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Atheism, in its broadest sense, is an absence of belief in the existence of any deities. That is, all who do not have such a belief—whether they are nontheists, agnostics, or even Buddhists—are covered under this term. Atheism can also be defined more narrowly as the active rejection of the existence of gods, either of a specific or general kind, or even that gods can exist. Generally speaking, atheism refers to a lack of belief in all deities for whatever reason. Although atheists often share common concerns regarding empirical evidence and the scientific method of investigation and a large number are skeptics, there is no single ideology that all atheists share. Additionally, there are atheists who are religious or spiritual, though many of these would not describe themselves as atheists.
Here's an insightful set of frequently asked questions by atheists on religion - Why does religion exist? Who is god?
Here's an interesting pamphlet on issues relating to theism and atheism. Also see Ken's Guide to the Bible.
More resources on religious skepticism. 49 Proofs on Why God May Not Exist | Is religion good for society? | Religious Quotes | Essays on God and Religion | Lectures on Religion & Q&As | Funny videos about religion | The Holy Bible Revealed | Questions For Christians | Freethinker/atheist/agnostic encylopedia
Agnosticism is the philosophical view that the truth values of certain claims—particularly theological claims regarding the existence of a god, gods, or deities—are unknown, inherently unknowable, or incoherent, and therefore, (some agnostics may go as far to say) irrelevant to life. The term and the related agnostic were coined by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869, and are also used to describe those who are unconvinced or noncommittal about the existence of deities as well as other matters of religion. The word agnostic comes from the Greek a (without) and gnosis (knowledge). Agnosticism, focusing on what can be known, is an epistemological position (dealing with the nature and limits of human knowledge); while atheism and theism are ontological positions (a branch of metaphysics that deals with what types of entities exist). Agnosticism is not to be confused with a view specifically opposing the doctrine of gnosis and Gnosticism—these are religious concepts that are not generally related to agnosticism.
The Roman Catholic Church, with 980 million followers, is the largest Christian church in the world. It claims direct historical descent from the church founded by the apostle Peter. The Pope in Rome is the spiritual leader of all Roman Catholics. He administers church affairs through bishops and priests. Members accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible, as well as the church's interpretations of these. God's grace is conveyed through seven Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, or Communion, celebrated at Mass-the regular worship service. The other six Sacraments are: Baptism-cleansing a soul of the legacy of Adam and Eve's Original Sin; Confirmation-reaffirmation of one's Catholic faith; Penance-confession of sins and prayer; Holy Orders-ordination into priesthood; Matrimony-church-sanctioned marriage; Extreme Unction-anointing of the dying. Redemption through Jesus Christ is professed as the sole method of obtaining salvation, which is necessary to ensure a place in heaven after life on earth.
A religion with 648 million followers, Hinduism developed from indigenous religions of India in combination with Aryan religions brought to India around 1500 BC. It was codified in the Veda and the Upanishads-the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. Hinduism is a broad term used to describe a vast array of sects to which most Indians belong. Although many Hindus reject the caste system-a belief that people are born into a particular subgroup that determines their religious, social, and work-related duties-it is widely accepted. This system classifies society at large into four groups: Brahmins or priests; rulers and warriors; farmers and merchants; and peasants and laborers. The goals of Hinduism are the release from repeated reincarnation through the practice of yoga, adherence to Vedic scriptures, and devotion to a personal guru. Various deities are worshipped at shrines; the Divine Trinity-representing the cyclical nature of the universe-are: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
Islam has 840 million followers around the world. It was founded by the prophet Mohammed, who received the holy scriptures of Islam, the Koran, from Allah (God) c. A.D. 610. Islam (Arabic for "submission to God") maintains that Mohammed is the last in a long line of holy prophets, preceded by Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. In addition to being devoted to the Koran, followers of Islam (Muslims) are devoted to the worship of Allah through the Five Pillars: the Statement: "There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet;" Prayer, conducted five times a day while facing Mecca; the giving of alms; the keeping of the fast of Ramadan during the ninth month of the Muslim year; and the making of a pilgrimage at least once to Mecca, if possible. The two main divisions of Islam are the Sunni and the Shiite. The Wahabis are the most important Sunni sect, while the Shiite sects include the Assassins, the Druses, and the Fatimids, among countless others.
