The question often arrived what is religion? There are more than one answer to this depending on one’s culture, identity, ethics and beliefs. Religion can be found in different cultures and throughout the whole period of human history. There is evidence that shows signs of religion such as animal spirits in art and human burials that suggest the belief in life after death. There have been many different answers and definition to what religion is (Van Voorst, 2013). According to Robert E. Van Voorst (2013), religion is “Pattern of beliefs and practices that expresses and enacts what a community regards as sacred and/or ultimate about life (pg.5).
In addition to that, there is the separation of church and state. In America, the right to freedom of religion is very central to the American democracy that it was preserved in the First Amendment to the Constitution along with other rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of press. The country’s founders restrict the separation of church and state. This is due to the prohibition against government regulation or endorsement of religion. According to American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (2012), the standard of separation has been regularly tested. In early America, even after church establishment ended, some state legislators sought to revive the compulsory taxation of citizens to support religious institutions. In this century, public schools were once required to teach the biblical version of the earth’s and humanity’s creation, while the scientific theory of evolution was prohibited.
Throughout our history, sectarian advocates have tried to inject religious exercises, such as daily prayer, into the public schools. At times, religious minorities, including members of “cults,” have been discriminated against because of their beliefs. And today, many citizens in many communities disagree about whether a model of the infant Jesus in the manger, which officially promotes certain religious beliefs over others, should be displayed on the steps of City Hall. The courts must frequently consider where to draw the line that separates church and state (¶5). Religion is one of our most critical tradition and constitutional rights and must stand against anything that would challenge the standard of separation, which protects that freedom.
Reid Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church was the group that I visited. Though it is not my own religious practice, it qualifies as a religion. Driving up to the church there is a sign that has the name of the church boldly written in LED lights. The welcome message display in red across the board says “All Are Welcome”. Inside of Reid Temple church they have a Cross as their symbol posted high where all can see. The service was nice with the choir singing praises to God and special prayer request were taken. After the service, I spoke with the Senior Pastor about his church and what exactly do they believe in. I was informed that their slogan is “Aiming to Please through the 5 E’s. This came from II Corinthians 5:9 which states “So whether at home or away, we make our aim to please Him. (RSV).
The 5 E’s were described to me as “Evangelism which is sowing the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of all people. Empowerment which is bestowing love and guidance on believers to disciple them in fulfilling their purpose. Education which is knowing the will of God through study and obedience of His Word. Economics which is flowing in financial prosperity according to God’s wealth principles and Expansion which is growing in all ministry areas to reach the growing harvest of souls” ( Washington, L. Personal interview January 13, 2013). The cross is a reminder of their pledge and it also reminds them that Jesus died for their sins and to Him all praise is given.
Buddhism also has a symbol such as the Dharmachakra which is the wheel of the law. The eight spokes on the wheel represents the eightfold path. The wheel is one of the most important Buddhist symbols because it symbolizes the teachings of Buddha. According to Thames & Hudson (2004), The wheel’s motion is a metaphor for the rapid spiritual change engendered by the teachings of the Buddha: the Buddha’s first discourse at the Deer Park in Sarnath is known as the “first turning of the wheel of dharma.” His subsequent discourses at Rajgir and Shravasti are known as the “second and third turnings of the wheel of dharma.” The eight spokes of the wheel symbolize the Noble Eightfold Path set out by the Buddha in his teachings. The wheel also represents the endless cycle of samsara, or rebirth, which can only be escaped by means of the Buddha’s teachings.
And some Buddhists regard the the wheel’s three basic parts as symbols of the “three trainings” in Buddhist practice: The hub symbolizes moral discipline, which stabilizes the mind. The spokes (usually there are eight) represent wisdom which is applied to defeat ignorance. The rim represents training in concentration, which holds everything else together (¶ 2 & 3). In the early days, the Dharmachakra not only symbolizes the teaching of Buddha but also Buddha himself. Today, it appears in the art of every Buddhist culture (para 5). Practicing religion can shape an individual and group identity. Take Buddhism for example that is followed by many Indians.
