Since Shinto is such an integral part of Japanese life, practitioners may not regard themselves as followers of a Shinto religion. Shinto has no concept of original sin and sees humans as basically good. Everything, even the spiritual, is experienced as part of this world. Shinto co-exists peacefully with other religions, allowing followers to be Buddhists, Christians, etc.

Sikhism – Founded in the Punjab area of South Asia in 1500, by Guru Nanak. Sikhs believe that carrying out religious rituals is not sufficient to live a good life; good actions are also essential. There is a strong focus on caring for others in the community, especially the less fortunate; Sikhs serve God by regularly serving others. They believe God is in every person and, therefore, everyone is capable of changing for the better.

Taosim – Taoism grew out of other religions and philosophical traditions in ancient China, but has no founder or founding date. Taoists believe that The Tao (or “The Way”) is the ultimate creative principle of the universe, which unifies and connects all things, including those which are opposites (yin and yang). Taoism promotes self-development and living in harmony with nature.

Unitarian Universalism – The religion grew out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and was formed by Theophilus Lindsey and Joseph Priestley. Unitarians consider theirs to be a free faith, not bound by a specific set of beliefs. They believe religious wisdom continues to change. They believe in the worth of all, along with an honoring of individual differences. Justice, equity and compassion are central ideals; ethical living improves the world now and for future generations. 

Voodoo (also Vodou, Vodun, etc.) – There is no founder or founding date for Voodoo; it is a “syncretic” religion, which grew out of various religious practices from Africa, with Roman Catholic influences. The religion is community based, but places emphasis on the individual experience. There is a belief in the visible and invisible world and in interactions between each. As such, predecessors not only watch over followers, but guide and help them. This guidance leads to personal transformations, which aid the living in helping one another.

Zoroastrianism – Founded 3,500 years ago in Ancient Iran by the Prophet Zoroaster, it is among the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. Zoroastrians believe in the purity of the elements and view fire as representing God’s light or wisdom. They believe life is a mixture of opposing forces, including day and night, good and evil, etc. They believe God gave man the gift of free will and, because man is essentially good, all humans will eventually choose the right path, resulting in the existence of Paradise on earth.

Whew! Anyone still with me? I may have only scratched the surface of these religions, but learning something about each has only made me want to learn more. No, I don’t intend to convert to any of them, but I’m on a quest for beautiful beliefs. I listen, I read, I try to learn. When I encounter something that strikes a chord within me, I absorb it. I guess you could say this has become my religion–a mishmash of the beautiful ideals I’ve encountered. It’s not for everyone, but I could do worse.

If there’s something beautiful you’d like to share about your religion or one you admire, I would love to hear it! *Also, I apologize for any religions I’ve omitted and for oversimplifying the ones I’ve shared!

*For photo credits, please see one of my previous posts, Peace.


    • Anne on January 26, 2017 at 8:19 pm
    • Reply

    Interesting how empathy and caring for fellow humans seems to be a common thread…

    1. So true, Anne! What an important message!

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