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An Example of an Essay I've Written
In the Heart of Religion
The strongest draw that compels people towards Religion is fear. These people fear the mortality, and they fear what they cannot, and will not be able to know. Religion offers answers for these questions; such as where one’s loved ones went after they died, the promise of eternal paradise, the promise of inner peace, and ultimately the desire to be a good person. That is what people fear the most, that deep down, they are bad people. It makes sense for one to desire to remedy that in any way possible.
This need to cure fear can be seen as a connecting thread in several religions; although said religions approach it differently. It could be something akin to Hinduism; with many gods being the manifestation of one ultimate god, or closer to Buddhism, which is nontheistic; and of course the most prominent religion over here in the west, Christianity, which is monotheistic; along with Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.
The story of religion will often start with Zoroastrianism, as it is a vital gate between eastern and western religions; as well as an important influence on all of them. One can see by learning about Zoroastrianism that the ancient cultures that came before us now also needed a notion of heaven, a reward for good deeds; a notion of hell; punishment for the people who are cruel to us; and the notion of an eternal God, because the world is frightening. It really is, a person could die at any second for any myriad of reasons even now; let alone over 2000 years ago.
When Zarathustra came into the picture and said there was an almighty God that denounced all cruelty, selfishness, distortion, and hypocrisy in the name of religion; that must have seemed like great news. Nobody wants to be around people who want to do wrong, and there was now a god that agrees. So naturally Zoroastrianism spread like wildfire; because people fear those who intend to harm them, and with a holy deity by their side, those fears were given power.
Which leads into Zoroastrianism today; which is dying out. There are Zoroastrians in North America who are in favor of actively converting people to their faith. With Zoroastrianism on the brink of extinction, fear has returned. The Christians, Muslims, and Jews are robbing Zoroastrians of their converts and are forced into a crossroads; either they do not force conversion in an effort to not dilute Zarathustra’s teachings, or they begin to actively work on converting people to their faith so that Zoroastrianism can live on. Despite its decline in recent centuries, Zoroastrianism continues to ease the fear of an eternal hell for those who believe in it.
Judaism’s key focus is on a continuing dialogue with their religious texts and with God. There is a fear of lack of understanding there; a fear of irrelevance. As such the way of assuaging said fears in Judaism is to continue to evolve with the text; deriving different interpretations as ones relationship with God evolves. This is eternally important; as this means God is ever-changing, justifying his being almighty.
What one can fear when converting to Judaism is the idea that people are born evil; or that they will descend into savagery for the sake of religion; in some cases people fear those who want to harm them. There are also some who fear the idea that the world is a terrible place, filled with people who want to hurt each other. Nobody wants to have disdain for their brothers and sisters, nor does anyone want to worship a resentful God. That is another fear, one that Judaism works to combat, that god is vengeful; constantly doling out punishment.
With the 20th century there was a strong growth of anti-Semitism, most famously with Nazi Germany. For many of the Jews that were slaughtered, their faith was something that they began to question. It came with the fear of death that the question of whether a loving God would do this to his people came up. That’s one of the key components of Modern Judaism, questioning the intentions of the God that is worshipped.
Despite this constant dialogue, modern Judaism continues to place a strong emphasis on one of the Torah’s key tenets, which is to love God. It is a belief system that comforts the human fear of not being a unique creation, Judaism, like Christianity, believes that humans are God’s grandest achievement. It is a religion that continues to provide comfort and answers for people in need to this day.
What draws many to Hinduism is a fear of Avidya, or ignorance. The Hindus believe that all forms of misery are born of ignorance; and proposes a cure. Those who are Hindus are not ignorant, and therefore have a shot at being happy. The interesting thing about Hinduism is their lack of a belief in an afterlife, instead they believe in reincarnation. What they fear is to never gain freedom from Samsara, or the cycle of rebirth due to a mistreatment of the Earth. Hinduism provides a release for that with the Vedas.
There are many different theistic paths of Hinduism. One are the Shaktas, which are centered on the goddess Shakti. The Shaktas believe the goddess to be represented in the nature around them. They believe Shiva to be merely transcendent; and they worship him as more of a supporting player. The Shaktas help a Hindu that fears that Hinduism disrespects women, by offering them a Goddess as the supreme being of all things.
Another school of Hinduism are the Shaivites. Shaivites worship Shiva as a totality, as opposed to what he was regarded as in older systems; as one of three major aspects of deity. Shaivism is frequently associated with asceticism; allowing for a more rigorous method of freeing yourself from material desires. Shaivitism acts on the fear that Hindus are not pushing themselves far enough.
