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Similarities between religions


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#1    trublvr

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Posted 02 June 2004 - 01:49 AM

Alright, let’s get the ball rollin’.

In some of the religiously oriented threads (like the recently defunct “Jesus” thread) the issue of inter-religious “borrowing” comes up a lot.  Usually, the issue is brought up in reference to the alleged borrowing Christians did from mystery religions and other religious systems.  

I don’t think that we’ve had sufficient space to talk about this, so I’m starting this thread.  Please don’t ruin it by getting into creation v. evolution arguments; this very subject was the straw that broke the Jesus thread’s back.  

Usually, discussions on this subject go like this:  Religion A has similar rites, themes, or deities as Religion B.  The explanation:  somebody “stole/borrowed” from someone else.  The implication is usually that the borrower/thief’s religion is merely a cut-and-paste job of the original(s) its adherents stole from.  The borrower/thief religion is, therefore, untrue because its adherents stole from other religions.  Because of this theft, we cannot trust the integrity of the borrower religion.

I think, though, that this is a faulty approach to any religious study, and it doesn’t help us to understand any religion.  I’m not trying to say that one religion has never stolen from another.  I’m just saying that it is not good to automatically construct a borrowing scenario when we encounter similarities between various religions.  

To start, I want to list instances of supposed similarities that usually feed the borrowing/theft theories.

1)  Superficial similarities.  This is the most common cause of alleged borrowing.  An example:  Two of the most central rites in Christianity are the Last Supper rite and the rite of baptism.  Some compare this to mystery religions (and other religions) that had important ritual meals and some form of washing/cleansing purification rite.  What’s ignored here, though, is that MANY religions have some form of sacred meal that they share, and even more have some form of purification ritual that initiates go through upon their presentation to the entire religious community.  These similarities involve metaphors that are so universal (food and fellowship, ritual purification) that we would do better to figure out what the over all human attraction is to these symbols rather than postulating about who stole from whom.

2) Specific similarities with essential differences.  Sometimes folks think that a superficial similarity between one religion and another is equal to both religions and their adherents agreeing on the essence of that thing.  For example:  Christians and Muslims are monotheistic religious adherents.  Because they share a belief in a singular deity, whose being, character, and essence preclude worship of any other, then Christianity and Islam are the same (whether their adherents believe so or not).  
     But such an outlook reduces the specific monotheisms of both religions down to a question of numbers, and the differences between the two gods are ignored (like Allah literally being one, whereas the Christian God is triune—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  The superficial similarity:  both Muslims and Christians honor and worship one deity, to the exclusion of all others.  The essential difference:  The natures and characters of these two gods are different.

3) A misunderstanding of a religion’s claim to uniqueness.   This is especially pertinent when speaking of religious systems like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Many take a claim to uniqueness to mean that there is nothing anywhere at any time that looks like a certain religion.  When one claims that Christianity is unique, many say, “Well, there is this or that religion that looks like it…”  
     This response is usually a combination of numbers 1 and 2 above.  The assumption is that because you can show that another religion has similar rites, concepts/themes, or even deities (#1) that the religions and their adherents must be in agreement over the essential meanings and implications of these rites, concepts/themes, and rituals (#2).  
      A claim to uniqueness in the religious world doesn’t necessarily ride on superficial differences.  As far as Christianity goes, the uniqueness of it doesn’t ride on every element of Christianity being alien to everyone everywhere.  If that were the case, then any attempt to answer universal questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny would be wiped out because the answers would bear no resemblance to anything associated with the human experience.  If the quest is for novelty in religion, then the aim would be to come up with something that is alien to anything we know.  But with the Judeo-Christian system (and some others) the claim is that it deals significantly and decisively with universal human issues in an original way.   Any religion whose adherents deity(ies), holy persons, scriptures, and adherents claim universal significance to the exclusion of others should be somewhat recognizable because it attempts to answer universal questions.  It’s uniqueness rests on whether or not it does this in an original way, thusly separating it from all the other religions (not to be confused with whether or not it's true.).  

Hope this gets the ball rolling.  Have fun with this one.  Creation v. evolution people, stay cool!  


