Religion For Dummies book cover

Religion For Dummies

Published: August 16, 2002

Overview

Why are we here?
How should we live?
What happens after we die?
Why does evil exist?

Religion For Dummies explains how the world’s great religions answer questions that persist through generations. Authors Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman are trusted religious advisors known as the God Squad. With wonderful wit and incredible wisdom, they host a daily talk show which reaches nearly 4 million homes in the New York area, and have appeared on numerous TV and radio shows.

This book is not a scholarly theological treatise; it’s a lively, practical, hands-on resource that will help you better understand your own religion and others. You’ll explore:

  • Religion's role in the family and in the workplace
  • The beliefs and practices of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions
  • Religion's impact during major passages in life such as birth, death, and marriage
  • How to join a religion and how to pray
  • How religion can help you deal with issues in every day life such as conflict, adversity, marriage, divorce, and more
  • Religious rituals and ethics

Religion for Dummies touches on lesser-known religions (such as, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism). It explores how people of various faiths pray, celebrate life and death, and view moral issues. The book does not tell you what to believe, but rather encourages you to live as you believe and let your religion infuse every aspect of your life. It doesn’t give simple answers to haunting, complex questions; it helps you find your own answers and pursue your own spiritual path!

Why are we here?
How should we live?
What happens after we die?
Why does evil exist?

Religion For Dummies explains how the world’s great religions answer questions that persist through generations. Authors Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman are trusted religious advisors known as the God Squad. With wonderful wit and incredible wisdom, they host a daily talk show which reaches nearly 4 million homes in the New York area, and have appeared on numerous TV and radio shows.

This book is not a scholarly theological treatise; it’s a lively, practical, hands-on resource that will help you better understand your own religion and others. You’ll explore:

  • Religion's role in the family and in the workplace
  • The beliefs and practices of Christianity,
Judaism, Islam, and other religions
  • Religion's impact during major passages in life such as birth, death, and marriage
  • How to join a religion and how to pray
  • How religion can help you deal with issues in every day life such as conflict, adversity, marriage, divorce, and more
  • Religious rituals and ethics
  • Religion for Dummies touches on lesser-known religions (such as, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism). It explores how people of various faiths pray, celebrate life and death, and view moral issues. The book does not tell you what to believe, but rather encourages you to live as you believe and let your religion infuse every aspect of your life. It doesn’t give simple answers to haunting, complex questions; it helps you find your own answers and pursue your own spiritual path!

    Religion For Dummies Cheat Sheet

    Knowing the people who founded and shaped major religions of the world — along with fundamental beliefs and practices of Buddhism, Islam, and Shinto — will lead you to a better understanding of religion.

    Articles From The Book

    9 results

    General Religion & Spirituality Articles

    Eid al-Fitr: Focusing on Charitable Acts

    At the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, families break the fast and celebrate during a three-day festival called Eid al-Fitr (Eid means "recurring event,"and Fitr means "break"). It is also known as HariRaya Puasa in Southeast Asia and Seker Bayrami in Turkey. Greetings of "Eid-Mubarak!" ("A Blessed Eid!") fill the air. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated during the months of April and May. The dates change every year in the Gregorian calendar (also known as the Western or Christian calendar) because Muslims, for religious matters, use a lunar calendar -- one that follows the phases of the moon. Within the Islamic calendar, the holiday takes place during the ninth month of the year. Although festivities include family gatherings, new clothes, and feasting, a strong focus remains on giving alms. Charity, especially to the poor and needy, is central to Islam, as represented by its inclusion in the Five Pillars of Islam (the basic tenets of the religion). An economically self-sufficient Muslim is expected to give alms in an act called zakat in Arabic. Giving to charity shows that one's faith in Allah is true and that material possessions do not control his or her life.

    Eid al-Fitr follows specific Islamic concepts

    In Islam, this "charity" isn't so much giving because of sympathy for a cause or because of a catastrophe. Rather, it's a regular, sacrificial giving (much like charitable offerings at church) that — in addition to helping the needy — reaffirms the following Islamic ideas:
    • Everything belongs to Allah, even those material possessions that people think they own. By sacrificing these things for the sake of Allah, people are just giving things back to their rightful owner.
    • Nothing should be hoarded. Society works best when things — including money and resources — flow naturally. By giving things away that you don't need or use, you give people who can use them or may need them the opportunity to do so. In this way, you save yourself from greed, and you prevent envy and jealousy in others.
    Islam also developed another element of charity called waqf. The waqf is a way of endowing money or land to be devoted to the maintenance of mosques, shrines, schools, hospitals, and other public works in Muslim lands.

