Major Religions, Sects and Cults

major religions

Major Religions, Sects and Cults

By Mark B. Lord

 

Definitions:

Religion – The belief in and worship of a supreme being, creator or controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. A particular system of faith and worship. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.

Sect – A group of people with somewhat different religious beliefs (typically regarded as heretical) from those of a larger group to which they belong. A group that has separated from an established church; a nonconformist church.

Cult – A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister. A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing. Unusual religious devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.

 

Religions, sects, and belief systems in alphabetical order:

(Belief Systems listed: Aladura, Asatru, Atheism, Baha’i Faith, Bön, Buddhism, Cao Dai, Chinese Religion, Chopra Center, Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), Christian Science, Confucianism, Deism, Druze, Eckankar, Epicureanism, Falun Gong, Gnosticism, Greek Religion, Hare Krishna, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, Mayan Religion, Mormonism (LDS), New Age, New Thought, Rastafari, Satanism, Scientology, Seventh-day Adventists, Shinto, Sikhism, Stoicism, Taoism, Unification Church, Unitarian Universalism, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism.)

 

Aladura

Origins & History: Various prophet-healing churches founded since c.1918, West Nigeria.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 1 million

God(s) and world-view: Generally monotheistic; a mix of Anglican, Pentecostal and traditional African beliefs.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Strong emphasis on healing and salvation in this life through prayer, fasting and other rituals.

Afterlife: Not emphasized; views vary.

Practices: Spiritual healing is central. Mix of Anglican and African rituals; a prophet plays a prominent role.

Religious texts: None

 

Asatru

Origins & History: Revival of Norse and Germanic paganism, 1970s Scandinavia and USA.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): unknown

God(s) and world-view: Polytheistic, Norse gods and goddesses, Norse creation myths.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Salvation or redemption not emphasized. Fatalistic view of universe.

Afterlife: Valhalla (heaven) for death in battle; Hel (peaceful place) for most; Hifhel (hell) for the very evil.

Practices: Sacrifice of food or drink, toast to the gods, shamanism (less frequently), celebration of solstice holidays. Nine Noble Virtues is moral code.

Religious texts: Eddas (Norse epics); the Havamal (proverbs attributed to Odin)

 

Atheism

Origins & History: Appears in history, but especially after the Enlightenment (19th cent).

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 1.1 billion (this figure includes agnostic and non-religious, which tend to be grouped on surveys)

God(s) and world-view: There is no God or divine being. Beliefs about the universe generally based on latest scientific findings.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Only humans can help themselves and each other solve the world’s problems.

Afterlife: none

Practices: none

Philosophical texts: Influential works include those by Marx, Freud, Feuerbach, and Voltaire.

 

Baha’i Faith

Origins & History: Founded by Bahá’u’lláh, 1863, Tehran, Iran.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 5-7 million

God(s) and world-view: One God, who has revealed himself progressively through major world religions.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: The soul is eternal and essentially good. Purpose of life is to develop spiritually and draw closer to God.

Afterlife: Soul separates from the body and begins a journey towards or away from God. Heaven and hell are states of being.

Practices: Daily prayer, avoidance of intoxicants, scripture reading, hard work, education, work for social justice and equality.

Religious texts: Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and other Bahá’í leaders

 

Bön

Origins & History: Indigenous religion of Tibet.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 100,000

God(s) and world-view: Nontheistic Buddhism, but meditation on peaceful and wrathful deities.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose is to gain enlightenment.

Afterlife: Reincarnation until gain enlightenment

Practices: Meditation on mandalas and Tibetan deities, astrology, monastic life.

Religious texts: Bonpo canon

 

Buddhism

Origins & History: Founded by Siddharta Gautama (the Buddha) in c. 520 BC, NE India.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 360 million

God(s) and world-view: (Varies) – Theravada atheistic; Mahayana more polytheistic. Buddha taught nothing is permanent.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose is to avoid suffering and gain enlightenment and release from cycle of rebirth, or at least attain a better rebirth by gaining merit.

Afterlife: Reincarnation (understood differently than in Hinduism, with no surviving soul) until gain enlightenment

Practices: Meditation, mantras, devotion to deities (in some sects), mandalas (Tibetan)

Religious texts: Tripitaka (Pali Canon); Mahayana sutras like the Lotus Sutra; others.