Stemming from the descendants of Judah in Judea, Judaism was founded c. 2000 B.C. by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It has 18 million followers in the U.S. Judaism espouses belief in a monotheistic God, creator of the universe, who leads His people, the Jews, by speaking through prophets. His word is revealed in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament), especially in the part known as the Torah. According to rabbinic tradition, the Torah also contains a total of 613 biblical commandments, including the Ten Commandments, which are explicated in the Talmud. Jews believe that the human condition can be improved; that the letter and the spirit of the Torah must be followed; and that a Messiah will eventually bring the world to a state of paradise. Judaism promotes community among all people of Jewish faith, dedication to a synagogue or temple (the basic social unit of a group of Jews, led by a rabbi), and the importance of family life. Religious observance takes place both at home and in temple. Judaism is divided into three main groups who vary in their interpretation of those parts of the Torah that deal with personal, communal, international, and religious activities: the Orthodox community, which views the Torah as derived from God, and therefore absolutely binding; the Reform movement, which follows primarily its ethical content; and the Conservative Jews, who follow most of the observances set out in the Torah but allow for change in the face of modern life. A fourth group, Reconstructionist Jews, rejects the concept of the Jews as God's chosen people, yet maintains rituals as part of the Judaic cultural heritage.
With 250 million followers worldwide, the Orthodox Eastern Church is the second largest Christian community in the world. The followers of the Orthodox Church are in fact members of many different denominations, including the Church of Greece, the Church of Cyprus, and the Russian Orthodox Church. It began its split from the Roman Catholic Church in the fifth century. The break was finalized in 1054. The Orthodox agree doctrinally in accepting as ecumenical the first seven Ecumenical councils (Doctrine was established by seven ecumenical councils held between 325 and 787, and amended by other councils in the late Byzantine period.), and in rejecting the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome (the Pope). Orthodox religion holds biblical Scripture and tradition-guided by the Holy Spirit as expressed in the consciousness of the entire Orthodox community-to be the source of Christian truth. It rejects doctrine developed by the Western churches. The word Orthodox became current at the time of the defeat (753) of iconoclasm in Constantinople. It also involves holding a sacramental doctrine of grace, and of veneration of the Virgin Mary-two points differentiating the Orthodox from Protestants. Relations between the Orthodox churches and Roman Catholicism have improved since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Founded by John Smyth in England in 1609, and by Roger Williams in Rhode Island in 1638. The Baptist Church has 32 million members, and no creed; authority stems from the Bible. Most Baptists oppose the use of alcohol and tobacco. Baptism is by total immersion.
Organized by Presbyterians in Kentucky in 1804, and in Pennsylvania in 1809. It has 1.3 million members. Members believe in the New Testament, and they follow what is written in the Bible without elaboration. Rites are simple. Baptism is of adults.
King Henry VIII of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church with the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which declared the king of England to be the head of the Church of England. The Church of England has 6,000 Anglican Orthodox Church members in the U.S. Supremacy of the Bible is the test of doctrine, but The Episcopal Church grants great latitude in interpretation of doctrine. Although it subscribes to the historic Creeds-the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles' Creed-it considers the Bible to be divinely inspired, and holds the Eucharist or Lord's Supper to be the central act of Christian worship. It tends to stress less the confession of particular beliefs than the use of the Book of Common Prayer in public worship. This book, first published in the sixteenth century, even in its revisions, stands today as a major source of unity for Anglicans around the world. The Church of England is part of the Anglican community, represented in the United States mainly by the Episcopal Church.
This U.S. offshoot of the Church of England has 2.7 million members. It installed Samuel Seabury as its first bishop in 1784, and held its first General Convention in 1789. The Church of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Worship is based on the Book of Common Prayer and interpretation of the Bible using a modified version of the Thirty-Nine Articles (originally written for the Church of England in 1563). Services range from spartan to ornate, from liberal to conservative. Baptism is of infants.
