Religion Field Research
- Pages: 19
- Word count: 4632
- Category: Religion
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WHY so many religions? Within the United States alone there are twenty-three kinds of Baptists, twenty-one kinds of Methodists, twenty divisions among the Lutherans, thirteen brands of Mennonites, ten kinds of Presbyterians, and a whole handful of Churches of God. Thirty-nine religions admit such a lack of unity that they say doctrine is all up to the individual, apparently assuming he knows more than the scholars, or that his contradicting idea may be inspired by the spirit. True, as the whole society advances to a much more progressive community of people connected through communication and technology, religious beliefs also flourish to be immediately spreading throughout the world. With such a fast-paced system of influence in the modern human civilization, it is undeniable that religion is indeed widely affecting the lives of people today.
Beyond the questioning of the fact that there are indeed numerous religions existing within the human society today, it could not be denied that people are rather accustomed much in living within the laws of their religious affiliations. In this study, the particular factors on social effect about religions would clearly be discussed. Through the said thorough discussion, three different affiliations shall be introduced so as to show the differences that they have in terms of affecting the human society’s lifestyles and beliefs. To understand the issue better though, it is rather important to know why and how religious groups emerged within the American society that actually affected the social growth of the said country through the years. Upon the basis of being directly able to comprehend with the three major religious affiliation’s activities and services, the researcher of this study shall derive understanding of the different faces of religion within the American society in a rather experiential approach.
Statement of the Problem
With the many religious affiliations, the problem is that most people are already lost as to which affiliation is really true and at least practical for their own lifestyle. “THE ‘unknown God’ of Americans,” recently said noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “seems to be faith itself.” What an enlightening comment on popular religion today! It is this popular worship of faith that helps explain so much about the present troubles of mankind. It helps explain why America, for instance, is growing more materialistic at the very time it is becoming increasingly more religious. It explains why so many persons have not found the happiness they seek.
What is this popular worship of faith? It is religion that puts the emphasis on faith, not on the Bible, not on God or his will. A striking thing about this popular religion is that it is not limited to any special religious group; Protestants, Catholics and Jews in large numbers have come to worship at the shrine of faith. But do not these many persons speak of God?
“Of course, religious Americans speak of God and Christ,” writes Will Herberg in his noted work Protestant—Catholic—Jew, “but what they seem to regard as really redemptive is primarily religion, the ‘positive’ attitude of believing. It is this faith in faith, this religion that makes religion its own object, that is the outstanding characteristic of contemporary American religiosity. [Cleric] Daniel Poling’s formula: ‘I began saying in the morning two words, “I believe”—those two words with nothing added’ may be taken as the classic expression of this aspect of American faith.”
Will Herberg, who has made an extensive study of this worship of faith, also points to the popular book This I Believe, edited by Edward P. Morgan, as a well-known example. In this book one hundred “thoughtful men and women in all walks of life,” both professed Christians and Jews, make statements regarding what they believe. What is the faith they proclaim as being paramount in their life? Faith in an amazing variety of things, such as brotherhood, spiritual values, life, tolerance, freedom, democracy and faith in faith. Scarcely half of these prominent people even mention God. “Somehow their belief in God, and the God they believed in,” comments Herberg, “did not seem to be very central to whatever it was that they had in mind when they stood up to tell the world ‘This I Believe.’” The average churchgoing adherent of popular religion, Herberg observes, is not much different.
What then is the real motivation of people to create and join existing churches more than just the sense of surviving the different challenges of life itself? This is what is to be searched for in this study. The truth behind the said claims shall be presented through experiential presentations within the study that follows.
THE history of religion is as old as the history of man himself. That is what archaeologists and anthropologists tell us. Even among the most “primitive,” that is to say, undeveloped, civilizations, there is found evidence of worship of some form. In fact The New Encyclopædia Britannica says that “as far as scholars have discovered, there has never existed any people, anywhere, at any time, who were not in some sense religious.” Besides its antiquity, religion also exists in great variety. The headhunters in the jungles of Borneo, the Eskimos in the frozen Arctic, the nomads in the Sahara Desert, the urban dwellers in the great metropolises of the world—every people and every nation on earth has its god or gods and its way of worship. The diversity in religion is truly staggering.