The final class of Hindu belief is known as Vaishnavism; whom are a sect of Hinduism that worship Vishnu. Vaishnavists believe in a literal meaning of Hindu scriptures; stressing the philosophical interpretations as secondary. This helps those with a fear that the Hindu scriptures are being neglected as time marches on.
Hinduism has grown in size; and is still one of the biggest religions in the world today. It is one of the few religions which has texts that do not favor a specific gender; with the Gods of Hinduism being often portrayed as androgynous. Hinduism offers a literal belief that women are not better than men; nor are men better than women, but that they are two part of a whole. Hinduism cures the fear some may have that a God is patriarchal in nature. Hinduism is still a huge influence in the world’s culture today.
Buddhism offers a cure to earthly suffering. It is a religion that believes in reincarnation; not unlike Hinduism, but it does not believe in any Gods. As such Buddhism can easily be incorporated into Hinduism as well as other Western religions. Humans fear suffering; and Buddhism not only proposes a path of which to rid yourself of suffering, but of earthly cravings as well. The Four Noble Truths and through them The Noble Eightfold Path describe the process of which a Buddhist cleanses themselves of suffering.
The Buddhist belief in Nirvana is an answer to the fear of a never-ending cycle of rebirth. To follow the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path, freeing yourself of attachment is quite a bit harder than it sounds; that is why one a Buddhist does it perfect and rids their lives of any craving, they achieve Nirvana or a state of eternal peace. Once the individual dies, their personality disappears and they enter this state of mind for eternity. This comes into conflict with Hinduism, and interestingly the Buddhists and the Hindus have a history of fight over this. This makes sense, as both believe in a cycle of rebirth and freeing themselves from said cycle, as such it’s only logical that once another interpretation is introduced, the believers of the Hindu interpretation would fear the believers of the Buddhist interpretation, and vice versa.
There are two major branches of Buddhism; including Theravada: the path of mindfulness. Theravadin Buddhism tends to be more obvious amongst intellectuals and monastic, they honor the life of renunciation, study the early scriptures in Pali, and follow mindfulness meditation teachings. Theravadin Buddhists do not pray to the Buddha for help, rather they confide in him as a supreme teacher. There had been criticism of Theravadin Buddhism from feminist scholars as of late, due to the fact that this branch of Buddhism promotes celibacy. As such, many of them believe women to be a hindrance to their spiritual development. These criticisms are born out of a fear that this religion which belongs to many women is becoming too male-dominated. Theravadin Buddhism is a response to the fear that Buddhists do not devote enough time to meditation.
The second major school of Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhism: the path of compassion and wisdom. Mahayana Buddhists believe that both monastics and laypeople should practice wisdom and compassion. The Mahayana traditions honor all of the teachings of the Pali Canon, as well as embracing the Mahayana literature that was initially in Sanskrits and later translated into various Asian languages. The Mahayana Buddhists fill the need of somebody who fears that Theravadin Buddhists have become too elitist. The Mahayana Buddhist text, the Lotus Sutra was considered radical at the time, inciting fear amongst the traditionalists due to the notion that the Buddha presented his teachings in different ways and at different levels of completeness in accordance with his audience. The Lotus Sutra promotes having a conversation and evolving with the text; and naturally that incites fear to those who are rigid in their faith. Such scripts are helpful to those who fear Buddhism’s survival. Through the Lotus Sutra and the notion of becoming a bodhisattva (a being dedicated to liberating others from suffering) Mahayana Buddhism argues that anybody can achieve Buddhahood, and that there was a more important goal than one’s own liberation. It is in response to a fear that one could never achieve enlightenment in the way the Buddha did, the fear that the religion doesn’t have a human face.
Buddhism is born out of a fear of suffering; but to wish that one could never fear suffering is to crave. This is an interesting question; as without fear, one would never follow the Buddha, but in order to properly follow the Buddha, once must cease craving the need to end their fear. It is a religion that is a source of comfort for many people around the world today.
Christianity is the largest religion in Western culture. One cannot get elected to public office in the United States without professing themselves to be a Christian and swearing on the Bible. Christianity focuses on the belief of God as the important trait required to get into heaven. Christianity shares a great deal with Judaism and Islam, including one of its major tent-poles being to love God. Many conversions to Christianity are born out of a fear of going to hell; which is portrayed in many interpretations as a place of everlasting punishment. Some would argue that it’s due to a desire to spend an eternity in paradise; similar to Islam and Judaism. The need for Christianity is born out of a fear of exclusion; a need to belong with others who have succeeded in freeing themselves of sin.
Fisher, Mary, P. Living Religions: Ninth Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Pearson Education. 2014. Textbook.