 

Cao Dai

Origins & History: Founded in 1926, Vietnam by Ngo Van Chieu and others based on a séance.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 4-6 million

God(s) and world-view: God represented by Divine Eye. Founders of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity venerated, and saints including Victor Hugo.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Goal is peace and harmony in each person and in the world. Salvation by “cultivating self and finding God in self.”

Afterlife: Reincarnation. Bad karma can lead to rebirth on a darker planet; good karma to better life on earth. Eventual attainment of nirvana or heaven.

Practices: Hierarchy similar to Roman Catholicism. Daily prayer. Meditation. Communication with spirit world (now outlawed in Vietnam).

Religious texts: Caodai canon

 

Chinese Religion

Origins & History: Indigenous folk religion of China.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 394 million

God(s) and world-view: Dualistic yin and yang; mythological beings and folk deities.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose is a favorable life and peaceful afterlife, attained through rituals and honoring of ancestors.

Afterlife: Judgment, then reincarnation or temporary hell until gain a Buddhist-type paradise.

Practices: Ancestor worship, prayer, longevity practices, divination, prophecy and astrology, feng shui.

Religious texts: None

 

Chopra Center

Origins & History: Founded by Deepak Chopra in 1991, California

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): unknown

God(s) and world-view: Monism – God or Supreme Reality pervades all things; all is unity

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans have limitless potential, but do not recognize this. Health and success can be had by focusing on whole self (mind, body, spirit).

Afterlife: Reincarnation

Practices: Yoga, meditation, massage, nutrition, mindfulness, detox sessions, positive thinking.

Religious texts: Deepak Chopra’s many books, such as the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

 

Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox)

Origins & History: Founded by Jesus Christ in c. 30 AD, Israel.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 2 billion

God(s) and world-view: One God who is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: All have sinned and are thereby separated from God. Salvation is through faith in Christ and, for some, sacraments and good works.

Afterlife: Eternal heaven or hell (or temporary purgatory).

Practices: Prayer, Bible study, baptism, Eucharist, church on Sundays, numerous holidays.

Religious texts: The Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)

 

Christian Science

Origins & History: Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, Massachusetts.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 150,000 – 400,000

God(s) and world-view: One God. No Trinity (in traditional sense). Matter and evil do not exist.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Salvation is “Life, Truth, and Love understood and demonstrated as supreme over all; sin, sickness and death destroyed.”

Afterlife: Heaven is “not a locality, but a divine state of Mind in which all the manifestations of Mind are harmonious and immortal.”

Practices: Spiritual healing through prayer and knowledge, Sunday services, daily Bible and Science & Health reading.

Religious texts: Christian Bible, Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures

 

Confucianism

Origins & History: Founded by Confucius (551–479 BC), China

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 5-6 million

God(s) and world-view: Not addressed

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose of life is to fulfill one’s role in society with propriety, honor, and loyalty.

Afterlife: Not addressed

Practices: Honesty, politeness, propriety, humaneness, perform correct role in society, loyalty to family, nation

Religious texts: Analects

 

Deism

Origins & History: Especially popularized in the 18th-cent. Enlightenment under Kant, Voltaire, Paine, Jefferson, and others

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): unknown

God(s) and world-view: One Creator God who is uninterested in the world. Reason is basis for all knowledge.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Not addressed

Afterlife: Not addressed

Practices: None prescribed, although some deists practice prayer.

Religious texts: Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason and similar texts

 

Druze

Origins & History: Al-Darazi in 11th century, Cairo, Egypt. Roots in the Isma’iliyya sect of Shia Islam.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 500,000

God(s) and world-view: Universal Intelligence (al-Aql al-Kulli) or Divine Essence (akin to Neoplatonism), of which al-Hakim is believed to be an incarnation.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Live a good life for a favorable reincarnation. Await the re-appearance of al-Hakim (a Fatimid caliph who disappeared in 1021), who will usher in a Golden Age for true believers.

Afterlife: Reincarnation. Heaven is a spiritual existence when one has escaped reincarnation. Hell is distance from God in lifetime after lifetime.

Practices: Modest lifestyles, fasting before Eid al-Adha. Beliefs and practices are hidden for protection from persecution. Special group of initiates called uqqal.