The study of the origin and development of religion is a comparatively new field. For centuries, people more or less accepted the religious tradition into which they were born and in which they were brought up. Most of them were satisfied with the explanations handed down to them by their forefathers, feeling that their religion was the truth. There was seldom any reason to question anything, nor the need to investigate how, when, or why things got started. In fact, for centuries, with limited means of travel and communication, few people were even aware of other religious systems. During the 19th century, however, the picture began to change.
The theory of evolution was sweeping through intellectual circles. That, along with the advent of scientific inquiry, caused many to question established systems, including religion. Recognizing the limitations of looking for clues within existing religion, some scholars turned to the remains of early civilizations or to the remote corners of the world where people still lived in primitive societies. They tried to apply to these the methods of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and so forth, hoping to discover a clue as to how religion began and why. What was the outcome? Suddenly, there burst upon the scene many theories—as many as there were investigators, it seemed—with each investigator contradicting the other, and each endeavoring to outdo the other in daring and originality. Some of these researchers arrived at important conclusions; the work of others has simply been forgotten. It is both educational and enlightening for us to get a glimpse of the results of this research. It will help us to gain a better understanding of the religious attitudes among people we meet.
A theory, commonly called animism, was proposed by the English anthropologist Edward Tylor (1832-1917). He suggested that experiences such as dreams, visions, hallucinations, and the lifelessness of corpses caused primitive people to conclude that the body is inhabited by a soul (Latin, anima). According to this theory, since they frequently dreamed about their deceased loved ones, they assumed that a soul continued living after death, that it left the body and dwelt in trees, rocks, rivers, and so on. Eventually, the dead and the objects the souls were said to inhabit came to be worshiped as gods. And thus, said Tylor, religion was born. Another English anthropologist, R. R. Marett (1866-1943), proposed a refinement of animism, which he called animatism. After studying the beliefs of the Melanesians of the Pacific islands and the natives of Africa and America, Marett concluded that instead of having the notion of a personal soul, primitive people believed there was an impersonal force or supernatural power that animated everything; that belief evoked emotions of awe and fear in man, which became the basis for his primitive religion. To Marett, religion was mainly man’s emotional response to the unknown. His favorite statement was that religion was “not so much thought out as danced out.”
In 1890 a Scottish expert in ancient folklore, James Frazer (1854-1941), published the influential book The Golden Bough, in which he argued that religion grew out of magic. According to Frazer, man first tried to control his own life and his environment by imitating what he saw happening in nature. For example, he thought that he could invoke rain by sprinkling water on the ground to the accompaniment of thunderlike drumbeats or that he could cause his enemy harm by sticking pins in an effigy. This led to the use of rituals, spells, and magical objects in many areas of life. When these did not work as expected, he then turned to placating and beseeching the help of the supernatural powers, instead of trying to control them. The rituals and incantations became sacrifices and prayers, and thus religion began. In Frazer’s words, religion is “a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man.”
Even the noted Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), in his book Totem and Taboo, tried to explain the origin of religion. True to his profession, Freud explained that the earliest religion grew out of what he called a father-figure neurosis. He theorized that, as was true with wild horses and cattle, in primitive society the father dominated the clan. The sons, who both hated and admired the father, rebelled and killed the father. To acquire the father’s power, Freud claimed, ‘these cannibalistic savages ate their victim.’ Later, out of remorse, they invented rites and rituals to atone for their action. In Freud’s theory, the father figure became God, the rites and rituals became the earliest religion, and the eating of the slain father became the tradition of communion practiced in many religions. Numerous other theories that are attempts to explain the origin of religion could be cited. Most of them, however, have been forgotten, and none of them have really stood out as more credible or acceptable than the others. Why? Simply because there was never any historical evidence or proof that these theories were true. They were purely products of some investigator’s imagination or conjecture, soon to be replaced by the next one that came along.
(Experiential Assessment of Religions Present in America)
As noted earlier, different religions from all different cultures are already flooding the American society today. Apparently, the immigrants in the country carry along their beliefs and traditions with them that directly affect the beliefs of the American society today. As mentioned earlier, the researcher had performed an experiential activity to be able to know what the truth behind the different religious affiliations is and how they actually affect the human society today.