    General Religion & Spirituality Articles

    Making a Joyful Noise in Religious Ritual

    You don't necessarily have to pray and worship quietly. Many people communicate with God through noise and movement. Singing and chanting — otherwise known as letting your voices be heard — are part of the histories of most world religions. This "beautiful noise" often combines with movement such as dancing — ranging from the Native American Sun Dance to the Sufi whirling dervish — to create an experience that enables the participants to transcend beyond themselves. It's about letting go, giving yourself up to the divine ecstasy that is found in God's love. These actions are often part of the rites of passage found among most religions. Singing, chanting, dancing, and whirling can bring people together, part of the communal experience that unites people of faith.

    Singing and chanting

    At some point in your life, you've probably participated in — or witnessed — some religious celebration that involves the singing of religious songs. Songs and prayers have a close connection in scripture because some songs are prayers and some prayers are songs. Nearly all religions have some tradition, song, or chant, used as a part of prayer and worship.

    Om . . . : Chanting and sound in Eastern religions

    Chanting crosses international boundaries. Among the Hindu religions, chanting dates back to ancient times. For Hindus, the chanting of the Rig-Veda and the Yajur Veda (created to be chanted by priests during sacrifices) is a methodical rearrangement of many of the verses of the Rig-Veda with the addition of prose. The chanting is based on various tones and syllables with a type of heightened speech and one syllable to a tone. Brahmin priests chant the Vedas during rites of passage, such as weddings and funerals.

    Although Vedic chanting (as well as devotional songs called bhajans) has been a prominent part of the Hindu religious culture for countless generations (almost 3,000 years), in the twenty-first century, the majority of Vedic chanting is found in India. Today, the Hare Krishna movement is bringing many of the teachings of the ancient Hindu scriptures — primarily derived from the Bhagavad-Gita ("Song of the Lord") — into Western society.

    In Japan, the Shinto faithful perform chants, known as norito, during rituals. These chants are part of the music Shinto worshippers offer the gods as praise and entertainment. Chanting Buddhist hymns is known as shomyo. In both Shinto and Buddhism, chanting enables adherents to participate in their own divine communication.

    Sing, sing a song: Music in Western religions

    You can find chanting among the Western religions, too. In Judaism, you can find a wonderful example of the interweaving of singing and chanting into the religious experience. The hazzan, or cantor, directs all liturgical prayer and chanting when Jews come together in the synagogue. If no cantor is present, a skilled layperson, called the ba'al tefilah, chants the prayers, which the congregation then repeats. If you have the opportunity to visit a synagogue during prayer services, you can see for yourself the power of this rhythmic back and forth chanting of praise and devotion to God.

    Chanting became part of the Roman Catholic Church during the days of Pope Gregory I (circa 590–604 B.C.E.). The Gregorian chant is the monophonic liturgical music of the Catholic Church; it was first used to accompany the text of the mass. The Gregorian chant has evolved over the centuries, becoming one of the many lyrical ways that Christian faithful offer praise or prayer to God.

    Today, the music of the church includes both chants and songs, such as religious psalms. Psalm tone is the melodic recitation that is used in the singing of psalms and canticles (or text) of the Bible. Think of the psalm tone as a two-part formula that enables the faithful to use the proper intonation to express the feelings in their heart.

    The Muslim Qari (professional class of reciters of the Qur'an) become so focused and impassioned in their recitation of the Qur'an that they appear to be "chanting" as they communicate with Allah. While singing is not permitted among the Muslim faithful, the chanting to Allah is viewed as a powerful form of prayer. The Qari seem to lose themselves in this form of prayer. This intoning or chanting of the Qur'an is known as tajwid.

    Responsorial singing (style of singing in which a leader alternates with a chorus) is part of many Christian worship services. However, you can find this type of singing in traditions beyond Christianity, commonly among the folk music of many cultures, including the indigenous religions of the world.

