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This place matters

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Light, Many Windows

I've noticed that I'm perpetually returning to themes in this blog, religion being one of them. It's an odd thing for me to go on talking about God and such. I'm pretty secular as far as things go, but one thing about being a Unitarian is that every time you go to church you're learning something new about one faith or another, and it leads to lots of brain drippings. And since my brain drips into this here blog, this here blog is going to talk about religion once again. More precisely, about the names of religions and what they mean.

  • Quakers: The official name for this denomination is Religious Society of Friends. Quaker is sort of a nickname, possibly once pejorative, a scriptural reference to "trembling at the word of the lord." The Online Etymology Dictionary says this origin is probably apocryphal, rather, quaker was just a general term given to sects prone to shaking with religious fervor. I kind of lean toward the trembling at the word of the lord explanation myself.
    Quakers, by my best definition, are folks who believe that God reveals him or herself to all - people don't necessarily need intermediaries to experience God or Christ; they can experience the divine by listening. Traditionally, Quakers believe in peace, simplicity, and social action. A Quaker professor from my college (one of them) told a class that Quakers are like Buddhists who sit in chairs, although that doesn't seem to be true for all congregations.
    Quakers do not have a religious symbol, which seems sort of refreshing to me, somehow. Do holy symbols exist to keep us apart from each other, to make us choose sides? Is the chalice I wear (or more accurately, keep in my jewelry box and mean to wear) my way of telling people that I'm different or even better than them? It seems to me that Quakers believe it is far better to live one's faith than to wear it around one's neck.
  • Lutherans: It just struck me as ironic that Luther thought that the Catholics put way too much time into idolizing the saints when they should be idolizing God, yet the Lutherans named their religion after him.
  • Atheists: I feel like I've got to clear up some misconceptions here. Atheism comes from ancient Greek: a meaning without and theos, meaning God. Originally a pejorative term for someone who does not believe in the Greek pantheon (meaning, by extension, that we're all atheists by the ancient Greeks' definition). So an atheist is a person who does not believe in a sentient or anthropomorphic deity. That does not, however, mean that atheists believe in nothing or hold nothing sacred. Unless they also happen to be nihilists which from the Latin nihil literally means nothing-ist. Many atheists are skeptical and believe that science trumps religion, but that belief is not essential to atheism. Nor is rejection of all things supernatural: I've known atheists who believed in ghosts and astrology, though not many. 
  • Agnostics: From the Greek a for without and gnosis, for knowing. Agnostics do not know whether God exists and/or don't believe it's possible to know. Agnostics are not, as some have said, wishy-washy: they tend to be people who don't believe there's enough evidence to form a conclusion either way. Agnostics, I've found, don't tend to fall easily into a category. Some agnostics are apathetic to whether God exists, some who think that God exists but just aren't sure, some for whom the jury is simply still out, and some who think it's just not possible to ever know, and so think it's a waste of time to wonder. Some of the most spiritual people, people most interested in learning about faith that I know are agnostics.
  • Buddhists: I've said this before, but it's one of my pet peeves: Buddhists do not worship Buddha (well, the vast majority do not).  In fact, Buddha is a term for anyone who has achieved enlightenment (from the Sanskrit for awakened one). When Buddhists talk about THE Buddha, they are referring to Siddhartha Gautama, a guy from India who lived a couple hundred years before Christ and whose teachings form the basis for modern-day Buddhism. There is no deity central to Buddhism, so many Buddhists are also atheists or agnostics. Buddhists aren't particularly easily lumped together, and Buddhisms teachings can't really be summarized in a couple of sentences. My understanding however, is that Buddhists believe that attachment to worldly things and comforts brings about suffering, and that when we can end desires for things, we achieve nirvana, the state of being free from suffering. And helping free others from suffering, I think. Interesting note: the big fat-bellied bald grinning statue dude is NOT a statue of the Buddha (i.e., Siddhartha Gautama). He is a Chinese historical figure - a monk by the name of Budai who lived around the tenth century CE.


denny16 said...

Now I was also of the understanding that some Agnostics might accept the possibility that there might be a God, but whether or not he has any effect on our lives (or the presence of an afterlife with Him) is up for debate. Or at least this was the opinion of my former boss who called himself Agnostic.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

You are correct, Denny, that's another flavor of agnosticism. Spelled agnosticism right on the first try!

Things To Do said...

I like the name Religious Society of Friends much more than the name Quakers. I don't remember ever learning about that before.