(A)HINDUISM: A Way towards Personal Peace
Most people understand Hinduism as a particular traditional practice in India that has actually caught up with the culture of the said country. However, more than just a culture or tradition as it is viewed, Hinduism is also considered a religious belief that raises people into the possibility of finding a reason to have faith in something. It is no easy task to define Hinduism, since it has no definite creed, priestly hierarchy, or governing agency. However, it does have swamis (teachers) and gurus (spiritual guides). A broad definition of Hinduism given by one history book states that it is “the whole complex of beliefs and institutions that have appeared from the time when their ancient (and most sacred) scriptures, the Vedas, were composed until now.” Another one states: “We might say that Hinduism is adherence to or worship of the gods Vishnu, or Shiva [Siva], or the goddess Shakti, or their incarnations, aspects, spouses, or progeny.” That serves to include the cults of Rama and Krishna (incarnations of Vishnu), Durga, Skanda, and Ganesa (respectively the wife and sons of Siva). It is claimed that Hinduism has 330 million gods, yet it is said that Hinduism is not polytheistic. How can that be?
In America, it could be said that Hinduism is still not as well spread as expected, however, it is already making a great impact on the lives of the people living within the country especially in terms of relief and meditation exercises. However, as noted, the said belief involves a measure of massive devotion to different gods that could actually affect the spiritual affiliation of a person directly involved within the practices of the said religious group.
While Hinduism may not be as widespread as some other major religions, nevertheless, it commanded the loyalty of nearly 700 million followers by 1990, or about 1 in 8 (13%) of the world’s population. However, most of these are found in India. Some historians say that Hinduism had its roots over 3,500 years ago in a wave of migration that brought a pale-skinned, Aryan people down from the northwest into the Indus Valley, now located mainly in Pakistan and India. From there they spread into the Ganges River plains and across India. Some experts say that the religious ideas of the migrants were based on ancient Iranian and Babylonian teachings. What about the purpose of life and a hope for the future? A belief widespread in Hinduism involves transmigration and “karma.” “Transmigration” means that humans have within themselves an invisible, spiritual soul, which is their real self. At death the soul is said to “transmigrate” or pass over into another body. Persons who believe this feel that they have lived innumerable lives before and will continue to pass from one life to another in a virtually endless cycle of rebirths.
“Karma” (deeds) means that acts done in one life determine what type the next one will be. Your present status in life, therefore, is viewed as the direct result of whether you conducted yourself properly or poorly in the life that preceded the present one. One of the Hindu scriptures, the Chandogya Upanishad, explains the law of karma in this way:“Those who are of pleasant conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahmin [priest], or the womb of a Kshatriya [the military], or the womb of a Vaisya [farmer or merchant]. But those who are of stinking conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast.”
A popular form of Hindu philosophy holds that the invisible “soul” within each person, his real self, is actually separate from his mind and body. The soul is considered to be part of an all-encompassing primary cause (sometimes called “God”) in the same way that rays that emanate from the sun can be viewed as part of the sun. According to this teaching, when a person realizes that his real self is a part of God and that fleshly existence is the result of imprisonment of the soul in a physical body, he can lose desire for further physical life. He leaves off performing deeds to assure an improved life in his next incarnation. Since there is no longer any karma in the ordinary sense for such a person, he escapes from the rebirth cycle. Some say that a person who achieves such a state has attained “Nirvana,” though this word has become more popular in Buddhism.
Knowledge of this strange “oneness” with God, however, is not attainable by normal intellectual processes. Instead, it comes “by an ecstatic flash of certitude in the midst of deep meditation,” according to Professor Noss. A classic Hindu text, the Bhagavad-Gita (the Lord’s Song), describes such a meditation procedure in these words attributed to the god Krishna: “A devotee should constantly devote himself to abstraction, remaining in a secret place, alone, . . . remaining steady, looking at the tip of his own nose, . . . he should restrain his mind and concentrate it on Me . . . a devotee whose mind is restrained attains that tranquility which culminates in final emancipation and assimilation with Me.”
This procedure is related to “the Yoga system” of Hinduism. According to another Hindu writing, Yoga can bring about “a trance in which the mind, now emptied of all content and no longer aware of either object or subject, is absorbed into the Ultimate, and is one with the One.” A person who gets to this point may experience feelings of tranquility or even ecstasy. Superhuman mental and physical powers, such as clairvoyance and levitation, have been known to result from this special type of meditation.
