Major World Religions
Animism is the oldest known religion that is still in practice today- known to exist even before 2000 BCE. It began in Africa, and is still largely practiced there today. Animism is considered to be a very traditional religion, and the followers believe that everything that exists- living or nonliving- has a spirit that must be respected. They also believe that the spirits of those who have died must be respected- they pray to, worship, and ask for help from their ancestors. To those who practice Animism, it is important to keep your ancestors happy, since they are an important link between life on Earth and the afterlife. There are also some locations and objects that are considered to be sacred, and to contain many spirits. Stones, for example, are considered very sacred. There was also tree in Haiti that was worshiped, as it contained the spirits of past witch doctors, until some Christian priests forced the spirits away. Many other things, like prayers, witches, sacrificial animals and clothing, are considered to be sacred, and are revered greatly among Animists.
"It may surprise you that most animistic religions teach that there exists one Supreme Being. He is often described as omniscient, eternal, beneficent, omnipotent and righteous. He is the creator, the moral lawgiver, punishes those who do evil, and blesses those who do good." - Dr. Patrick Zukeran, Author, Member of Probe Ministries
Animism is known as a "folk" religion, as it primarily exists in small, rural locations. Though Animism primarily exists in Africa, there are records showing a great amount of people in East Asia following the Animist beliefs. Most of these East Asian followers are from China (about 1200 million), but fifty percent of Mongolians are Animist (about 3 million)
Founded in India, around 1500 BCE, Hinduism is a cultural element created from Aryan invaders of the northwest and the preexisting culture of the Mauryan Empire.
Hindus have many beliefs that tie together to create the Hindu culture, with their rules and beliefs outlined in their holy text, the Vedas. All Hindus believe in reincarnation- the idea that when one's body dies, the would lives on and comes back in another form. What the souls reincarnates into is determined by karma. Karma is the sum of all a person's actions, good or bad, in their lifetime. Good karma means you reincarnate upwards on the Caste System, and bad karma means you reincarnate down.
The Caste System is an Indian social aspect, where citizens are classified in the culture by their profession. At one point in time, there was a class so low in poverty that higher classified people did not consider them even a class. They were called "Untouchables". It was like this until recently, with active protest led by Mahatma Gandhi. Nowadays, even those in poverty are considered a class.
All of this determining by karma has a determining factor of it's own, called dharma. Dharma is the values and rules the Indians must follow to gain good karma. These factors cause Indians to strive for perfection and lead a good moral life. Indians all strive to reach the highest point of the Caste System, which is Brahman. Once at a Brahman, the soul can rest and has reached the highest level. The level of Brahman is the highest obtainable by a person- gods are ranked higher than a Brahman.
There are numerous gods in the Hindu culture, but there are three that are most important: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. These three gods are the creation gods, responsible for the cycle of living things. Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves and protects, and Shiva destroys so it can be created again.
Shintoism, founded in Japan around 400 BCE, has a strong belief in spirits, similar to those of the Animists. Shintoists call their spirits "kami" and believe that all kami exist in the natural living things, and the kami within their emperor is even more powerful and "god-like".
Shintoists have several thousand shrines around the Japanese archipelago and have several thorough methods to keep these lands pure. Before someone can enter the sacred grounds of the shrine, they must wash their ands and mouth with water, then walk through the torii- a wooden arch that separates the spiritual world from the earthly world. Once on the shrine grounds, visitors tie prayers up outside the shrine and leave offerings of tea and rice to the kami. Only priests are allowed inside the shrine, and priests can be male or female. Also with the shrine, there is a pair of metal or stone statues positioned in front. These lion-like statues are the spiritual guards of the kami. At the shrines within a person's home, they are kept immaculately clean, and offerings are always left out. No lion-like guards are in place, as the homeowners guard the shrine.
Another common practice of Shintoists is to combine practices. Shintoism is often combined with Buddhism, as they both have factors of respect and peace.
Buddhism, though founded in India, is more centralized in the farther east of Asia. Buddhism appears around 550 BCE thanks to an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama, who later changed his name to Buddha ("the enlightened one"), due to his revelations on life. Buddhism surrounds around the idea that people should accept life as it is, and not look for change. This concept was not well-accepted in India, so Buddhists and their beliefs migrated farther eastward toward China, Southeast Asia, Korea and Japan. In these countries, Buddhism's elements of peace and acceptance made it easy to accept and combine with preexisting religions in the area.
Buddhism is also known for it's "Four Noble Truths". The Four Noble Truths are the four main ideas on how Buddhists try to obtain a peaceful life. Firstly, everyone suffers. Second, suffering is created by having desires. To end one's suffering, one must end desiring. And lastly, to end desires, one must follow the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path, in a summary states this:
- Have complete vision and understanding
- Have the right thought and attitude
- Have correct speech
- Have integral actions
- Have a proper livelihood
- Have full effort and vitality
- Be thoroughly aware
- Have a sense of absorption, mediation, and being one with your mind
Beginning in China, around 600 BCE, Taoism was founded by a man name Lao-Tse (various spellings). Like the other religion native to China, Taoism is more of a social philosophy rather than a religion. Due to this, it lives peacefully coinciding with Confucianism. Taoism and Confucianism also coincide well due to their major opposition. Confucianism is a philosophy on social and political ways, whereas Tao followers stay as unassociated in social or political issues as possible.