This religion practices the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths teaches that: 1. All life is suffering- this suggests that all beings experience suffering and that it can be ranged from great physical and mental pain to mild emotional unhappiness. Suffering originates from anger and sadness but then happiness is also suffering because it comes and goes. 2. The cause of suffering is desire- This suggests that humans want what they do not have and should not have. Humans’ personal desire for happiness is the cause of the suffering. 3. To end desire is to end suffering -which suggests that putting all craving and personal desires to an end will therefore end the suffering. This breaks the negative karma which leads to the 4th Noble Truth 4. To end desire- one must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path is :
1. The right to understanding which ends the concept of what one think is reality and see reality as it is. 2. The right to intention is where people must want to change before they can actually be change. 3. The right to speech which is speaking the truth at all times. 4. The right to conduct which means no killing, stealing, drinking, intoxicants and being sexual. 5. The right to livelihood which is working and living a life that does not cause others harm. 6. The right to effort which is developing a conscious free from craving. 7. The right to mindfulness which is to be aware and mindful and 8. The right to contemplation which is the deepening of mindfulness that leads to concentration and insight may be obtained (Van Voorst,2013). Practicing the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path teaches and shape the followers of Buddhism. It is a way of life for them which teach them to take time to find out who they are and what they are all about. It is a guideline to ethical and mental development.
Shinto culture is another example of how practicing religion and shape individuals or groups. The people of Japan practices Shinto and is rooted in the people there and their traditions. The Shinto gods that are called kami are sacred spirits. These spirits can take form in things such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Shinto religion believes that when a human dies they become a kami and is given back to their families and ancestral kami. There not a right from wrong in Shinto and their faith is based on being optimistic. The Shinto faith is blended with other beliefs such as that of Buddhism and Daoism. It does not have a founder, written documents, formalized ethics, system of beliefs, scripture or an organized system of theology but with the blend of Buddhism and Daoism, the Japanese culture now have a system of beliefs, written documents, founder, ethics and all that it was lacked before. It is still a central religion of Japan (Carroll, 2012).
Shinto grounds are very sacred and behavior must be proper at all times. There are no food or drink allowed and there must be silence or hushed voices. Purity is important in Shinto and there is a certain procedure in washing your hands on mouth. Purity is important in pleasing the kami which brings a happy life. Van Voorst wrote that “Cleanliness in particular signifies a good character and freedom from bad external influences. In Western societies one hears the proverb “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” In traditional Japanese society cleanliness—of body, mind, and spirit, both ritual and practical—is godliness. To be in harmony with the kami, one must keep one’s person, home, and business clean” (pg 198).
Religion has always been connected with government and politics. The Western world has a history of influence from Catholicism and Protestant rift. It is very similar to the history of some parts of Southern Asia that have been influenced by Islam. The interconnection of both religion and government is to be expected because both are regulating social behavior. During the past century, religion has been less influential. Modern governments have been influenced by Democratic philosophy which put importance of the average man and a sharing of the world’s resources. These ideas continue to shape modern society in different ways. For example, technology has drastically changed the nature of life and work. Traditional religious systems are gradually becoming less important.
The trend towards secularism continues but has not been nearly as pronounced in the United States and regular church attendance started to decrease in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. It increased again post World War II period. There is only a small majority of Americans who thinks religion is of any importance in their lives (Federal Funding of Faith-Based Services, 2011).
Many people know what religion is until they are asked to define it. Religion is a worldly thing, across many boundaries in human experience and so that makes it a bit hard to define. There are a few different definition of religion and many have different religious experience and understanding of Ultimate Reality. At Reid Temple, I asked the lady sitting next to me if she could tell what Ultimate Reality means. She said to her Ultimate Reality meant a personal relationship with God. In a different culture Ultimate Reality could mean spiritual growth or spiritual path.
Not everyone is all about religion though. There are some cultures who prefer that their beliefs not to be subject as a religion but as a faith or teaching. There are some who argue that they are not religious but they are spiritual.
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. (2012). Church and state.
Retrieved from http://www.aclufl.org/take_action/download_resources/info_papers/3.cfm Carroll,B.J. (2012). Shinto basics. Retrieved from http://www.world-religions-professor.com/shinto.html Federal Funding of Faith-Based Services. (2011). Religion and public policy. Retrieved from http://www.newsbatch.com/religion.htm Thames & Hudson. (2004). Reading Buddhist Art: an illustrated guide to Buddhist signs and
Symbols. Retrieved from http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/wheel.htm Van Voorst, R.E. (2013). World relg. Student edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. USA Washington, L.P. (2013). Reid Temple Senior Pastor. Personal Interview January 13, 2013.
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