Understanding World Religions

Religion is the driving force behind much of what happens in the world today -- particularly when it comes to the "big three" religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religious differences have and continue to spark wars, create nations, and spawn ongoing conflict down through the centuries. No matter what religion you adhere to (or even if you claim that you don't adhere to any religion at all), you need to have a basic understanding of the world's religions in order to understand what is happening in the world today so that you can be better informed and a more useful citizen of your nation and of the world. Without some knowledge of religion, you will not understand the underpinnings of what is happening in an increasingly global society.
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Understanding World Religions




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Now displaying: April, 2015
Apr 30, 2015

Our quote for today is from Albert Einstein. He said, "My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance — but for us, not for God."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Baha'i." 

The newest of what are generally considered world religions is Baha'i, which only began in the mid-nineteenth century. Although small, with about six million followers, in less than one hundred fifty years it has become a global and growing religion with adherents in almost every country.

Baha'i began in what is now Iran and was first seen as a sect of Shi'ite Islam. Shi'ites believe that one of the great imams of the past (some Shi'ites believe there were seven imams, others twelve) is still alive, in hiding, and one day will reveal himself as the Mahdi, who will bring worldwide peace and justice. In 1844, Ali Muhammad declared himself to be the twelfth imam and took the name Bab-ud-Din, meaning “Gate of Faith." Great excitement and rejoicing turned to anger and persecution when Bab-ud-Din's teachings turned out to be inconsistent with the Qur'an. He was executed in 1850, along with many of his followers, but predicted before his death that another man would come after him who would establish a new religion.

Those followers who were not killed were exiled to Baghdad, where in 1863, one of them, Hu-sayn Ali, proclaimed he was the foretold one and took the name Bahaullah, meaning “glory of God." Those who believed him took the name Baha'i. This group was forcibly moved around the Middle East for years until eventually arriving in Acre, near present-day Haifa, Israel.


Bahaullah was imprisoned the rest of his life, but wrote a number of books and letters and sent out missionaries to spread his message. When he died in 1892, he was succeeded by his son Abbas Effendi, who took the name Abdul Baha, meaning “Servant of Baha." He continued his father's work of writing, was released from prison in 1908, and began to travel widely in Europe and North America, proclaiming the Baha'i message and organizing local assemblies of followers. Baha'i leadership passed to his grandson Shoghi Effendi in 1921, who continued this work until his death in 1957. Thereafter, leadership ceased to be hereditary and was handed over to an elected body chosen from the now global Baha'i community.


Apr 23, 2015

Our quote for today is from Joe Mullally. He said, "I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day." 

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "The Nation of Islam." 

The Nation of Islam is probably best known for the Million Man March, held on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on October 16, 1995. Louis Farrakhan, its leader, gave the keynote address and led the huge crowd in pledges to "take responsibility for their lives and families, and commit to stopping the scourges of drugs, violence, and unemployment." Social and economic improvement for African-Americans through self-discipline and moral living has always been part of the Nation's beliefs, and it has made a positive contribution to the lives of many in this regard. 

The Nation of Islam began in 1930. In this period of Jim Crow laws, legal segregation, and horrendous discrimination, millions of poor, rural African-Americans from southern states migrated to northern cities in search of work. Conditions often were no better than what they had left behind. Into this situation a man named Wallace D. Fard appeared, in Detroit, preaching a message of Black supremacy. He said all Africans were originally Muslim; Christianity, which most African-Americans then professed, was a tool of "white devils" to subjugate them. Rather than seeking equality and integration, Fard preferred a totally segregated, Apartheid-like system where Blacks would have their own country. Many saw his message as the way out of poverty and oppression, and he gained many followers. 

In 1931, Fard met Elijah Poole (who took the name Elijah Muhammad) and trained him for over three years before Fard mysteriously disappeared. Elijah Muhammad took over leadership, and the organization continued to grow, later attracting such celebrities as Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Elijah Muhammad taught that W.D. Fard was Allah in the flesh, the Messiah and the Mahdi, and gave him the title of The Master. He claimed he'd been called by The Master to be the true religion's final Messenger. 


Apr 16, 2015

Our quote for today is from Father Mulcahy, a character on the hit TV show M*A*S*H. He said, "A faith of convenience is a hollow faith."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Islam: Varieties and Issues." 

Even small religions show amazing variety within their beliefs and practices, so it's no surprise that Islam is not monolithic.

