Scope of Belief
Before proceeding with any discussion of specific religions, lets first establish some basic framework of the various theological positions that could be said to cover a broad spectrum of belief:
|Animism:||A basic belief based on a spiritual existence.|
|Pantheism:||God(s) are everything and everything is God(s).|
|Theism:||One god, the creator of everything, allows miracles.|
|Deism:||A god based on reason, excludes miracles.|
|Agnostic:||The existence of God has not or cannot be proved.|
|Atheism:||Denies the existence of any supernatural God|
While there are many different religions, an argument can be constructed for there being only two fundamental theological positions concerning the nature of the universe. The first considers the universe in terms of its material substance, which operates according to the laws of nature. The second, while accepting the reality of the material universe and its laws of nature, also believes in some form of metaphysical universe that transcends the physical realm. In this separation, a non-believer would probably reject the concept of `god or gods` and the notion of miracles that allow events to occur outside the normal laws of nature. Of course, nothing to do with religion is this simple and any analysis should probably recognize that in the totality of all religious beliefs, any faith has to be a minority view. Currently, it is estimated that there are some 20 major religions across the world, but these subdivide into over 250 large, and essentially separate, religious groups. In the case of Christianity, the 'unity of the church` is split into more than 30,000 groups with over half having independent churches that are not linked to any major denomination. While religion may indeed have the answer, there appears to be no consensus of what that answer is. So lets begin to breakdown religious doctrine into some basic beliefs:
- One God: Monotheism
- Many God: Polytheism
Polytheism still survives in many forms. However, it probably predates monotheism, possibly reaching back into pre-history when mysticism and spiritualism had only just started to take form. Today, monotheistic religions are dominant, possibly due to the zealous missionary and military efforts of both Christian and Islamic faiths. In the history of the Far East, many cities had their own local god, but this form of monotheism did not exclude the existence of other gods. In this context, the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant may have been an adaptation of a local deity into a nomadic lifestyle, which eventually paved the way for a stricter definition of monotheism.
|Date||Western||Near East||India||Far East|
The table also tries to encapsulate some of the cultural distribution of religion in terms of both geography and time. While not shown, the philosophy encompassing the concept of `No God: Atheism` has probably always existed, but would have had to become increasingly circumspect in light of religious purges against non-believers, especially in the Middle Ages.