Limits to human and computer reasoning are real, but the bravest thing we can do is to probe them. We still know so little of what, where, when, how, and why we are, that a wide variety of beliefs can be useful provided they spark discussion and research and avoid using such differences as an excuse to persecute. Diversity permits us to explore pathways and to put ourselves in the shoes of others, if only briefly. Shall we start with our earliest beliefs?
ANIMISM: This earliest religion is still embraced by 40% of the world’s people. Like all other religions it has been corrupted by bureaucracy, dogma, greed, 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, fire, clouds, and wind. 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 think you have to 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.
FEMALE GODS: Artifacts dating back 25,000 years imply female Gods were our only Gods while the written word shows them to be dominant from 5,000 years ago. Female gods were given credit for many innovations from horticulture to writing. In Sumer it was the Queen of Heaven and in Ireland it was Brigit. In the Middle East, including the Semitic Jewish tribes, there was a supreme female god, known as Ashtoreth in Canaan. Power corrupts, even in those days, and in a few societies males were quite subservient (according to Herodotus). About 3700 years ago Abraham and his entourage, including Yahweh, arrived from Ur, infiltrated a Jewish tribe, gradually gaining control, installing Yahweh (Jehovah) and downgrading Ashtoreth and women. It was a slow, painful process but by 500 AD most female gods had been replaced by male.
Yet, in 150 AD, Apuleius in Rome could describe God as “Nature, the universal Mother, the mistress of all elements, sovereign of all things spiritual, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are.”
Today, we have the doubters:
ATHEISM: Disgust with religious wars, differences, and increasing doubts over religious 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, so it behooves us to investigate peacefully.” It has embraced many great thinkers over the ages. In this universe our fantastic but lilliputian minds can grasp only a minute portion of reality, so an open mind is essential. Science belongs here, not with Atheists.
And the believers:
BAHÁ’Í, founded in Iran in the 1850s by Bahá’u’lláh, a Tehran nobleman who left a life of luxury, is our youngest, and fastest growing religion. It supports one God and one human race with freely elected councils committed to moral and family values that eliminate prejudice, inequalities, and poverty. It embraces universal education, science-religion harmony, and sustainable environmental usages. It stresses unity and avoidance of sects.
BUDDHISM: A contemporary of Zoroaster and the Hebrew prophets of 2,500 years ago, Siddartha Gautama rejected inherited luxury to give 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 embrace 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, both to outsiders and its own many sub-divisions, to performing great acts of kindness. Very complex. It has both persecuted and supported science. By far, the main victims of Christian terror have been other Christians.
CONFUCIANISM evolved from the teachings of Confucius 551-479 BC: personal and government morality, social relationships, justice, sincerity, strong family ties, and the golden rule “Do unto others ...”
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: Less than 1400 years old, Islam is still a young religion. 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. The main victims of Islamic terrorism are other Muslims.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 and female gods), 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.
PAGANISM: There are over 70 Pagan magazine publications in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US. Pagans are polytheistic, but, like other religions, there are divisions. Most believe in Reincarnation, Magick (ability to us your will to effect real and positive changes in your life), Rituals as a way of thanking gods and goddesses with things of beauty (art, plants, poems, song, dance), and Sabbats (8 major holidays relating to plants and animals). SIKHISM, founded in Punjab, India, in the 1400s, by Guru Nanak, is based on the writings of Nanak and 9 successors. Waheguru, an omnipresent spirit with infinite qualities, created the universe out of nothing but its will leading to humans who are all equal. Sikhs allow their hair to grow in respect for Waheguru’s creation.
SHINTO (Kami-no-michi: Way of the Gods) is a set of Japanese practices to retain connections between the past and the present. Founded in 660 BC. Numerous shrines exist, devoted to such as harvests, romance, historic events, and wars. Kami (spirits) in animate and inanimate forms share the same world and interact.
TAOISM (DAOISM) has Chinese origin of living in harmony with the path to ecstacy, longevity, and immortality. It evolved into several schools, all claiming the Three Treasures: Compassion, Moderation, and Humility. It fell from favour in the 1600s and was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution but is accepted today.
ZOROASTRIANISM: An early monotheistic religion that grew and declined from 549 to 330 BC, it still 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, to promote tolerance, to encourage discussions, and to value and protect our own values with the flexibility to change them as our knowledge improves.
All living things are trapped in that Biology doles out reasoning abilities in limited and varying quantities to cells, amoebas, dandelions, cats, you, and me. All life could be one so whatever we do to others we are doing to ourselves. All beliefs could be true to those who hold them. Let me share your firstname.lastname@example.org