For this reason, it has been observed by the researcher that people who are directly affected by Hinduism are rather giving much importance to the self confidence and self trust that one needs to be able to survive the challenges of life. The inner self peace based on one’s satisfaction of life is viewed by the said individuals as the primary source of happiness in life.
(B)Jehovah’s Witnesses: When Being Different Is Righteous
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known worldwide for their individual conscientious stand of Christian neutrality. They have endured prisons, concentration camps, torture, deportations, and persecution throughout the 20th century because they have refused to sacrifice their love and unity as a worldwide congregation of Christians drawn to God. In Nazi Germany during the years 1933-45, about a thousand Witnesses died and thousands were imprisoned, on account of their refusal to cooperate with Hitler’s war effort. Likewise, under Franco in formerly Fascist Spain, hundreds of young Witnesses went to prison and many spent an average of ten years each in military prisons rather than learn war.
To this day in several countries, many young Witnesses of Jehovah languish in prisons because of their stand on Christian neutrality. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not interfere with the governments in their military programs. The Witnesses’ unwavering Christian neutrality in political matters has been one of the constants of their beliefs throughout all the conflicts and wars of the 20th century. It stamps them as true followers of Christ and separates them from Christendom’s religions. By holding to the Bible and to the example of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrate they are practicing the worship of the true God, Jehovah. They recognize God’s love as reflected in the life and sacrifice of Jesus. They understand that true Christian love results in an indivisible worldwide brotherhood—above political, racial, and national divisions. In other words, Christianity is more than international; it is supranational, transcending national boundaries, authority, or interests. It views the human race as one family with a common progenitor and with a common Creator, Jehovah God.
Logically, if Jehovah’s Witnesses hold meetings and are organized to preach, they must have someone to take the lead. However, they do not have a paid clergy class nor do they have any charismatic leader on a pedestal. In each congregation, there are spiritually qualified elders and ministerial servants, many of whom have secular employment and care for a family, who voluntarily take the lead in teaching and directing the congregation. This is precisely the model set by first-century Christians.
How are these elders and ministerial servants appointed? Their appointments are made under the supervision of a governing body of anointed elders from various lands whose function is parallel to that of the body of apostles and elders in Jerusalem who took the lead in the early Christian congregation. As we saw in Chapter 11, no one apostle had the primacy over the others. They came to their decisions as a body, and these were respected by the congregations scattered throughout the ancient Roman world. The same arrangement functions for the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. They hold weekly meetings at their world headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, and instructions are then sent from there to the Branch Committees around the world that superintend the ministerial activity in each country. By following the example of the earliest Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been able to cover vast portions of the earth with the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom. That work continues on a global scale. With their Christian love and their hope of “a new heaven and a new earth,” Jehovah’s Witnesses are looking to the near future for world-stirring events that must soon put an end to all injustice, corruption, and unrighteousness on this earth. For that reason they will continue to visit their neighbors in a sincere effort to bring honest hearted ones nearer to the true God, Jehovah.
(C)Judaism: A Tradition Based on the Holy Scriptures
Simply put, Judaism is the religion of a people. Therefore, a convert becomes part of the Jewish people as well as the Jewish religion. It is a monotheistic religion in the strictest sense and holds that God intervenes in human history, especially in relation to the Jews. Jewish worship involves several annual festivals and various customs. Although there are no creeds or dogmas accepted by all Jews, the confession of the oneness of God as expressed in the Shema, a prayer based on Deuteronomy 6:4. This belief in one God was passed on to Christianity and Islām. According to Dr. J. H. Hertz, a rabbi: “This sublime pronouncement of absolute monotheism was a declaration of war against all polytheism . . . In the same way, the Shema excludes the trinity of the Christian creed as a violation of the Unity of God.” But now let us turn to Jewish belief on the subject of the afterlife.
One of the basic beliefs of modern Judaism is that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of his body. But does this originate in the Bible? The Encyclopaedia Judaica frankly admits: “It was probably under Greek influence that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into Judaism.” However, this created a doctrinal dilemma, as the same source states: “Basically the two beliefs of resurrection and the soul’s immortality are contradictory. The one refers to a collective resurrection at the end of the days, i.e., that the dead sleeping in the earth will arise from the grave, while the other refers to the state of the soul after the death of the body.” How was the dilemma resolved in Jewish theology? “It was held that when the individual died his soul still lived on in another realm (this gave rise to all the beliefs regarding heaven and hell) while his body lay in the grave to await the physical resurrection of all the dead here on earth.”
