Jump to content

How would you rate different religions?


Recommended Posts

Conversions from one religion to another seem comparatively rare, unless accompanied by economic or military persuasion. Upbringing, local culture, seem to be the key influences. But if you could step outside, somehow, how would you rate them, in terms of morality, reasonableness, impact? 

Some thoughts.....

I don't think there's anything intrinsically “sacred” or “true” about religions themselves. They’re as much human constructions as schools, governments and ideologies. You can judge them, vote for them, like you do for political parties (or not). There are many options. Looked at logically, Islam makes more sense than Christianity, which split God into three as it became absorbed into the Roman Empire, and inherited many of its rituals and practices. If the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) don’t work for you, and you’re looking for an intelligently conceived monotheistic religion that makes few demands on credulity and focuses on good practice in this life, then Sikhism is a good bet. The youngest and fifth largest of the major religions, it rejects religious monopoly, puts practice above creed, and focuses on truthfulness, honesty, self-control and purity.

And of course monotheism is a recent development, followed by some just in the most recent fraction of 1% of our time on earth. We might describe Hinduism as being the most successful religion today in terms of being followed by the largest proportion of the world’s population over the last few thousand years. Some scholars say that it’s the cradle of many of the others, including the monotheistic religions, much as our languages have developed from Sanskrit. Those inclined to mysticism might claim that the central Hindu teaching of advaita, of all things being one, is at the root of all good religion. Others claim that in its exploration of consciousness it developed sophisticated views of the unity of matter and mind millennia ago that science is only just beginning to appreciate. The most revered of their classics, the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Beloved”), written around the fifth century BC, is the earliest attempt we have to arrive at a comprehensive view of existence. The setting is a battlefield that symbolizes life itself. As the dialogue ripples out into deeper subject a whole philosophy of life unfolds. It’s a work of deep wisdom and tolerance. As Krishna says, “Whoever with true devotion worships any deity, in him I deepen that devotion; and through it he fulfills his desire” (7:21).

But this doesn’t necessarily mean Hinduism can work for everyone. It’s hard for Westerners to embrace the idea of 350 million gods (oddly enough very similar to the number of angels that medieval monks believed existed; Hinduism has worked by virtue of its flexibility, it adds gods faster than the Hebrew kings added wives and sex-slaves), rather than one, of duty rather than love at the top of the moral equation, let alone the caste divisions (Hinduism is pluralist on a broad scale, but separation is locked in socially). We’re conditioned by our past, our present, and they are rare individuals who can determine for themselves quite different futures.

Religion does not need “God,” or “gods,” at all. Buddhism for instance is increasingly the religion of choice for many in the West (usually with a small “b,” but then most people who go to church are only Christian with a small “c”). Reincarnation is making a comeback. Originally an offshoot of Hinduism, it developed different forms as it spread; first into Theravada (Sri Lanka) and Mahayana (Tibet), then with further offshoots like Madhyamika, Tantric, Vajrayana and Zen. It then got a further boost when the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1951 scattered Buddhist teachers around the world in much the same way as the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 scattered Jews and Christians. Historically, it’s generally been the most peaceable and contemplative of the major religions. It seems the most intellectually rigorous, being based on reason rather than revelation, in some respects closer to philosophy. It's leaders tend to stress the need to test teaching against your own experience, rather than take sacred scriptures on trust. It focuses on the processes of the mind rather than what it thinks it sees. Through meditation, we gradually reduce the sense of self, clearing the mind of its junk. I struggle with it, but practices like raja yoga or vipassana meditation have been shown to lower blood pressure, slow metabolism and produce increasingly coherent brainwave patterns. Buddhism floats free of dependence on history and miracle much as Christianity freed Roman religion (or tried to, initially) from dependence on deities in the sky and statues representing them on earth (though, as in Christianity, after the Buddha’s death his followers did introduce complex theologies, gods, saints, hell, etc.). But again, it’s difficult for most of us, after centuries of competitive individualism in the West, to take on board the insignificance, or nonexistence, of the self. With the ingrained perception that sins are something you can repent of, and get wiped from the record, the idea that they come back, through karma, to determine your status in your next incarnation is a tough one. And if people are more enlightened than dogs why are so many of them nastier? And how does a dog, or a bug, make a choice to do good or evil? Or a tiger show compassion? The fact that meditation helps well-being doesn’t mean that reincarnation is “true,” any more than praying to Jesus and believing that he’s answering somehow “proves” the Resurrection. The idea of time as circular rather than a line, the endless recycling of life, where there is no real progress, no leading up to a dramatic Judgment Day, or no acceptance that we could actually make the world better (or worse), is perhaps the hardest of all.

