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What religions do you find most interesting apart from your own?

9 December 2009

Matt Stone, having passed on a meme about summarising the message of the Bible in five statements, has now come up with a new one:

What religions do you find most interesting apart from your own?

This evening I want to ask: what religions do you find most interesting apart from your own? Would you pick one of the major world religions? Say Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or Judaism? Or would you pick something more obscure, like Wicca or Taosim or Rastafarianism or Gnosticism? Would you pick irreligion, say Atheism or Agnosticism? Or if you’re not Christian, would you say Christianity?

I was thinking this could even make a good meme.

To participate, state your own religion (or irreligion) as your first preference, state the other religions that interest you most as your second and third preferences, then pass onto five others. If you’re feeling brave, say why they interest you.

Here are my religious preferences:

  1. Christianity
  2. Buddhism
  3. Hinduism

1. Christianity

Because I am a Christian, and yes, I know we are supposed to discuss religions other than our own, but I believe that our own religion influences which other ones we find attractive, or not.

2. Buddhism.

Though it’s a moot point whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. But then I might also argue that Christianity isn’t a religion either. But that’s another question, so let’s assume, for the purposes of the discussion, that both are religions.[1]

In some ways Buddhism appears to have many similarities to Christianity, and I think this is one of the things that makes it attractive. Buddhism and Christianity both have monasteries, and so this is a superficial similarity. But if one goes deeper, the similarities seem less.

In the same way, Buddhist scriptures like the Diamond Sutra seem very close to Christianity, and as one goes deeper they seem to draw closer and closer together, but at the end, just when you think they are about to meet, they suddenly jump apart to an infinite distance.

3. Hinduism

The same qualification I made about Buddhism applies even more to Hinduism. It could be said that “Hinduism” is a construct of Western modernity, and that modern Hindutva is an indication of the Westernisation of Hindusim. Hinduism is not so much a religion but a basketful of religions. Some have said that all it means is the religions of India, which includes, for example, Indian Christianity.

However one conceives this, the variety of Hindism is obvious. It includes several different philosophies, and innumerable cults. The main cults are Vaishnavite and Shaivite, but there are hundreds, possibly thousands more.

It is said that Christianity is monotheist, and Hinduism, by contrast, is polytheist, though some would say that it goes beyond monotheism to monism. Something I find interesting is that Westerners who are interested in Hinduism seem to opt for the monist variety, and Hindus themselves often seem to think that this is the aspect of Hinduism that will appeal most to Westerners. Hindus who write for Westerners often seem to place the emphasis on advaita vedanta. But that is the aspect of Hinduism I find least attractive. I like the polytheistic kind, with rituals.  I think that is a lot closer to Christianity than advaita vedanta.

Then Matt says, if you’re feeling brave, say why they interest you.

I suppose one thing is that I lived a fair proportion of my life in Durban, which has a large Hindu population. Hindu temples were part of the landscape, and lots of non-Hindus went to see the annual fire-walking ceremony at Umbilo Temple. Almost as interesting was the little tin temple down the road, with a multi-headed cobra represented on its front. The caretaker informed me one day that the cobra really did live there, and came out to drink the milk that was put out for it.

In history classes at school we learnt about Hinduism and Buddhism in connection with Indian and Asian history generally (and that was a Methodist Church school). I found it quite interesting.

And then there was fiction.

Two works of fiction, in particular, stimulated my interest in Hinduism and Buddhism. One was Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which presented both rather sympathetically (and British imperialism even more sympathetically). We read that at school as a set work, but I liked it enough to read it to my own and other people’s children as well. And the other work was Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma bums, which I have also read several times.

Now, who to tag? I tag the same people I tagged in the Bible meme. You know who you are (or don’t, as the case may be).

Another thought: wasn’t the term meme invented by Richard Dawkins, or another of those super militant atheists? Is it appropriate to borrow such a term for a religious topic?


