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: November, 2015
Nov 26, 2015

Our quote for today is from Simone Weil. He said, "Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace."

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, "Secular Humanism"

Secular Humanism is not merely nontheistic. It is zealously antitheistic. Secular Humanists hold that belief in God is the greatest danger humanity faces, and human "salvation" requires total elimination of belief in the supernatural.

So why include it in a book on world religions? Secular Humanism fits our working definition of religion as an organized system of beliefs that answers ultimate questions about life. It has councils and associations, conferences and workshops, and a statement of beliefs. As we've seen, many belief systems are not based on belief in or reliance on the supernatural. Theravada Buddhism, Jainism, and Confucianism, for instance, believe the answers come from within, not from any source beyond humanity. The inclusion of Secular Humanism is consistent, and besides, it would be strange to ignore a belief system that has the stated goal of eradicating the beliefs and practices described in every other chapter of this book.

Secular Humanism's foundation is built on the philosophy of naturalism, or materialism: that the material universe (the natural world) is all that exists. This it shares with atheism, the belief that there is sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God and the supernatural. Agnostics, those who say there is insufficient evidence to know whether God (or the supernatural) exists, may also embrace Secular Humanism. But for Secular Humanists, atheism is just a beginning point. They have developed a complete worldview and value system built on naturalistic presuppositions.

As an organized system it differs from secularism, a much broader term referring to the worldview of those who live as if God does not exist. This includes all the nonreligious, estimated by researcher David Barrett to exceed 20 percent of earth's population. Certainly, Secular Humanism influences secular beliefs, but it goes beyond passively ignoring God to actively building a lifestyle and worldview based on opposition to belief in God.

Nov 18, 2015

Our quote for today is from Yukitaka Yamamoto. He said, "To be fully alive is to have an aesthetic perception of life because a major part of the world's goodness lies in its often unspeakable beauty."

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, "Shinto"

Shinto, Japan's traditional religion, combines animistic aspects with ancestor veneration. There are shrines, priests, and corporate ceremonies, but much of Shinto is practiced in the home. It has no founder or starting date and has been practiced in Japan since before recorded history. It is so imbedded in the culture that it didn't even have a name until the arrival of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism from China in about AD 400, when it was called Shinto to distinguish it from the other systems. The name comes from the Chinese words "shen" and "tao," meaning "the way of the gods." The Japanese name, "kami no mi chi," means the same.

Although "kami" is usually rendered "gods," it has a much broader meaning in the Japanese mind. It refers not only to major deities like the Sun Goddess but also to lesser deities, spirits of ancestors, even a spiritual presence in trees or hills. Basically, anything possessing a form of spiritual power or influence fits into the category. The Japanese estimate there are eight million kami.

Shinto also has nationalistic aspects. Its mythology explains the origins of the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu), the creation of Japan and the rest of the world, and how the Japanese emperors descended from Amaterasu, which is why they were believed by the Japanese to have divine status. In the 1930s, the military manipulated these traditions to justify the invasion of China and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.


Nov 12, 2015

Our quote for today is from Lao Tzu [LAH-O-ZAH]. He said, "In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present."

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, "Taoism"

Because Taoism and Confucianism are so opposite in philosophy and concept, they're commonly treated as separate religions. Also, combining them would result in a very lengthy chapter, so the usual custom has been followed here. This is somewhat artificial, however, since Chinese religion as it is actually practiced combines these along with ancient polytheistic religions, including ancestor veneration and Buddhism. This is a community religion, and a traditional temple in Taiwan or rural China frequently contains statues of Confucius, Lao-tzu, Buddha, and many traditional deities all together.

Taoism takes its name from the title of the book "Tao Te Ching," or "The Way of Nature." In modern slang we might call this philosophy "It is what it is." This brief work—its length is about the same as five chapters of this book—rivals the "Analects of Confucius" as the most influential literature in Chinese history. Only the Bible has been translated more times than the Tao Te Ching, and more than a thousand commentaries have been written about it.

The man traditionally credited with having written it and with starting Taoism was named Li-poh-yang, but he is better known by the title given him by his disciples, Lao-tzu, meaning "Old Master." In China, where age is highly revered, this title of respect even gave rise to a legend that he was born old. There is less historical information about Lao-tzu than any other founder of a world religion. Some scholars even doubt that this historical person ever existed. Confucian sources say he was born about 500 BC, and that the two shapers of Chinese life met in person. Many literary scholars believe the Tao Te Ching was compiled from multiple sources over several centuries.

Nov 5, 2015

Our quote for today is from Confucius. He said, "Never impose on others what you would not accept for yourself."

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, "Confucianism"

Many people would describe Confucianism as a philosophy or ethical system rather than a religion. This is probably what Confucius himself intended. His writings teach about how to live and conduct oneself in this life here and now. He was personally agnostic, if not atheistic; while not directly challenging belief in gods and the supernatural, he was indifferent as to their existence—as far as he was concerned, they were irrelevant to what's really important.

But in the centuries after his death, his followers gradually folded his memory and image into the religious practices already existing in China. The Chinese prefer the term veneration rather than worship to describe the rituals connected with their ancestors. To the outside observer, though, the rituals would look very similar to the worship practiced by other religions. It is the inward intent that distinguishes the two concepts.