The Lutheran Church has 8 million members in the U.S. It is based on the writings of Martin Luther (1483-1586), who broke with the Roman Catholic Church, and led the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. That document contained an attack on papal abuses and the sale of indulgences by church officials. The first Lutheran congregation in North America was founded in 1638 in Wilmington, Delaware. The first North American regional synod was founded in 1748 by Heinrich Melchior Muhlenberg. Faith is based on the Bible. Salvation comes through faith alone. Services include the Lord's Supper (communion). Lutherans are mostly conservative in religious and social ethics; infants are baptized, the church is organized in synods. The two largest synods in the United States are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
Methodism has 13.5 million members in the U.S. It was founded by the Reverend John Wesley, who began evangelistic preaching with the Church of England in 1738. A separate Wesleyan Methodist Church was established in 1791. The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in the United States in 1784. The name derives from the founders' desire to study religion "by rule and method," and follow the Bible interpreted by tradition and reason. Worship varies by denomination within Methodism (the United Methodist Church is the largest congregation). The church is perfectionist in social dealings. Methodists have Communion and they perform baptism of infants and adults.
The churches grew out of the "holiness movement" that developed among Methodists and Protestants in the first decade of the twentieth century. There are some 3.5 million followers today in the U.S. Pentecostals believe in baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, faith healing, and the second coming of Jesus. Of the various Pentecostal churches, the Assemblies of God is the largest. A perfectionist attitude toward secular affairs is common. Services feature enthusiastic sermons and hymns, and Pentecostals practice adult baptism and communion.
Presbyterianism in the U.S. grew out of the Calvinist Churches of Switzerland and France. John Knox founded the first Presbyterian Church in Scotland in 1557. The first presbytery in North America was established by Irish missionary, Francis Makemie, in 1706. For 3.2 million members of the Presbyterian Church, faith is in the Bible. Sacraments are infant baptism and communion. The church is organized as a system of courts in which clergy and lay members (presbyters) participate at local, regional, and national levels. Services are simple, with emphasis on the sermon.
Grew out of the teachings of William Miller in the 1840s. Formally founded in North America in 1863. For 734,527 adherents, the Bible is the only creed. They emphasize the second coming of Jesus. Members abstain from alcoholic beverages and tobacco. They dedicate their infants to God in the same way that Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to God. They reserve baptism until people can choose for themselves whether they accept Christ's atonement on the cross for their sins, and want to follow Him as their Savior.
United Church of Christ
Formed in 1957 by the union of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches. Belief in the Bible is guided by the Statement of Faith (written in 1959). The church is organized by congregations, which are represented at a general synod that sets policy. Services are simple, with emphasis on the sermon. They practice infant baptism, and communion.
Christian Convention, "two by two", "Coon", "Cooneyite", "Cooney", "The Truth", "The Way", "The Fellowship", etc., are names of so-called non-denominal Christian churches. Members are often encouraged to refer to themselves only as "Christians". This church began with a preaching movement in southern Ireland in the late 19th Century and has since spread throughout the world. Distinguishing features of the church are a homeless, itinerant ministry, and church gatherings in homes of adherents. Ownership of church property and buildings is rejected. Evangelism is carried out in rented public facilities. The church keeps no official headquarters and provides no official contact information beyond local lists of missionaries. Church missionaries are called "workers" and are considered to be celibate, and to sell their posessions and give them to the poor or to the church because the Apostles "left all to follow Christ". Church members are called "friends." Individual church leaders are called "elders" and are always male, and must have a "reputable marriage" and excellent reputation among the church's membership. Church gatherings are called "meetings" and follow typically on Sudnay, with mid-week bible study meetings. The church has various social practices including: women wear hair long, men wear hair short, clean-shaven or well-groomed facial hair; women do not wear jewelry and done feminine attire such as dresses. The church believes that salaried ministry is not compatible with the teachings of Jesus, as is the ownership of real estate and espousing worldly posessions; preferring a homeless, wandering ministry in the spirit of Jesus' ministry. The church also practices "Living Witness doctrine" which states that "only something that is living can reproduce life" so that a person can only be "saved" by accepting the preaching of a preacher (worker) of the church (a "living witness").
Founded by Joseph Smith, in upstate New York in 1830, then in Ohio in 1831. After two more attempts to establish a permanent home for the church (the second one resulting in Smith's death at the hands of a mob), the Mormons trekked to Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young, and established headquarters in what was to become Salt Lake City in 1847. For its 9.5 million members, faith is based on the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, all of which are considered scripture as well as the Holy Bible. Stress is placed on revelation through the connection of spiritual and physical worlds and through proselytizing. Members abstain from alcohol and tobacco, and believe in community and self-reliance. Public services are conservative. Mormons have baptism, the laying on of hands, and communion. They have a temple for certain secret ceremonies, including baptism for the dead. Mormons religiously pursue genealogy, in the belief that the departed souls of relatives can be saved, retroactively, by living family members of the Church.