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#2    Chauncy

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Posted 02 June 2004 - 02:34 PM

QUOTE
Usually, discussions on this subject go like this: Religion A has similar rites, themes, or deities as Religion B. The explanation: somebody “stole/borrowed” from someone else. The implication is usually that the borrower/thief’s religion is merely a cut-and-paste job of the original(s) its adherents stole from. The borrower/thief religion is, therefore, untrue because its adherents stole from other religions. Because of this theft, we cannot trust the integrity of the borrower religion.


Borrowing and thieving I think are too strong of words in this case. It may very well be an unintentional thing. When we look at these similarities it seems more like the evolution of monotheistic religion.

We might as well come right out and concentrate on Christianity, since it is the religion that OUR culture used to rule the planet. With Christianity the main issue is that there are religions that came before it that have not only similar ideals, but have common characters in their myths. To note  here as well is the point that young Earth Christians, by claiming the Earth is only 6000 years old, make these similarities seem like direct plagiarism, since the ludicrous young age of the Earth forces these religions to exist at the same time.

Lets assume that rational Christians realize that the earth is older as well as mankind. To deny this fact makes any further debate futile and the idea of direct plagiarism would be the logical conclusion.

QUOTE
1) Superficial similarities.2) Specific similarities with essential differences.
3) A misunderstanding of a religion’s claim to uniqueness.


This is a natural manner in which a lot of Christians attempt to group things in clear cut categories  as to lessen the potency of any evidence that may expose their religion for what it is. We need not use these categories, lets put all the cards on the table and deal with this issue as a whole.

Christianity is the result of an evolutionary process in the psyche of man. Mankind developed and perfected religion through out his evolutionary journey. It was at the point that large societies were formed that this religion took a foothold as a means of rule.

I think the concern goes beyond superficial similarities, at least the ones I deal with, and verge on being points of influence in the evolutionary path of religion. It’s the development of a salvation, damnation and a judgement. The idea of an omnipotent creator and his creation of the earth and mankind.

Why did Christianity survive with more voracity than other religions? Mainly because it used bloody force to assimilate or destroy other cultures and their beliefs.....almost like a natural selection of religions.....battle of the fittest.

The other religions that are older than Christianity resemble Christianity not because of theft or plagiarism but because it is a natural process, today’s Christianity being the result of about 10,000 years of practice. And thousands of years of murder towards anyone that apposed them. A lot of other cultures history was absolutely destroyed to make way for Christianity, and now today’s proponents of this religion claim no influence from other cultures.....that’s because their predecessors destroyed a lot of the traceable influence in the past. Luckily for us they didn’t destroy it all.



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#3    saucy

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Posted 02 June 2004 - 02:52 PM

When Jesus had his last supper and Christian's want to mark that occasion with a dinner of their own, that's not copying from anyone else.  There's a reason why we mark certain dates.  If some other religion has the same ritual, which I don't know of because I don't follow other religions, then it doesn't mean we stole from others.  Something as simple as a dinner or baptism (which is symbolic for us baptists, to signify Jesus going under and rising again, thus going under the water and rising again) and there's many different techniques of baptism.  Sprinking water on the head, dunking someone under ect...The weirdest one though is circumcision.  That has to prove God exists!  What man in his right mind would ask that all the jews cut the extra skin off their penis!  Anyway, certain events happen and we like to mark the occasion with ritual and prayer and fasting, that's all.  


#4    Kismit

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Posted 02 June 2004 - 10:49 PM

QUOTE
Usually, discussions on this subject go like this: Religion A has similar rites, themes, or deities as Religion B. The explanation: somebody “stole/borrowed” from someone else. The implication is usually that the borrower/thief’s religion is merely a cut-and-paste job of the original(s) its adherents stole from. The borrower/thief religion is, therefore, untrue because its adherents stole from other religions. Because of this theft, we cannot trust the integrity of the borrower religion.


When we discuss the similarities perhaps borowing and stealing is the wrong wording , but to claim it was perhaps unintentional , might not be terribly accurate either .

There appears to me to be  ample evidence of the Roman Catholic churches of old, using different religious ceremonies ,as well as people and  places of spiritual significance  to aid in the concoring of whole culutres .

  Having said  this I feel it is important to state that I view religion in a similar way to how I view physics . We all  have to live and die by the same set of rules . It dosen't matter even a smidge who we honour or how we pray , we're all going to go through the same processes in the end .
  


