Updated: Sep 2, 2021
Tips for Aging Well
In my May 7 Inaugural blog, I quoted a January 24, 2014 article by Sally Quinn in the Washington Post. “It turns out,” she said, “that people who have religious or spiritual beliefs are happier than those who don’t, no matter what their beliefs.” The article also pointed out that, “Religious beliefs give people a sense of meaning.” Eric W. Dalen in an August 30, 2018 article in Social Psychology noted that, “…religion can be one way that individuals cope with a reduced sense of purpose in life….” That said, this blog provides a snapshot of the world’s religions.
Clearly, adopting a ‘religious or spiritual belief’ would be a much better alternative than suicide for the individual I mentioned in my last post who didn’t know what to do with his life upon retiring. Adopting a belief implies more than simply claiming to be a follower of a particular religion. It means reading their holy books, studying the words of their Founder, and observing what the Founder said to do or not to do.
The world’s seven major religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism. There is no God or heaven in Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. In fact, those three might be described as a ‘religious philosophy’ more than a religion, although some might disagree.
Hinduism has many gods and one supreme God, Brahman, while Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are monotheist, the belief in the existence of only one God who created the world and is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Some Muslims refute the notion that Christianity is monotheistic because of the doctrine of the Trinity, three persons in one God.
Islam’s Quran mentions the Torah, Psalms, and the Christian Gospel as revealed by God to the prophets Moses, David, and Jesus, respectively, in the same way that God revealed the Quran to Muhammad. But some Muslims view these books as having been corrupted and altered, over time, while maintaining that the Quran is the final, unchanged, and preserved word of God. Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism do not claim that their holy books were revealed to man by God as do Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Of the seven major religions, only Catholic Christians have a centrally organized ecclesiastical hierarchical and a clergy that wear distinctive clothing. Judaism lost its hierarchal leadership when Roman legions destroyed the temple in 70 AD.
It appears that only three of the major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, maintain a system of dogma and doctrine that an adherent is expected to embrace to be considered a member of that religion.
However, since doctrinal beliefs allow more flexibility than dogma, some adherents believe that their individual conscience is the final word. Doctrine allows interpretations while dogmas are considered essential truths. According to a Pew Research Center poll, April 19, 2016, “Roughly three-quarters of U.S. Catholics (73%) say they rely “a great deal” on their own conscience when facing difficult moral problems, compared with 21% who look to the Catholic Church’s teachings, 15% who turn to the Bible and 11% who say they rely a great deal on the Pope.”
According to the Pew Research Center poll dated April 12, 2016, beliefs vary widely among Christians. “Nearly all U.S. Christians say believing in God is essential (86%) or important but not essential (10%) to what being Christian means to them, personally. Large majorities of all Christian groups, from 95% of evangelical Protestants to 79% of Catholics, say it [belief in God] is essential.”
Confucianists, Taoists, Buddhists, and Hindus embrace a philosophy and way of life as explained by their holy books rather than stated dogma. According to a Pew Research Center poll published in October 1, 2013, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, “for most American Jews, ancestry and culture matter more than religion.” For more on the role of doctrine and dogma among the world religions see: https://www.britannica.com/topic/doctrine/The-relation-of-faith-reason-and-religious-insight-to-doctrine-and-dogma.
It is easy to recognize followers of Judaism if they are wearing a kippah or yarmulke, and Muslims when they are wearing a hijab or using a prayer rug. Only Taoists and Buddhist priests and nuns wear distinctive robes. Hindus wear a bindi or dot on their forehead, but there are no distinguishing marks or garb for Confucianists. Christians are recognized by their love for others.
I imagine the Founders of the major religions established guidelines for one to be called a ‘disciple or follower.’ Interestingly, only Hinduism has no identified Founder. Jesus, the Founder of Christianity, explicitly stated what His followers should believe or do to be called a Christian, so let’s briefly focus on that.
Webster defines a Christian as “One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ,” which is a standard definition for a follower of any philosophy, religion, or person. After all, it only makes sense that to be considered a legitimate follower, one would have to know what that philosophy, religion, or person advocates, and believe it to be true.
Webster’s definition assumes Christians know what Jesus taught by hearing or reading what He said and profess to believe it. Belief alone, however, doesn’t necessarily imply obedience, which is one of the conditions that Jesus established for His followers.
In John 8:31, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” With all due respect to Webster, Jesus defines a disciple in this verse as one who not only knows what He said, but also holds to it. I would, therefore, modify Webster’s definition to, “one who professes belief in and observes the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Speaking through the prophet Hosea in 4:6, God said, “My people suffer from a lack of knowledge,” which means we make bad choices because of insufficient knowledge of the Founder’s words. Simply put, we don’t do what God said to do because we don’t know what He said.
In the Gospel of John 13:35, Jesus identified another attribute that would identify His disciples. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Apparently, loving one another is so uncommon in the world that those who do so will immediately be recognized as followers of Jesus.
I hope this blog is generally informative and furthers Sally Quinn’s statement, “…that people who have religious or spiritual beliefs are happier than those who don’t, no matter what their beliefs.”