University lecturer Arthur Hertzberg writes: “In the [Hebrew] Bible itself the arena of man’s life is this world. There is no doctrine of heaven and hell, only a growing concept of an ultimate resurrection of the dead at the end of days.” That is a simple and accurate explanation of the Biblical concept, namely, that “the dead know nothing . . . For there is no action, no reasoning, no learning, no wisdom in Sheol [mankind’s common grave], where you are going.” According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, “In the rabbinic period the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is considered one of the central doctrines of Judaism” and “is to be distinguished from the belief in . . . the immortality of the soul.” Today, however, while the immortality of the soul is accepted by all factions of Judaism, the resurrection of the dead is not.
In contrast with the Bible, the Talmud, influenced by Hellenism, is replete with explanations and stories and even descriptions of the immortal soul. Later Jewish mystical literature, the Kabbala, even goes so far as to teach reincarnation (transmigration of souls), which is basically an ancient Hindu teaching. (See Chapter 5.) In Israel today, this is widely accepted as a Jewish teaching, and it also plays an important role in Hasidic belief and literature. For example, Martin Buber includes in his book Tales of the Hasidim—The Later Masters a tale about the soul from the school of Elimelekh, a rabbi of Lizhensk: “On the Day of Atonement, when Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua would recite the Avodah, the prayer that repeats the service of the high priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, and would come to the passage: ‘And thus he spoke,’ he would never say those words, but would say: ‘And thus I spoke.’ For he had not forgotten the time his soul was in the body of a high priest of Jerusalem.” Reform Judaism has gone so far as to reject belief in the resurrection. Having removed the word from Reform prayer books, it recognizes only the belief in the immortal soul.
A recent tabulation concluded that there are 10 main religions and some 10,000 sects. Of these, some 6,000 exist in Africa, 1,200 in the United States, and hundreds in other lands. Many factors have contributed to the development of new religious groups. Some have said that the various religions all represent different ways of presenting religious truth. But a comparison of their teachings and practices with the Bible indicates, rather, that the diversity of religions is because people have become followers of men instead of listening to God. It is noteworthy that, to a large extent, teachings they hold in common, but that differ from the Bible, originated in ancient Babylon.
Most religious organizations have produced bad fruitage. It is not the fact that groups are organized that is bad. But many have promoted forms of worship that are based on false teachings and are largely ritualistic instead of providing genuine spiritual guidance; they have been misused to control the lives of people for selfish objectives; they have been overly concerned with money collections and ornate houses of worship instead of spiritual values; their members are often hypocritical. Obviously no one who loves righteousness would want to belong to such an organization. But true religion is a refreshing contrast to all of that. Nevertheless, to fulfill the Bible’s requirements, it must be organized.
However, someone might ask, ‘How can you say that Babylon has fallen, when religion seems to be flourishing in so many lands?’ Catholicism and Islam claim over one billion believers each. Protestantism still prospers in the Americas, where new churches and chapels spring up constantly. Hundreds of millions follow the rituals of Buddhism and Hinduism. Yet, to what degree does all this religion exert a positive influence on the conduct of these billions? Has it prevented Catholics and Protestants from killing one another in Northern Ireland? Has it brought real peace to Jews and Muslims in the Middle East? Has it led to harmony between Hindus and Muslims in India? And, more recently, has it prevented Serbian Orthodox, Croatian Catholics, and Bosnian Muslims from pursuing “ethnic cleansing,” plundering, raping, and slaughtering one another? Religion is often just a label, an eggshell-thin veneer that breaks under the slightest pressure. This is the reason why it is very important for a person to be able to choose and find the right religion that he has to belong to as a means of spiritual belongingness.
- Gustav Mensching (Rudolf Otto’s primary pupil in Germany), 1968. Soziologie der Religion (“Sociology of religion”), Germany: Bonn, p. 60ff (in German).
- Newberg, Andrew; Eugene D’Aquili and Vince Raus (2001). Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantyne Books. ISBN 0-345-44033-1.
- Pals, Daniel L. 1996. Seven Theories of Religion. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508725-9