Religious texts: Al-Naqd al-Khafi (Copy of the Secret); Al-Juz’al-Awwal (Essence of the First)

 

Eckankar

Origins & History: John Paul Twitchell in 1965, Las Vegas.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 50-500,000

God(s) and world-view: The Divine Spirit, called “ECK”

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: “Each of us is Soul, a spark of God sent to this world to gain spiritual experience.” Salvation is liberation and God-realization.

Afterlife: Reincarnation. The Soul is eternal by nature and on a spiritual journey. Liberation possible in a single lifetime.

Practices: Spiritual Exercises of ECK: mantras, meditation, and dreams. These enable Soul travel and spiritual growth.

Religious texts: Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad and books by Harold Klemp

 

Epicureanism

Origins & History: Epicurus in c.300 BC, Athens.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): unknown

God(s) and world-view: A deistic sort of polytheism: the gods exist, but take no notice of humans.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: (Materialism): everything is made of atoms, including gods and the soul.

Afterlife: No afterlife. The soul dissolves when the body dies.

Practices: Pursue the highest pleasures (friendship and tranquility) and avoid pain.

Religious texts: Letters and Principal Doctrines of Epicurus

 

Falun Gong

Origins & History: Li Hongzhi in 1992 in China

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 10 million

God(s) and world-view: Countless gods and spiritual beings. Demonic aliens.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: The Falun (wheel) is an energy source located in the navel. Goal is spritual transcendence, achieved by practicing Falun Gong.

Afterlife: Not addressed

Practices: Five exercises to strengthen the Falun. Cultivation of truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. Meat eating discouraged.

Religious texts: Zhuan Falun and other writings by Master Li

 

Gnosticism

Origins & History: Various teachers including Valentinus, 1st-2nd cents. AD

Adherents Worldwide (approx.) ancient form extinct; small modern revival groups.

God(s) and world-view: The supreme God is unknowable; the creator god is evil and matter is evil.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans can return to the spiritual world through secret knowledge of the universe.

Afterlife: Return to the spiritual world.

Practices: Asceticism, celibacy

Religious texts: Gnostic scriptures including various Gospels and Acts attributed to apostles.

 

Greek Religion

Origins & History: Variety of religions of ancient Greeks

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): ancient form extinct

God(s) and world-view: Olympic pantheon (Zeus, etc.) mixed with eastern deities like Isis and Cybele

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Human life is subject to the whim of the gods and to Fate; these can be controlled through sacrifice and divination.

Afterlife: Beliefs varied from no afterlife to shadowy existence in the underworld to a paradise-like afterlife (mainly in mystery religions).

Practices: Animal sacrifice, harvest offerings, festivals, games, processions, dance, plays, in honor of the gods. Secret initiations and rituals in mystery religions.

Religious texts: Epic poems of Homer and Hesiod.

 

Hare Krishna

Origins & History: Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1966, USA (with roots in 15th-century Hindu movement)

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 250,000-1 million

God(s) and world-view: Krishna is the Supreme God.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Salvation from this Age of Kali is by a return to Godhead, accomplished through Krishna-Consciousness.

Afterlife: Reincarnation until unite with the Godhead.

Practices: Chanting, dancing, evangelism, vegetarianism, temple worship, monastic-style living.

Religious texts: The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is

 

Hinduism

Origins & History: Indigenous religion of India as developed to present day.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 900 million

God(s) and world-view: One Supreme Reality (Brahman) manifested in many gods and goddesses

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans are in bondage to ignorance and illusion, but are able to escape. Purpose is to gain release from rebirth, or at least a better rebirth.

Afterlife: Reincarnation until gain enlightenment.

Practices: Yoga, meditation, worship (puja), devotion to a god or goddess, pilgrimage to holy cities, live according to one’s dharma (purpose/ role).

Religious texts: The Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, etc.

 

Islam

Origins & History: Muhammad, 622 AD, Saudi Arabia

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 1.3 billion (Sunni: 940 million)

God(s) and world-view: One God (Allah in Arabic)

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans must submit (islam) to the will of God to gain Paradise after death.

Afterlife: Paradise or Hell.

Practices: Five Pillars: Faith, Prayer, Alms, Pilgrimage, Fasting. Mosque services on Fridays. Ablutions before prayer. No alcohol or pork. Holidays related to the pilgrimage and fast of Ramadan.