First, as with any religion, there are differing levels of commitment and participation. At one end of the spectrum among professing Muslims are the nominal (non-practicing). Next are the Conformists, whose personal attitude is indifference or even unbelief but who follow the rituals due to family or societal pressure. While this might seem primarily limited to Muslim-majority countries where Sharia (Islamic law) is enforced, even where there's legal religious freedom, families and communities can exert tremendous pressure.

Next are the Reformers who are not an official branch (as in Judaism). The term refers to Muslims who sincerely believe Islam is the true religion but that the Qur'an must be understood and applied in the present, separating it from its seventh-century cultural roots. The Moderates, probably the largest group worldwide, are sincere in their belief, appreciate Islam's positive aspects (family, community, morality, etc.), and reject more radical interpretations.

Even the Fundamentalists, at the far end of the spectrum, have subgroups. All agree on a literal, almost rigid interpretation of the Qur'an, but some (such as the Taliban) teach law practices that go beyond the Qur'an. Some Fundamentalists actively propagate their faith and believe Islam's message will eventually reach and persuade everyone, yet they renounce violence. The most extreme Fundamentalists -- the ones recruiting suicide bombers and planning acts of terror -- believe Western cultural, political, and economic encroachment must be stopped by any and all means. 


Apr 9, 2015

Our quote for today is from David C. Hill. He said, "Debating theological niceties is fine, and even useful, but if it distracts us from the Greatest Commandments, then we're doing something wrong."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day." 

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "The Beliefs of Islam." 

In addition to the Five Pillars, Muslims are obliged to hold other beliefs. First among these is that, unlike Judaism, wherein a person can be an atheist and still be considered Jewish, a Muslim must believe in God. 

For other monotheistic faiths, and especially Judaism and Christianity, a common question is whether Muslims worship the same God. For American Christians, the frequent question "Is Allah God?" creates confusion. Because Islam is so closely tied to Arabic language and culture, many people think Allah is a special Muslim name for God or refers specifically to the God of Islam. Again, however, Allah is the generic Arabic word for God (like the Greek “Theos”, Spanish “Dios”, or Hebrew “Elohim”). Allah is used in the Arabic Bible (there are millions of Arabic-speaking Christians in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere). The wording of the question likewise assumes that the English word God refers exclusively to the God of the Bible, but English-speaking followers of any religion use that word to refer to their deity.

So the question should be "Is the God revealed in the Qur'an the same God revealed in the Bible?" Muslims believe they worship the God of Abraham, and thus, the same God as Jews and Christians. While there is a real historical connection, along with some similarities in beliefs about God's attributes, there are many significant theological differences as to God's nature and relationship to humans. In the Bible, God reveals himself to Moses as Yahweh; in Islam, God's name is unknown. Muslims refer to the ninety-nine names of God, but the actual or correct name is a mystery. 



Apr 2, 2015

Our quote for today is from Martin Luther King Jr. He said, "Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "The Theology of Islam." 

Monotheistic Islam shares many similarities with Judaism and Christianity, along with Zoroastrianism and Baha'i. But there are important differences. For example, Muslims share Judaism's belief in God's absolute oneness. Christians also believe God is one Being and that he eternally exists as three persons. The Qur'an and the Bible likewise agree on many of God's attributes, but again there are areas of disagreement. That the same or similar words are sometimes used with different meanings generates misunderstanding. For instance, Muslims and Christians both say God is merciful, but the Bible adds to this his grace and love. Minus these attributes, salvation as a divine gift is incomprehensible to Muslims. 

All the monotheistic religions believe their scriptures to be a revelation from God. Muslims believe the revealing takes place by a process of dictation. The Qur'an, they say, exists eternally in heaven, and Gabriel came to earth and dictated the book to God's messenger Muhammad. Christians believe in a process called inspiration, from a Greek word meaning "God-breathed." The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible's human authors so that God's message is communicated while retaining the writers' individual styles and vocabulary. 

These views have significant impact on thoughts about translation. The Bible was rendered into Syriac and Latin within a century of the New Testament's completion. Other translations followed; the combination of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation unleashed a tidal wave of translations into other languages. In contrast, the "true message" of the Qur'an can be read only in Arabic. Though translations exist, they're considered paraphrases, not authoritative. The many Muslims who don't read Arabic often use editions with parallel columns in Arabic and their own language.