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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 17, 2014

Our quote for today is from Mahatma Gandhi. He said, "When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator."

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 2: 

Despite the variety of ways people define religion, sifting through definitions does steer us toward helpful principles. First, one religion component is an organized system of beliefs. In some cases the organization may not be obvious to outsiders, but no religion is made up of random, unrelated creeds. Second, not all religions involve worship, but they do all mandate or at least commend certain behaviors and actions — corporate, individual, or both — that are related to the belief system. Third, a religion answers questions about the unknown. 

What William James called an "unseen order" relates to how a religion answers what are usually termed ultimate questions. The various religions respond to these queries in an astonishing array of ways. Whether or not the answers are interwoven in a systematic manner, they guide people in thinking about what is beyond that which our five senses can perceive. 

The foremost ultimate question is "What is ultimate reality?" For theists (primarily, adherents to Christianity, Judaism, or Islam), the answer is God. Buddhists say the answer is Nothing (specifically, a void, or Nirvana). Secular Humanists say it's the material universe, beyond which nothing else exists. 

The next question is "What is the nature of the universe?" Theists maintain that God created it. Secular Humanists believe the universe (or the material components that comprise it) is eternal and has no beginning or creator (First Cause). Hindus say the material universe is an illusion; we think it's real, but it doesn't actually exist — rather, all reality is spiritual in nature. Other questions asked are:

"What does it mean to be human?"

"What is humanity's primary problem?"

"What happens after death?" 

From one religion to another, the answers vary as much as their outward practices. Clearly, all religions are not basically the same.

In summary, there is no single right answer to defining religion. For this podcast we'll use this working definition: "Religion is an organized system of beliefs that answers ultimate questions and commends certain actions or behaviors based on the answers to those questions." 

NOW, FOR "AN EXTRA MINUTE", let's look at the question: Is Secular Humanism a religion? 

Academic textbooks do not include it among the religions studied. Books that Christians write on world religions normally do include a chapter on secularism or atheism (though these are not exactly the same thing). 

Why the difference? 

Secular Humanists are vociferously opposed to being considered a religion, largely because most people assume religion involves belief in the supernatural. State universities won't buy textbooks over the objections of Secular Humanists. 

However, like Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, and other nontheistic belief systems included in academic textbooks, Secular Humanism fits our working definition, has significant impact on today's world, and serves functionally as a religion. For consistency, this podcast will includes an episode on it.

 

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