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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Jun 26, 2016
Our quote for today is an old Negro proverb: “Education without Salvation equals damnation.”
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, "Christian Science and Scientology"
Once again, we'll look at different faith systems with similar names in one episode, since sometimes these also are confused with each other.
The Church of Christ, Scientist is the official name of a movement (founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy) commonly referred to as Christian Science. The name is well known through the Christian Science Monitor, a respected newspaper, and through Christian Science Reading Rooms in major cities around the U.S. and in other countries. Christian Scientists claim to be one of Christianity's denominations, with a faith based on the Bible. Indeed, their literature and official website contain frequent scriptural quotations, usually from the King James Version. Their interpretations, however, and their answers to ultimate questions, show a belief system substantially different from orthodox Christianity of any branch or denomination.
Scientology, widely known for the celebrities among its members, was started by L. Ron Hubbard in 1955. A moderately successful science-fiction author, Hubbard said, in 1949, "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." Using his 1950 bestseller "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" as a foundation, that's exactly what he did.
Jul 16, 2015

Our quote for today is from Gautama Buddha. He said, "A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving, and fearless then he is in truth called wise."

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, "Theravada Buddhism" 

Buddhism is the fourth largest of the world's religions, with about 350 million followers, and like Hinduism, its influence extends far beyond the actual numbers. Theravada, the most traditional, conservative form today is found primarily in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although some of its followers intermingle animistic beliefs and practices, Theravada is essentially nontheistic, believing that enlightenment must be achieved by one's own efforts, without supernatural assistance. Since Theravada is closest to the original, Buddhism's beginnings will be described in this chapter. 

Buddhism began in India, though now it is a tiny minority there. Like Jainism, which began at about the same time, it started as a reform movement within Hinduism but developed into a separate religion. Siddhartha Gautama, its founder, was born into the family of a Kshatriya raja (minor ruler). Many legends have developed regarding his life, and sorting fact from later additions is difficult. Generally accepted dates for his life are 560-480 BC. 

According to tradition, at his birth it was foretold that if he saw only beauty and youth he would become a great king, but if he saw disease and death he would become a religious teacher. Since his father preferred the former outcome, Gautama grew up in an extremely sheltered environment, rarely leaving the walls of his palace. He married and had a son, but around age thirty became restless with his confined life. He slipped out and, deeply disturbed by seeing sick and dead people in the area, left his family and took up the life of a wandering monk. He tried philosophy, then the most extreme form of asceticism. One legend claims that during this period he lived on one daily grain of rice. However, even this did not bring him the answers he sought. He gave up asceticism, ate a meal, and sat under the shade of a tree to meditate. Finally, through meditation, Gautama found enlightenment and became the Buddha, meaning "Enlightened One." 


Jul 8, 2015

Understanding World Religions #27

Our quote for today is from Guru Granth Sahib. He said, "I didn’t ask for it to be over. But then again I didn’t ask for it to begin. For that’s the way it is with life, as some of the most beautiful days come completely by chance. But even the most beautiful days eventually have their sunset."

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, "Sikhism" 

Traditional Sikh men are recognizable by their starched, symmetrical turbans and full beards. Because Sikhs are not to cut their hair, older men’s beards and hair are piled on top of the head, under the turban. A few Hindus and some types of Muslims also wear turbans, though of a different style. This led to a tragic case of mistaken identity in the first reprisal killing after September 11, 2001, when an enraged American murdered a Sikh store owner in Phoenix, assuming anyone wearing a turban was Muslim. 

The Sikh religion is unique in attempting to synthesize one religion out of two very different ones. Nanak, its founder, was born into a Hindu family during the late fifteenth century in the Punjab region of northwest India. This was during the period of the Moghul Empire, when a Muslim minority ruled over the Hindu majority. 

Besides his Hindu upbringing, Nanak was highly influenced by a Muslim teacher. He apparently had a contemplative personality and spent much time reflecting on religion. At about age thirty, he claimed to receive a revelation from God while meditating. He was called to be a prophet of the true religion and preach the message of the essential unity of Islam and Hinduism. 

For the next several decades, Nanak wandered India, teaching his concepts and organizing communities wherever people accepted his message. These followers were called Sikhs, a Punjabi word meaning “disciple.” Nanak taught that there is only one God, called The True Name. Hindu polytheism, he said, just sees many different facets of this one God. Also similar to Islam, he believed in the duality of the universe, the reality of both the material and spiritual worlds. The earth was created by God; humans are the pinnacle of that creation. From Hinduism, Nanak retained the concepts of karma and reincarnation and taught that The True Name would eventually free humans from the cycle of rebirths. He also taught very simple forms of worship, rejecting most of the rituals of both religions. 


Jun 11, 2015

Our quote for today is from Marcus Aurelius. He said, "It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men's badness, which is impossible."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Jainism" 

Jainism, little known in the West, had a significant role in shaping post-classical Hinduism. And although today it has barely four million followers, Jainism continues to have an impact on modern India because its adherents are among the wealthiest and most influential of the country's businessmen. 

