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Religions of the World Essay Sample

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Religions of the World Essay Sample

Introduction

Religion has become one of the most central concept that surround us. It provides an answer to the most basic questions about the meaning and existence of human lives. There are thousands of religion that exists today, including sects and cults. It is the purpose of this paper to examine religions of the primal age, religions of antiquity and the religion of India—Hinduism in particular—and compare or contast them with each other.

Primal Religion

It is a mistake to think of the word primal or primitive as “unintelligent” or “savage”. Primitive merely suggests the lack of technology necessary for the cultivation of a civilized world (Hoare, 2008). Primal would literally mean “first”, “original”, “fundamental”, or “of first importance”. Hence, we would account primal religions to be the first organized religions in the history of mankind.

It is the thinking of primitive people that everything that grows or recreates itself must have a living spirit of some sort. They see that the wind and the water and the fire, even the earth and the sky are far from dead. All existence are connected. They needed the cooperation of the aspect of nature in their survival. They needed to befriend and appease the spirits within these natural objects. Primal religion is designed to influence the spirits of these natural object to help and cooperate with their suvival (HistoryWorld, 2008). So much that according to Dr. Timothy Hoare (2008), Professor of Humanities at Johnson County Community College, “primal people tend to live in harmony with the physical world”.

To appease the spirits of nature, primitive people carry out rituals, in the form of dances, chants or sacrifices. The people are led by priests, sometimes called shamans, to carry out the rituals. Story-telling is used to explain these rituals. Rituals of enactment gives honor to ancestors or to deities—spirits of nature. Primitive people perform rituals in specific time of the year—to pray for rain during droughts, to thank the spirits for a good harvest, to pray for a safe and successful hunt.

Primitive men believe in the continuum of things—from life to death, from the physical to the spiritual. There are rites of passage—from birth to puberty to adulthood—and rites for the deceased. Life as lived is a sacred activity in itself. Death is a transition from one state to the other. To primitive men, survival may be achieved with the help of the spirit of an ancestor.

Religions of Antiquity

As civilization begins, so does religion progesses. Ancient Egypt has developed their own gods, many of which are connected with animals. There are, however, different communities, each having their own god or gods. Ancient Egyptians believe in a universe that was created by a single god and is their central divinity—the sun-god, Ra (or Re in some other texts, Amun-Ra is the new name given by combining the name Ra with Amun, another important god in Thebes).

Priests continue to dominate in Ancient Egypt. The priest’s task is to tend to the needs of the gods as their nation’s fortunes are dictated by it and the peoples adherence to good deeds. People built temples as they are belived to be the dwelling places of the gods. They also build shrines and statues to honor their gods. Their chief priest, called the Pharoah who is also the Egyptian King, is believed to be of divine nature and has decended from the god Horus.

Egyptians has a highly developed view of afterlife. One is judged in death by the actions  during life and is either condemned to be damned or to be blessed. They believe in resurrection and has elaborate rituals for preparing the body and soul for an eternal life after death. It is essential for them to keep the dead body intact as they believe that the soul must be reunited with the body in the afterlife.

In ancient Greece, the existence of gods is already given. Although they don’t believe that the gods demand recognition for their salvation, they still believe that the gods would offer them protection and the people acknowledge their gods to their rightful place and act accordingly to give them their due. The Greeks participate in rituals to honor and pleae their gods and in order to live a life free from hardship and oppression and to have good fortune. There are still priests that attend to the needs of the gods. Although the Greeks believe that the gods’ dwelling place is the Mount Olympus, temples, shrines and statues were built to honor and offer sacrifices to the gods. Festivals, procession, choruses, dramas and games are held in honor of them. Worshippers usually bring presents of food, drink or flowers to the gods. On special occasions, honor to the gods is made by burnt offerings or sacrificing ox, lambs or goats.

The ancient Greeks believe that their heroes decended from the gods—as offsprings of a god that has seduced or raped a mortal woman, or by a goddess who mated with mortal men. As for the individual, a person may receive honor for the deeds during life. Victors, in war and games, were considered to have extraordinary power and were usually chosen as generals in time of war.

Greeks also believe in afterlife. The souls of the dead are sent to Hades or the Underworld.  Like ancient Egyptians, they have a proper concern for funeral. Without proper burial, one cannot enter the gates of Hades.

Greeks also give importance to oracles. Oracles give wise counsel and would often predictthe future for those who seek it. It is often necessary to consult an oracle before a political or individual decision is made.

Roman religion is primarily based on Greek religion so much that Roman gods and goddesses have Greek counterparts. Reading omens are made by studying natural elements—often by observing the entrails of a sacrificed animal, commonly a bull—and are important in making decisions. During the Roman Empire, the emperor has the role of pontifex maximus, or the chief priest (HistoryWorld, 2008).

In the ancient Persian Empire, in Zoroastrianism, although they believe in many different gods, they worship Ahura Mazda, the “Uncreated Creator”, above all else. They believe that to ensure happiness and to avoid chaos one must participate actively in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Mankind is responsible for their own actions and the situation that they are in is a consequence of how they live their life, that is, good things happen to those who do righteous deeds and those who do evils acts only have themselves to blame for their ruin. Shrines and temples were also built to honor and worship the god.

In ancient Near East religions, people believe that occurences on earth are influenced by the movements of the stars, the planets, the moon and the sun. They believe that all the gods reside in the heaven and the people of the Near East rely on reading the signs of the heavens to understand the meaning of things that are happening on earth. They built shrines and temples, called ziggurats, as dwelling places of the gods here on earth, and offer sacrifices and other rituals that are presided over by priests to please the gods. Although, people of the Near East believe in many gods, they believe in one god who is the king of all the gods and is the creator of mankind.

