This extremely helpful handbook (link below) was created by a team at the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is a very good, basic introduction to eleven faiths. There is some Tulsa-specific information (we'd love to do a Mecklenburg version at some point!), but most of the information is more general. The list of sources near the end is also a great place to start if you want to learn more on your own.
Interfaith 101: Summary of Faiths
Below you’ll find a very basic summary of the faiths represented within MeckMIN. These descriptions were sourced from pluralism.org and scienceofmind.com and revisions requested by members of each faith tradition.
Origin: Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), meaning the Glory of God, is the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and is the latest of a series of divine Educators – known as Manifestations of God – whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammad. Bahá’u’lláh explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God. Born in Persia, Bahá’u’lláh was a prisoner and an exile for 40 years under the Shah of Iran and the Sultan of Turkey. His last exile under the Ottoman Empire was in 1868 to the prison city of Akka in the Holy Land. In 1844, the Herald of the Baha’i Faith, The Bab foretold the coming of Bahá’u’lláh. Abdul-Baha, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and the Center of His Covenant, after being freed from prison in 1908 travelled to Egypt, Europe, the United States and Canada spreading the Baha’i Teachings.The Bahá’í Faith is the second most widespread religion in the world according to Encyclopedia Britannica and is most diverse, comprising over 5 million people residing in more than 200 countries.
Teaching: Bahá’ís believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. The central principles of the Bahá’í Faith are the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of mankind. Throughout its history, Bahá’ís have been active in pursuing racial justice, gender equality, and interfaith engagement.
Origin: In the 5th century BCE, a prince of India named Siddhattha Gotama is said to have given up his throne, left behind his family and his palace, and set out into the forest to seek answers to the haunting questions of suffering, disease, old age, and death. Through this search and his skillful meditation, he gained transformative insight. He became known as the Buddha, an honorific title meaning the “Enlightened One” or the “Awakened One." The three main contemporary streams of Buddhism are the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana (Tibetan) traditions.
Teaching: The Buddha’s teachings, called the Dhamma, pointed toward the true nature of life. The “Three Treasures” of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha continue to provide inspiration to Buddhists, but they are not understood in exactly the same way everywhere. While all traditions teach a path to ultimate happiness, one tradition advises following the “arahant path” of attaining total peace, happiness and freedom from rebirth as quickly as possible, whereas the other two traditions advise following the “bodhisattva path” of perfecting oneself over the course of countless lifetimes to someday become a Buddha who leads others to freedom. Followers of the latter traditions may pray for help from certain famous great bodhisattvas, as they have vowed to never finish serving others (by never attaining peace of enlightenment for themselves), hence becoming virtually immortal. The “Four Noble Truths”, recognized by all traditions, are that life involves suffering/dukkha, suffering is caused by desire and grasping, there is a way out of suffering, and the way is the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.
Origin: Sourced in the life teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who lived two thousand years ago in Roman occupied Palestine and whom Christians call Christ or the Messiah. For all of Christian history, missionaries have traveled across the world with the goal of sharing the good news in word and action. Contemporary Christianity consists of three major branches: the Catholic Church, Orthodox Christian churches, and Protestantism.
Teaching: The Christian Bible includes four different chronicles of the life of Jesus, these books as well as the Hebrew Bible and the rest of the New Testament, are foundational for Christian belief and practice. When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus replied,“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:29-31) Jesus taught that the expected Kingdom of God was close at hand, but it would not be an earthly political kingdom, rather a new reign of justice for the poor and liberation for the oppressed. Those who would be included first in the Kingdom were not the elites and the powerful, but the poor, the rejected, the outcasts. His disciples and many who heard him began to speak of Jesus as the long-awaited redeemer, the Messiah, who would make the Kingdom of God a reality.
Origins: The term ‘Hindu’ was first used outside of the tradition to refer to people who reside beyond the Indus/Sindhu River. The term "Hinduism" came much later. Many practitioners from the region refer to their way of life as "Sanatana Dharma", meaning that its origins lie beyond human history. “The one and the many” reflects the Hindu philosophy of India as well as the exchanges between India and the West. Hindus today worship different forms (deities) of the same one Supreme God and form complex social systems.
Teaching: The Hindu tradition is more an ethos than a set of beliefs; it is a complex social system and an elaborately articulated religious sensibility. It can be better described as a "way of life" than the term "religion" from a Western lexical standpoint, In India though, the term "dharma" is preferred, which is broader than the Western term "religion".The similarities of beliefs between Hindu followers include affirming that the Brahman or the Divine are always present in the universe known in many names and forms, that it takes many lifetimes for self-realization to occur, the soul’s course through life after life is shaped by one’s deeds. The Hindu tradition has made a point of articulating the diversity and plurality of the deities. There are many names and forms of one Supreme Brahman and many ways to realize The Supreme Brahman. Everyone has freedom to choose their own path to realize that "Brahman" in themselves. Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book like Abrahamic religions.
Origins: Islam is an Arabic word that means submission to the will of God. All creation naturally inclines to this, but human beings are blessed and tested with intelligence and free-will. Prophets were sent as role models to the entire Earth throughout history to communicate God's message to many communities by revealed scripture. The Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger sent with the final revelation. The Qur’an is a sacred book, revealed to Prophet Muhammad and written and preserved in Arabic. Diverse traditions within Islam have different interpretations of the Qur’an, hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad), and views on Islamic leadership. Sunni Muslims and Shi’ia.
