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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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Dec 10, 2014

Welcome to the "Understanding World Religions" podcast. This is episode number 2. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. The simple purpose of this podcast is to help you become informed about the various religious beliefs that exist  in the world today. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Christian and I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. However, I do have two degrees in Religion and with the knowledge of all these religions, I have chosen to be and remain a Christian. 

 

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 -- along with doing much good -- 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. 

 

Our quote for today is from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”

 

In this podcast, we will be making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day: Learn the Basics of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Christianity, and many more." Garry Morgan is a Professor of Intercultural Studies at Northwestern College. He served with World Venture for 20 years in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania. 

 

Our topic for today is titled, “What is Religion?” Part 1: 

 

Ask most people if they know what religion is and they will say yes. Ask them to define it, though, and you’re likely to get blank stares and some mumbles. While we usually recognize religion when we see it, definitions are more challenging. Most people assume it has something to do with God, or gods, but that’s not always the case. Definitions tend either to be so broad they’re unhelpful or so specific they omit or overlook certain religions. 

 

In addition, religion overlaps with philosophy. Confucius probably thought of himself as nonreligious, yet his philosophical principles have been incorporated into Chinese religions. Indeed, when a philosopher devoutly follows a particular religion, it can become impossible to distinguish between it and his philosophy. Søren Kierkegaard, a nineteenth-century Danish philosopher regarded as a father of existentialism, had a deep Christian faith and wrote profound theological works. Nevertheless, philosophy differs from religion in that it typically does not involve corporate practices like worship. 

 

One far-reaching effect of cultural diversity on a global scale is that disparities, divergences, and discrepancies are not only interreligious but also intra-religious— that is, within the same religion in different areas. An Ethiopian Orthodox worship service bears little outward resemblance to an Ecuadorian Pentecostal service, yet both groups share core Christian beliefs. 

 

Further, because religion significantly impacts our worldview, religious beliefs and practices are highly interconnected with culture. Indeed, as with the philosophical, discerning the cultural from the religious can range from challenging to undoable, so intertwined are they. What outsiders may view as religious practice, adherents may see as simply a cultural tradition. Traditional Chinese people clean ancestral graves each spring; Westerners tend to identify this as a religious practice, while the Chinese think of it in cultural terms. In the same way yet in reverse, some non-natives enjoy attending Native American powwows to watch the “cultural” dances, but to the cultural insider these dances have spiritual import. 

 

The English word religion comes from the Latin religio, meaning “awe or fear of a god or spirit.” Most religions do affirm a supernatural realm and include practices intended to worship or placate gods or spirits. But again, not all belief systems typically classified as “religions” entail the supernatural or even uphold its existence. Confucianism, Taoism, The-ra-va-da Buddhism, and Jain-ism are found in every world religions textbook yet are indifferent or agnostic on the reality of the supernatural, especially in any personal sense. 

 

Even those who study religion professionally struggle to agree on a definition. The theologian Paul Tillich called it “that which is of ultimate concern”— perhaps an accurate descriptor but too general to be very useful as a definition. Anthropologist Michael Alan Park defines it as “a set of beliefs and behaviors pertaining to the supernatural.” While most anthropological explanations insist on inclusion of the supernatural, Edward Norbeck says religion is a “distinctive symbolic expression of human life that interprets man himself and his universe, providing motives for human action”. William James said religion “consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.” Note that neither of these latter two necessitates affirmation of the supernatural. 

 

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On our next Understanding World Religions podcast, we will continue talking about "What is Religion?"

 

In closing, I would like to say that even though we are covering many religious belief systems in this podcast, there is only one way of truly being cleansed of your sins and only one way that you can be guaranteed an eternal home in Heaven with God. That way is through Jesus Christ. The Bible says in Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." First Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all.”

 

If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

 

Until next time, may God richly bless you.

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