There should be nothing taken from my choice to address the various religions by size. Spirituality is not a democracy, there is nothing to be judged by the members of adherents about the validity of any system. I don’t like the title “others”, it somehow degrades the remaining religions. I go back to my own Christian beliefs, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” from which I interpret that a “Church” is when at least two people gather. I see this scripture as anti-charismatic, validating the individual rather than the organization.
For this grouping I have included the sectors of the above graph “Non-religious” (which includes several religions, and in doing so, cultural bias), “Primal- Indigenous”, “Other”, Sikhism, and Judaism. One of the first surprises when I started researching this series was the relative size of various religions, I would have never have guessed there are so few Jews.
I’m going to approach this group in reverse order, starting with the smallest sector.
Judaism is more familiar in the Western world than many other religions, and by familiar I do not mean understood. With around fourteen million followers, Judaism is the smallest of the recognized unique religions. Within Judaism there are three distinct “movements” (Orthodox, Conservative, and the Reform/liberal/progressive movements) and like other religions variants within those branches.
Judaism is not simply Christianity without Christ, The Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is broken down into three sections, the Torah, (the five books of Moses), the Nevi’im (book of prophets), and the K’tuvim (book of writings). There are difference between the Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament, as well as different books in each. For the most part, Jews and Christians celebrate the same God, but don’t really agree on much of the last two thousand years.
Sikhism, while having more followers than Judaism, is hardly known at all, at least in the United States. Sikhs wear turbans, and are often assumed to be Islamic (more ignorance, Arabs don’t wear turbans). Sikhism was founded in what is now India in the sixteenth century, and is a monotheistic religion that sees a coexistence with spiritual and secular worlds. This translates to a fundamental Sikh teaching, deeds are more important than rituals.
Some interesting Sikh traditions are a prohibition on consuming ritualistically killed meat (the exact opposite of Judaism and Islam), and a prohibition against “blind spirituality”, or participating in rituals such as pilgrimages and purification. It is easy to see Sikhism as a rebellion against the structure of Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.
Other contains all the religions that do not fit in other categories but are still considered religions. This is murky territory. Certainly within this group are such diverse beliefs as Baha’i, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Rastafarianism, and Scientology, but also other religions that appear to be a part of a larger group but have emphatically denied any bond, such as Unitarian-Universalism, and Shinto. Wicca and Paganism are included in this group.
Essentially, to be part of “Other”, there is a belief system and an organized church, but in fact several religions in this category don’t fit that definition. When we get to “Non-religious” I’ll explore this cultural bias a little deeper.
Primal- Indigenous, religions are generally “tribal” religions, practiced by small communities in Africa, the Americas, and Island nations. Why these are separated from “Other” is outside my understanding. Every major religion began in a tribe,
What I have found interesting is the similarities in traditions. There are stories in several Indigenous religions that mirror stories in major religions. Stories of sinful cities destroyed by God, stories of a great flood, stories of exodus.
Non-religious is the most poorly labeled group, in that half of the people in it identified themselves as “theistic”. While the group includes Agnostics, who profess to have no proof of God and thus no faith or religion, and Atheists, who deny the existence of God, I can testify to the fact that there are no Atheists in foxholes. I have seen the most adamant Atheists search for a higher power when faced with calamity.
Every Atheist I have known developed their beliefs as a reaction to a religion, typically Catholic, and they couldn’t live within the structure of the religion. As the religions they are rebelling against are typically authoritarian, they are under the belief that God is the church, so in leaving the church that they have no faith in, they believe they are leaving God. I have asked a couple of Atheists to participate in the discussion, but they have not responded. If and when they do, I would like to write an entire article on Atheism.
This is where we need to discuss “What is a religion?”. Is a religion a building? From a Christian point of view, no. In Matthew 16:18 Christ says “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The “Church” is the leader. And when he later says in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” he is saying that any two may be a church. The phrase “The Church” strikes me the same way as when people refer to New York as “The City”. There are many.
So a religion is a set of principles. Not a church, and not a building, not a deity.
I would then say the half who said they are “theistic” believe in a higher power, and are therefore a religion. I would say Agnosticism, when followed as a way of life, with moral underpinnings, is a religion. I would even say that Atheism is a religion, because to believe that something is not God, you have to have faith, faith in yourself, alone in the universe, but faith nonetheless.
Is a religion a system of beliefs? To this I would say yes. Most of the Eastern religions are simply systems of beliefs. Common among all religions is a belief in the sanctity of life. Even the Aztecs and Mayan, who performed human sacrifices, were sacrificing something they felt was precious, the purest gift they could give to God.
However you express your faith, it is you, a human being, expressing it. Be it an all powerful god, or many gods working together, or no God. As humans we like to help other people see what we see, especially when it’s a good thing, so we share our beliefs. The problem occurs when people don’t want to hear anyone’s beliefs but their own, or when people insist on sharing beliefs that you’re just not interested in.
As annoying as Christians can be with their proselytizing, when they won’t go away remind them of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”
Next week, I’d like to summarize these similarities and point out the radical elements that take the headlines away from peaceful followers, or I may choose to write about proselytizing by different religions I haven’t decided on the focus yet. See you then.