Today, there are several religions practiced by people all over the world. While it is not possible to discuss all the religions, a person can get an overview of the world religions. In fact, many of the world religions are practiced in the US, which is definitely a melting pot for religions. The US has over 1,500 religious organizations and this number is fast growing as more and more people migrate to the Land of Opportunity and Equality.
World religions are basically divided into Middle Eastern and Far Eastern. Under the former, religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism are clubbed; while the latter has Buddhism and Hinduism under it.
Judaism originated with Abraham, who used to live in the Middle East around 2000 B.C. This religion is about praying to a single god. Judaism has the credit of being the first world religion to believe that just a single god existed. In Judaism, god is viewed as a loving entity, who created the universe and humans. The humans were created in god's own image. According to beliefs in Judaism, the Jews were selected by god to spread his message all over the world.
The Jews' scripture is known as Torah, which highlights god's will and lists down the 10 Commandments that people should use to serve god and deal with other human beings. In addition, people following Judaism also follow the book of Talmud, which has interpretations by ancient rabbis of the Torah. A Jew an earn salvation just by following the path of god's will and His commandments. Sabbath for Jews begins from Friday, the moment the sun sets, and end at sunset on Saturdays. This is the day that Jews use for worshipping and being close to god. While in the ancient times, Jews would go to the Temple of Jerusalem to worship, today the place of worship is known as a synagogue. In a synagogue, the rabbi reads and explains the message in the Torah. There are many groups in Judaism, from orthodox to reform to conservative. Each group follows its own interpretation of the Torah.
Christianity owes its origins to Jesus, who was from Nazareth, a city in Israel. Believers of Christianity believe in the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. However, Christians believe that there is just one god, and the HolyTrinity is nothing but different faces of god. Christians too believe that God created the universe, humans, animals, plants and all other living and non-living creatures. The humans were created in God's own image, just like Judaism.
The Christians follow the Old Testament and the New Testament which are combined into the Holy Bible. They believe that God's only son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed Himself to atone for the sins of humanity. In order to gain salvation, a person should embrace Jesus as their savior. Once they embrace Jesus Christ, they can be assured of a place in heaven with god Himself. Christians have many beliefs and denominations that have sprouted over time. The two main denominations are Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Christians go every Sunday for mass to churches, where a priest interprets the Holy Bible.
Islam began in modern-day Saudi Arabia and owes its origins to Muhammad, who lived during 570 to 632 AD. Just like Judaism and Christianity, even Islam believes in a single god, but the religion does not believe in the Holy Trinity, and the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ. However, the followers of Islam believe that their God sent forth a messenger, Muhammad, to spread the word of God and convert the infidels.
The holy book of Islam is the Koran. It was penned down by Muhammad after God dictated it to Him. Islam has very strict rules for its believers when it comes to drinking, sex and fasting in honor of God. In addition, it is must for a healthy and financially able Muslim to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, which is the holiest city of Islam. Fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan is a must for a Muslim, who is healthy and able to. A Muslim must offer prayers 5 times a day in a mosque or at home. Islam's main sects include Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Though Hinduism is considered to be a religion, it is more a way of life. It originated some time during 2000 B.C. and the credit for the religion cannot go to a single person. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, having a great diversity in beliefs, rituals and practices. However, the Holy Trinity of Hinduism comprises of the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These gods came down to Earth in different incarnations to help humans and spread their messages.
Hinduism has many scriptures, but all these scriptures are based on the Vedas and Upanishads. The Vedas is book comprising of oral traditions, while the Upanishads is a synthesis and part of the Vedas. Hinduism believes in the soul and its rebirth. One of the main concepts of the religion is karma, where a person is encouraged to do good deeds, think good and stay away from evil practices. A person's karma decides his or her fate in the future and in the next life. The Hindus believe that a person can obtain salvation through three means, namely through ritual and work, knowledge and by devoting oneself to god. The latter is the most popular way among Hindus to gain salvation.
Buddhism is considered as an offshoot of Hinduism, but when on to become a religion in its own rights. The religion was started by Gautama Siddharth, who was not satisfied by the answers that Hinduism provided on life and death. It was while Siddharth was meditating under a fig tree that he found answers to all problems that life throws at a person. He gained this via enlightenment. Siddharth was later addressed as Buddha, which translates to the Enlightened One.
According to Buddhism, the only way to enlightenment or nirvana is by letting go of worldly desires. Once a person lets go of worldly desires, he/she achieve nirvana and do away with constant rebirths.
Once Buddha passed away, the religion got divided into 2 schools of thoughts, namely Theravadas and Mahayana. The former is mainly practiced in Thailand and Myanmar and believes that Buddha was a great teacher and the route to salvation is by becoming a monk. While the Mahayana school of thought is practiced in Japan, China and Korea and it accords Lord Buddha the status of savior and believing in this savior, a follower can achieve nirvana. Buddhism does not believe in reincarnation and life after death.
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4Truth.net: World Religion Overview