World Religion Basics

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It is impossible to determine just how many religions now exist on the planet. The best estimate is over 4000 with 85% of the global population identifying with a religious group. For the purpose of reader understanding the term “religion” in this piece will be defined as a specific belief system in a god or gods that is manifested in a code of ethics, rituals, expression, and conduct. It includes belief in an unseen world or entity and is not limited to race or socioeconomic status. Nearly all religions recognize a supernatural realm. 

Arguably the most common religions include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Many religions take their purpose to help people on earth to understand their purpose of existence in the world and the origins of life itself. In addition, they attempt to define a deity or more than one and the relation of that supernatural being to human existence. The human interconnection is also a forthright construct. Many religions use identifying symbols as well to encourage connections to their beliefs. 

Three monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are also known as Abrahamic religions. These specific faiths identify Abraham as their first prophet and earthly father. These religions originated in the Middle East. Christianity has its roots in Judaism, and then Islam developed from them.

Judaism is noted as being the oldest of the religions to have a belief in one god. This began with a figure in the bible named Abraham. According to the Hebrew scriptures, God chose Abraham to be the Father of a Great Nation That he would claim as his own. The term Judaism comes from the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve clans of Israel. The most sacred text of this religion is the Torah which contains the first five books of the Bible — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The word ‘Torah” means teaching and these Laws of God form the foundation of their religion as given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The belief is in one true God that chose its people to be His representatives on earth.

Christianity gets its name from one person, Jesus Christ ( meaning the anointed one). The earliest followers were called Christians (Acts 11:26), which means “little Christs.” Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures. This monotheistic approach concentrates on the trinity, a concept that there are three entities in one- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus Christ was persecuted, died, and rose again in the redemption of all sin. These sins, all now forgiven, permit everlasting life with God. Their sacred text is known as The Bible and incorporates both the Hebrew Version (The Old Testament) and The New Testament- The Gospels of Jesus Christ, The Book of Acts, and The Epistles. Christianity has had its influence on history in relation to Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Prootestism, and various other denominations across the globe. 

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Islam means “submission” and “peace.” Muslim means “one who submits to Allah.” Islam began in the seventh century with its founding prophet Muhammad. The teaching is that he was visited by the angel Gabriel who gave him specific messages from Allah (the Arabic word used by Muslims for “God”). The angel Gabriel continued to visit Muhammad for twenty years until his death. Muhammad believed these messages and scribed them into the text named the Qur’an. This religion of Islam spread east and west within 100 years of this prophet's death. The teachings of the Qur’an’s purpose is to have people strive to keep the Five Pillars of Islam. This is a set of religious duties that are performed regularly and provide the basic structure of Muslim life.

Major Indian Religions include Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. These Dharmic religions share a connection throughout India’s history with ancient Hinduism of the Vedic age (circa 1200–400 B.C.). Dharma means “the way” or “the religion,” and is the name Hindus use to refer to their faith. Hinduism has a wide range of philosophies, spiritual traditions, and cultural ideals. Their religion is a way of life. The central aims and goals of this way of life are summed up in the Four Purusarthas: Dharma (ethics and duties), Artha (prosperity and work), Kama (desires and passions), and Moksha (liberation and salvation). Karma is another construct of Hinduism meaning “moral law of cause and effect.” Samsara is the Hindu belief in reincarnation. There is a spiritual connection of mind/body in reference to yoga for wellness, tranquility, and spiritual insight. Bhakti refers to prayer and worship.

Those that do not believe in religion are known to be agnostic. This term refers to one who believes that nothing can be known of the nature of God or anything beyond material phenomena.  

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