But hell, there are so many great religions out there. Taoism at times seems closer to the teaching of Jesus than does Christianity itself; a good Taoist has few demands and doesn’t exercise power over others. Its vision of the world as determined by principles of balance and order offers an attractive alternative to one ruled by gods. The Tao Te Ching is perhaps the wisest book ever written. Its opening sentence is, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” Words cannot define the Tao, or God, you can only come to it through the silent stillness inside you. You are not your thoughts, that’s mostly mind-clutter, you are the one thinking them. It’s not easy understanding that. Imagine the struggle a chimp would have if it tried to think of itself as “me.” Now imagine yourself as not being “you.” Try thinking for a moment of your name, the letters, as a label you’ve been given, and go deeper.

Confucianism demonstrates a stronger commitment to the family, the wider social unit, and the principle of good government than most other religions have started to get their heads around. Maybe the success of the Chinese Empire over thousands of years, as a relatively peaceful, nonaggressive, inventive, well-functioning social unit has something to do with their religion. (And I’m well aware that these are very relative terms; but, broadly speaking, the Chinese still live in China; they haven’t, for instance, colonized North America, which they had the capacity to do). More broadly, perhaps the communitarian, more equal and mutually supportive societies of the East are better placed to cope with pandemics, hence the huge discrepancies in the infection and death rates related to Covid between East and West.

Then there’s Shinto: the most ancient, beautiful, and simple of all the major religions practiced today, close to paganism and just as diverse. And you have the still older tribal religions, like that of the Aborigines, which have an imaginative power, fusing the soul and the landscape, past, present, and future, that for some dwarfs our own tinkering with the world of spirit.

And if you were to give religions a “moral score” – Jainism would surely come out on top. One of the oldest religions, with Parsha, the twenty-third leader (the first we know of as a historical person), living around the eighth century BC, it’s the most demanding one on earth, the Mount Everest of them all in terms of lifestyle and self-discipline, and has still less room for any idea of God. Its first principle is that the highest duty is not to harm anything living, including through thought and speech. Never mind the brutalities of factory farming, they’ll do their best to avoid stepping on an ant (serious adepts wear face masks to avoid swallowing insects, anticipating Covid-19 precautions by many millennia). Its second principle, “many-sidedness,” is that truth and reality are complex; reality can be experienced, but never fully expressed through language. And so on. If the world could somehow convert overnight to Jainism, most of our problems would be over. The coming climate crisis would be resolved. Politicians would be judged on how truthful they are. It sounds impossible… particularly today… though there are around five million Jainists in the world.

So that's the one I'd put on top of my list.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder if religions, like Christianity, start out with good intent but as they become further and further removed from the initiators, they get changed and warped by well-meaning, but ultimately mistaken, individuals and groups.  I certainly think Christianity morphed from what Jesus actually meant to later early Christians making excuses for Jesus not returning when they expected.  'Theology' started getting developed around Jesus by people who didn't know him and were several generations removed from the Jesus experience.

I think most religions have something to offer, otherwise they wouldn't exist I guess.  Having been burnt by aligning myself with traditional Christianity early in life, I am loathe to ever commit again to any particular religion, but welcome any teachings or philosophies that add value to our lives and helps us live better with one another.

Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, PaulS said:

I wonder if religions, like Christianity, start out with good intent but as they become further and further removed from the initiators, they get changed and warped by well-meaning, but ultimately mistaken, individuals and groups.  I certainly think Christianity morphed from what Jesus actually meant to later early Christians making excuses for Jesus not returning when they expected.  'Theology' started getting developed around Jesus by people who didn't know him and were several generations removed from the Jesus experience.

I think most religions have something to offer, otherwise they wouldn't exist I guess.  Having been burnt by aligning myself with traditional Christianity early in life, I am loathe to ever commit again to any particular religion, but welcome any teachings or philosophies that add value to our lives and helps us live better with one another.

