The bravest thing a person can do is to think. Knowing so little of what, where, when, how, and why we are, a wide variety of beliefs can be a good thing provided it sparks discussion and research and refrains from using such differences as an excuse to persecute. Diversity permits us to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes if only briefly.
ANIMISM: This earliest religion is still embraced by 40% of the world’s people. Like all other religions it has been corrupted by dogma, bureaucracy, and self-aggrandizement. Basic animists are in tune with Nature. Every living thing has a spirit. So do many inanimate objects like streams, rock formations, clouds. In the morning you greet the spirit of the sun, of the forest, and of your canoe. You ask permission of the river spirit before launching your canoe, then, as you paddle along, you greet the spirits of rock formations, river bends, and so on. You ask forgiveness of the spirits of any animals you kill in order to survive. If you are an Inuit and kill a seal, you open its mouth to give it the treat of a drink of fresh water. Shamans, witch doctors, priests, and the like had to invent themselves to exploit these innate beliefs. Abuses led to animal and human sacrifices and the role of women from exaltation to exploitation.
ATHEISM: Disgust with religious differences and increasing doubts over their teachings are causing a marked increase in the number of world atheists. A leading guru, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, is quite eloquent in arguing there is no god, no heaven, no hell, only science. To this scribe, Atheism is a dead end, unlike
AGNOSTICISM whose motto is “I do not know and you do not know either.”, has embraced many great thinkers. In this universe our lilliputian minds can grasp only a minute portion of reality, so an open mind is essential. Science belongs here, not with Atheists.
PAGANISM: I did know of the Druids, a few Witch Associations, and one Pagan magazine when I thought, for the sake of this article, I should do a little more research. After one full day of research I am amazed to be able to list 70 Pagan publications in Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the United States. I have yet to explore the rest of the world. There are far more Pagans about than I had realized.
BUDDHISM: A contemporary of Zoroaster and the Hebrew prophets 2,500 years ago, Siddartha Gautama gave 84,000 sermons dwelling on the paths to Enlightenment. Two major divisions developed: Mahayana and Theravada plus various sects as Buddhism spread from India to Tibet, Persia, China, and Japan. Worldwide there are 164 different Buddhists sects. It died out in India but left its mark on Hinduism. Another great teacher, Vardhamana Mahavira, developed Jainism but it did not spread beyond India. Both embraced karma, reincarnation, and Nirvana (eventual escape from reincarnations) and both opposed the caste system, introduced by Aryan invaders, blood sacrifices, and the importance of priests. The Canadian magazine, with the greatest circulation in the United States, is Shambhala Sun, a Halifax voice of Buddhist wisdom.
CHRISTIANITY: There are 3,400 distinct Christian Associations, each one of which is the correct version, the others are all flawed. The majority of these are small congregations independent of any of the major sub-divisions. Adherents have run the gamut from bigotry and persecution to performing great acts of kindness. Very complex.
JUDAISM: For a small territorial religion, Judaism has enjoyed, through Christianity and Islam, immense world influence. The only religion tied to a specific piece of real estate, Israel, it still has deep divisions, the main ones being Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. They range in groups that believe in peace, tolerance, justice, democracy, sustainable development, and care for the environment to those that see humanity divided by a clash of civilizations, competing for power, territory, and resources. Compromise is impossible so maximizing Jewish power is a supreme good wherever Jews settle. The largest concentration of Jews today is in the United States. There are 14 million Jews in today’s world while 3.5 billion follow religions directly influenced by Judaism.
ISLAM: While Christianity is in decline, Islam is enjoying a period of resurgence and is infiltrating Christian countries. It has 3 major branches: Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi. Sunnis have 4 distinct schools of thought, Shi’as 6, Sufi 2. Then there are an additional 26 different schools, orders, movements, faiths, and what-have-you. Islam is not a centralized world threat as many fear but a widespread belief with many variants.
HINDUISM: Is, with a billion followers, a baffling array of spiritual traditions, with 4 main denominations: Saivism (at over 8,000 years the oldest of all religions after Animism), Shaktism, Smartism, and Vaishnavism. Within Saivism there are 6 main schools. Shaktism has 4, Smartism has 6, and Vaishnavism 5. All have more similarities than differences. All believe in karma, reincarnation, and in a Supreme Being who creates and destroys the universe in regular cycles - an early version of the Big Bang. Cremation is practiced to free the soul quickly to allow it to begin a new life.
ZOROASTRIANISM: An early monotheistic religion that grew and declined from 549 to 330 BC, it has many adherents in Persia (Iran) and India. It has survived many assaults that caused sects to develop. It did emerge healthy from long periods of Muslim occupation. A hereditary priesthood is causing a current decline. Life style changes in a modern world are today more threatening than past persecutions.
Considering all this, would you say it is a wee mite naive to expect any human association: family, team, town, or nation, to speak with a unified voice? Even in happy marriages, there are many differences of opinions. Our task is to embrace diversity, to outlaw the use of violence by any of these associations, to promote tolerance, to encourage discussions, and to value our own values with the flexibility to change them as our knowledge improves.