Founded by Charles T. Russell in the United States in the late nineteenth century. Some 6,000,000 members believe in the imminent second coming of Christ and the potential salvation of mortal souls during the millennium. All members are ministers who proselytize their faith with door-to-door missionary work. Members refuse service in the armed forces, will not salute national flags, or participate in politics; will not accept blood transfusions (but will accept all other forms of medical treatment), and discourage smoking, drunkenness, and gambling.
Founded by George Fox in England in the seventeenth century, who preached a doctrine of Inner Light, and severely criticized organized churches. The Friends, who have 125,000 members in North America, believe in reliance on the Inner Light-the voice of God's Holy Spirit experienced within each person. Meetings are characterized by quiet meditation without ritual or sermon. Quakers are active in peace, education, and social welfare movements. They refuse to bear arms or take oaths. By the early 20 century, the Quaker movement was divided into 4 groups: Hicksites: a liberal wing concentrated in the eastern US, who emphasized social reform; Gurneyites: more progressive, Bible-centered Quakers who followed Joseph John Gurney, and retained pastors; Wilburites: mostly rural traditionalists, more devoted to individual spiritual inspiration, who retained the traditional Quaker speech and dress, and followed John Wilbur; Orthodox: the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting-a Christocentric group.
The denomination's 171,000 members take their origin from the merger of the Universal Church of America (organized in 1779), and the American Unitarian Association (founded in 1823). They profess no creed. They have strong social, ethical concerns, and emphasize the search for religious truth through freedom of belief. They accept theists, humanists, and agnostics in religious fellowship. They are making efforts to create a worldwide interfaith religious community. Many members come from other denominations and religions.
Rosicrucianism is a modern movement begun in 1868 by R. W. Little that claims ties to an older Society of the Rose and Cross that was founded in Germany in 1413 by Christian Rosencreuz. The number of its followers is uncertain. The Rosicrucian Brotherhood was established in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, by Reuben Swinburne Clymer in 1902. The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crusis (AMORC) was founded in San Jose, California, in 1915 by H. Spencer Lewis. Both sects could be classified as either fraternal or religious organizations, although they claim to empower members with cosmic forces by unveiling secret wisdom regarding the laws of nature.
Shinto, with 3.5 million followers in the U.S., is the ancient native religion of Japan, established long before the introduction of writing to Japan in the fifth century A.D. Originally Shinto was a polytheistic, tribal religion that originated somewhere among the peoples of Korea and Mongolia brought to Japan during the Yayoi period by migrants from the mainland and combined, possibly, with aspects of the religion of the indigenous peoples living there. Since writing doesn't appear in Japan until Chinese culture is imported into Japan, we know very little about this original form of Shinto. During most of Japanese history, it was combined with other religions and world views. When Chinese culture was imported, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and the Yin-Yang or Five Agents school were all embraced by the Japanese while still holding onto their indigenous religion. Shinto stresses belief in a great many spiritual beings and gods, known as kami ("divinities"), who are paid tribute at shrines and honored by festivals, and reverence for ancestors. While there is no overall dogma, adherents of Shinto are expected to remember and celebrate the kami, support the societies of which the kami are patrons, remain pure and sincere, and enjoy life.
Sikhism: A progressive religion well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago by Guru Nanak, who was born in Punjab, India, in 1469. Sikhs believe here is only One God, and He is the same God for all people of all religions. The soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book, and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide, and is ranked as the world's 5th largest religion.
Both a philosophy and a religion, Taoism was founded in China by Lao-tzu, believed to have been born in 604 B.C. Its number of followers is uncertain. It derives primarily from the Tao-te-ching, which claims that an ever-changing universe follows the Tao, or path. The Tao can be known only by emulating its quietude and effortless simplicity. Taoism prescribes that people live simply, spontaneously, and in close touch with nature, and that they meditate to achieve contact with the Tao. Temples and monasteries, maintained by Taoist priests, are important in some Taoist sects. Since the Communist revolution, Taoism has been actively discouraged in the People's Republic of China, although it continues to flourish in Taiwan.