That would be my view also. Some have changed more than others and I find myself hesitant to rate them as the thread title asks.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It was a bit of a daft suggestion, just trying to liven things up a bit. I think the debate on whether God exists or not is too often polarized between new atheists and "orthodox" Christians. We've been "believing" for at least 100,000 years, in something outside ourselves, across 100 billion or so people, there are lots of options to explore. I happen to think that what Jesus taught represents the best of the best, but it's not something you see much of in much of the church.   

Link to post
Share on other sites

No, not daft at all John, and I for one enjoyed your little examination of each religion and what they have to offer.  

I wonder when 'we' did start believing?  I expect it was when our distant relatives first started to develop self-consciousness.  As you mentioned elsewhere, there is early evidence of our relatives the Neanderthals practicing ritual and ceremony - it's not a big step for me to imagine earlier hominoids asking questions about what they didn't understand (which would have been a heck of a lot I imagine way back then) and developing spiritual answers instead of scientific understandings.

I think the biggest influence by far concerning why people follow certain religions is they're family and cultural upbringing.  To me that is why the majority of religious people believe in their faith - it's what they grew up with.  In the information age we might be seeing that break down a bit, but largely I think people stick with what they know (or what they think they know, is possibly more accurate).  I'm pretty confident that had I grown up in a strong Hindu culture I would be just as certain of those religious beliefs as many Christians are who have grown up with their particular religion.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree. I think it's why it will always be with us, in some form. It’s part of self-awareness. Religious belief involves defining what the “self” is, and is not. The practice of religion is transcending it.

There’s a score or so of other Homo cousins we’ve discovered in the last half-century, apart from the Neanderthals, most of whom trod the earth for longer than we have (and it’s hard to see us surviving as long as they did – indeed, it’s thought today that we nearly went extinct 70,000 years ago, after the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which bought the population of Homo sapiens down to around five to ten thousand individuals),

God must have been in the frame for them too, surely?  You don’t stop loving children because they turned out a bit differently than the way you wanted them to? But they would have described Him differently. For instance, the ultimate religious act in most traditions of Homo sapiens has been to sacrifice an individual for the common good, to drink his/her blood and eat their flesh (the ghostly descendant of this practice survives in Holy Communion; “Take, eat; this is my body,” Matthew 26:26). But if it had been Homo robustus (vegetarians who dug for roots rather than omnivorous scavengers like ourselves, who will eat pretty much anything nowadays, however bad for us, apart from the nutritious insects that probably formed a good proportion of our diet in times past) who had survived rather than Homo sapiens, there would have been a quite different idea of how to please God. We eat and sacrifice flesh and see God’s offering of His Son as a lamb. So lamb is high on the menu. Unfortunately they take up a lot of space, being grazers on lush grass, like cattle, which is why we’ve become more dependent on chicken, and to a lesser extent pork, compared to the Hebrews (nomadic wanderers over poor pasture, more suited to goats). But maybe Homo robustus would have seen Him as a plant. Which seems more logical. Predators eat other mammals, but, by definition, the vast majority live on plants, so we’re all dependent on them. Our religion is shaped by our biology, by our stomachs, even before culture has its say.

Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, John Hunt said:

I agree. I think it's why it will always be with us, in some form. It’s part of self-awareness. Religious belief involves defining what the “self” is, and is not. The practice of religion is transcending it.

But is there a need to transcend self?  Can we not just accept that 'self' is part of the 'all' and that's that?

11 hours ago, John Hunt said:

There’s a score or so of other Homo cousins we’ve discovered in the last half-century, apart from the Neanderthals, most of whom trod the earth for longer than we have (and it’s hard to see us surviving as long as they did – indeed, it’s thought today that we nearly went extinct 70,000 years ago, after the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which bought the population of Homo sapiens down to around five to ten thousand individuals),