Religious texts: Qur’an (Scripture); Hadith (tradition)

 

Jainism

Origins & History: Mahavira, c. 550 BC, eastern India

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 4 million

God(s) and world-view: The universe is eternal; many gods exist. Gods, humans and all living things are classified in a complex hierarchy.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: The soul is uncreated and eternal and can attain perfect divinity. Purpose is to gain liberation from cycle of rebirth, by avoiding all bad karma, especially by causing no harm to any sentient being.

Afterlife: Reincarnation until liberation.

Practices: Monasticism under the Five Great Vows (Non-Violence, Truth, Celibacy, Non-Stealing, Non-Possessiveness); worship at temples and at home. Meditation and mantras.

Religious texts: The teachings of Mahavira in various collections.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Origins & History: Charles Taze Russell, 1879, Pittsburgh

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 6.5 million

God(s) and world-view: One God, Jehovah. No Trinity – Christ is the first creation of God; the Holy Spirit is a force.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Salvation is through faith in Christ and obeying Jehovah’s laws. The End of the World is soon.

Afterlife: Heaven for 144,000 chosen Witnesses, eternity on new earth for other Witnesses. All others annihilated. No hell.

Practices: No blood transfusions, no celebration of holidays, no use of crosses or religious images. Baptism, Sunday service at Kingdom Hall, strong emphasis on evangelism.

Religious texts: New World Translation of the Scriptures

 

Judaism

Origins & History: The religion of the Hebrews (c. 1300 BC), especially after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 14 million

God(s) and world-view: One God, Yahweh.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Obey God’s commandments, live ethically. Focus is more on this life than the next.

Afterlife: Not historically emphasized. Beliefs vary from no afterlife to shadowy existence to the World to Come (similar to heaven).

Practices: Circumcision at birth, bar/bat mitzvah at adulthood. Synagogue services on Saturdays. No pork or other non-kosher foods. Holidays related to historical events.

Religious texts: Bible (Old Testament only), Tanakh, Talmud

 

Mayan Religion

Origins & History: c.250 AD (rise of the Mayan civilization)

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): Historically, up to 2 million. Some survival today.

God(s) and world-view: Many gods, including Itzamná, Kukulcán, Bolon Tzacab, and Chac

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Appease and nourish the gods; determine luckiest dates for various activities.

Afterlife: The soul journeys through dark and threatening underworld; but sacrificial victims and women who die in childbirth go to heaven.

Practices: Astronomy, divination, human sacrifice, elaborate burial for royalty, worship in stone pyramid-temples.

Religious texts: Dresden, Madrid, and Paris codices; Books of Chilam Balam; Popol Vuh; The Ritual of the Bacabs.

 

Mormonism (LDS)

Origins & History: Joseph Smith, 1830, New York

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 12.2 million

God(s) and world-view: God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate individual beings

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans existed as spirits before this life, salvation is returning to God. Salvation by faith in Christ, good works, ordinances, and evangelism.

Afterlife: All return to spirit world for period of instruction before resurrection. Mormons to heaven with God and families; others rewarded but not with God; hell for those who reject God after death.

Practices: Abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea; baptism for the dead; eternal marriage; temple garments under daily clothes; active evangelism.

Religious texts: Christian Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price

 

New Age

Origins & History: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Annie Besant in the 19th C, Alice A. Bailey (1880-1949), flourished in 1970s and 80s

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 5 million (very approximate)

God(s) and world-view: The Divine is an impersonal life force that pervades all things

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Dawning of a New Age of heightened consciousness and international peace. Individuals can obtain a foretaste of the New Age through spiritual transformation (“Ascension”). More emphasis on the latter now. Evil comes from ignorance.

Afterlife: Reincarnation based on karma

Practices: Astrology; mysticism; use of crystals; yoga; tarot readings; holistic medicine; psychic abilities; angelic communications; channeling; amulets; fortune-telling

Religious texts: Works of a variety of New Age writers

 

New Thought

Origins & History: Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-66) and others, late 19th century, USA.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 160,000

God(s) and world-view: Generally monism (all is One), but members might be theists, pantheists or panentheists. God is imminent; the universe is essentially spiritual.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Man is divine, essentially spirit, and has infinite possibility. Mind can control the body. Sin and sickness caused by incorrect thinking. Man can live in oneness with God in love, truth, peace, health, and prosperity.

Afterlife: “Life is eternal in the invisible kingdom of God.”

Practices: Emphasis on spiritual and mental healing, but without rejection of modern medicine. Worship services; prayer for the sick; discussion of New Thought authors and ideas.