The founder was a man named Mahavira, born somewhere around 590 BC into the Kshatriya caste. As a young man, he abandoned his life of wealth and ease and joined a group of Hindu ascetics in search of answers to life's deep questions. He found even their self-deprivation insufficient and set out on his own course of extreme asceticism, seeking the most difficult and painful circumstances to free his soul from the bonds of reincarnation. After twelve years, he claimed to have achieved moksha (release) and spent his remaining thirty or so years teaching others about the path he had discovered. 

Unlike the monistic concept of Hinduism, Mahavira taught the dualism of body and soul. Somewhat like the ancient Greek philosophers, he saw the body, or material universe, as evil and the soul as good. Karma holds the soul onto the wheel of reincarnation "like mud clings to a wheel." If this is so, the only solution is extreme asceticism, depriving the body to weaken its grip on the soul. The goal becomes complete detachment from worldly things. 


Jun 4, 2015

Our quote for today is from Robert Hugh Benson. He said, "The Church must be intelligible to the simple as well as to the shrewd."

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, "Hinduism Today" 

We've already seen that Hinduism displays tremendous variety even in India. India's place at the forefront of twenty-first-century globalization and modernization has impacted religious practice, as well. Rural life mostly has gone on as it has for centuries, despite the introduction of radio and television, but in cities, a burgeoning middle class is being changed by the secularizing influences of Westernization. India, a nuclear power, is noted for its progress in science and technology. It's also the world's largest democracy, and the political aspirations of its people sometimes clash with Hindu values. 

This clash is most evident today in the social and economic aspirations of the Dalits (Untouchables). For centuries given the lowest jobs, they achieved legal rights at India's independence from Great Britain in 1947. Mahatma Gandhi called them ha-ri-jan, "children of God," and India's constitution outlawed the caste system, but just as 1960s Civil Rights laws didn't eliminate racial prejudice in the U.S., discrimination against Dalits has continued. India has a form of affirmative action that has guaranteed a percentage of university admissions and government jobs to each caste, and there are Dalits who have earned PhDs, but they are still denied entry into many hotels and restaurants (the upper castes believe their presence would bring defilement). 

For devout Hindus, the Dalits are born into their state due to karma from a previous life—to seek improvement is to only make things worse next time around. Some Dalits have protested against Hinduism entirely by formally and publicly converting to Christianity or, more recently, Buddhism. The caste issue is still challenging traditional Hindu beliefs, and change is slow. Cross-caste marriages are slowly being accepted among the educated, urban population, but in rural areas they can still result in so-called honor killings. 


May 28, 2015

Our quote for today is from Buddha. He said, "There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting."

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, "Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices" 

As mentioned in our last episodes, Hindu practice involves the worship of a vast multitude of deities. Worship consists primarily of prayers (usually chanted) and praise songs, plus offerings of food, milk, or money placed in front of a statue or idol of the god being worshiped. Worship, both corporate and individual, may take place in a temple. Some temples are dedicated to one god while others contain statues representing a number of gods. Most Hindu homes have shrines as well, with pictures or smaller statues to represent the gods chosen for worship by that family. No one attempts to worship all 330 million gods; people choose a few that are important to a person’s family, caste, occupation, or circumstances. 

Hinduism has an elaborate hierarchical structure for both gods and humans. At the top are Brahma, the Creator (different from Brahman, ultimate reality); Shiva, the Destroyer (also the god of fertility); and Vishnu, the Preserver. These three together are called the Trimurti, which some Hindus believe represents three facets of Brahman and thus sometimes mistakenly equate it with the Christian Trinity. 


May 21, 2015

Our quote for today is from the Indian philosopher and religious teacher Swami Prabhavananda. He said, "The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not."

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, "Hinduism" 

Hinduism, the world's third largest religion, has about 850 million followers. Most Hindus live in India, although the Indian diaspora has taken the religion around the globe. (Indians joke that the country's biggest export is people.) Sizeable Hindu populations live in the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S., East Africa, and on the island of Bali in Indonesia. 

Unlike most religions, Hinduism has no identifiable founder or "starting point." The available evidence suggests it has developed out of one or more ancient indigenous religious systems in India, plus outside influences brought by invaders who called themselves Aryans, meaning "noble ones." They entered India from what is now Iran, about 1500 BC. Even within India, the religion exhibits tremendous variety. In some ways, the label Hinduism is a convenient Western term, now adopted by India itself, for the great variety of Indian religious expressions. Hinduism also gave birth to three additional religions: Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. 

Religious expression is influenced not only by the underlying belief system but also by the culture in which it develops. This is most clearly seen in comparing faiths that began in the Middle East (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha'i), which are all monotheistic, with those that began in India (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism), which are, with the exception of Sikhism, polytheistic or agnostic, and far more contemplative. With Sikhism again as the exception, the monotheistic faiths believe humans live once and are judged by God after death; the others believe in reincarnation, giving humans multiple tries to improve their spiritual condition. 

Hinduism is probably best known for its many gods and goddesses, represented by a huge variety of colorful statues, sometimes called idols. But this is just the surface of Hindu worship. The core beliefs that underlie all the various Hindu expressions are karma and reincarnation. 

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. 


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