Monday, January 19, 2015

GOD and Religious Traditions

MONOTHEISM, belief in one God

Most people probably grow up thinking their religious tradition is the correct one favored by God.  Before the predominate view of a single, all-powerful, infinite God beginning with the monotheistic God traced back to Abraham, there were undoubtedly numerous traditions around the world.  Both Christians and Muslims trace their origins through, and, along with Judaism, back to Abraham or Abram about 4,000 years ago.

POLYTHEISM, belief in many gods

Polytheism was common in much of the world during pre-Christian times

The Hindu tradition began with a blending of the beliefs of new arrivals to India and those of native Indians about 3500 years ago, almost as early as Judaism began.  They are not far from monotheism by viewing the many gods as representing one divine principle.  Within Hinduism, Budda (Sidhartha Gautama) founded Buddhism over 2400 years ago.  Both Hinduism and Buddhism recognize successive reincarnation as aspects of their traditions.

The steeple of the Hindu temple above in Colombo, Sri Lanka, depicts many gods sculptured on it.

Confucius founded Confucianism in China over 2400 year ago.  A few generations later, Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist, proposed his proofs for the existence of one supreme God.

My first roommate in a dormitory at Michigan State University, during my first year of graduate school, in 1954, was Toshiaki Kinjo, from Okinawa, Japan.  I didn't discuss religion with him much, but he presumably had a Shinto background.  He was one of the finest persons I have ever met.  I lost contact with him after he moved to Brazil to help develop agriculture in new areas.


Islam was founded by the Prophet, Mohammed, about 1400 years ago.  He recognized Jesus as a Prophet, but did not get the message that his divine nature as the Son preexisted in the one God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, as recognized as the three persons making up the One, Trinitarian God of Christians.  For Muslims, the first principle of their faith is declaring that there is one and only one God at least once publicly during their life.

                                Mohammed Ali Mosque (back, right) in Cairo, Egypt

Their second duty is to pray at least five times throughout the day.  One or more minnerettes (or towers on their mosques) are used to call the faithful to prayer at appropriate times.  During prayers, they face the Kaaba, located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

                      A minerette viewed from a balcony of a mosque in Bombay, India

Muslim duties also include paying alms, fasting during Ramadan, and, if possible, making a pilgrimage to the Kaaba at least once during their life.  Like other religions, Islam has versions, about 90 percent of Muslims are Sunni, about ten percent are Shiites of one of three groups.


All major religions preach some form of the Golden Rule as being part of their moral code.  Treating others as you want to be treated is usually a good idea.  But apply it reasonably and don't force candy on a diabetic.  In fact, don't force anything on others and be cautious about applying a right of self-defense.  Freedom and slavery issues have plagued humanity from inherited built-in survival mechanisms developed earlier in our evolutionary history.


Violence seems to have been something religions have not escaped.  Fanaticism of some divine right or obligation may possible be derived from some aspects of Old Testament theology.  In its worst form in recent years, such as the dictatorships leading up to World War I, it was not particularly religion based.  But, much earlier, the Crusades and the Inquisition had religious roots.  Today, the Islamic world, over one and a half billion strong, is embarrassed by the small fraction with mostly Shiite background trying to avenge perceived wrongs.  The Christian embarrassment has not ended with the Inquisition; witness the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States and the attempts of the Irish to solve their political problems.  Of course terrorism, partially religion based, in several African countries has yet to be solved.


Looking at where God's Son took on human form in the person of Jesus might shed some light on the question.  Muslims came after the fact, and Judaism was the smallest of the three great traditions of the time.  That part of the world was frequently beset with wars, invasion, plundering, and placing the conquered into slavery.  Perhaps the Oriental and Indian regions, especially in China, had similar turmoils but fairly stable and peaceful times seem to develop.  Although I am largely ignorant of the history of the Eastern part of the world, it seems that the family had developed into a stable unit, and older family members were accorded great respect.  Deceased ancestors were also viewed as being an important part of their heritage.

So Jesus went where he was sent and needed.  In the process he fulfilled predictions of the prophets, becoming the greatest Jew and prophet or rabbi the world will ever see.  He charged his follows to carry his message of love and redemption to the rest of the world.

So the message that Jesus left us with that God loves all of his creation and knows our inmost thoughts, may indicate the following.  The peaceful orient already understood the message, but the warring Middle Easterners needed more direct instruction.  His criticism of the priestly leaders style of not following what they were preaching can probably still be seen as needed.  Hence the hope engendered by the comments of Pope Francis to the Curia.  Perhaps such problems leave Protestants relieved they need no top human leader.  I suppose Imams having different views of Sharia may be less of a problem if they do not have civil authority combined with their religious role.  Separation of church and state seems a good principle to follow.

So, you can see I don't really know the answer to the question.  But my having had the benefit of knowing Christians of many persuasions, as well as Jews, Muslims, and Hindus makes it easy to see that God loves all the people he has created. And that includes agnostics and atheists.  Maybe some are special, but Jesus said "in my Father's house are many mansions" and "others I have that are not of this fold".  In fact, all individuals are special; God not only knows us better than we do ourselves, he also loves us more than we do ourselves.  That love extends to forgiving us all our failings if we turn to him.

Joseph G. Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan      January 19, 2015

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