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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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. 


Mar 26, 2015

Our quote for today is from Tony Blair. He said, "The big issue of our time is trying to deal with extremism based on a perversion of religion and how you get peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths and cultures."

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 Foundations of Islam." 

Essential to the religion of Islam are the Five Pillars, or obligations, that are required of all Muslims. These are, in English:


1. Reciting the Creed

2. Praying five times daily

3. Almsgiving

4. Fasting

5. Making the pilgrimage to Mecca


We will look at each in more detail in this episode.

Mar 18, 2015

Our quote for today is from journalist Bruce Buursma. He said, “Almost every story around the world has a religion sub-plot."

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 Beginning of Islam." 

Islam is the world's second largest religion, with about 1.6 billion followers in 2010 (more than 20 percent of the earth's population). Including  biological growth, it is also the globe's fastest-growing, and is the majority religion in forty-nine countries. Contemporary politics and the issue of terrorism have thrust Islam into the worldwide spotlight as never before. 

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "submission," and the religion's central theme is submission to the will of God. So a Muslim is one who submits to God's will, which is revealed in the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book. Qur'an, which is an Arabic word meaning "recite," is often transliterated Koran in English texts. Although the Arabic language and culture are central to Islam, only 25 percent of the world's Muslims are ethnically Arab, and the four countries with the largest Muslim populations (Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India) are all outside the Middle East. 

Some older books on history and religion refer to this faith as Mohammedanism. This is inaccurate and offensive to Muslims, as they do not worship Muhammad. Although they revere him greatly and follow his example in many ways, they insist he was just a man. To deify him, they say, is contrary to Muhammad's own teaching. 

Islam teaches that God has sent a long line of prophets to reveal his will to humans, and many Muslims would say Islam has existed since Adam's creation. However, to understand Islam today, we need to look at sixth-century Arabia and a man named Muhammad, considered Islam's final and greatest prophet.

Mar 11, 2015

Our quote for today is from Francis of Assisi. He said, "I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone."

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, "Zoroastrianism." 

How many people do you know who believe that after they die God will weigh their deeds and, as long as they have at least 50 percent good deeds, will allow them into heaven? This idea of God using balance scales to weigh deeds is held by many, including quite a number who call themselves Christians. But this concept is definitely not found in the Bible. So where did it come from? 

Zoroastrianism, a religion most people have never heard of, was the first to put forth the concept of judgment by weighing good and bad deeds, called ethical dualism. Due to their geographic distribution today, and because persecution in some countries forces them to keep a low profile, it is difficult to know how many Zoroastrians there are. Estimates range from a low of 150,000 to as many as several million worldwide. The most reliable figures place the number at 250,000. 

Mar 4, 2015

Our quote for today is from Anne Graham Lotz. She said, "Abraham is such a fascinating figure. Three world religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- all claim him as a patriarch. He was raised in a religious home. And yet he rejected religion in order to pursue a personal relationship with God."

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

"It is impossible to understand modern Judaism without knowing the events and experiences of the Jewish people since the time of Moses. In its number of followers, Judaism is among the smallest of the world's living religions, with slightly more than fourteen million adherents globally, yet it exerts a proportionally larger influence on world affairs today, in part because of the modern state of Israel, formed in 1948. 

"Many people, particularly Christians familiar with the Old Testament—the Hebrew Scriptures—think of Judaism in terms of what they've read in Exodus or Deuteronomy. Therefore, we must note that modern Judaism is Rabbinic, or Talmudic. Without a temple or sacrificial system, much of the Law cannot be followed. Over many centuries, influential rabbis have reflected and written on how to practice the Jewish faith under changed circumstances. The Talmud is the collection of those reflections and the basis for modern Judaism. 

"Jewish life today is primarily lived out in the home and secondarily in the synagogue. Practicing Judaism is more about daily life than about specific beliefs or formal rituals, although these do exist..."

Feb 26, 2015

Our quote for today is from Eliezer Berkovits. He said, "The foundation of religion is not the affirmation that God is, but that God is concerned with man and the world; that, having created the world, he has not abandoned it, leaving it to its own devices; that he cares for his creation."

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 Historical Development of Judaism"

What makes a person Jewish? This seemingly basic question is not so easy to answer, even for Jewish people. 

For most particular faiths described in this book, a person identifies either by birth—into a family belonging to that religion—or by adherence (even nominally) to its beliefs and practices. While that is true for some Jewish people, many who identify as Jewish practice no religion, or practice one other than Judaism. So for some, being Jewish is more about ethnicity or family traditions than religious beliefs. Generally, if one has a Jewish mother, one is considered Jewish. On the other hand, a few people who are not ethnically Jewish convert to Judaism through profession of belief in its teachings. 

So what follows is primarily a description of the religion. Many who self-identify as Jewish do not hold these beliefs or follow these practices. 

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