Types of Religion


Figure 1.--Here is an Orthdox Christian family church celebration in Serbia. Image courtesy of William Ferguson.

Many social analysts have seen early history as a struggle between polythesism and monotheism. Early religions were normally animistic and polytheistic in nature. The adoption of monotheism is seen as an advanced important stage in human development. This view is in part an example of the dictim that it is the victors that write history. The Christians that took control of the Roman Empire with Constantine's victory, set out to vilify and eliminate pagan polytheism. Theodociys the Great outlawed paganism and made Christianity the state religion, in effect an agency of state in the governance of the Empire. Smear tactics were used to vilify pagan beliefs. Paganism was associated with vile practices such as orgies and child sacrifice. This image has caried over into our modern world. The word pagan does not only mean non-Christian, but also has connotations of hedonism and evil. Often left unsaid is that the great pagan civilizations, especially Greece and Rome were the foundation of Western civilzation. [Kirsch] They were also more tolerant socities than the monotheistic Christian era that was to follow. The moral codes associate with the great monothesitic religions are generally seen as more sophisticated than polythestic religions. There is often an intolerant element associated with monothedsistic faiths that was not nearly as common with earlier ploythestic religions. [Cook] Intolerant acts since the 4th century AD like the Christian destruction of the Serapeum (the beautiful pagan temple in Alexandria) to the Islamic (Taliban) destruction of theBamiyan Buddah in Afghanistan to monotheism. The belief that there is one God and one righteous system of believes has empowered monothesitic religions since the fall of Rome to when possible impose their beliefs on others. One author writes, "At the heart of polytheismis an open-minded and easygoing approach to religious belief and practice." In contrast he sees in montheism a regretable "tendency to regard one's own rituals and practics as the only proper way to worshipthe one true god." [Kirsch] There are many examples of intolerance in the great montheistic religions. Perhaps the ultimate example in Christianity is Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. There are many examples in Islamic history and they are not all historical examples. The Taliban, Whabism, and Osama bin Laden are modern examples. By the same token there are many examples of religious toleration on the great monotheistic religions. Perhaps the best example in modern Christianity is Pope John XXIII.

Animism

Animism is surely the beginning of religion in the early human mind. It is the idea that everything and not only living plants and animals have some kind of soul or spirit. The term comes from the Latin word 'anima'. In addition to living organisims, a spirit can be assigned to rocks, mountains, rivers, lightening, storms, the mooon, sun, other stars, and much more. Animists believe each of these organisms and objects have a potent spirit that can affect threm in positive or negative ways. Thus they have to be honored, worshipped or feared or in some varied was attended to. Animism is essentially a primitive religion and was practiced long before organized rrligion appeared. We do not know just when animism first appeared in the human mind. This led as culture and civilization developed to spiritism, witchcraft, divination and astrology. Bad and good spirtits are beliece to exist everywhere and in everything. Animists use magic, spells, enchantments, superstitions, amulets, talismans, charms, or anything that they can develop to protect them from the evil spirits and placate and gain the favor of good spirits.

Polytheism

Animism began to change as humans invented agriculture and more complex socities. Civilization and cities appeared. With civilization, primitive animism developed into organized polytheistic religions. In the West, they eventually became derided as pagan. The word pagan as defined by Christians in the classical/early medieval era did not only mean non-Christian, but also has connotations of hedonism and evil. Often left unsaid is that the great pagan civilizations, especially Greece and Rome were the foundation of Western civilzation. [Kirsch] They were also more tolerant socities than the monotheistic Christian era that was to follow. The moral codes associate with the great monothesitic religions are generally seen as more sophisticated than polythestic religions. There is often an intolerant element associated with monothedsistic faiths that was not nearly as common with earlier ploythestic religions. [Cook]

Monotheism

Many social analysts have seen early history as a struggle between polythesism and monotheism. Early religions were normally animistic and polytheistic in nature. The adoption ofmonotheism is seen as an advanced important stage in human development. This view is in part an example of the dictim that it is the victors that write history. The Christians that took control of the Roman Empire with Constantine's victory, set out to vilify and eliminate pagan polytheism. Theodociys the Great outlawed paganism and made Christianity the state religion, in effect an agency of state in the governance of the Empire. Smear tactics were used to vilify pagan beliefs. Paganism was associated with vile practices such as orgies and child sacrifice. This image has caried over into our modern world. Intolerant acts since the 4th century AD like the Christian destruction of the Serapeum (the beautiful pagan temple in Alexandria) to the Islamic (Taliban) destruction of the Bamiyan Buddah in Afghanistan to monotheism. The belief that there is one God and one righteous system of believes has empowered monothesitic religions since the fall of Rome to when possible impose their beliefs on others. One author writes, "At the heart of polytheismis an open-minded and easygoing approach to religious belief and practice." In contrast he sees in montheism a regretable "tendency to regard one's own rituals and practics as the only proper way to worshipthe one true god." [Kirsch] There are many examples of intolerance in the great montheistic religions. Perhaps the ultimate example in Christianity is Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. There are many examples in Islamic history and they are not all historical examples. The Taliban, Whabism, and Osama bin Laden are modern examples. By the same token there are many examples of religious toleration on the great monotheistic religions. Perhaps the best example in modern Christianity is Pope John XXIII.

Theosophy

The term Theosophy is derived from the Greek theosophia (θεοσοφία). It was formed from 'theos' (θεός, God) and sophia (σοφία, wisdom. Thus Theosophy means 'Divine wisdom'. It is an ancient tradition, although the term Theosophy itself is modern. Theosophy is an eclectic mixture largely mystical and occultist beliefs centered on seeking knowledge of the mysteries of life and nature. Theosophy ssems particularly concerned with the actual nature of divinity along with the origin and purpose of the universe. Only in the 20th century did astrinomy develop to the point thar it could offer real insights into that question. Theosophy developed in the West in clasical times before the advent of Christianity. Scholars classify it as a component of Western esotericism, a disclipine based oin the idea that there os hidden knowledge or wisdom which can be obtained from the ancient teachings which if discovered can create a path to enlightenment and salvation. The term Theosophy began to be used in the late-19th century onwards. The modern Theosophy movement refers to the religio-philosophic ideas of the Theosophical Society founded in the United States (1875). The founders were Helena Blavatsky, William Quan Judge, and Henry Steel Olcott. Blavatsky was at the heart of the movement. [Blavatsky] Organizations descended or otherwise related to the Theosophical Society are currently active in more than 50 different countries, primrily in America and Europe but not limited to the Western world. Theosophy is a fairly small movement in numbers. It has, however, had considerable impact on mystical, philosophical, and religious movements around the world. We also see it impacting popular cilture with bokks and movies llike The Da Vinvci Code.

Sources

Blavatsky, Helena. The Secret Doctrine (1888). Blavatsky's book has been described as one of the 'foundational works' of the modern theosophy movement.

Cook, Michael. A Brief History of the Human Race (Norton, 2003).

Kirsch, Jonathan. God Against the Gods: The History of the War between Monotheism and Polytheism (Viking Compass, 2004), 336p.






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Created: 6:23 AM 4/1/2007
Last updated: 11:42 AM 7/5/2017