Religious Paths

Losing your religion?  Or maybe you’re lost in your religion?  Entire encyclopedias are devoted to religions, so this is ‘religion in a nutshell’ for a sampling of the religions in the United States.  For more information, click on the links or check the Further Resources page.

-As with all things in life, double-check to verify facts for your own use; your mileage may vary.  Links are seldom to specific congregations and some groups will vary more from congregation to congregation, town to town or across regions, than they will differ from other religious paths.

For ‘one-stop shopping’ there are three sites I highly recommend:

  • BeliefNet – A full-service site, with links for health and entertainment as well as prayer and spirituality.  Lots of ads, but good balanced information. Also includes Belief-O-Matic, which lets you tell it what you believe and it matches you with a religion. God is Good button links to pages in Spanish. Dios Es Bueno
  • ReligionFacts – Another site, operated by someone with a degree in religion (among others).  Loads of information, and one of the buttons on top is Comparisons, which begins with ‘The Big Religion Chart’ which has the 411 on around 40 different religions. Unfortunately, continually asks you to buy their charts.
  • ReligiousTolerance – this site is operated by a diverse group (atheist, agnostic, Christian, pagan, Buddhist) with the aim of encouraging understanding and tolerance. They focus on essays by vetted authors, but have a good deal of information, including direct comparisons. They are linked with, but not operated by BeliefNet. Has prominently placed button to translate pages into multiple languages. Highly recommended.

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Specific Religious Paths

Agnostic – (from Dictionary.com)  noun 1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.

120px-Cantercross.svgAnglican – formed when Henry VIII had a falling out with the Pope, Anglican is the Church of England (Angle-land, same root as in Anglo-Saxon).  Just like the Pope is the Top Dude in the Catholic Church, the ruler of England (King/Queen) is the head of the Anglican Church. Anglican

 

Atheist – a belief that there is no god, compatible with humanism. See American Atheists

http://www.bahai.com/Bahaullah/symbol.htm

Bahá’í  – lesser known, but growing.  Bahá’í have open temples without a set religious text, rather they acknowledge all religious texts.  Their prophet Bahá’u’lláh emphasized unity; all gods are the One God, all peoples are one people.  International Bahá’í website; US website Bahá’í

Baptist – There are many churches in the US which are Baptist. Baptists are Christians, and believe in a Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost). One of the main features of Baptists is that they do not believe in baptising infants, rather they believe baptism should be something one chooses as an adult.

Branches:  Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Association, American Baptist Church of the USA (ABC-USA), the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

B100px-Dharma_Wheel.svguddhist – an Eastern religion which has grown both by converts and immigrants since the 1960’s.  Buddhists follow the teaching of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.  Buddhists emphasize practice rather than supernatural intervention.  The Four Noble Truths (life is suffering) can be relieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path: right view,  right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right contemplation.

Branches: American BuddhismNichiren (Japanese) Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism

Church of Christ, Scientist – Founded by Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Scientists believe in the Bible and that Jesus was a prophet who rose from the dead.  They sponsor Reading Rooms:  “Christian Science Reading Rooms are bookstores open to anyone exploring spiritual answers to life’s many questions and problems.”  Mary Baker Eddy wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures which is an important document for Christian Scientists.  Eddy believed strongly in the power of prayer, and occasionally a Christian Scientist will be negatively featured because of their religiously informed health care beliefs.  Christian Science

Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints – also known as Mormons.  Religion born in the US, created by Joseph Smith. After persecutions, large numbers of Latter Day Saints moved to Utah where they became the majority religion and a political power house.  Original policy of polygamy upset many, but has long been disavowed.  Strong emphasis on family. Relatively recent bad publicity due to fundamentalist offshoot, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Days Saints. Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints

Episcopal Church – part of the worldwide Anglican Communion; formally The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  Anglican priests had to swear allegiance to the Crown, which became problematic during and after the American Revolution.  ‘High church’ can look much like Catholic services with priests in vestments and use of incense, ‘low church’ may resemble simpler more Protestant churches (simpler attire, more black, less incense). Episcopal Church

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Hindu – Predates recorded history.  Four Truths (Karma, Reincarnation, All-Pervasive Divinity, Dharma) and Nine Beliefs. Hinduism uses the symbolism of a four-petaled lotus, with each petal representing a sect; followers of Siva, Shakti, Vishnu/Rama and the Smarta sect.  Siva and Shakti typically emphasize yogic practice, Vishnu followers display more saints and the Smarta is more meditative and philosophical. The Himalayan Academy is a Hindu monastery in Kauai, Hawai’i.

