Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Religion & Spirituality

I had a request for more background on faith vs religion.  I do switch between the terms so again I'm just copying from my first book of shadow notes.


Do your own search on terms that interest your own path.  What is working for me, may not work for you.  I had a spiritual leader tell me that if you don't question faith than you have no faith.  Go to a temple.  Read the Bible.  Talk to people.  Stare at the Moon.  As long as none are harmed, try it.  Wicca can be very open so step out and explore...

Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and Worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life; spiritual experience includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the World.

Whilst the terms spirituality and religion both relate to a search for an Absolute or God, and thus have much overlap, there are also characteristic differences in their usage. Religion implies a particular faith tradition that includes acceptance of a metaphysical or supernatural reality; whereas spirituality is not necessarily bound to any particular religious tradition. Thus William Irwin Thompson suggests that "religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization."

The earliest evidence of Hominids, such as Neanderthals and even Homo heidelbergensis (100,000 BC), deliberately disposing of deceased individuals usually in funerary caches. The graves, located throughout Eurasia are believed to represent the beginnings of ceremonial rites.  Neanderthals placed their deceased in simple graves with little or no concern for grave goods or markers; however, their graves occasionally appeared with limestone blocks in or on them, possibly an archaic form of grave marking. These practices were possibly the result of empathetic feelings towards fellow tribe's people, for example: an infant buried in the Dederiyeh Cave after its joints had disarticulated was placed with concern for the correct anatomical arrangement of its body parts.

The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviors, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural), and/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a God or Gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture.

Religion (from L. religionem "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the Gods," "obligation, the bond between man and the Gods") is derived from the Latin religiō, the ultimate origins of which are obscure. Many languages have words that can be translated as "religion", but they may use them in a very different way, and some have no word for religion at all. For example, the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes translated as "religion", also means law. There is no precise equivalent of "religion" in Hebrew, and Judaism does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities. The use of other terms, such as obedience to God or Islam are likewise grounded in particular histories and vocabularies.

The four largest religious groups by population, estimated to account for between 5 and 7 billion people, are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Judaism is the oldest Abrahamic religion, originating in the people of ancient Israel and Judea. Judaism is based primarily on the Torah; a text which some Jews believe was handed down to the people of Israel through the prophet Moses in 1,400 BCE. Unlike other ancient Near Eastern gods, the Hebrew God is portrayed as unitary and solitary; consequently, the Hebrew God's principal relationships are not with other gods, but with the World, and more specifically, with the people He created. Judaism thus begins with an ethical monotheism: the belief that God is one, and concerned with the actions of humankind.  This along with the rest of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud are the central texts of Judaism. He also commanded the Jewish people to love one another; that is, Jews are to imitate God's love for people.  The Jewish people were scattered after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Today there are about 13 million Jews, about 40 percent living in Israel and 40 percent in the United States.   

Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (1st century) as presented in the New Testament. The Christian faith is essentially faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and as Savior and Lord. Almost all Christians believe in the Trinity, which teaches the unity of Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. Most Christians can describe their faith with the Nicene Creed. As the religion of Byzantine Empire in the first millennium and of Western Europe during the time of colonization, Christianity has been propagated throughout the World.

In the Catholic Church, spirituality is generally seen as an integral part of religion.  The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is, with over a billion members, the World's largest Christian church.  Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering its sacraments and exercising charity. The Roman Catholic Church is among the oldest institutions in the World and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilization. It teaches that it is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ, that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles and that the Pope is the sole successor to Saint Peter.

Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals which were an integral part of ancient Egyptian society. It centered on the Egyptians' interaction with a multitude of deities who were believed to be present in, and in control of, the forces and elements of nature. The myths about these Gods were meant to explain the origins and behavior of the forces they represented. The practices of Egyptian religion were efforts to provide for the Gods and gain their favor.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.  Atheists tend to be skeptical of supernatural claims, citing a lack of empirical evidence. Rationales for not believing in any deity include the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, and the argument from nonbelievers. Other arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to the social to the historical. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies, there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.

Islam refers to the religion taught by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a major political and religious figure of the 7th century CE. Islam is the dominant religion of northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. As with Christianity, there is no single orthodoxy in Islam but a multitude of traditions which are generally categorized as Sunni and Shia, although there are other minor groups as well. Wahhabi is the dominant Muslim schools of thought in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are also several Islamic republics, including Iran, which is run by a Shia Supreme Leader.

Buddhism was founded by Siddhattha Gotama in the 6th century BCE. Buddhists generally agree that Gotama aimed to help sentient beings end their suffering (dukkha) by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth (saṃsāra), that is, achieving Nirvana.   Other practices may include following ethical precepts, support of the monastic community, renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic, the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation, cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment, study of scriptures, devotional practices, ceremonies, and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of Buddha's and bodhisattvas.

The Baha'i Faith was founded in the 19th century in Iran and since then has spread Worldwide. It teaches unity of all religious philosophies and accepts all of the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as additional prophets including its founder Baha'u'llah.   In the Bahá'í Faith, faith is ultimately the acceptance of the divine authority of the Manifestations of God. In the religion's view, faith and knowledge are both required for spiritual growth.

Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, World view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. According to Greg M. Epstein, "Humanism today can be categorized as a movement, a philosophy of life or Worldview, or ... [a] life stance." In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature.  Religious humanism is an integration of humanist ethical philosophy with religious rituals and beliefs that center on human needs, interests, and abilities.

Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation.  Beginning with the 95 Theses, Luther's writings disseminated internationally, spreading the ideas of the Reformation beyond the ability of governmental and churchly authorities to control it.  Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification "by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone".