Hinduism

Hinduism is the oldest religion that is still being practised today. It is also the world’s third largest religion. It is referred to as “the eternal path” or “the eternal law”. Hinduism is a very diverse religion. Some sects do not believe in god, others belive in a single god above others. All of Hinduism, however, believes in the continuous cycle of birth, life, death and rebirt, called samsara. The ultimate goal of the Hindus is to be liberated from samsara through pureness of actions. They also believe that one’s good deeds is benefitted with good effects and the wrong deeds will be punished with harmful effects. This they call karma or the moral law of cause and effect.

Temples are built and is dedicated to a primary deity. However, worship could either be done at home or at temples, and temple worship is not obligatory (Bhaskarananda, 1994). Hindus worship their gods through incantations, invocations, praise and prayers on a daily basis. They also go into pilgrimages and celebrate festivals in commemoration of the events in their beliefs. The dead are usually cremated to purify the soul.

Conclusion

It is easy to mistake that new religions differ fom those that has arrived first. There are differences, yes, but it is also important to note that most religions were rooted from the primal religions.

The notion that there is a higher form of being can be traced back to primal religions. Although primitive men believe in many gods, they believe in a single creator. They believe that the highest form of divinity is the sky and stories of creation often includes a sky-god. We can see from here the following religions’ belief in a single creator and the gods and goddesses’ association with the heaven which is equated to the sky. In ancient Near East as well as in Zoroastrianism, the gods reside in heaven. The Egyptian sun-god, Ra, is of course associated with the sun that is in the heaven. Even now, heaven is regarded highly with religious beliefs. When people pray, for example, it is often said that they are “looking up into the heavens”.

Egyptian and Hindu gods and goddesses often have animal forms or parts. The Egyptian god Anubis is often depicted with a jackal head but is also depicted in the form of a jackal and Horus is depicted with the head of a falcon but could also be seen in the form of a falcon. In Greek and Roman mythology, the gods often take the form of animals to communicate or interact with humans. This can be traced to the primitive man’s reverence in animals. Today, Hindus still put animals like elephants, fish, peacocks, goats, camels, snakes, cows and horses with high regard.

The stories of gods and goddesses also has parallelisms. Greek religions is based on religions of the Near East. There is a striking similarity with the stories of creation in both religion. It has also been mentioned that Roman religion is practically the same as the Greek religion at least in terms of their divinities. In all religion that have been discussed, there is worship of a many deities, except in some sects of Hinduism that worship no gods. However, almost all of these religion would have a chief god or a king of the gods—in ancient Egypt there is Ra, in Greek religion there is Zeus, in an ancient Rome there is Jupiter, in Zoroastrianism there is Ahura Mazda, in Hindu, depending on the sect, it is Brahman, Vishnu or Shiva.

Priests can also be seen from primal religion to any other religion. “There can hardly be a religion without priests” (HistoryWorld, 2008). Priests always lead in rites and rituals. In primitive times, the priests or shamans are often consulted for social and political decisions like hunting or engaging in war. In religions of antiquity like Egyptian and Roman religion, the political leaders held highest form of priesthood and are even honored as divine. Shamans would also have knowledge in medicine—they are also referred to as medicine men or witch doctors. Egyptian priests also have knowledge in medicine, others would also possess knowledge in engineering and architecture. In Hinduism, there are those who dedicate their lives in the service of the gods. They are called Holy men. In most cases, priests are responsible in attending to the needs of the gods.

Rituals are made to appease the spirits of nature during primitive times. During antiquity, rituals are made to appease and honor the gods. Other reason of rituals would be thank and pray to the gods for a successful hunt or a bountiful harvest, to seek guidance in making decisions and to ask for protection from harm. Rituals, therefore, maybe considered means of communicating with the gods. Rituals are also performed when celebrating a special event while other religions celebrate festivals. Stories and legends are also passed down through these rituals.

Taking care of the dead is also an important part of as ritual of religions that have been discussed. In almost all of these religions, although they have differences in concept of it, we see the belief in afterlife. And although death is really not desirable, one can gain positive effects upon death. This is a very positive and effective way of justifying death and in consoling those that has been left behind. Today, we still see religions that respect and give honor to the dead and the concept of an afterlife in one form or another still exists.

Shrines and temples are also common to all religion but the purpose of these vary from one religion to the other. For some religion like Egyptian religion and Zoroastrianism, the temples serve as dwelling places of the gods in this earth. For some like the Greeks, it is a place where one can worship and offer sacrifices to the gods. Images of the gods, in paintings and statues, could also be found in the temples.

Perhaps what is common to all religion is the teaching of righteousness and morality. Every religion gives guidance on how a person must live life. Each religion has the concept of good and evil and encourages its believers to do good deeds and reject bad deeds. The good is always rewarded and the evil punished. The rewards and punishments of one’s actions may also be manifested upon death. In Greek religion, the damned souls would go to the pit of Tartarus while those of the virtuous would go to the Elysian fields. In Hinduism, a soul may be reborn at a lower status than the previous life by doing wicked deeds, or may be reborn at a higher status, or eventually be liberated from samsara, by doing righteous deeds.

Of course, good depends on who is looking at it. Conquering a nation for the glory of the conqueror’s god, for example, would be a good deed in the conqueror’s point of view but it would be bad for the conquered. That is why there would never be a perfect religion as every religion has its own interest.

References

Bhaskarananda, Swami. (1994). The essentials of Hinduism: A comprehensive overview of the world’s oldest religion.

Hoare, Timothy D. (2008). Some basic concept in primal religion. Retrieved March 28, 2008 from http://staff.jccc.net/thoare/primal.htm

HistoryWorld. (2008). History of religion. Retrieved March 28, 2008 from http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?ParagraphID=bdf

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