Humanist – a belief system without a central G/god. ‘Advocating progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, and freethinkers’  Emphasis on ethical treatment of others, personal fulfillment for betterment of society. Humanist

Islam  One of the largest and fastest growing religions in the world, it is less common in the US. One of the three Abrahamic religions. The largest divisions within Islam are Sunni or Shi’a, based on the authentic successor to Mohammed and the respective jurisprudence.

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  • Islam Religion is a site sponsored by an office in Saudia Arabia. Site, per Islamopedia, is primarily aimed at converts. Islam Religion
  • IslamiCity site sponsored by a non-profit in California, has more details (Daily Qu’ran readings, prayer times) and more doodads; icTunes, as well as a dating site (icMarriage) and a wide variety of articles, less preachy than Islam Religion. IslamiCity

Branches: Sunni, Shi’a  (site reflects both)

104px-Black_Star_of_David.svgJudaism – One of the world’s major religions, one of the three ‘People of the Book.’  They believe in the One God, and see Jesus as a prophet. Judaism

  • Judaism 101 is a site set up by a knowledgeable Jewish individual. Informally written. Judaism 101
  • Chabad is a site by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.  Very thorough, easily understood Chabad
  • Society for Humanistic Judaism – organized in 1969, focus on Humanism within cultural Judaism; emphasis on educating youth Society for Humanistic Judaism

branches: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative

Lutheran – Original Protestant group, followers of Martin Luther, hence Lutherans.  Luther advocated for a return to more Biblical practices than the perceived sinfulness and pomp without substance of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Lutheran

branches: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

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Methodist – A Protestant denomination, originating within the Anglican Church.  Methodism focuses on works and believes in Universal Salvation; Jesus’ death was not only for Christians, but for all people. Methodist

Presbyterian – a religion which originated largely in the Reformation in Scotland, spread through England and was brought to the US by Scottish and English immigrants.  Presbyterians come from a background of John Calvin, who believed that only the ‘Elect’ or certain specific people would be allowed into Heaven.  Presbyterian comes from the Greek which means ‘elder.’ Elders in the church are not ministers, but hold important roles in Presbyterian churches.

branches:  Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbyterian Church in America.

Protestant – Generic category which covers Christian religions which are not Catholic. From the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther protested the policies of the Roman Catholic Church of the time.

Religious Society of Friends – More commonly known as Quakers, for the shaking or trembling which may occur in church services.  Services are silent, waiting for the Spirit to fill Friends.  The American Friends Service Committee has been very active in equality and social justice issues, which have long been a part of the mission of Friends.  American Friends Service Committee   Friends General Conference

Rastafarian – Originating in Jamaica as a response to white-centered religion. Christian religion which believes that Jah (Lord/Jehovah) was personified in Jesus and the Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie. Brought into public view by Bob Marley and the Wailers it is associated with Reggae music. Emphasis on return to Africa/Ethiopia for African peoples and turning away from corrupted/ing white practices. Rastafarian

Roman Catholic Church  – One of the largest churches in the US and the world. Belief structure is monotheistic, with adoration of saints. Hierarchical structure, with the Pope in Rome making ultimate decisions for all Catholics.  Women may become nuns, but are not ordained.  Roman Catholic Church

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  •  The Official site of the Holy Roman Catholic Church  Vatican
  • A site geared more towards tourism Vatican

branches: Eastern Orthodox Churches, American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A.

 

Unitarian Universalist – A smaller faith, but Welcoming. Unitarian refers to a belief in one God as opposed to the Christian Trinity, and Universalist refers to Universal Salvation as opposed to the Screenshot_5_1_13_1_32_PMCalvinist concept of the Elect.  UU Church no longer considers itself strictly Christian; non-doctrinal welcomes people of all faith paths without requiring a change.  Women are ministers as well as active in churches. Many churches perform Union ceremonies for same-sex couples in states where same-sex marriage not legal.  Also includes people who follow atheist, agnostic, humanist and pagan paths, depending on the specific church. “Different People. Different Beliefs. One Faith. — Unitarian Universalists. The Uncommon Denomination  Unitarian Universalist

Wiccan – Wi120px-Pentacle_background_whitecca is a nature based belief structure, some tracing back to pre-Christian religions.  There is no official or national accrediting body for Wicca. Depending on the group, some wiccans may be pagans, some witches may be wiccans, and some people self-identify as Christian witches.  For a site representative of what one might find at any number of wiccan sites, see Wicca.org.  For a clarification of the difference between ‘wicca’ and ‘witch’ see Suite 101.

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