Folk religion is a term applied loosely and vaguely to less-organized local practices. It is also called paganism, shamanism, animism, ancestor worship, matriarchal religion, or totemism, although not all of these elements are necessarily present in local belief systems. The category of "folk religion" can generally include anything that is not part of an organization. Modern neopagan movement draws on folk religion for inspiration to varying degrees.  Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe. 

Earth-centered religion is a New Age term used mostly in the context of Neopaganism.  It is an umbrella phrase that is used to cover any religion that worships the Earth, nature, or fertility gods and goddesses, such as the various forms of goddess worship or matriarchal religion. Also most Indian religions can be included in Earth religion. Some find a connection between Earth-worship and the Gaia hypothesis. Earth religions are also formulated to allow one to utilize the knowledge of preserving the Earth.

Wiccan, one form of Neopaganism, beliefs vary markedly between different traditions and individual practitioners. However, various commonalities exist between these disparate groups, which usually include views on theology, the afterlife, magic and morality.  Another characteristic of this religion is the celebration of seasonally-based festivals, known as Sabbats, of which there are usually eight in number annually. 

Traditional Native American religions exhibit a great deal of diversity, largely due to the relative isolation of the different tribes that were spread out across the entire breadth of the North American continent for thousands of years, allowing for the evolution of different beliefs and practices between tribes.  Native American religion is closely connected to the land in which Native Americans dwell and the supernatural. While there are many different Native American religious practices, most address the following areas of supernatural concern: an omnipresent, invisible universal force, pertaining to the "three 'life crises' of birth, puberty, and death", spirits, visions, the shaman and communal ceremony.

Protestantism is one of the three major groupings (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism) within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.   Protestants are distinguished by their emphasis on the doctrines of "justification by grace alone through faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the supremacy of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and order."  Most Protestant churches recognize only two sacraments directly commanded by the Lord - baptism and communion - as opposed to the seven sacraments accepted by the Catholic Church. 

Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately seventy million adherents Worldwide.  Methodism affirms the traditional Christian belief in the triune Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as the orthodox understanding of the consubstantial humanity and divinity of Jesus. Most Methodists also affirm the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Methodist Church is known for its missionary work, and its establishment of hospitals, universities, orphanages, soup kitchens, and schools to follow Jesus' command to spread the Good News and serve all people.

Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of Prophet Zoroaster in the 6th century BC. The Zoroastrians worship the Creator Ahura Mazda. In Zoroastrianism good and evil have distinct sources, with evil trying to destroy the creation of Mazda, and good trying to sustain it.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion characterized by support for a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning."  Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a result of that search and not obedience to an authoritarian requirement. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.  Unitarianism indicates the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. The name refers to the unity, i.e. oneness of God. Universalism is the belief that God will save everyone and no one will suffer eternal punishment.

Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown or unknowable.  Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who is undecided about the existence of a deity or deities

Hinduism is a synecdoche describing the similar philosophies of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and related groups practiced or founded in the Indian subcontinent. Concepts most of them share in common include karma, caste, reincarnation, mantras, yantras, and darśana.  Hinduism also recognizes numerous divine beings subordinate to the Supreme Being or regards them as lower manifestations of it. Other notable characteristics include a belief in reincarnation and karma, as well as in personal duty, or dharma.  Hinduism is not a monolithic religion in the Romanic sense but a religious category containing dozens of separate philosophies amalgamated as Sanātana Dharma.  Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder.  Among its direct roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India and, as such, Hinduism is often called the "oldest living religion".

Religion in North America spans the period of Native American dwelling, European settlement, and the present day. Its various faiths have been a major influence on art, culture, philosophy and law.  Between them, the USA, Mexico and Canada account for 85% of the population of North America. Religion in each of these countries is dominated by Christianity.

A 2008 survey of 1,000 people concluded that, based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist or agnostic, and another 12% are deistic (believing in a higher power/non-personal God, but no personal God).

The largest religion in the US is Christianity, practiced by the majority of the population (76% in 2008). From those queried, roughly 51.3% of Americans are Protestants, 25% are Catholics, 1.7% are Mormon (the name commonly used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and 1.7% of various other Christian denominations. Christianity was introduced during the period of European colonization.

A 2001 survey directed by Dr. Ariela Keysar for the City University of New York indicated that, amongst the more than 100 categories of response, "no religious identification" had the greatest increase in population in both absolute and percentage terms. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no theistic religious beliefs or practices.

After Christianity and no-religion, Judaism is the third-largest religious affiliation in the US.   Jews have been present in what is now the US since the 17th century, though large scale immigration did not take place until the 19th century, largely as a result of persecutions in parts of Eastern Europe.

Buddhism entered the US during the 19th century with the arrival of the first immigrants from Eastern Asia. The first Buddhist temple was established in San Francisco in 1853 by Chinese Americans.

Because religion continues to be recognized in Western thought as a universal impulse, many religious practitioners have aimed to band together in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The first major dialogue was the Parliament of the World's Religions at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, which remains notable even today both in affirming "universal values" and recognition of the diversity of practices among different cultures. The 20th century has been especially fruitful in use of interfaith dialogue as a means of solving ethnic, political, or even religious conflict, with Christian-Jewish reconciliation representing a complete reverse in the attitudes of many Christian communities towards Jews.  Recent interfaith initiatives include "A Common Word", launched in 2007 and focused on bringing Muslim and Christian leaders together, the "C1 World Dialogue", the "Common Ground" initiative between Islam and Buddhism, and a United Nations sponsored "World Interfaith Harmony Week".

This is just a few short terms that helped me when I started.  Many of these faiths are much more complex.  The season of Earth is turning.  It is a time to rest and a great time to explore.

Garden of Love:

Plant four rows of squash;

Squash gossip, Squash indifference,

Squash grumbling, Squash selfishness.

So may it be.

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