Happy Easter! Today is the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after being crucified for the sins of all mankind. I love learning about religions in a historical context and the differing philosophies are quite fascinating. Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are the top three religions in the world with an estimated 5 billion followers. The problem with religion is that it is easy to get wrapped up into theological nitpicking. This is why there are so many different types of denominations within a particular religion. Everybody interprets religious texts differently and touts their views as the almighty-most-correct form. This gets tricky especially when eternal life is on the line. People want to be right because they don’t want to burn in hell. The idea of an afterlife is why radical zealots exist and why there has always been wars associated with religious beliefs. If religion was solely a philosophy then no one would care about conversions and cramming their ideology down people’s throats. In particular, Christianity and Islam, requires you to believe in certain things to go to heaven. Ironically, Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in the exact same God and share much of the same religious texts. The spread of Christianity and Islam destroyed longstanding pagan religions in the pursuit of mass conversions. In Europe, there are no remaining pagan religions that have active practitioners today. In the Middle East however, there are still many religions that never converted to Islam because they were so geographically remote it was difficult for the government to force conversions. Furthermore, these religions survived because they believed in one god which was similar to Islam and hence somewhat acceptable by certain regimes throughout history. I read about these religions in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by Gerard Russell. These religions are disappearing because of political unrest, global displacement of followers, westernization, Islamic conversions, and difficulties adhering to beliefs. Below I will summarize some interesting things from each religion.
Mandaeans: Originally from Iraq, this group has been dispersed to several middle eastern countries because of persecution. They believe in John the Baptist and hold baptism to an extremely high regard. They believe John the Baptist did not baptize Jesus and Jesus was actually a deceiver and distrustful person. They share several religious texts with Christians but have differing views when it comes to the Holy Spirit (actually a wicked figure) and the creator of the world. Estimated 60,000-70,000 members.
Yazidis: The Yazidis are mostly Kurdish Iraqis who live in the northern mountainous province of Nineveh. They believe in one god who sent 7 angels to earth to protect it with the most powerful angel being a peacock. The peacock angel is in charge of good and evil and actually fell from god in a similar way that Christians believe Satan fell from God. This similarity has created the myth that Yazidis worship the devil and for this they have been persecuted for centuries. Estimated 860,000-1,020,000 members.
Zoroastrians: At one point in time it was the main religion of the great Persian empire. Members today now are found primarily in Iran. Zoroastrians are believed to be the first religion that believed in a Heaven and Hell, which may have influenced Judaism and Christianity beliefs. Followers believe in morality and that their acts will be judged in the afterlife. Their beliefs are very detailed but mirror the general ideas of a creator with struggles of good and evil. Estimated 2.6 million members.
Druze: The Druze are primarily found in Syria and Lebanon. They are actually very similar to Muslims but they believe in reincarnation and use a different religious text. A quirky thing about the Druze is that their religious beliefs are only known by the educated Druze leaders. This secrecy was probably first put in place because it prevented persecution. It is not uncommon for a proclaimed Druze to have no idea what they believe in. Estimated 1,500,000-2,000,000 members.
Kalasha: The Kalasha are actually polytheists who live in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They sacrifice animals and celebrate festivals annually in honor to their gods. They believe in mountain fairies and the ability to connect with the spiritual world through mediums. The Kalasha do not believe in monogamy and if a married women is caught having sex with a man other then her husband the man is fined and laughed at by the villagers. Estimated 4,100 members.
These are only 5 of the estimated 4,200 religions in the world. Is there one group that has it all right? Why do we have so many different beliefs? Who is going Heaven? Hell? In the end, I don’t have all the answers and my religious beliefs boil down to what Jesus taught; don’t judge others and just love them-no matter what they believe.