    Song and sound in indigenous religions

    The combination of chanting and singing is present among the tribes of the North American nations, the thousands of African tribes, and the first peoples of Australia.

    Many of the sacred songs, such as the ones sung by the Native Americans — such as the Hopi or the Zuni (from the Pueblo Nation) — are affiliated with rituals and rites of passage. Through these songs, worshipers ask the gods to listen to their pleas for rain, crops, and other elements needed for survival.

    Many indigenous religions combine singing and chanting with dancing in order to create a highly energetic offering to the spirits. One of the most famous rituals was the Ghost Dance of Native American tribes in the western United States. Using music and dance, and performing the ritual over a period of four or five consecutive nights, Native Americans sought to rejuvenate their traditional cultures, oust the white man from the land, and return to their traditional way of life. The combination of song — actually, sounding like repeated chanting — and prayers ask for intervention from the divine. White Americans, blaming the Ghost Dance on Native American uprisings, outlawed its performance.

    Dancing and whirling

    Movement is inextricably tied with the music and songs of prayer. Although some restrictions may be placed upon specific types of dancing — for example, in orthodox Judaism, men and women are not allowed to dance together, and during the Middle Ages, the Christian church didn't allow dancing (some groups, such as Southern Baptists, still prohibit dancing) — dancing remains popular throughout many religions today.

    Dance is a form of celebration. If you've ever attended a Jewish wedding, you've probably witnessed the horah, a communal dance in which family and friends raise the bride and groom onto chairs to honor the unity of their love and their roles in perpetuating Judaism (with marriage comes the promise of children). Still, dance as part of religious rituals and rites of passage is most common in indigenous religions and in the religions and cultures of the Middle East:

    • In Africa, dance is as varied in style and function as the music of Africa. Dancing plays a critical role in rituals such as naming of infants, weddings, and funerals. African dancing includes both individual and group dancing.
    • Among Native Americans, the rain dance is one of the most well-known rituals. A group performs this dance to ask for divine intervention in bringing rain. This dance is nature-oriented, and dancers usually perform it outdoors so to be closer to the power above. In Native American culture, both men and women perform the ritualistic circle and line dances. Circle dancing was popular among the once great hunting peoples, such as the Navajo nation. Line dancing was found among the people who were the great agriculturists — such as the Iroquois and the Pueblo nations. Line dancing is also found among the first peoples of Australia.
    • In the East, one of the more well-known forms of religious dance is the dervish (defined as doorway), founded in the thirteenth century. The whirling dervish is a Sufi dancer (an Islamic mystic) who performs the intoxicating religious ritual. In the dance, the dancer goes into a prayer trance to Allah. The dance of the dervish is accompanied by music and chanting as his movements build in intensity. At the height of the ceremony, the dervish is considered to be spinning in ecstasy.
      People in Middle Eastern countries believe that the dervish goes so deeply into prayer that his body becomes open to receive the energy of God. Dervishes derive not only energy from Allah but also words and messages, which they transcribe and rehearse for others. According to Sufis, the dervish is considered an instrument of God, who retains God's power only during the solemn ceremony.

    As the communities of the faithful continue to grow, the celebration of prayer through actions such as singing, chanting, dancing, and whirling will forever be part of the rituals and rites of passage of the world's religions.

    General Religion & Spirituality Articles

    Exploring Religious Ethics in Daily Life

    Religious ethics are the moral principles that guide religions and that set the standard for what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Surprisingly similar from one religion to the next, these fundamental principles flow from the core beliefs and ancient wisdom of religion, as well as its teachers and traditions.

    Virtues are standards for ethical, moral conduct — they enable you to look at yourself in the mirror every morning without cringing. Personal virtues, such as humility, gratitude, and hope honor God or, in Eastern religions, reflect a higher state of being.

    The golden rule: A universal principle

    As a small child, you may have grabbed a toy from your playmate, who, of course, immediately started to wail. You'd then hear your mom/dad/teacher say something like, "Well, how would you like it if someone did that to you?!"

    Sound familiar? The lesson these adults were trying to teach is what is popularly known in the West as the "golden rule." This rule commands people to get beyond their own selfishness and self-absorbed isolation. The golden rule serves as a reminder that what hurts us hurts others, and that what heals us, heals others.