Teaching: One becomes a Muslim by declaring two fundamental faith statements in Islam that, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Faith and practice are rooted in the pure absolute unique Oneness of God, following His message and prophets, and the eventual accountability for our actions on the Day of Judgement. This spiritual calling is comprised of two elements; knowing, loving, and worshipping God and benevolence toward humanity. In maintaining faith and morality, individual Muslims are in a constant Jihad with their own evil inclinations and the corruption and injustices of society in order for peace and justice to thrive. As a collective, Muslims are known for declaring their faith, maintaining the 5 daily prayers, paying and distributing a yearly alms tax to the needy, fasting the month of Ramadan, and making the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah once in a lifetime.
Origins: Although definitions of Judaism as a religious tradition vary, they often involve a combination of commitments to monotheistic belief, sacred texts, as well as social and cultural histories and traditions of Jewish people. At its core, Judaism is about exploring the relationships between God, Torah, and the people Israel (that is, the Jewish people). Torah refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible and colloquially refers to all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (TaNaKh). The Hebrew Bible includes many books Judaism shares with other religions – Psalms, Proverbs, and books of the prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Teaching: Jewish theology of one singular, universal God represented a synthesis of existing beliefs and an influential innovation in the history of the world’s religions. Judaism embraces the intricate religious and cultural development of the Jewish people through more than thirty centuries of history, consisting of Torah (divine revelation) and mitzvot (divine commandments.) After the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, rabbis developed a system of Jewish ethics (including laws of justice, dietary laws, and a yearly cycle of holidays) and refashioned Jewish practice to center on the synagogue/house of assembly and the home.
Science of the Mind
Origins: Founded by Ernest Holmes in 1927, Science of Mind is a practical philosophy that incorporates mystical truths of major religions, explored in the seminal text of the same name. Science of Mind is based on the principle that God is all there is, and that the Universe works by a system of predictable spiritual laws, “It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can be conscientiously applied with a certainty of definite and repeatable results.”
Teaching: The Declaration of Principles written by Ernest Holmes begins, “WE BELIEVE in God, the Living Spirit Almighty; one, indestructible, absolute and self-existent Cause.” A cornerstone of Science of Mind is that God works through the mind, the infinite creative power of the universe- it does not require you to join an organization, subscribe to a series of lessons or forsake any other spiritual path. Spiritual Centers offer practical spiritual teaching that draws on the golden thread of truth found in all faith paths, plus New Thought principles to promote personal growth. Science of the Mind, a guide to spiritual living is a monthly magazine and that shares teaching.
Origins:In the early 16th century a community of disciples, called Sikhs, gathered around Guru Nanak who presented strong monotheistic teachings after receiving direct revelations from God. He preached his message in the form of hymns called shabads. He sang of the oneness of God, the equality of all people, the futility of empty ritualism.The community, centered in the Punjab, grew under ten generations of successive gurus and has since spread throughout the world.
Teaching: After Guru Nanak, many successive gurus worked to compile and to prepare the collection of hymns seen as the divinely inspired word of God. The tenth guru made the final revisions to the collection before naming the scripture itself as the final guru, the Guru Granth Sahib. Honoring, reading, and singing these hymns is central to Sikh practice. It is a community shaped in tone and spirit by the very first words of the Sikh scripture: Ek Onkar, God is One. It is a universal and inclusive affirmation.The one God can only be the God of all humanity, not the Sikhs' alone.
Unitarians—those who believe that God is a single entity—and Universalists—those who affirm that God’s love and salvation extends to everyone—are ideas that have existed since the time of Jesus. Unitarianism was formally organized in Eastern Europe in the late 1500s and was among many strands of thought constituting the Protestant Reformation. However, early Unitarians were persecuted and killed by other reformers for their thinking. Almost obliterated on the European continent, English settlers carried both traditions to the colonies, and both found a home in the United States as part of the liberal Christian movement of social reform that defined much of this country in the late 1700 and early 1800 and beyond. In the 20th century, the two movements became increasingly liberal, exploring religious Humanism, embracing women's rights, civil rights and LGBT rights and, in 1961, united under the banner of Unitarian Universalism.
Teaching: Unitarian Universalism is Protestant in origin but has continued to evolve over time recognizing truth and wisdom may be found within many faith traditions and scriptures as well as science, art and the natural world. This theologically liberal and socially progressive religion welcomes the influence of many spiritual traditions, values reason and compassion, and lacks a binding creed. Unitarian Universalism affirms freedom of thought, religious diversity, and seven guiding principles that include the inherent worth and dignity of every person, acceptance of one another and the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, and respect for the interdependent web of all creation of which we are a part. Unitarian Universalists believe that revelation is ongoing and are always engaged in what it means to live ethically and compassionately. Part of their theological and liturgical work is to redefine old traditions and create new ones. One example might be Flower Communion which celebrates diversity within community, where members bring a flower and place it on the altar for a blessing. Everyone takes home a different flower, a symbol of our individual gifts as well as our interconnectedness.
Golden Rule of Each Faith Tradition
Bahá’í: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you.
Buddhism: Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Christianity: Do to others what you want them to do to you.
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
Islam: We created you... and made you into peoples and tribes so you may get to know one another.
Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Science of Mind: Think of the whole world as your friend, but you must also be the friend of the whole world
Sikhism: I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.
Unitarianism: We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.