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Major Religions & Spiritual Beliefs

World Religion and Spiritual Belief Systems
Religion, sometimes used interchangeably with faith, is commonly defined as belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine, and the practices and institutions associated with such belief. In its broadest sense some have defined it as the sum total of answers given to explain humankind's relationship with the universe.

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Religious Practices
Practices based upon religious beliefs typically include:

  • Prayer
     
  • Worship
     
  • Regular assembly with other believers
     
  • A priesthood or clergy or some other religious functionary to lead and/or help the adherents of the religion
     
  • Ceremonies and/or traditions unique to the set of beliefs
     
  • A means of preserving adherence to the canonical beliefs and practice of that religion
     
  • Codes for behaviour in other aspects of life to ensure consistency with the set of beliefs, i.e., a moral code, like the ten yamas (restraints) of Hinduism or the Ten
  • Commandments of the Old Testament, flowing from the beliefs rather than being defined by the beliefs, with the moral code often being elevated to the status of a legal code that is enforced by followers of that religion
     
  • Maintenance and study of scripture, or texts they hold as sacred uniquely different from other writings, and which records or is the basis of the fundamental beliefs of that religion
     
  • Adherents of a particular religion typically gather together to celebrate holy days, to recite or chant scripture, to pray, to worship, and provide spiritual assistance to each other. However, solitary practice of prayer and meditation is often seen to be just as important, as is living out religious convictions in secular activities when in the company of people who are not necessarily adherents to that religion. This is often a function of the religion in question.

    Gods and Religious Beliefs:

  • Monotheistic religions assert that there is one God, distinct and separate from Nature as we understand it. Examples include Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, the Bah·'Ì Faith, and the dualistic schools of Hinduism, including the Dvaita school of Vaishnavism, and the dualist Saiva Siddhanta school of Shaivism. The more prevalent form of monotheism present in Hinduism which differs from the monotheism prevalent in Semitic religions is monistic theism .
     
  • Trinitarian religions assert that there is one God with three persons. Examples include the majority of Christian denominations, with the exceptions of Oneness Pentecostals;
     
  • Henotheistic religions assert that there are many gods and/or deities of varying attributes, but One God is ultimately supreme. Examples include the strains of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism (especially Shaivism and Vaishnavism), Islam that acknowledge angels, demons, devas, asuras, or other gods of whom the One God is greatest, as well as many animistic traditions, particularly in Africa;
     
  • The syllable Aum or ? is the primordial mantra in Vedic tradition.Polytheistic religions such as Greco-Roman religion assert that there are many Gods;
     
  • Pantheistic and Panentheistic, or "natural" religions believe that God and everything in nature are aspects of a continuous spiritual plane, and are thus essentially inseparable. Examples include (to various degrees): the pantheistic and panentheistic schools of Shaivism and Vaishnavism in Hinduism, Shintoism, and some animistic traditions.
     
  • Non-theistic religions (such as Buddhism) make no claim as to the existence or non-existence of God;
     
  • Atheistic religions (such as Jainism and Secular Humanism) do not believe in a god, gods or goddesses

    Afterlife:

  • Hinduism asserts that humans are continually reborn, until they reach Moksha, a state of union with God or Saguna Brahman expressed as Vishnu or Shiva or as what followers of the Advaita school believe, union with the Impersonal Absolute and that one's good or evil behavior in this life determines the course of one's next life; accordingly, Hinduism does not believe in eternal damnation as God gives us many chances through subsequent reincarnations until we reach moksha. However, many Hindus believe there is a purgatory-like state analogous to Christianity where Yama, the Hindu deva, or Lord of Death, punishes humans before they reincarnate again.
     
  • Theravada Buddhism asserts that a person's Kamma is continually reborn until they attain Nirvana, and that rebirth is undesirable; Mahayana Buddhism is more in line with Hinduism with regard to certain beliefs on reincarnation. However, Buddhism's state of nirvana is not analogous to the Hindu concept of Moksha as Nirvana is a state of non-being or voidness and does not focus on the concept of a personal, Supreme Being that is allowed in Advaita and is mandated in the strict theistic schools such as that of Ramanuja and Madhva.
     
  • Christianity and Islam posit a Heaven and Hell, and God as judge to decide our eternal fate. Beyond that common ground, however, belief varies widely within the religions. Catholicism asserts that individuals are saved by declaring faith in God, but are still subject to punishment for unrepented sin at death, which is purified in purgatory;
     
  • Traditional Protestantism asserts that individuals are saved purely by declaring their belief in the saving power of Jesus's death and resurrection;
     
  • Some other Christians believe that individuals choose their own heaven or hell: if a person chooses to live in a self-created "Hell on Earth," they continue to choose that after death, and God ultimately gives them what they wish: distance from God and Joy. On the other hand, people that seek "Heaven on Earth" continue to seek Heaven after death, and God gives them what they desire: nearness of God, and Joy. See, for example, "The Great Divorce," by C.S. Lewis.
     
  • Under most traditional Islamic belief, God judges us on the basis of our adherence to the five pillars of Islam, including acknowledgement of God, Muhammad, and living according to God's laws of Justice, Faith, and Mercy, and rewards us according to our acts on Earth. Judaism makes no particular claims regarding the afterlife.
     
  • The Bah·'Ì Faith asserts that a person's soul continues to progress in the spiritual worlds of God after death until it reaches God. The purpose of this world is for the soul to acquire spiritual qualities (or virtues) so that it is closer to God once physical death occurs.

 
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