Thursday, October 21, 2010

Great Religions of the World, Explained

As a public service, and to dispel the frankly incredulous notion that this blog is somehow hostile toward any one religion, this post will seek to explain the beliefs behind the major religions of the world. The careful reader can then make up their mind as to what they want to believe. Or not.

BUDDHISM: This religion is made up of followers of Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in the 6th to 4th century BC. The prime contribution of this religion is the concept of karma, which says anything you say or do now might very well come back and bite you in the ass several decades from now. I know my butt is going to look like Swiss cheese when karma gets finished with me. Okay, Swiss cheese with a lot of cellulite, will honesty get me some good karma? Buddhists also seem to be very preoccupied with suffering. They think it is a part of life and if you're lucky you'll suffer enough to become enlightened. For a religion that seems to be all about peace and love and getting along with each other, they sure are hard on themselves. We can thank this religion for the phrase "Buddha belly," which one applies to a chubby rabbit that has never met a snack they didn't like. I guess if I was to become religious at all, other than being a Wiccan I would probably become a Buddhist, with their emphasis on meditation and respect for animals. True story: In the previous sentence I typed "medication" instead of "meditation" and for a second it made total sense. If Buddhists believed in hell, I would be going there for sure.

CONFUCIANISM: This religion is based on the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius, or K'ung-fu-tzu, literally, Master Kong. It is very big in the far East, in places like China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, but not well known elsewhere. Until Chinese cuisine became popular in the West and the demand for fortune cookies skyrocketed. Then Confucianism baffled millions if not billions of people worldwide with cryptic, arcane, mostly incomprehensible little sayings, usually coupled with lottery numbers and wrapped in a crunchy, delightful treat. It also made racist, annoying, Charlie Chan movies possible. Confucianism seems really hung up on ritual and conformity and tradition, and mandates a patriarchal, gender-biased system where older males have all the power and authority. A lot of religions seem to do this, and if I was a cynical, suspicious person I'd think there was a big conspiracy behind this, all designed to keep boring, senile old men in power. Just like Congress.

CALVINISM: One of the 3,000 or so variations of Christianity, Calvinists take their cues from the writings of John Calvin, a prominent proponent from the 16th century. Calvinism says that every person in the world is inherently evil, born into the stinking morass of original sin, and a lot of people never find their way out, a concept Calvinists call "total depravity." When I first read about "total depravity" I thought they were talking about the 1980s and all the drugs and party favors that were going around. I was ready to sign up until I read further and it really is dismal and depressing and just not a happy kind of religion. God is the only authority here, and it is up to His Divine Whim whether or not you're going to be saved or damned. I know when the deck is stacked against me, and so I will take a pass on Calvinism. Those people work entirely too hard and have no fun at all.

LUTHERANISM: The main tenets of Lutheranism were put forth by Martin Luther, when he told his wife he was going to put up some signs publicizing their upcoming yard sale but instead nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of some cathedral. After the yard sale, his teachings spread like wildfire throughout Germany and Scandinavia, and quickly became ensconced in this country as the religion of choice for bachelor farmers living in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Since my primary source of knowledge about Lutheranism is what I hear on "A Prairie Home Companion," I feel I am not qualified to comment much on this religion. But it does kind of sound like fun, in a dreary sort of way.

ISLAM: Yeah, like I'm going to bad-mouth Islam. Are you kidding me? I don't want to get killed. Islam is okay with me, thank you very much.

EPISCOPALIAN: Sorry, I got nothing. This religion baffles me. Even Wikipedia says, "WTF?"

