September 18, 2020

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Let’s honor the search of other religions seeking meaning

Fr. Rick GintherLast month, I wrote about council and papal statements regarding other religions. This month, I want to share some insights about each of the major world religions.

Brahmanism (2000 B.C.) was the origin of the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions.

Hinduism is today the third largest religion. Ninety-five percent of Hindus live in India. It is not a single religion, but a compilation of many traditions and philosophies. Hinduism as “one religion” is ultimately a creation of British colonialist missionaries. They attempted to understand it through Western concepts.

One can witness Hindu diversity at a Hindu temple in the U.S. Members of it invariably come from various expressions of Hinduism. The temple will have shrine areas for the gods or goddesses whose devotion most of its members honor.

Buddhism, though related to Hinduism by origin, is unique. It is traced to Siddhartha Gautama. He became the “Buddha” through his spiritual journey. Buddhism is a “middle path” between a focus on earthly pleasure and austerity.

From its early origins in India, Buddhism spread throughout southeast Asia due to Moghul empire persecutions. Exiles created various expressions of Buddhism through regional, cultural and language interactions.

Theravada is mostly found in Sri Lanka and southeast Asia.

Mahayana adherents live mostly in northern India. A 20th-century derivation, Zen, is centered in Japan and the U.S.

Najdayana is native to Tibet (home of the Dalai Lama) and Mongolia.

Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion. Of nomadic origins once established in what is now the state of Israel, it became “temple” Judaism. Worship of God through sacrifice and temple liturgy was central.

When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., Judaism became “rabbinic.” Rabbis, “teachers,” remain central in the life of Jews today.

There are several current expressions of Judaism.

The origin of modern Judaism is Ashkenazi. It formed in Europe in what is present Germany and France. Persecutions lead it to move to Eastern Europe. It returned to Western Europe in the 19th century.

Ashkenazi Judaism stresses isolation from the world.

Reform Judaism, the largest group in the U.S., is a reaction to the strictness of Ashkenazi.

Conservative Judaism is a reform of reform Judaism.

Orthodox Judaism, like Ashkenazi, is traditionalist, with strict observance of Jewish law. Its adherents consider it “the correct form” of Judaism.

Finally, Islam is one of the youngest of these world religions. Originating in seventh-century Arabia, it is monotheistic: one God, Allah. Allah’s final prophet is Muhammed. The holy book, the Quran, is the “Miracle of Islam” (divine revelation). Muslims honor Muhammed, but do not direct intercessory prayer to him.

Jesus is not seen as “messiah,” but as an announcer of the Messiah of the end time. Devotion to Mary is strong. The Quran contains more verses (surahs) about Mary than the Christian Bible.

There are many branches of Islam. Two trace their origin to the time of the death of Muhammed: Sunni and Shia.

Sunni is the larger, with some minor expressions emerging—Ahmadiyya, Wahhabism (Saudi). Shia is the lesser to Sunni, and from it emerged Alawite (Syria).

Only 20% of all Muslims live in the Middle East or north Africa. The majority live in southeast Asia and Indonesia.

Perhaps you can see patterns emerge from these descriptions: diversity of language, culture, expressions. Such are true of Catholicism and Christianity.

Though different in origin and expression, all religions are seeking “other” and meaning for this life into a next. We honor their search.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. He is also the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Indianapolis.)

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