Similar to Buddhism, Taoism has a deep rooting in the ways of accepting things as they come, not looking for change. Followers of Taoism believe that they must respect everything that nature brings their way, following the fundamental laws of nature. This ties in well with it's name, as Tao translates to "the way".
Taoism also believes in a universal balance between Heaven and Earth, dark and light, man and woman, etc. These are all represented by the famous Yin and Yang circle. The Yin, the dark half, represents Earth, darkness, and women, and the Yang represents Heaven, light, and men. In a summary, Taoism followers believe that things will be okay as long as you do not upset the balance of nature.
Confucianism began in China around 600 BCE, similar to Taoism. Founded by a philosopher named Confucius, Confucianism focuses on man's social interactions with each other. Similar to Taoism, Confucianism became a behavioral guideline in China for many generations.
For following the behavioral guidelines set out by Confucius, there are four main things to follow:
- Education is important for a well-run society.
- Government officials should be fit for their position, and be good role models
- Every man should know and be content with his place in society.
- Everyone should lead a good moral lifestyle.
There is also the five basic relationships to consider. These five relationships are a foundation of respect and behavior among Confucians. First, Father over son. Also, older brother over younger brother. husband over wife, ruler over subject, and lastly, friend=friend. A third part of Confucianism is the Filial Piety, which is simply stating that one should respect their parents, elders, and country. These three parts of Confucianism are all contained within the religious text, the Analects.
Of the three main religions founded in the Middle East, Judaism is the oldest, existing since around 1000 BCE. Though Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all follow similar rules and share a god, Judaism differs under the belief that the messiah has yet to arrive. This fact causes Jews to follow a good moral life, to help ensure the arrival of the promised messiah.
Judaism is as much as a culture as it is a religion. Jewish people have been persecuted and ridiculed since the first century AD. From the Diaspora by the Romans, scattering Jews all over the globe, to the widespread persecution of WWII, the Jewish people have been persecuted so much for their religion, that their religion has developed more into it's own culture. Especially now, with the Jewish people having their own country- Israel.
Judaism was the first monotheistic religion, believing that there is only one god. they believe that they must obey only their sole god and live a good moral life full of love and justice, and in return their god will send a messiah to save them from their sins. The rules and guidelines set to live a good moral life are written in the Ten Commandments and the Torah, which also transfers over to Christianity.
Christianity, founded around the first century AD, is a kind of extension of Judaism. Also founded in the Middle East, Christianity believes in the same god as Judaism does, and also has the same set of rules- the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament of the Bible (the Torah in Judaism). But, Christianity has a New Testament to their Bible, which talks of the life of the messiah they believe has come.
Christians believe that the messiah, Jesus Christ, was born in the first century, AD. Though Judaism and Islam recognize Jesus, they see him more as a prophet, who showed miraculous powers, but no strong proof as being the son of God. But, since Christians believe that Jesus was the messiah, their sins have been forgiven and they can now have everlasting life in Heaven. But, as stated by the Ten Commandments and the Bible, Christians are still expected to lead a good moral life with fair treatment.
Christianity quickly became the most widespread religion in the world thanks to three factors: first, the rules were very simple which made the religion seem inviting and simple to follow. Second, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, so everywhere the Romans were, Christianity followed. And, when the Muslims attacked Europe in 732 AD and Charles Martel kept them out of Europe, that allowed Christianity to boom. Being the only religion in Europe for hundreds of years, Christianity became a large focus, branched off into many types of Christianity, and became such an important part of people's lives during some points that the religious rules were also political rules.
The Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity:
- Thou shalt not have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not bow down to any graven image.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy.
- Honor thy father and thy mother.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions.
Islam is the youngest existing religion today, founded around 600 AD in the Middle East. Within the Middle East, Islam originated in Mecca, Arabia. Islam is connected to Judaism and Christianity with the sharing of a god, holy city, and the Old Testament/ Torah being called the Qur'an (or Koran) in the Islam religion. In the Islam religion, Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was a prophet, and that the messiah came later on, by the name of Mohammed.
Similar to how Christianity was at one point in time, the Islam laws are so important that they actually make up the laws of some Islamic nations. Five of the most important laws are called "The Five Pillars". The Five Pillars state that every day one must say, "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." Also, one must pray five times a day facing Mecca, frequently give to charity, journey to Mecca at least once in their life, and not eat or drink sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.
Islam is currently the fastest growing religion, but it owes it's early start to the frequent military conquests. Thanks to the Arabs, who were not only Muslim but strong warriors, the Islam faith spread quickly along with the Muslim Empire: "Out of Mecca, east to India, west across North Africa, and on into Spain". After Spain, though, Charles Martel, a french Christian, kept the army from advancing into Europe.