[1] “Religion”, as it is used today when we speak of “world religions”, as a thoroughly modern category, and it is conceptually shaped by modernity., and I have my doubts about how wise it is to tie oneself to modernity like that.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 December 2009 1:53 am

    1. Eastern Orthodox Christianity of the Hellenic tradition.
    2. Iraqi Mandaeism
    3. Tongbulgyo (Korean) Buddhism

    1. I was first exposed to ancient Christianity in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, embraced Orthodoxy in the Slavonic tradition, but by geographical accident have been a communicant of the American Greek Archdiocese for the past five years (it’s the one parish in town). Christianities are so diverse and in such disagreement with each other that I find it important to be specific about one’s Church. The Hellenic tradition’s attachment to Koine and Patristic Greek in the Liturgy has helped me with my own language study; and there’s something to be said about worshiping in the language used by Christ and his apostles.

    2. Mandaeism is one of many minority religions in the Middle East. I think it’s important to remember that there are more than three Semitic religions, and that the minor Semitic faiths– Mandaeism, Druze, Samaritanism, Alevism, Yazidi, etc– are meaningful parts of Near Eastern history and culture. I find Mandaeism particularly interesting because it may be the only surviving remnant of the quasi-Christian Gnostic cults of the early centuries AD. Mandaeism shares many historical referents with Christianity but comes to drastically different conclusions.

    3. I encountered Tongbulgyo Buddhism while living in Korea. It’s the only sect of Buddhism I’ve had much interaction with, and is quite distinct from the Buddhism practiced in places like Japan, Burma, Mongolia, etc.

    Many aspects of Korean Buddhism bear external resemblance to Eastern Orthodox Christianity as I encountered it in Russia. The traditions of monasticism, pilgrimage, holy places and objects (holy water, relics, etc) all resemble the piety of the Russians. Even the architecture of temples and the styles of iconography resemble what one finds in Russian piety.

    Tongbulgyo has a heavily developed eschatology, and I understand that its piety and scriptures dwell often on what dispensationalist Evangelical Christians might call “the End Times.” The art and literature that emerges from these fantasies of apocalypse and renewal are colorful and compelling.

    • 11 December 2009 6:29 am

      Thanks for that. I know very little about those religions so even in a few paragraphs you’ve added greatly to my knowledge.

  2. 10 December 2009 12:52 pm

    Hi Steve and rjhargrav, interesting choices. I like Hinduism as well, and find it interesting that you like the polytheistic traditions within it.

    Yes, meme was coined by Richard Dawkins, by analogy with gene.

    I tend to avoid using the word if I can, because meme theory is an over-simplification of how ideas spread. Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome theory is much better.

    Also, there is another word for the smallest unit of discourse: “topos“. One could also use “motif”, though perhaps not in the context of a blog meme.

    • 11 December 2009 6:35 am

      “Topos” always reminds me of seminarians’ slang for the loo. Concerning Hinduism, it is so big that it is easy to find some aspects of it more attractive than others.

  3. 10 December 2009 8:34 pm

    Steve, Hinduism was vying for third place in my list too. It’s good that you draw out differences between folk Hinduism (with its polytheistic flavour) and philosophical Hinduism (which Westerners are more familiar with).

  4. 10 December 2009 10:10 pm

    Aside from a brief flirtation with Islam about 20 years ago I can’t say I’ve ever had any interest in other religions.

    My ‘spiritual’ interest swaps between protestantism, catholic and orthodox. For me an interesting mix!

  5. Joshua L permalink
    16 December 2009 6:39 am

    OK, as one of the few non-Xtian visitors on this forum (I’m Orthodox Jewish), I guess I should leave a post.

    1) Orthodox Judaism
    2) Buddhism
    3) Gnostic Xtianity (even if they consider my G-d to be the devil!)

    I consider Orthodox Judaism to be a sort of practical mysticism and meditative practice to some extent, among other things, so those elements in other religions I find interesting. I wanted to put Hinduism, but the focus on the worship of objects I find viscerally repugnant though their monistic theology is akin to Orthodox Judaism’s. (“Everything is G-d and G-d is Everything”, “He is the Knowledge, the Knower, and the Known.”) Buddhism is more comfortable because at least officially it’s veneration. Gnosticism I find interesting in that it has some ideas about cosmology that are sort of a twisted version of Kabbalistic ideas perhaps. I know this is an Orthodox Xtian blog but I’m not very interested in Xtianity, probably because I live in a Xtian country and familiarity makes it very non-interesting to me, as I always kind of liked the exotic and the strange. 😉

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