#5    saucy

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:30 AM

I just realized that maybe since the beginning of time, all these events took place and the different (but very same, obviously) religions are just different observations or versions of what happened.  I don't know though.  Some religions have many Gods, some have one, others have a religion, but there is no God involved so my theory cannot be right.  


#6    Stellar

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 02:43 AM

You want to know what I think is a possibility of what spawned the idea of actual God(s) watching us and stuff? Anyone ever heard of the Dropa Stones and those tablets dating back THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of years and talking about how a space ship crashed on Earth and the aliens in it tried to survive on Earth while they were trying to figure out how to get home... and then they were slaughtered by a human or neanderthal tribe. I dont necessarily believe this is it, this is the explenation, but its fun to think about and its interesting.

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#7    joc

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 04:00 AM

I believe it was Solomon who said, 'there is nothing new under the sun.'

It is interesting to me that no matter where you go on this planet...the human beings encountered there will have some sort of 'religious' beliefs.  From the deep tribes of New Guinea to the Sparkling Shores of Miami Beach  there is one theme that runs through the human chain.   Since all religion is from the beginning of time, I think it is an evolutionary process, such as the evolution of the races.

This is not an attempt to resurrect any evolution vs creationism arguements

But as the modern state of humans evolved,  the races,  the languages,  so too did the belief systems of different tribes, peoples, and nations.  To the point; all religious beliefs are intermingled a bit with all other religious beliefs.   This version borrowing from that version and so on and so forth until what we have left is a 'universal understanding' that we are not alone.    

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#8    Chauncy

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 04:20 AM

Good points joc.

I believe religion was an inevitable formation the second early man started burying
the dead with possessions.

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#9    joc

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 04:31 AM

Lest anyone infer something inaccurate....the Sparkling Shores of Miami Beach...is sarcasm....the beaches of Miami are not exactly 'sparkling'.    

Edited by joc, 03 June 2004 - 04:33 AM.

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#10    trublvr

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 05:06 PM

QUOTE
QUOTE 
1) Superficial similarities.2) Specific similarities with essential differences.
3) A misunderstanding of a religion’s claim to uniqueness.



This is a natural manner in which a lot of Christians attempt to group things in clear cut categories as to lessen the potency of any evidence that may expose their religion for what it is. We need not use these categories, lets put all the cards on the table and deal with this issue as a whole.


Please explain how the categories I mentioned were an attempt to "lessen the potency of any evidence" that exposes the Christian religion.

  
QUOTE
Christianity is the result of an evolutionary process in the psyche of man. Mankind developed and perfected religion through out his evolutionary journey. It was at the point that large societies were formed that this religion took a foothold as a means of rule.

I think the concern goes beyond superficial similarities, at least the ones I deal with, and verge on being points of influence in the evolutionary path of religion. It’s the development of a salvation, damnation and a judgement. The idea of an omnipotent creator and his creation of the earth and mankind.


  This theory was first made popular by Julius Wellhausen.  Wellhausen adapted Hegel's evolutionary approach to history by applying it to the realm of religion.  He, and others like him, believed that religions evolved in this way:  a general belief in spirits to fetishism (a belief that spirits inhabit trees, stones, and other natural structures); fetishism to manism (ancestor worship); manism to totemism (belief in a tribal deity); totemism to mana (the belief in some internal, indwelt power); mana to magic (control of the evironment and/or the spirit world via supernatural means); magic to polytheism (a belief in multiple deities); polytheism to henotheism (the belief that one god is supreme over all the others); henotheism to monotheism (the belief in a singular deity to the exclusion of all others).  

  The only problem with this theory:  Anthropological research has turned up no evidence that there is some universally applicable evolutionary process that pertains to religion.  This is merely a case of people taking a scientific theory (which was very much in vogue at Hegel's time) and applying it to another discipline without warrant.  

   Also, if such a theory was true, then someone needs to explain why polytheism is back with full-force in Western culture!  I'll never try to make the case that the West was every "Christian" in the truest sense of that word.  I believe that calling a nation or a culture Christian requires much more qualification than when one refers to a person as a Christian because of the necessarily secular nature of nations and cultures.  However, I believe it fair to say that the West has had a bent towards the Christian ethos or that it has been a fertile ground for Judeo-Christian activity.  

QUOTE
Why did Christianity survive with more voracity than other religions? Mainly because it used bloody force to assimilate or destroy other cultures and their beliefs.....almost like a natural selection of religions.....battle of the fittest.

