An Atheists Guide to Religion
An Non-Believers Guide to Religion
Unfortunately people who have previously either not been interested in religion or only vaguely spiritual often come to religion due to the efforts of many religions and sects who actively recruit new members. This is not the most likely time that you will be given a balanced discussion of the various pros and cons of the different religions on offer. So slightly tongue in cheek I set out to survey the world's major religions and check out their accessibility for the enquiring non-believer.
Developed in the ancient Vedic civilization 2000BC to 600BC. the oldest religion is still a major religion, running 3rd in total numbers, behind Christianity and Islam. Currently practised in India and Nepal where 90% o the approximately billion adherents still live. Hinduism is the world's third largest religion. The Indian diaspora have scattered Hindi worshippers as far a field as UK, Malaysia, Fiji and Canada. Hinduisms central belief is that of an eternal soul which is continues on after death, into another body or, eventually to nirvana. Hinduism is extremely diverse and includes monotheism, polytheism, and even atheism!
Can I join?
No initially Hindu's believed that everyone was Hindu and this philosphy still underlyes their religion. In addition the development of the caste system made it difficult to place converts in their correct "place" - caste being inherited at birth. Hindu's believe that religious freedom is based on the right to retain one's religion and not be subject to proselyzation
Good points: you won't be hasselled for being a non-believer
Bad points: its all pre-ordained, who your parents were still make all the difference in the caste system. However the caste system is in decline so it's hard to find anything to dislike about a religion which actively preaches live and let live.
Buddhism began around the 5th century BC with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, now known as as "the Buddha".Buddhism has been almost entirely replaced by Hinduism in its birthplace of India, but is still common in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Tibet. Approximately 350 million people practising Buddhist's making it the fourth-largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.
Buddhism emphasises a way of life which does no harm and tries to emulate the Buddha by study and meditation. Lay Buddhists live by the five precepts refraining from taking life, theft, sensual misconduct, lying, use of intoxicants.
Can I join?
Its not generally recommended: His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama frequently states that it is best for Westerners to remain with their current religions. Buddhists believe that that conversion is not part of Buddhism and so, one would not convert or encourage others to convert. One realizes Buddhism, usually after contemplation and study of Buddhism dharma.
Good Points: Fantastic literature to study and mediation and study are strongly encouraged.
Bad Points: giving up meat, alcohol and illicit sex.
Islam is based on teachings of Muhammad, a 7th century Arab figure. There are between 1.1 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity. Islam is the predominant religion throughout the Middle East, as well as in parts of Africa and Asia. Large communities are also found in China, Eastern Europe and Russia.
Muslims believe in the same God of Christians and Judaism - but believe that the Torah and Bible have got it wrong, Jesus was a prophet but not the son of God. The key Islamic document the Qur'an was given to Muhammad, God's final prophet, and regard the Qur'an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam.
Islamic law. The five pillars of Islam which should be practised by all Muslims include the belief in Allah, ritual prayer five times a day, alms giving, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and once in their lifetime every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it should make the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Can I Join?
Yes Any human being can embrace Islam. You simply say and believe that there is No God except Allah and that Mohammad is his Messenger - in Arabic which is : Ash hadu alla ilaha illa Allah, wa ash hadu anna Mohammadan abduhu wa rasuluhu.
Once you have said this all your past sins were forgiven. No matter what sin you've committed, all of them are now forgiven.
Good Points: for a man you do get to run the household and have multiple wives. You can now travel to Mecca - a city barred to non-believers.
Bad Points: praying five times a day can get inconvenient.
Christianity Is a religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recounted in the New Testament. It has between 1.5 billion and 2.1 billion adherents, more than any other religion, and representing about a quarter of the world's population. Developing from Judaism, Christainity is the oldest major religion to focus on a single God rather than a pantheon of deities. Perhaps to compensate for this though Christianity has splinted into a huge number of competing sects: the first split occurred from the seventh that divided it into a Western (Latin) branch, generally known as the Roman Catholic Church, and an Eastern (Greek) branch, which has become known as the Orthodox Church. Another major schism, the Reformation, resulted in the splintering of the Western Christian Church into several Christian denominations. Down to the present day different variations of Christianity are constantly developing.
Can I join?
Oh yes! Although a few sects are exclusive such as the Exclusive Brethren and some might want you to do some study such as the Roman Catholics many Pentacostal sects will be more than happy for you come right on in.
Good Points: Lots of choice if you don't like the local church, try another congregation.
Bad Points: Arrogant self-belief that this particular version of the TRUTH is the only one can get a bit wearing for those around you who do not share your belief. You might find your social life constrained to church functions and that you are put pressure to donate significantly to the church.
So which to choose? Well I personally find atheism to have a lot to offer: The non-belief in god allows you to sleep in on Sunday, or which ever holy day your particular religion holds to. You have to do no study, can eat and drink anything you like. Also you can treat all of your fellow human beings as equals, no need to distinguish between believers and non-believers.