Polytheism, the belief in many gods, is perhaps the oldest known religion. The best known example is the Greek/Roman mythology, which included Zeus, Apollo, and Aphrodite, among others. One trait that is true of most Polytheistic sects is that there is a god that is above all others. “All African religions are monolithic in the sense that there is a single High God, who is said to be the creator of the world, and of mankind, and a central source of order and of whoever sense is to be found.” Another example would be Zeus. Most ancient societies believed in gods that were in charge of specific areas, such as rain, fertility, and a god of nature. These types of societies cooperate with nature. This doesn’t mean that all Polytheistic societies revered the natural world. The Romans exploited the natural resources of their surroundings. One common thread in most of these societies is that, compared to other religions, Polytheism is much more tolerant with the individual.
Hinduism and Polytheism
Hinduism is a religion founded in India around 1000 B.C. The religions practice a form of Polytheism. This religion doesn’t believe in one form of a god. They believe in the authority of the Vedas and Brahmans. These fundamental beliefs differentiate Hinduism from monotheistic, believing in one god, and most of the world’s major religions. There are many different gods in the Hindu religion. The most common are Ganesha, Shiva, Hanuman, Durga, and Lakshmi. What developed was a caste or class system called ‘varnas’. The different castes were assigned a task that was fitting for their class. “The expansion of towns brought about an increase in the number of artisans who were organized in guilds (shreni).” This system was good for commercial activities. The main goals of Hinduism are life-affirming goals of Dharma (virtue), Artha (success) and Kama (pleasure), while the life-negating goal is that of moksha (release). All except moksha can be done in any part of a person’s life.
Confucianism and Buddhism
People think that Confucianism and Buddhism are one and the same. Confucianism, which originated in China, teaches honesty, kindness, respect the earth, and good moral character. Confucius had a distain about gods and spirits and preferred to try to understand man. “Confucius (the Master) is more correctly Kong Qiu or Kong Fuzi (551-479 B.C.). He was the founder of a way of life, philosophy, or religion named Confucianism after a Latinized form of the founder’s name.”
Buddhism, which started at about the same time as Confucianism, was started by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Buddha, which means “the enlightened one”, which was the name he received from his followers. Buddhism is different from Confucianism in that it didn’t teach about the family or rituals of this world, rather it taught enlightenment which leads to nirvana. There are eight awarenesses of enlightenments. “Freedom From Desire, Satisfaction, Serenity, Meticulous Effort, Correct Remembrance, Samadhi, Wisdom, and avoiding idle talk.” The Chinese during this time asked the Buddhist monks, why do you not marry? Their answer was “Wives, children, and property are the luxuries of the world, but simple living and inaction are the wonders of the Way.” The Buddhist’s wanted was to live a simple life and reach enlightenment and thus nirvana.
Christianity is a salvation religion. Christians and Buddhists turned to the idea of salvation around the same time. Salvation means escape your earthly bonds. If you don’t follow a righteous path, meaning free of sin, then you are destined to be cast into the pit of darkness, otherwise known as hell. The new testament of the bible is what guides these true believers. The Catholics say, for instance, that if you sin and repent by going to confession your sins will be forgiven. This is the only way to ensure that the soul is clean.
The idea of all Christian orthodoxy is that they follow the teachings of Christ, which has many different interpretations. Thus it follows that when you die you will go to heaven. Some believe that the Earth is 6000 years old and believe that the bible is literally god’s word. They refuse to believe in science, saying that it’s flawed in some way. Others believe that the Earth is indeed older than 6000 years. These Christians believe that the bible is a parable, teaching them how to live everyday life as a Christian. Modern orthodoxy believes that Christian’s are observers of nature, rather than one with the Earth.
Religion, Science and Nature
Religion has a profound imprint on our natural surroundings. In general, the Eastern and most Polytheistic religions are more reverential toward nature. The Western religions tend to abuse nature. The invention of the plow is a prime example. The West thinks of it as a means to increase the food supply and disregards the environmental impact. The East and the Polytheist refer to it as “Mother Earth” and treat her much more delicately. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more stark.
The East will try to balance their needs with nature. The West uses nature and sometimes destroys parts of it. The idea that we are separate from nature is a Western ideal. The East, in general, believes that we are one with nature and must take care of it. Science in the West was not in tune with medieval orthodoxy. It was interested in facts. The Eastern philosophy used science with a spiritual twist. Fang Yizhi observed of western science, “use a variety of techniques for swift computations, but they are still out of touch with general principles.” They used the mind and not the natural world.
There are many different religions that teach many different methods of how to live your life while on this world. Most worship one god, monotheistic, others worship many gods. Polytheists, which literally mean many gods, roots are seen in Greek/Roman mythology. Buddhism believes that there is no god, just a path to enlightenment. Once they’ve reached enlightenment, they’ve achieved nirvana. Confucianism and Buddhism are from China, but have very different belief systems. “Confucianism is perhaps best understood as an all-encompassing humanism that neither denies nor slights Heaven.” They believe that they are one with nature. Christians recognize only one god. They are labeled as a salvation religion. They hope to be able to break the bonds of this Earth by living a relatively good life with the reward being heaven.
If you don’t accept Jesus into your life, you are destined to eternity in hell. It’s safe to say that the world’s religions have varied belief systems. Some believe in the after-life, while others believe that feel that we are Earth bound only. Most of the world believes in a single god. Polytheism and Hinduism say that there are many gods. They differ from Eastern religions in that they see themselves as observers rather than one with the Earth. The East and West see nature differently. While the West observe nature, the East embraces the idea of being part of nature. This is a very fundamental philosophy that can’t be overstated. The bottom line is that there are almost as many belief systems as there are people on Earth. It includes, but not only, monetary considerations, faith, and devotion. The only ones that know what’s going on, assuming there is an after-life, are the dead and buried.
The West and the World, A History of Civilization, From the Ancient World to 1700, Kevin Reilly, 95
2 The West and the World, A History of Civilization, From the Ancient World to 1700, Kevin Reilly, 334
3 The West and the World, A History of Civilization, From the Ancient World to 1700, Kevin Reilly, 146
6 The West and the World, A History of Civilization, From the Ancient World to 1700, Kevin Reilly, 103
7 Kevin Reilly, The West & World: A History Of Civilization from the Ancient World to 1700, Page 349
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