The other religions that are older than Christianity resemble Christianity not because of theft or plagiarism but because it is a natural process, today’s Christianity being the result of about 10,000 years of practice. And thousands of years of murder towards anyone that apposed them. A lot of other cultures history was absolutely destroyed to make way for Christianity, and now today’s proponents of this religion claim no influence from other cultures.....that’s because their predecessors destroyed a lot of the traceable influence in the past. Luckily for us they didn’t destroy it all.


   *sigh*  In many other threads, people have proffered the same argument concerning the expansion of Christianity:  Christians just forced a lot of people to convert, and if they didn't convert, the Christians killed them.  This is a drastically lop-sided version of the expansion of Christianity.  First, in the best literature on the history of Christianity and its expansion, historians (Christians and non-Christian) point out the good, bad, and ugly of Christian expansion.  I know that it is currently in fashion to read only the tales of evil popes, bad priests, crusaders/inquisitors, and fundamentalist preachers when it comes to Christianity, but I urge you to read up on material that speaks of the appeal that Christianity had to many peoples all throughout the earth.  In fact, most missionary efforts, even though they were not perfect, never involved violence on the part of those missionaries.  Many times the only violence was endured by missionaries.  

   Also, read the accounts of the expansion of Christianity from non-Western people! It's always interesting that I hear Western non-Christians talking about how Christians forced non-Western non-Christians to convert, upon pangs of death no less!  But when I talk to Indian Christians, they fully acknowledge their disdain for what the British did to them, especially in light of the fact that the British claimed to be a Christian empire.  However, these Indians typically do not confuse the false Christianity of the British with what Jesus intended to spring from his movement.  It's funny, when you talk to Indians (and other people from Asia) and Africans about how the big, bad Westerners forced Christianity upon them, they are very quick to tell you that a great many on their continents had already had converts to Christianity, churches, bishops, and missionaries well before there was anything that was monolithically known as the West, much less anything known as the Christian West.  And you'd be surprised to know that their own accounts of how the gospel came to them and how they came to accept it often bear little to no resembleance to the stories of crusades, inquisitions, or any kind of forced conversion.

     Some suggested reading:  A History of Christian Missions by the late Anglican missionary Bishop Stephen Neill (Penguin Publishing); Six Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization by Philip Sampson (InterVarsity Press); Letters to a Post-Modern Hindu by Vishal Mangawaldi (OM Publishing); The Recovery of Mission by Vinoth Ramachandra (Eerdmans Publishing); Christianity in Africa: the Renewal of a Non-Western Religion by Kwame Bediako; A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present by Elizabeth Isichei.  
                 None of these writers shy away from instances where people have done horrendous things in the name of Jesus, even missionary work.  However, the pictures they paint of the truth of Christian mission are much more wholistic and true-to-history than the garbage on bookshelves that reduces the expansion of Christianity to really bad folks who only used the gospel to get what they wanted.  


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#11    Chauncy

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 05:38 PM

Trublvr what is the purpose of missions, missionaries?....what was their goal?

QUOTE
Anthropological research has turned up no evidence that there is some universally applicable evolutionary process that pertains to religion


Of course not, but there is evidence that the need for religion is found in the brain.
http://www.maps.org/media/vedantam.html
http://www.religioustolerance.org/vis_brain.htm
http://www.crystalinks.com/medbrain.html
http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/Nig...it_feature.html

And of course our brains evolve with us, religion has changed over time to reflect this fact. I mean we see religious doctrine change all the time to reflect a changing society there's no doubt there.

QUOTE
Also, if such a theory was true, then someone needs to explain why polytheism is back with full-force in Western culture!


Bellbottom jeans came back as well, they were popular in the 60's and 70's and they made a comeback in the 90's.

Also the resurgence of polytheism in the West is probably in direct concordance with immigration.

QUOTE
However, I believe it fair to say that the West has had a bent towards the Christian ethos or that it has been a fertile ground for Judeo-Christian activity.


Politicians will say anything to appeal to the masses. Your rational points more to Christianity as being a means of rule, a means of submission, a means of suppression, a means to maintain a level of ignorance among the ruled class.

No matter how much you want your religion to be unique it still serves the same purpose as any other religion. Its no better, but it is more harmful.

