World religions come in all sizes, small and large. They are of all ages, old and new. And they come as rainbows, refracted by the adherents; sometimes as one faith, sometimes as many denominations. This happens because we are all different, we see the world and heaven through different sets of lenses, and because faith is personal. Although many religions have a set of rules and doctrines, we still personalize.
Faith comes from our innermost core. There is something in us which contains a desire for the divine, a higher power, someone beyond ourselves who knows more than us and can answer all of our questions. One question is “how did we get here?” The answer, there must be a creator; and the ancients began to understand a creator god. For the Chickasaw it was Ababinili, the Powhatan called him Rawottonemd, the Shoshone called him Esa; and other native Americans had other names, as well as people on other continents.
Ancient people developed faith partially from fear. We have all experienced this at one time or another: when we see things creeping in the night. If the wind is blowing, it is shadows moving. The movements can also be animals nearby; or they can be another person. Whatever it was, it brought fear; and the ancients not only worried about shadows and spirits which lived in the woodwork; but they also thought about a great spirit who could protect or attack them. The world was a mysterious and unknown place. To the ancient Greeks they called these spirits Nymphs, Dryads, who were very shy and hid from view.
Sometimes spirits which moved at night were venerated as ancestral spirits. People developed religions around these ancestors either to ward them off as evil spirits or to befriend them and ask for protection. Religious rituals among small groups can become quite elaborate. Central African people will use the drums and dance to elevate consciousness. The dance will bring them into a trance whereby the ancestral spirit can inhabit them bringing secret knowledge, energy, healing and protection. Various rites to appease ancestors are also practiced in Asia and other places.
The Bible is full of gods who were asked to help with human needs. These include baal, astarte who were gods of fertility; dagon who would bless or curse agricultural endeavors; eshmun and resheph, gods of healing; mot, the god of death; and shamayim, shapash, shachar shalim, athirat, , yarikh, yam, molech, ba’al hadad the gods of sky, sun, dawn, dusk, moon, sea, fire, and thunder; all regional gods who were opposed to and by the God of Israel. Other people in other places worship similar gods who take care of needs, are sought for blessings, and who bring desired fertility.
All these are but small tribal religions. But it is not the way of the world to stay small. The Bible and other sources contain a story: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
The people wanted to find God and explain reality. The two earliest major religions still in existence today are Hinduism and Judaism. Hinduism formed from the existing religions of the people and rather than being a specific religion, this faith is a collection of religions. There are a number of sects with many local religions. Over time it has been reformed by several, including Siddhartha Buddha. Fourteen percent of our world holds to Hinduism, and six percent follow the reformation called Buddhism. and 0.4% follow Sikhism.
Judaism is the faith in one rather than many gods. According to the Bible this faith has always existed. The first man, Adam, walked with God in the Garden of Eden. Abel gave offering to the Creator God, Enos prayed to the the Lord God, Enoch walked with God, Noah built a boat for God, and at 75 years of age, Abram opted out of idolatry to worship the God Most High.
Judaism emerged as a national religion in approximately 1350 B.C. when they emerged from Egypt during the Exodus. The Babylonian captivity of the sixth century B.C. forced the spread of the faith to become a world religion. In the first century A.D. through the ministry of Jesus Christ and his apostles the Christian faith arose from Judaism. And in the seventh century A.D. the Prophet Muhammad like Abram refused to worship the tribal gods of his people, ascribing to one God whom he called Allah. These three faiths could be called the Abrahamic faith with 33% of the world’s population relating to Christianity, 21% to Islam and .25% to Judaism.
In the beginning faith communities in our world were made up of families and tribes. Over time, small groups were either incorporated into something larger, or convinced to convert to a new faith. But as our world has adopted the major religions, people within the world continue to be individuals, and individuals have brought their own beliefs and ideas which creates a fracturing of the faiths. These fractures, at times called denominations, each have a unique personality of their own. In the articles that follow, we will look at those differences and the implications. As we see these differences, we will better understand our faith and how we can connect with and encourage others in our community and our world.