Questions About Religious History We've Always Been Too Afraid To Ask
With so many religions around the world, it's a challenge to comprehend the many differences, similarities, origins, and practices of them all. It can easily turn into a game of “Who stole what from whom?” or “Who did what first?”
If you've ever wondered about the differences between Roman and Greek gods, or how different religions view the afterlife, this list is where you'll find your answer. We've also included a motley collection of some of the most common and confusing questions about the many religions humans either practiced in the past or still do. Hopefully, these religious Q&As will help to separate fact from fiction.
- Photo: Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0199 VOTES
Did Neanderthals Have Any Religious Beliefs?
Straying away from the common misconception that Neanderthals were stupid, brutish, and unintelligent, they had several customs and traditions that tell us of their advanced cognitive ability and social intelligence.
They were the first group of early humans who discovered that the act of burying their dead reduced the risk of being hunted by predators. They were also the first hominids to outfit themselves with the hides and feathers of the animals they hunted, likely for decoration. Neanderthals adorned the burial sites of their deceased friends and relatives with decorations, having been emotionally impacted by their passing and wishing to pay their respects, just as modern humans do today.
Though we have no evidence of them practicing an organized religion, it is clear that they possessed the capacity to think cognitively about life and death and could have potentially believed in an afterlife of some sort.
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What Is Zoroastrianism?
Zoroastrianism is considered to be the earliest monotheistic religion (forming around 4,000 years ago), and is currently the oldest religion still in practice today. It was created by the prophet Zoroaster, who likely lived in a tribe somewhere in modern-day Iran or Afghanistan that followed several gods in a form of polytheism similar to Hinduism.
According to Zoroastrian tradition, the prophet Zoroaster experienced a divine vision during a pagan rite at 30 years old and began preaching the worship of a single god named Ahura Mazda. It is also believed that the prevalence of Zoroastrianism, specifically during the Persian Empire before the Muslim conquest, helped shape the formation of Western religions like Christianity and Judaism.
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Did Pre-Christian Religions Believe In An Afterlife?
Prior to the spread of Christianity in the first and second centuries, there had already been several monotheistic and polytheistic belief systems around the world. The belief in an afterlife also existed within many of these religions, and the Christian concept of an afterlife was likely influenced by older religions.
Both the Greeks and the ancient Israelis believed in an afterlife, though it was neither a paradise nor a punishment. It was simply "a shadowy half-life." The Romans believed they would watch over their surviving family members as spiritual beings known as manes. The beliefs of Native Americans were as varied as the tribes scattered across their continent.
Scholars in the field of religious studies generally agree that the near-Eastern religion, Zoroastrianism, was not only the world’s first monotheistic religion, but also the first organized religion with recorded examples of a belief in the afterlife.
Believers in this religion expected to find themselves standing on a narrow bridge after they died, over which they would be led by either a maiden or a witch. Depending on their moral character, they would then pass on to either the House of Songs or the House of Lies.
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Is Nirvana An Actual Place Or A State Of Being?
Today, nirvana is translated as meaning “cool” or “to extinguish,” and is a state of mind Buddhists attempt to achieve in their lifetime. The ultimate goal is to “extinguish” oneself from the emotions that bind us to humanity. For example, finding yourself in a state of nirvana would free you from the emotion of sadness, while also freeing you from happiness.
It is a core philosophy in Buddhism and was never intended to be viewed as a physical location one could travel to, whether in this life or as an afterlife. Also, achieving nirvana in life breaks the cycle of reincarnation that Buddhists believe occurs after death; this allows the individual to rest eternally.
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When Does Ragnarök Occur?
With Norse mythology being a chronicle of events, rather than a stationary set of beliefs, Ragnarök serves as the finale to said chronicle. Fully recorded in a saga written during the 13th century in Iceland by Snorri Sturluson, it is believed to occur after three harsh winters, with no summers in between.
Ragnarök ends both the existence of humanity and the Norse gods alike, a cataclysmic event that concludes the stories of Norse mythology. Ragnarök features all the main characters in the Norse mythos. The earth will split in two and fire giants from Muspelheim will emerge to ransack the earth; Fenrir will run across the earth spewing fire; Thor will fight his archnemesis, the world serpent Jormungand; and Odin will combat Fenrir with the assistance of the warriors he has retained in Valhalla.
Ultimately only two humans, Life and Vitality, will be left to repopulate the earth.
- Photo: Unknown / Mahabharata / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain668 VOTES
Is Hinduism Monotheistic Or Polytheistic?
Hinduism is an ancient religion originating from around the Indus Valley between 2300 and 1500 BCE. Among its many components, Hinduism features a multitude of gods that represent an array of different aspects of the human experience, akin to the polytheistic Greek pantheon. The question of whether or not Hinduism is a monotheistic or polytheistic religion is a challenging one and could have multiple answers depending on the perspective that you view it with.
In a sense, the almighty god Brahman, the creator of everything, is the body in which the universe itself exists. The other gods in the Hindu faith are simply representations of aspects or qualities of Brahman that take their own form. Therefore, Hindus believe in only Brahman, yet also worship several of his qualities that maintain their own name and form, making it a monotheistic religion.
However, in practice, many Hindus admit to worshipping these qualities as independent gods exclusive of Brahman. In that sense, Hinduism could be seen as a polytheistic religion.