Religious texts: Writings of Quimby (such as the The Quimby Manuscripts) and other New Thought authors

 

Rastafari

Origins & History: Teachings of Marcus Garvey (1920s, Jamaica) and coronation of Haile Selassie (1930, Ethiopia)

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 1 million

God(s) and world-view: God is Jah, who became incarnate in Jesus (who was black) and Haile Selassie.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans are temples of Jah. Salvation is primarily in this world and consists of liberation from oppression and return to Africa.

Afterlife: Some Rastas will experience “everliving” (physical immortality). Heaven is a return to Eden, which is in Africa.

Practices: Many practices based on Jewish biblical Law. Abstinence from most or all meat, artificial foods, and alcohol. Use of marijuana in religious rituals and for medicine. Wearing of dreadlocks.

Religious texts: Holy Piby (the “Blackman’s Bible). The Ethiopian epic Kebra Negast also revered.

 

Satanism

Origins & History: Unknown; since ancient times. According to the Bible, Satan’s following originated with 1/3 of angelic beings that joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God their creator. Humans later paid devotion to Satan in hopes of earthly rewards.

Adherents Worldwide: Unknown. Historically, Satanism is made up of openly active, as well as secretive and elusive groups.

God(s) and world-view: The God of the Judeo-Christian religion is Satan’s creator. Satan was Lucifer, God’s highest angel who stood in His presence. Out of envy, Lucifer desired to be like God and rebelled against his Creator. 1/3 of the angels rebelled with him. They were cast out of heaven by Michael the archangel. Lucifer is now known as Satan, which means “Adversary” in Aramaic. The other fallen angels are now called “demons” or “evil spirits”. Although they were cast out, they were not stripped of their powers and authority over their assigned territories in God’s creation. They will be stripped of their authority at the Last Judgment.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Since ancient times, people that have forsaken God in their hearts, out of greed, lust for power and wealth, etc. have worshipped ‘the god of this world’ (as the New Testament calls him) in hopes of obtaining Satan’s power and favor.

In modern times, some adherents to Satanism do not even believe in his existence. To these, Satan is only a fictional ‘role model’ or mentor.

Afterlife: Most Satanists believe Satan will be the victor in the end, and they will be rewarded for their allegiance to him. Most Satanists do not believe in an afterlife. The rewards they are seeking after are the temporal, worldly pleasures of this life.

Practices: Various secret ceremonies, usually involving sex, ritual abuse and sacrifice of animals and/or human beings.

Religious texts: True Satanists rely on the Judeo-Christian Bible, as well as traditions of ancient cultures for their information about Satan and other demonic spirits. In 1966, Anton LaVey formed The Church of Satan in San Francisco, CA and published the Satanic Bible in 1969. The Satanic Bible is nothing more than a fictional ‘mockery’ of the Judeo-Christian Bible, written by an author who was obviously bitter at God and Christianity, and used Satanism as an outlet for his anger. True Satanists have historically been organized into ‘secret societies’, with an anonymous membership that even law enforcement agencies have a hard time tracing.

 

Scientology

Origins & History: L. Ron Hubbard, 1954, California

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 70,000 or several million, depending on the source

God(s) and world-view: God(s) not specified; reality explained in the Eight Dynamics

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Human consists of body, mind and thetan; capable of great things. Gain spiritual freedom by ridding mind of engrams.

Afterlife: Reincarnation

Practices: Auditing, progressing up various levels until “clear”. Focus on education and drug recovery programs.

Religious texts: Writings of Hubbard, such as Dianetics and Scientology

 

Seventh-day Adventists

Origins & History: Rooted in Millerite movement; Ellen White was main leader; founded 1863 in New England

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 10 million

God(s) and world-view: One God who is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Second Coming of Christ is imminent; salvation is by faith in Christ; emphasis on quality of life both now and in afterlife

Afterlife: A “peaceful pause” after death until the coming of Christ, then resurrection to judgment and eternity in heaven or hell

Practices: Sabbath observance on Saturdays; healthful lifestyle; baptism by immersion

Religious texts: Bible only; but later prophets like Ellen White are authoritative when tested against Scriptures

 

Shinto

Origins & History: Indigenous religion of Japan.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 3-4 million

God(s) and world-view: Polytheism based on the kami, ancient gods or spirits.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans are pure by nature and can keep away evil through purification rituals and attain good things by calling on the kami.

