Today, 18 January 2015 marks World Religion Day across the globe. The day was created by the Baha’i faith in 1950 to foster dialogue and to and improve understanding of religions worldwide and it is now in its 64th year.
The aim of World Religion Day is to unite everyone, whatever their faith, by showing us all that there are common foundations to all religions and that together we can help humanity and live in harmony. The day often includes activities and events calling the attention of the followers of world faiths. In honour of this special day and to increase awareness of religions from around the world, we asked a few of our authors to dispel some of the popular myths from their chosen religions.
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Myth: Quakers are mostly silent worshippers
“If you are from Britain, or certain parts of the United States, you may think of Quakers as a quiet group that meets in silence on Sunday mornings, with only occasional, brief vocal messages to break the silence. Actually, between eighty and ninety per cent of Quakers are “pastoral” or “programmed” Friends, with the majority of these living in Africa (more in Kenya than any other country) and other parts of the global South. The services are conducted by pastors, and include prayers, sermons, much music, and even occasionally (in Burundi, for instance) dancing! Pastoral Quaker services sometimes include a brief period of “unprogrammed” worship, and sometimes not. Quaker worship can be very lively!”
— Stephen W. Angell is Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies, Earlham School of Religion and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies
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Myth: Zen as the Buddhist meditation school
“Zen is known as the Buddhist school emphasizing intensive practice of meditation, the name’s literal meaning that represents the Japanese pronunciation of an Indian term (dhyana). But hours of daily meditative practice are limited to a small group of monks, who participate in monastic austerities at a handful of training temples. The vast majority of members of Zen only rarely or perhaps never take part in this exercise. Instead, their religious affiliation with temple life primarily involves burials and memorials for deceased ancestors, or devotional rites to Buddhist icons and local spirits. Recent campaigns, however, have initiated weekly one-hour sessions introducing meditation for lay followers.”
— Steven Heine is Professor of Religion and History, Director of the Institute for Asian Studies, at Florida International University, and author of Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?
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Myth: Atheists have no moral standards
“This was a common cry in the nineteenth century – the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made it – and it continues in the twenty-first century. Atheists respond in two ways. First, if you need a god for morality, then what is to stop that god from being entirely arbitrary? It could make the highest moral demand to kill everyone not fluent in English – or Hebrew or whatever. But if this god does not do things in an arbitrary fashion, you have the atheist’s second response. There must be an independent set of values to which even the god is subject, and so why should the non-believer not be subject to and obey them, just like everyone else?”
— Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, at Florida State University and an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism
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Myth: Islam is a coercive communitarian religion
“Claims of an Islamic state to enforce Sharia as the law of the state are alien to historical Islamic traditions and rejected by the actual current political choices of the vast majority of Muslims globally. Belief in Islam must always be a free choice and compliance with Sharia cannot have any religious value unless done voluntarily with the required personal intent of each individual Muslim to comply (nya). Theologically Islam is radically democratic because individual personal responsibility can never be abdicated or delegated to any other human being (see e.g. chapters and verses 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 52:21; 74:38 of the Quran).”
— Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University, and author of What Is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship
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Myth: Are Mormons Christians?
“Are Mormons Christian? Yes, but with greater similarity to the Church before the fourth century creeds gave it its modern shape. Mormons believe in and worship God the Father, but deny the formulas which claim he is without body, parts, or—most critically—passions. Latter-day Saints accept his Son Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer, but reject the Trinitarian statements making him of one substance with the Father. Mormons accept the Bible as the word of God, but reject the closed canon dating from the same era, just as they believe that God continues to reveal the truth to prophets and seeking individuals alike.”
— Terryl Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond, and author of Wrestling the Angel, The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity
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Myth: Hinduism is tied to South Asia
“One myth about Hinduism is that it is an ethnic religion. The assumption is that Hinduism is tied to a particular South Asian ethnicity. This is misleading for at least three reasons. First, South Asia is ethnically diverse. Therefore, it is not logical to speak of a single, unified ethnicity. Second, Hinduism has long been established in Southeast Asia, where practitioners consider themselves Hindu but not South Asian. Third, although the appearance of ‘White Hindus’ is a phenomenon rather recent and somewhat controversial, the global outreach of Hindu missionary groups has prompted scores of modern converts to Hinduism throughout Europe and the Americas. In other words, not all Hindus are South Asian.”
— Kiyokazu Okita is Assistant Professor at The Hakubi Center for Advanced Research and Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto University, and author of Hindu Theology in Early Modern South Asia
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Headline image credit: Candles, photo by Loren Kerns, CC-by-2.0 via Flickr