ROMAN CATHOLICISM: Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a bumpy ride. Let's go through the checklist, shall we? Guilt? Check. Revenge/retribution? Check. Fear and loathing? Double check. Parochialism, sexism, racism, homophobia? Check. Child molestation, greed, avarice, duplicity, lying? Check. Anti-intellectualism, elitism, Inquisitions, Crusades, mortal sin, hell, fallen angels, Holy Ghosts that look like pigeons, nuns? Check, check, check and check. Catholicism has it all! Where else can you get all that PLUS original sin! Oh but wait, there's more! What other religion had the hubris and the chutzpah to take on BOTH Galileo and Copernicus and tell them they're full of crap and they would get their asses kicked if they DARED to make the Sun the center of the Solar System? And it only took them 400 years to come around and admit their gross inaccuracies and apologize. What other religion would say that God loves and cherishes you dearly but will pop your ass down into the fiery depths of hell in an second if you dare question any of their teachings, no matter how minor or obscure. The same belief system that gave us Christmas and Easter also gave us Sodom and Gomorrah and the practice of crucifixion. What other religion has untold billions if not trillions of dollars tied up in artwork and relics and property in their very own city-state, the Vatican, and around the world and then screams like a stuck pig when someone brings up the subject of taxing their vast U.S. real estate holdings? What other faith co-opted a number of pagan celebrations, most notably Saturnalia (a.k.a. Christmas), as their very own and then turned right around and condemned these same pagans as stinking non-believers? If all this stuff is enough to make your head spin, it's just scratching the surface of the Wide World of Dysfunction that is Roman Catholicism. But check this out: without Roman Catholicism, this blog would not be here. I would not be here. Take THAT into consideration next time someone asks you what's wrong with Roman Catholicism.

PROTESTANTISM: This religion came about as Christianity fractured into a bunch of pieces in the 1600s, triggered by Martin Luther's 95 Theses doctrine (see above). The main problem appeared to be the Catholic practice of indulgences, in which people could pay the Church money in order to get out of punishment for doing bad stuff. It was like a Frequent Sinners reward program, only instead of free air travel you got a couple of years lopped off your stay in Purgatory, which I imagine to be a lot like Mesa but without the shopping and restaurants. The Catholics thought this was a great way to raise money but other people had moral qualms about that. Anyway Protestants had a chip on their shoulders from the very beginning and that kind of put them in a permanent bad mood. But hey, don't take it from me, check out the finest, definitive portrait of Protestantism offered in the great movie, "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life":

JUDAISM: I admit, I wanted to be Jewish when I was a kid. I thought it was like a really cool social club where everyone was in show business. All the great comedians I saw on television - legends like Milton Berle, Phil Silver, Sid Caesar, George Burns, to name a very few - were Jewish. Even Lucy Ricardo was Jewish! I loved reading Mad magazine and it had a very New-York-Jewish sensibility. My parents hated Mad magazine and thought it was turning me into a smart-ass. I wanted to tell them sorry, you're too late - the smart-ass train left the station long before I got a hold of my first Mad. Anyway, the music was pretty cool - I thought the "Theme from the Movie Exodus" was really awesome. Being Jewish meant being the beneficiary of thousands of years of history and tradition, much more appealing than the wanna-be, derivative nature of Catholicism. In school we learned all about the trials and tribulations of the "tribes of Israel" as they bravely wandered around homeless in the desert. They were truly the "chosen people" - until they killed Jesus. I thought for a long time the Roman centurions killed Jesus, but the Jews ended up taking the rap for that. All of a sudden the nuns didn't like them anymore. After Jesus' death the Catholic Church took off, and Judaism was left in the dust. That was pretty unfair, seeing as Judaism has cool holidays like Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover. Without Judaism, Woody Allen movies wouldn't be nearly as funny and for that it gets a thumbs-up from me.

Well, there you have it. The Great Religions of the World Explained, in simple, easy-to-understand terms. It's so gratifying to me to write this blog and bring enlightenment to my valued readers. Part Two will be coming soon, in which I will take on Mormons, Southern Baptists, the Amish, Anglicans (as soon as I figure out who they are) and others. Who knows, someday I may start my own religion. If I do you will be the first to know, and discounts will be available to Careless Whispers fans!

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