About Religions

The following came from an educational podcast, About World Religions (or something like that).

Axes of Comparison

There are several important axes of comparison among religions.

Universal and Ethnic

* Do its adherents actively seek to spread their message, or are they content to just live by their religion?
* (Is this properly part of the universal vs. ethnic axis, or should it be part of another axis completely? But she seems to say that ethnic religions are not evangelistic, while universal religions are. I wonder: is Reform Judaism, mostly divorced from Jewish culture and ethnicity, more evangelistic than is traditional Judaism?)

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy

* Orthodox religions place emphasis on belief, while orthoprax religions emphasize practice (ritual, law, diet, ceremony, etc.). Judaism is much more orthoprax than is Christianity; Judaism emphasizes the study of the Law while Christianity emphasizes study of the nature of God.

Understanding of time

Cyclical time and linear time:
* Most religions see time as both cyclical and linear, and have an emphasis on one or the other.
* Cyclical religions stress the constant repetition of patterns in the world, nature, society, and even in an individual’s life. Seasonal celebrations mark cycles, as do the constant creation and destruction of worlds.
* Celebrations of specific events in time, such as the birth of a religion’s founder, and belief in an overall narrative structure in the life of the universe (a beginning, middle and end) are characteristic of a linear view of time.

Regard for of Religious Leaders

Celebrating religious leaders and de-emphasizing them:
* This is related to a religion’s view of time. Some religions are centrally concerned with a particular person, and their life, teachings, death, and continued existence in another realm. This may or may not be the religion’s founder; it can also be prophets and teachers.
* More cyclical religions pay less attention to individual lives, celebrating them as incarnations of ever-present divine realities, rather than as unique events in the religion’s history.

Reincarnation and heaven

* Most religions have some idea of life after death.
* In some religions, life after death is on a different plane of existence, such as heaven or hell.
* Other religions believe that life after death continues in this world in the form of spirit life or reincarnation, for example.

Life after death

Eternal life in one’s body, and as a disembodied spirit:
* Some religions believe that we will live in the future in our physical bodies (on this or another world), while others believe that death is the “shucking off” of our physical bodies, after which we will live as pure spirits.

View of sexuality

Sexuality as positive, and sexuality as dangerous, or as a distraction:
* Some view sexuality as dangerous and distracting. Others see it as an integral part of that which is sacred and holy, or as a part of God’s plan.

Gender-specific, and gender-neutral

* Most mix male and female elements (gods and goddesses, or monks and nuns, or symbolic dualism such as yin and yang).
* Most are male-dominated. Some regard gender as very important.

Monotheistic and polytheistic

New Religious Movements

New religions usually develop by borrowing elements from old religions.

Millennialism, the belief that our world is about to end and be replaced by a more perfect world, is responsible for the creation of many new religious movements. Millennial movements sometimes end in violence or mass suicide. Other times they find ways to adapt to a long-term existence.

Some new religions such as Theosophy and Baha’i are universalistic religions and seek to bring many different religious traditions together.

New religions used to be classified as either sects or cults.

  • Sects: groups that understood themselves as belonging to an established, mainstream religion, but that chose to practice that religion in a somewhat unconventional way (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Amish).
  • Cults: Groups that set themselves up in opposition to established, mainstream religions, offering teachings and practices deemed unsuitable or heretical by established religions.
  • Today it is common to refer to all new groups as new religious movements (NRMs).
  • Some very old religions can be considered NRMs when they come into new cultural contexts, such as Hinduism coming into the US.

Some sources of new religions:

  • A feeling that the world is changing so fast that it must be approaching its end.
  • An increasing exposure to religious options from around the world.

The Witnesses recovered from their initial, 1914 prediction of the coming of Jesus. Rastafarianism has survived similarly when Haile Selassie failed to bring in a new era.

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