Types of Religions

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Religions of the World: Visions of Ultimate Reality and Meaning

Forms of Hinduism

Ancient Hinduism

Indian Hinduisms date from before recorded history. They are a huge, polytheistic amalgamation of local religions, although many Hindu theologies are pantheistic and therefore, in a sense, monotheistic. The key belief identifying Hinduism is the belief that atman is Brahman--"true self is God." We are rewarded and punished immediately by the law of karma (choose good, get good; choose evil, get evil), especially in the cycle of reincarnation. The goal of a Hindu is to gain liberation (moksha) from this world, which is nothing but illusion, trickery, and deceit (maya). As with Platonism and many forms of gnosticism, the doctrine of reincarnation suggests that the soul has nothing to do with the form of the living being--the body is a prison ("soma sema") in which a spiritual being is trapped. The body is just a vehicle for the soul, not (as in Catholic Aristotelian philosophy) that which is formed by the soul.

Buddhism

Buddhism is a form of Hinduism created by Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas around 500 BC when he gained liberation through enlightenment ("buddha" = "one filled with light"). Buddhisms are characterized by the idea that each one of us can become a Buddha by following the example and teaching of Siddhartha, especially the Four Noble Truths: all life is suffering (dukkha); suffering comes from self (tanha); to get rid of suffering, get rid of self (nirvana); to get rid of self, follow the Eightfold Path (think and do the right thing).

New Age

New Age Hinduisms combine elements of reincarnation, self-divinity, and platitudes and practices drawn haphazardly from many religious traditions such as Native American spirituality, Christianity, the Kabbala, Sufism, Tantrism, Taoism, etc. Cooking up these odd combinations is known as "syncretism" (Greek, "mixing together").

Nature Religions

Taoism

Taoism sprang up in China around 500 BC. "The Tao [way] that can be put into words is not the real Tao." Every person and every thing has its own Tao, and all are subject to the Tao of the universe and of ultimate reality. All is one, so there is no real difference between good and evil; this teaching is embodied in the yang-yin symbol:

Mythic polytheism

Archaic polytheisms: the religions of Greece, Rome, north Africa, the Middle East, and the barbarian tribes. Some neo-pagans are reviving the ancient religions (Asatru [Norse], Druid [Britain], Wicca [U.S.]).

Local religions

Primitive or Tribal or Local Religions: The thousands of religious traditions that are found in native or indigenous communities around the world: North and South America; Africa; Pacific Islands. They tend to take the form of animistic polytheism: every thing is inhabited by or associated with an indwelling spirit. Most of the Asian tribal traditions have been assimilated into the larger, more sophisticated religions.

Human-centered religions

Forms of Humanism

Confucianism doesn't fit easily into any category. Founded around 500 BC in China, it incorporated pre-existing religious practices (animistic polytheism) into its formulas for a harmonious social order.

Adoration of the State

Godless Totalitarianisms such as National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany, Marxism in Communist countries, the religion of reason in the French Revolution, and a multitude of utopias envisaged by many different authors.

Atheism

Atheistic or Materialist Humanism is very common in our culture today. I call this "Saganism" because Carl Sagan was a leading exponent of this view of reality. Cf. CSI (was CSICOP), Prometheus Press, and the Council for Secular Humanism (was CODESH)--all working out of the same building in Amherst, NY.

Unitarianism

American Unitarianism. There is no creed or dogma in Unitarianism. Each person is free to adopt his or her own theology or atheology. What holds them together is an affirmation of individual worth and freedom of conscience.

Radical Monotheisms (Western Religions)

Judaism

Judaism begins with God's covenant with Abraham perhaps around 1700 BC: "Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone." This slogan took on a radical monotheistic interpretation through a process of theological development that can be traced in the OT.

Christianity

Christianity is a form of Judaism. It teaches that there are three persons in the One God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and that all humans are saved by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of God, the Son. Christians see themselves as monotheists; Jews and Muslims accuse Christians of being tri-theists, polytheists, or blasphemers--they are radical unitarians who believe that there is and can be only one person in the one God.

Islam

Islam is a reform of both Judaism and Christianity. "There is no god but The God (al-Illah-->Allah) and Muhammad is his prophet."

A simpler typology?

  1. Theistic
    1. Polytheistic
      1. Saguna Hinduism
      2. Animistic polytheism (most local religions; witchcraft; Satanism)
      3. Dualism
    2. Pantheistic
      1. Nirguna Hinduism
    3. Monotheistic
      1. Judaism
      2. Christianity
      3. Islam
  2. Atheistic

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