God must have been in the frame for them too, surely?  You don’t stop loving children because they turned out a bit differently than the way you wanted them to? But they would have described Him differently. For instance, the ultimate religious act in most traditions of Homo sapiens has been to sacrifice an individual for the common good, to drink his/her blood and eat their flesh (the ghostly descendant of this practice survives in Holy Communion; “Take, eat; this is my body,” Matthew 26:26). But if it had been Homo robustus (vegetarians who dug for roots rather than omnivorous scavengers like ourselves, who will eat pretty much anything nowadays, however bad for us, apart from the nutritious insects that probably formed a good proportion of our diet in times past) who had survived rather than Homo sapiens, there would have been a quite different idea of how to please God. We eat and sacrifice flesh and see God’s offering of His Son as a lamb. So lamb is high on the menu. Unfortunately they take up a lot of space, being grazers on lush grass, like cattle, which is why we’ve become more dependent on chicken, and to a lesser extent pork, compared to the Hebrews (nomadic wanderers over poor pasture, more suited to goats). But maybe Homo robustus would have seen Him as a plant. Which seems more logical. Predators eat other mammals, but, by definition, the vast majority live on plants, so we’re all dependent on them. Our religion is shaped by our biology, by our stomachs, even before culture has its say.

I think sacrificing carrots, even by a vicious stoning, would have been a much better option for humanity! :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

"But is there a need to transcend self?  Can we not just accept that 'self' is part of the 'all' and that's that?"

Well, that's the nub of it. But what's the "self"? We have these different parts of the brain, from the reptilian through to the mammalian. The concept of the individual "self", acting for its own interests, rather than on behalf of biological drives to support the family/species, is an odd one, in nature. The self is the one thing that is not part of the "all".

But I may be talking off the top of my head here. I'm no biologist.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, John Hunt said:

"But is there a need to transcend self?  Can we not just accept that 'self' is part of the 'all' and that's that?"

Well, that's the nub of it. But what's the "self"? We have these different parts of the brain, from the reptilian through to the mammalian. The concept of the individual "self", acting for its own interests, rather than on behalf of biological drives to support the family/species, is an odd one, in nature. The self is the one thing that is not part of the "all".

But I may be talking off the top of my head here. I'm no biologist.

Yeah, I'm no biologist either, but it would seem to me that our 'self' is simply a product of our brain, so in that regard, self really is just part of the 'all', I think.  I know that I have no knowledge of 'self' before I developed a certain level of cognitive function in my brain (at around 2-3 years of age I think I recall) and I highly suspect I will have no understanding of 'self' after my brain function ceases.  So to me it would seem that 'self' isn't something that needs to be transcended, but rather is something that is precisely what we are - our brain functioning.  I'm not sure acting for our own interests is anything that different from 'on behalf of biological drives to support family/species' - our brain function and cognitive ability simply drives us in that manner.  Just my thoughts anyway.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It seems to me "self" is indeed a creation of brain . However, there is a larger "Self" that is part and one with the All . One is fictitious in that it is not real as in a product of ego that perishes with the using and the other is part of the eternal substrate of existence itself. While it seems to me it cannot be proved, it is never-the-less capable of experiencing. Just my own take.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

Well, religions aren't monolithic entities. 

Rating a religion is like rating an ingredient, which can be utilized so differently depending on the recipe and skill of the chef. 

Is Islam a violent religion that oppresses women, Christians, and Jews or is it a peaceful religion based on profoundly feminist values that is protective of Christians and Jews? ...depends who you ask, what translations they use, what context they apply to scripture, how things are interpreted and through what lense. 

Holy texts say a lot of things, and who won what war and when changed the structure of a lot of languages, which changed a lot of what those texts mean over time. 

Words evolve, interpretations evolve, cultures evolve, everything evolves. 

Religions are neither monolithic nor stagnant. I can't possibly assess them in comparison to each other since there's barely a capacity to compare within them in quantifiable ways. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, John Hunt said:

Can't argue with that. was just trying to get a conversation started.

And I'm not trying to shut down that conversation. I'm contributing to it from my perspective as someone who has studied and participated in various religions for most of my life. 

It's worth comparing religions. It's also worth comparing within religions. 

Are a Christian and a Muslim who are the same ethnicity, from the same socioeconomic background, with the same upbringing, living in the same community, doing similar jobs, with kids who go to the same school more culturally and spiritually similar to each other or more similar to a Christian in rural China and a Muslim in Brunei respectively?

I'm genuinely asking. 

Are the ties that bind people identifying to the broadest definition of a religion more fundamental than the cultural factors and interpretations of the meaning of those religions?

Different people will think very differently, and it's interesting to understand why. 