Those classification of similarities will not work here, as I said 'lets put all the cards on the table'. These similarities are similarities, lets deal with them as a whole. If you look at one termite it seems harmless, look at all the termites at once and you realize how detrimental they actualy are.

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Edited by Chauncy, 04 June 2004 - 02:20 PM.

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#12    SilverCougar

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 06:02 PM

Steal might be harshy, but in essence true.

Christmas was accually moved to Dec. 25 when they christians were converting the pagans in England/Europe.  Historians accually placed Jesus's birth somewhere in spring.  However, with Yule, it's the celebration of the rebirth of the god.  The god being The goddesses consort and the idea that through them like will spring foward again.  Yule origonaly had the tree you decorate, the yule log, the gift giving...  Santa Clause...  It all basicaly got absorbed into christianity to help then convert.  "No no no.. look here, see...  You're not really celebrating the birth of your devil god, you're worshiping the birth of Christ... he's your saviour..."

They changed the Horned God, what was a being of nature into thier Satan, to scare more people into converting.

Granted some people have found simularities between Osiris's ressurection and Jesus's.

Click!

And Jesus with Apollo...

But back then, people were rather close together, every religion has at somepoint absorbed in factors.  Heck the Greeks rewrote a few of the Egyption gods...  The Romans practicaly took the entire Greek Panthion, just renamed the deities...

Even happened with the Northmen and Celtis of the British Isles...  Yule can accually be traced to the Northmen, and when they conquered, they injected thier religious beliefs onto the celtic society.

So Christianity, while the main conglomerate religion, isn't the only religion to absorb, borrow, or out right take different aspects of different beliefs/religions.  And all we have to go by, is texts, a few books, what we can piece together from archeology digs and findings.  

With texts I do inclued the bible... but even then, the saying about historybooks and being written by the "winners" holds true to that.

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#13    saucy

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Posted 03 June 2004 - 08:52 PM

Hey Chauncy, what's with you man?  You always have a poster or picture to go with everything.  Where do you get this stuff?  I think you're cool for all the hard work you put into your answers!  thumbsup.gif  


#14    Chauncy

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Posted 05 June 2004 - 03:20 PM

Thanks saucy for your encouragement, it is appreciated. My pictures are for elucidation purposes.

As with this one here which I find fitting for elucidating this thread a little more.

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#15    trublvr

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Posted 06 June 2004 - 04:25 AM

QUOTE
Trublvr what is the purpose of missions, missionaries?....what was their goal?


The purpose of the missionaries was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others with the hope that they would desire to follow Jesus.  


QUOTE
And of course our brains evolve with us, religion has changed over time to reflect this fact. I mean we see religious doctrine change all the time to reflect a changing society there's no doubt there.



Please demonstrate how religion is evolving.  Also, changes in doctrine are not necessarily signs of some sort of evolution of a religion.  I think it crucial to differentiate between “evolution” and “development” in a religious context.  In an evolutionary model of religion a religion changes into something entirely different in response to some outside stimuli.  In a developmental model of religion outside stimuli can spark a religion to discover something that is already present (although possibly latent) within it from the beginning.  

QUOTE
Politicians will say anything to appeal to the masses. Your rational points more to Christianity as being a means of rule, a means of submission, a means of suppression, a means to maintain a level of ignorance among the ruled class.


This statement in incongruous with Christian history.  Christianity has appealed to the learned as well as the uneducated and/or down-trodden.  If you would acquaint yourself with Christian history, you would find that people from various classes and intellectual capacities found the gospel attractive.  To automatically assume that only ignorant people or tyrants were attracted to the Way of Christ shows an ignorance of the history of the expansion of Christianity on your part.  And by the by, even when tyrants or suppressors tried to appropriate the gospels for evil intent, the result was not the true application of Christianity by said people, but its perversion.  Even if you aren’t sympathetic to the Christian faith (I know you’re not), you should at least make some attempt to back some of this up with history.  

QUOTE
Those classification of similarities will not work here, as I said 'lets put all the cards on the table'. These similarities are similarities, lets deal with them as a whole. If you look at one termite it seems harmless, look at all the termites at once and you realize how detrimental they actualy are.


You continue to imply that the classifications that I have listed in my first post on this thread do not apply.  At the same time, though, you never show why they do not.  Please enlighten me.  Also, check out my repsonse to SilverCougar below!




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