South Slope. Asheville.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Geography of Religion

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world's most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go! - source
Growing up in the Bible Belt, I was taught not to include Catholics as true Christians.  We even really doubted that some Methodists and moderate Protestants were.  But Catholics most certainly were not!  They worshipped idols and had to communicate to God through an intermediary, Mary, Jesus' mom.  There was also "talk" of the Pope being the anti-Christ.  These messages might not have come directly from pulpits, but they did indeed from Christian talk radio, underground comic books, Sunday School classes, church literature, books, etc..  And it spread like wildfire, and so many believed, without question.  I remember an uncle telling me, when I shared that my dad kept questioning why I didn't attend church, "Just tell him you're a Catholic.  Then he'd shut up."  So there was always this Us vs. Them, we're-the-true-believers mentality.  And I had started doubting this idea in my latter years of college, even though I was very much still in an evangelical atmosphere, and very involved in spreading "The Word."  And then in 2000, when I was living in Bangkok, it was only then, for the very first time, that I had actually talked with a Catholic - specifically about his faith.  And I did discover that they had a different number of books in their Holy Bible.  This discovery, and my conversation with this individual, who himself had become shed a lot of the dogma in which he was raised, moved me further down the line, causing me to question more and more.
Nowadays it's common for evangelicals to counter notions that they belong to one of the world's faiths or religion by saying, "It's not a religion, it's a relationship."  Or, "It's God reaching down to man, not man reaching up to God."  These were expressions I would actually use in my days when I very much believed that it was important to share my faith, and that it was essential for everyone to acknowledge Jesus and accept him, and only him, as their means of salvation.  My guess is that all dogmatic faiths use special language and carefully-crafted semantics to strengthen their position while simultaneously weakening the opposition's viewpoint. 
Buddhism stands apart from "The Big Four" religions - Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism - in that there's no deity.  Therefore, an atheist could be Buddhist.  Buddha was a teacher, not a god.  It reminds me of an anecdote that I discovered when searching for justification for permitting a Christian to marry a Buddhist:  A Buddhist-Christian nun was asked how she could claim she was a Buddhist and a Christian.  She said, "That's easy.  Christianity is a religion.  Buddhism is a science (philosophy).". 

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