Personally, as someone who is very, very abstract in my concepts of Christ, God, and divinity. I have more spiritually in common with certain Muslims than I do with a lot of Christians. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Good question. I grew up in a very evangelical household, and spent a couple of years involved with an organization called Navigators, which was basically about going around converting people. I still think of myself as Christian, though most Christians would probably call me a panentheist. I feel more communality with some Sufis, Buddhists etc. Even paganism - after all, it’s by far the oldest religious tradition, alongside which Christianity is scarcely a blip; it’s based on a respect for Nature, which we’re all going to have to adopt if civilization is going to survive; it’s decentralized to the point where you can pretty much make up your own gods and goddesses, but then that’s what we’ve always been doing…).

When I see the word "evangelical" now, I can't help thinking of some of those banners the mob were carrying that stormed the Capitol, saying "Jesus is my Savior and Trump is my President." And the words that come to mind are "delusional" and "dangerous."

Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, John Hunt said:

Good question. I grew up in a very evangelical household, and spent a couple of years involved with an organization called Navigators, which was basically about going around converting people. I still think of myself as Christian, though most Christians would probably call me a panentheist. I feel more communality with some Sufis, Buddhists etc. Even paganism - after all, it’s by far the oldest religious tradition, alongside which Christianity is scarcely a blip; it’s based on a respect for Nature, which we’re all going to have to adopt if civilization is going to survive; it’s decentralized to the point where you can pretty much make up your own gods and goddesses, but then that’s what we’ve always been doing…).

When I see the word "evangelical" now, I can't help thinking of some of those banners the mob were carrying that stormed the Capitol, saying "Jesus is my Savior and Trump is my President." And the words that come to mind are "delusional" and "dangerous."

See, in my social environment, Christianity is nothing like that at all. It's just not part of our social structure here, so I have no sense of that being fundamentally a "Christian" thing. I conceptualize it as social political thing common to certain areas. 

It's the same way I spiritually identify with certain Muslims, but I don't at all relate to the particular Muslim community in my neighbourhood where the local Muslim community center just lost it's non profit status for promoting hate speech. 

As for paganism, well, some of it was quite open, while others were quite prescriptive and oppressive. It depended on the culture of the practitioners at the time. Paganism is more a general term for the loose concepts of spirituality that weren't dogmatically defined by an authoritative religious body. 

It's not so much that they were flexible for individuals, although they often were, but more that there was no authority to tell people what to believe beyond their small, insular communities. 

This is why there were so many gods honoured in the Kaaba in Mecca. 

The oldest spirituality where I live is practiced by Indigenous people, who have been here for tens of thousands of years, and whose values center around the value of all life, not just humans, which is pretty common to older spiritualities. 

Spirituality/religion didn't start being primarily about humans until humans started interacting more with other humans than with nature. 

Of course nature took center stage when people were raised with a few other humans among a vast world of plants and animals with whom they interacted and depended on for survival. And of course humans took center stage when animals and plants became things that they owned. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Wouldn't disagree with any of that. And by "paganism" I meant broadly pretty much all belief before it getting started getting formalized into "religions."

Out of interest, which country/area do you live in? (Apologies of course if that's an an inappropriate question).

Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, John Hunt said:

Wouldn't disagree with any of that. And by "paganism" I meant broadly pretty much all belief before it getting started getting formalized into "religions."

Out of interest, which country/area do you live in? (Apologies of course if that's an an inappropriate question).

I'm in a major Canadian city

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jesus Christ told us be ye wise as a serpent harmless as a dove .To be wise as a serpent you have to know there are serpents . What we call today narcissists , psychopath They are out there always seeking power and privileges for themselves .We see them in world entertainment , politics .What is the most power in the world ? Religions  standing between people and their god.  So after time most religions become corrupted with the wolves in sheep clothing .Those that appear like whited  sepulchre , but are filled with dead men's bones . They take over a religion turning into a tool to control people as we saw with the Roman Catholic Church that was from its inception was a political  tool for  Constantine to unite his empire . Destroying the example Jesus gave us of a path to follow . Jesus said I will send you another the Comforter the Holy Spirit to guide you  . The Holy Spirit bloweth where it listeth  it cant be contained in any dogmas , rituals . There is no room for spirit to come in most religions .  

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

terms of service