By Rev. Nick Federspiel
This is one of the FINEST distant learning courses I have undertaken from any source – information, information - give me more - and it was given unto me. This course examines the predominant religions of both the East and West and provides ample summary information on many religious topics relative to philosophy, theology, animism, polytheism, monotheism, sacred texts, sacred space, ecumenicalism, inter-religious dialogue, liturgical calendars, symbolism, ceremonies, and on and on….. about Buddhism:, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism: Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Taoism, Native American, Shintoism, Wiccan and others including what caught my eye and mind the most Zoroastrian. Get BIG comparative picture?!
Lesson one's introduction states:
" … A firm grounding in comparative religion allows an individual to perceive the truth that is within all traditions. We, as human beings, have a tendency to address everything from our own perspective and assume that those we talk to understand our words as we mean them. We all have had experiences where this has backfired. It is imperative that as ministers, we make every effort to communicate from the perspective of those we serve. …"
Lesson three states:
Differences between various religions and philosophies need not divide and separate, but can instead enrich our lives and deepen our capacity to love. Any minister can do their part to eliminate religious intolerance and fear by helping those they interface with to find understanding, respect, and a common ground to interact.
Most comparative religion courses I have taken including college institutions emphasize how similar religions are. But to the credit of this course there is a clear statement that religions are not the same, but they share innumerable components differentiated by doctrine, symbolism, ceremony and legacy. On occasion the course offers food for thought conclusions such as in lesson four:
" … As can be seen, cultural and religious flood stories around the world are very similar. Because of the consistency of this story, and current scientific geological data, the idea of a worldwide flood actually happening is very likely. …"
Fact or not, it is my observation that today we have entered an age of instant international and cultural information communication. But 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 and even 6,000 years ago this was simply not the case considering the limited literacy and embryonic language tools. THEN when something "similar" was reported from disassociated cultures then there either is an innate philosophical and sociological underlying human need for such a "story" or the story is not a story at all but a REPORT! We interpret and filter and analyze as best we can today – right or wrong as the case may be. Did we need religion? Do we still need religion? Science has no moment zero creation solution. It never will. So religion is with us and deep inside us we know that. Is a fundamental need for divinity created by divinity why religion is functional in almost all cultures worldwide? Is that why religion is the target of errant thinking politicians, despots and tyrants?
This course presents many facts and thus points of view. However, be it East or West their religious doctrines teach us that throughout history the word is mightier than the sword and the meek inherit the earth. Who has more followers: Hitler and Stalin or Jesus Christ? Who will have more respect hereafter, Ahmedinejad or Gandhi and Mother Teresa or the atheists or the devoted? Who were the tormentors and who were the healers? What makes a better organized institutional leader – a historian, a minister or a lawyer? What does it mean when a word leader fails to participate in his or her fundamental cultural religious practices? Is this course for aspiring and practicing ministers or for agnostics and atheists or for leaders and well – or everyone? Knowledge is power this easy to read course delivers both in force.
Lesson five discusses esoteric and exoteric (ex- made available to the public) components of religion – what we should all know or what only a few of us know or are informed of. I think this is one of the failures of the Christian religion allowing too much agnosticism and atheism to invade it worldwide as we should all have access to the same core religious information. Today this is more possible than ever. One only needs to be motivated to learn. This course, available to any ULC Seminary participant, significantly helps mitigate the esoteric - exoteric knowledge gap.
How about some interesting theories – consider this excerpt from lesson six:
" … The rabbis represented this aspect of the tablets (Ten Commandments)by assuming a square shape, with the ten commandments graven in normal Hebrew right to left order, but also left to right; in normal top to bottom order, but also bottom to top. Because the commandments were carved completely through the stone, they could be read both by Moses and those facing him. … In Tiferet Yisrael, (Chapter 35, pp. 101-102 in standard editions) R. Judah Loew, the Maharal " !!!!! I (Ed Codish) am going to suggest a way to read Jewish sacred texts, including Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, Mishna, Gemmara, Midrash, and rabbinical commentaries on these. …"
Lesson eight and nine are a mini encyclopedia of numerous religious symbols. Lesson ten is about prayer:
" … Although meditation, contemplation and prayer are all methods used to interact with the Divine, each has nuances of discrete differences in methodology, purpose …"
Lesson eleven discusses eschatology and the puzzle of the ages; why do bad things happen to righteous people? Does bad beget a condemned hereafter or does one recycle and is offered a second, third fourth … chance to get it right?
" … For most religions, suffering is the result of human failing or the lack of human understanding. In monotheistic religions, suffering is wrapped up in the concept of sin and human failing. In the Eastern religions, suffering is the result of humankind's lack of understanding, or enlightenment. … What makes a sin depends on the religion.
Does this sound familiar – from lesson eleven:
Purification through a ritualistic baptism was required of all faithful, who took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread to symbolize the body and blood of God…".
The above commentary is of Persian mythology of Mithras!
Lesson twelve is of ceremonies. Lesson thirteen about sacred space and lesson fourteen is about reverent and lay titles. These are great summaries and if you can download the captive pictures within the text there are excellent descriptive graphics. (With my Vista browsers integrated graphic downloading was sadly hit and miss.) Lesson fifteen is a brief on the sacred texts. Like the Prajnaparamita and Diamond Sutra(s), Isalm's Hadith, the Dasam Granth and Zen-Avesta! When one discuses 'Holy' scripture one inevitably has to explain this:
" … insistence on … "inerrancy" raises all sorts of practical problems for interpreters, who sometimes find themselves scrambling to explain away blatant inconsistencies in factual data such as chronology or geography. … Some religions make written texts widely and freely available, while others hold that sacred secrets must remain hidden from all but the loyal and the initiate …" ( i.e esoteric vs. exoteric knowledge).
Lesson sixteen is about those divine messengers like angles, daevas, kachinas, hunmanits, and of course human prophets. One has to ponder the effects one ancient religion had on another. By example this statement about Zoroastrian angels:
" … It is believed, that the Guardian Angel takes a person in an ecstatic embrace at the moment of death.
Zoroastrians also believe that corresponding to the Lord of Light there is also a Lord of Darkness, with complementary demons and evil spirits, and it is felt that in the battle between light and darkness the forces of light will eventually win. …"
Well, there is more, but why should I give the ending away and ruin the whole movie for everyone! I lament the course is not YET available in printed media (thus with all the graphics!) as it deserves to be complete and on my reference shelf vs. being tucked away on my flash drive – not a fitting place for such a fine effort from the ULC Seminary catalog of courses - this one " … created by Rev. Kythera Ann." My congratulations!
Permission to reprint this course summary is extended to ULC Seminary – Rev. Nick Federspiel
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