    In nearly all the world's religions, personal morality begins with this simple concept: Treat others as you would like to be treated. As such, the golden rule is perhaps the most basic of the personal virtues.

    The different faiths all have their own version of this universal message:

    • "Not one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself" (40 Hadith of an-Nawawi 13, Islam).
    • "Wound not others, do no one injury by thought or deed, utter no word to pain thy fellow creatures" (The Law Code of Manu, Hinduism).
    • "Do not do to others what you would not like yourself" (The Analects 12:2, Confucianism).
    • "If you do not wish to be mistreated by others, do not mistreat anyone yourself" (Counsels of Adurbad 92, Zoroastrianism).
    • "We obtain salvation by loving our fellow man and God" (Granth Japji 21, Sikhism).
    • "Having made oneself the example, one should neither slay nor cause to slay. . . . As I am, so are other beings; thus let one not strike another, nor get another struck. That is the meaning" (Dhammapada, Buddhism).
    • "One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire" (Anusansana Parva 113.8, Hinduism).
    • "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18, Judaism).
    • "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (Matthew 7:12, Christianity).

    Compassion

    The word compassion means, "to suffer with." Having compassion means that you can feel others' pain. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, showing compassion to others is how believers imitate the infinite kindness and mercy that God showers upon them. Although humans' capacity for compassion and kindness isn't limitless, as God's is, believers strive to nurture it, even when doing so is hard, because it brings them closer to God.

    One of the central virtues of Buddhism is karuna, understanding and identifying with the suffering of all living beings. Karuna is the reason that some people who achieve enlightenment return to this world as Bodhisattvas to teach others. Their compassion is so great, they return to a world that needs them. In Hinduism, compassion is called daya, and, along with charity and self-control, it is one of the three central virtues in Hinduism.

    Humility

    In the monotheistic religions, humility is a sign of respect for God and awareness that all blessings flow from God to whom all thanks are due. In Judaism, for example, Moses is considered virtuous primarily because of his humility.

    Christianity provides the classic religious statement of humility in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed be the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Jesus' point here, which other religious traditions echo, is that the secular world recognizes and rewards power and wealth, but the religious world lifts up the ones whom the world has passed over and crushed. Humility, therefore, is not just a virtue, but also an opposite virtue from the ones that the nonreligious world prizes.

    In Islam (which itself means surrender), humility is a primary virtue. Muslims demonstrate their awareness of the greatness of God and humankind's place in the world by observing the Five Pillars of their faith. Each pillar reinforces the proper order of the universe.

    Taoism focuses believers' thoughts on the awesome beauty and wonder of Nature. As you ponder the magnificence of Nature, you learn to respect our place relative to the stars and the seasons — a humbling experience.

    Through humility, Buddhists can release anger and learn to live a life free from attachments and suffering.

    Hope

    Many of the sacred Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts and rituals include the idea of hope. In Christianity, it's one of the three cardinal virtues (the other two being faith and love). In Islam, it's the understanding that Allah knows all; what happens, happens for a reason, and the faithful will be rewarded in paradise and the irreligious punished in hell.

    In the world's religions, hope is made possible by human limitations. Most people don't know the future and, because they don't know it, they fear it. Hope reduces this fear. In religion, hope is closely linked with what comes after death.

    For Christians, the hope that sustains them is the hope for the speedy second coming of Jesus as the Christ and eternal life in Heaven. This hope sustains Christians through what they often perceive to be the immorality of the earthly kingdom.

    In Zoroastrianism, Islam, and, to a lesser extent, Judaism, the hope is life or some form of existence after death. That belief in the world to come is a sustaining virtue. Knowing that death isn't the end helps people believe that no burden is too great to bear and that they won't be separated forever from the people they love.

    Of course, monotheistic faiths aren't the only ones that consider hope a virtue. In Buddhism, hope springs from the idea that any person can attain enlightenment.

    Religious hopefulness is not the same thing as optimism. Optimism is the attitude that things are great. Religious hopefulness is actually built upon the idea that things aren't so great, but that we don't see the whole picture. The incompleteness of human knowing is met by the hope that the world holds more promise than we can see from our limited perspective.