Afterlife: Death is bad and impure. Some humans become kami after death.

Practices: Worship and offerings to kami at shrines and at home. Purification rituals.

Religious texts: Important texts are Kojiki or ‘Records of Ancient Matters’ and Nihon-gi or ‘Chronicles of Japan’

 

Sikhism

Origins & History: Guru Nanak, c. 1500 AD, Punjab, India.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 23 million

God(s) and world-view: One God (Ik Onkar, Nam)

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a “saint soldier,” fighting for good.

Afterlife: Reincarnation until resolve karma and merge with God.

Practices: Prayer and meditation on God’s name, services at temple (gurdwara), turban and five Ks. Balance work, worship, and charity. No monasticism or asceticism.

Religious texts: Adi Granth (Sri Guru Granth Sahib)

 

Stoicism

Origins & History: Zeno in c.313 BC, Athens.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): Unknown

God(s) and world-view: Pantheism: the logos pervades the universe.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose is happiness, achieved by virtue, i.e., living reasonably.

Afterlife: Possible continued existence of the Soul, but not a personal existence.

Practices: Ethical and philosophical training, self-reflection, careful judgment and inner calm.

Religious texts: Fragments of founders plus later writers like Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius.

 

Taoism

Origins & History: Lao-Tzu, c. 550 BC, China.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 20 million (394 million adherents of Chinese religion)

God(s) and world-view: Pantheism – the Tao pervades all. Yin-yang – opposites make up a unity.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose is inner harmony, peace, and longevity. Acheived by living in accordance with the Tao.

Afterlife: Revert back to state of non-being, which is simply the other side of being.

Practices: General attitude of detachment and non-struggle, “go with the flow” of the Tao. Tai-chi, acupuncture, and alchemy to help longevity.

Religious texts: Tao Te Ching, Chuang-Tzu

 

Unification Church

Origins & History: Sun Myung Moon, 1954, South Korea.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.) Over 1 million (3 million acc. to official sources)

God(s) and world-view: Monotheism, with the duality of God (esp. masculine and feminine) emphasized. No Trinity doctrine.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Purpose is true love and world peace instead of selfish love. True love and the kingdom of God on earth will be restored by the creation of “true families.”

Afterlife: Eternal life in a spirit world.

Practices: Blessing Ceremony

Religious texts: The Divine Principle (1954) by Rev. Moon.

 

Unitarian Universalism

Origins & History: Formal merger of Unitarians and Universalists in 1961, USA.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 800,000

God(s) and world-view: Not specified. Members might believe in one God, many gods, or no God.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Salvation is “spiritual health or wholeness.” Members seek “inner and outer peace,” insight, health, compassion and strength.

Afterlife: Not specified. Some believe in an afterlife, some do not. Very few believe in hell – “Universalism” indicates the belief that all will be saved.

Practices: Ceremonies for marriages, funerals, etc. Church services have elements from various religions. Emphasis on civil rights, social justice, equality and environment. Most UUs are anti-death penalty and pro-gay rights.

Religious texts: Many sacred texts are revered by various members; some none at all. The Bible is the most commonly used text.

 

Wicca

Origins & History: Based on ancient pagan beliefs, but modern form founded early 1900s. Founder generally said to be Gerald Gardner.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): 1-3 million

God(s) and world-view: Polytheism, centered on the Goddess and God, each in various forms; also a belief in a Supreme Being over all

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: “If it harms none, do what you will.”

Afterlife: Reincarnation until reach the Summerland

Practices: Prayer, casting a circle, Drawing Down the Moon, reciting spells, dancing, singing, sharing cakes and wine or beer

Religious texts: No sacred text; foundational texts include The Witch Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches

 

Zoroastrianism

Origins & History: Zoroaster in c.6th cent. BC, Persia. Official religion of ancient Persia. May have influenced Judaism and Vedic religion.

Adherents Worldwide (approx.): c. 200,000

God(s) and world-view: One God, Ahura Mazda, but a dualistic worldview in which an evil spirit, Angra Mainyu, is almost as powerful.

Human Situation and Life’s Purpose: Humans are free to do good or evil, must choose the side of good.

Afterlife: Judgement followed by heaven or hell. Hell is temporary until final purgation and return to Ahura Mazda.

Practices: Good deeds, charity, equality, hard work.

Religious texts: Zend Avesta


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