Why we should learn about different religions
Studying religions outside our own culture can makes us more open-minded and creative
Posted on: 24th May 2012
As we all know, the world has several major religions - and they are all different. Why?
In my view, because we humans have 'finite' minds we need the notion of an all powerful creative force - a creator - to provide us with satisfying answers to the questions 'How did we get here?' and 'When did it all start?'
That notion meets another human need, a spiritual need which has been described as a hunger caused by a ‘god-shaped hole’ inside each of us. When allied with an intuitive understanding of good and evil, or right and wrong, that creative force becomes also something that is always present and judging, punishing or rewarding the behaviour of its human creations.
In some parts of the world this has resulted in faiths based on a single god. The most widespread example of this is the god shared by the Christians (God), the Jews (Jehovah) and the Muslims (Allah). In other places it has resulted in a pantheon. What the Hindus believe in is an example of this. They conceive of a creator with three aspects - creation, destruction and preservation.
Those aspects are, in turn, deified as the Lords of Creation - Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver. From the dreams of Brahma comes everything in the world as we know it, including a great number of lesser gods and their enemies, the demons. All three Lords of Creation interact with (even play with) everything that came from the dreams of Brahma.
The mythology derived from and based on that interaction can be divided conveniently into Tales of Creation (Brahma centric).Tales of Destruction (Shiva centric) and Tales of Preservation (Vishnu centric). That order of presentation lines up with the development of Hinduism over some five millennia. Brahma and Shiva provided the 'power base' of the priesthood until Buddhism (more a code of proper conduct than a religion) was embraced by the kings and the warrior classes and the priesthood lost power.
Modern Hinduism followed that long Buddhist interlude and gave rise to the mythology and concomitant beliefs based on Vishnu.
So, although all religions address the same fundamental issues, they do so in different ways. As I wrote in my last blog, looking at the ways questions about existence have been answered by different religions and cultures can broaden our outlook, and make us question some of the assumptions of the culture we were brought up in. So learning about other religions makes us more open-minded and also stimulates our imagination. And in my opinion, that has to be a good thing.