Study World Religion Online

The application of religion plays a huge role in the way many individuals across the world handle everything from conflict to professional work. Understanding a religion and how it is continually applied to modern society can be utilized in a variety of professions. Studying all aspects of religion can be completed through online programs in world religion.

Study features many topics like religion and theology to give students a large base of concepts. Online education is diverse allowing students to take their knowledge and apply it to a number of different careers. World religion studies teach students:

  • history
  • tradition
  • society in regards to today’s religions

To understand different cultures courses focus on specific aspects of a religion. These aspects can include:

  • rituals
  • moral systems
  • beliefs to show students how they affect today’s culture

The ability to use this education in other ways outside of religious service is possible due to the focus on religion as a whole. The concepts and principles learned are taught from a global perspective making it a good base for careers like journalism and politics. Online learning uses study to explore religion through its multiculturalism rather than the actually theology or faith.

Religious studies can be pursued from the associate’s degree level to the doctorate level. Unless students want to enter a career as religious leaders, teachers, or researchers an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree is optimal. These programs allow students to transition into other fields. It is common for students to enter a world religion program to gain a solid foundation in religion with the pursuit to work in a chosen career as faith-driven professionals. On the other hand understanding all cultures in regards to their religion can prepare students to work directly with foreign people in business, government, and more.

Students that can only dedicate a small amount of time to education should consider entering a two-year associate’s degree program online. Schooling is dedicated to helping students develop their professionalism through a comprehensive program. Students can expect to examine texts and religious values.

  • Social science
  • World civilization
  • Religious doctrine
  • Public speaking

These are courses that make up a typical online program. A course on world religion provides study on the major religions of the world. Examinations of the five major religions, which are:

  • Christian
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism

These help students learn the affect religion has on modern society. Programs usually place this type of course in the beginning of study to provide students with a strong base for advanced courses. Continuing education provides students with more training about religion and its role in society.

An online bachelor’s program provides students with a well-rounded education through general and degree specific subjects. Study centers further on religion and the role it plays in society. Other areas of exploration include learning about historical context of religion and the nation. Religious philosophy, modern religious theory and political religious theory are some online courses that have students learning about religion and culture. A religious philosophy course focuses on the values and ethics that drive religion. Discussions on history and politics examine the impact of these things on religion and vice versa. Other topics covered include life after death, fate, free will, and spiritual rebirth.

Students interested in religion and society should strongly consider an accredited online education in world religion. Accrediting agencies like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (http://www.accsc.org) is approved to fully accredit educational training programs. This accreditation is proof that students can gain a quality education. The combination of religion, writing, and research education opens many careers where students can work in counseling, healthcare, government, and more. Students can find an online college and program that offers world religion to help them use their gained understanding of religion in a career.

DISCLAIMER: Above is a GENERIC OUTLINE and may or may not depict precise methods, courses and/or focuses related to ANY ONE specific school(s) that may or may not be advertised at PETAP.org.

Copyright 2010 – All rights reserved by PETAP.org.

The God Confusion and Clearing It Up

I tend to stay up on current debates in philosophy and one debate which is always current is the existence of God. Yet when I read these debates I can’t help but feel that very little real debating is happening at all; there is a great deal of of talking and very little communicating. One example of this God Confusion is when belief in the God of monotheism is compared to belief in Zeus, Peter Pan, or pink unicorns. Many of the people making this comparison really believe that it is a valid attack which exposes the ridiculousness of theism in general while many of those theists on the receiving end are left feeling like they have been cheated or swindled but are unable to respond with anything more potent than, “well that’s not fair, that’s not what I meant” all the while having to concede the point that they do know what it is like to not-believe in Zeus.

They have in fact, both been swindled, both are victims; one is the drug addict, the other is the jilted family of the drug addict, and the drug which is so tempting and so hard to get rid of once it is lodged into the conversation is equivocation. Equivocation occurs when a word is used to mean two different things in the same conversation without clarification. God, is one such word and a word which means many very different things to different people. When someone equivocates between gods like Zeus and Allah they are mistakenly assuming that the difference between these two is one of personality and nothing else; like the difference between Zeus and Poseidon. Zeus and Poseidon are both polytheistic gods in the Greek pantheon but they are an entirely different type of thing from Allah.

Zeus and Poseidon are both gods in the same way that Pongo and Perdita are both Dalmatian dogs but Zeus and Allah are different type of thing entirely in the same way that plants and animals are different types of things or humans and stones are different types of things. Pongo’s black spots are characteristic of what he is, a Dalmatian; so black spots should be and are characteristic of other Dalmatians such as Perdita, but Pongo’s black spots are not characteristic of other types of dogs such as poodles or other types of things such as water lilies. It may be true that Zeus is a type of thing having only myth and superstition to commend itself to our beliefs and if it is true then we can say the same thing about Poseidon, he being the same type of thing, but it being true of Zeus and Poseidon does not indicate that it is true of Allah any more than Pongo and Perdita’s black spots indicate that poodles or water lilies have black spots.

I took a philosophy of religion class from a prestigious university and early in the term, it became obvious that the students were using God to mean many very different things yet even in that academic setting, God was rarely if ever well defined. Similar situations occur on a daily basis online, in print, and around dinner tables, and pint glasses. Clearly, God confusion is prevalent. To clear up and avoid this God confusion I suggest asking four questions about any particular god in question whenever he happens to come up. Knowing these questions should help you to both avoid equivocation and thus have a more constructive conversation and to understand ideas about God that others may hold.

The first question to ask when God comes up in a contentious conversation is; is the god in question a monotheistic or polytheistic god? Asking just this one question would help you to avoid the equivocation between God and gods such as Zeus. Monotheists of all religious and philosophical stripes believe in one single god, that is what makes them monotheists. They usually believe this God to be all powerful and also usually the creator of the universe. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are monotheists as are most proponents of Deistic secular philosophic conceptions of God such as Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” or Spinoza’s “God or Nature”. These concepts of God are very different from polytheistic gods such Zeus, Poseidon, and the rest of the Olympians, the gods other forms of Paganism, of Hindus, Vodouists, most far Eastern religions, and most pre-Christian and pre-Islamic middle and near Eastern religions.

The fact that polytheists believe there are many gods automatically makes those gods very different from any monotheistic God because monotheists believe God to be all powerful and the creator or at least present everywhere in the universe. There cannot be two all powerful beings, two creators of everything, or two all present beings. If a god has even one equal, then he is not all powerful. Polytheists also believe their gods to be powerful; they could hardly be called gods otherwise, but their powers are limited. Zeus may be able to send lightning but he has trouble governing the other squabbling gods, he must always make sure the Titans are kept locked up, and far from being the creator, he is himself a created part of the universe. This is nothing like the all powerful creator God of monotheism. If the god in question is polytheistic then proceed to the classics department of your local college or university; if it is monotheistic then proceed to the next question.

The second question which must be addressed is; is God as he is being discussed here, natural or supernatural? That is, is God material or inmaterial, part of the universe or beyond the universe? Materialist ideas of God come from a strictly materialist concept of being and differ sharply from the more traditional religious ideas of God as the supernatural creator of the universe. The staunchest materialists not only believe that physical matter is all there is but that physical matter is all that could be; strictly speaking they believe that any inmaterial ideas are non-sensical. So any concept of God that they endorse has to fit into this view. This could take the form of either God as a force or God as the Universe. In the first view, God is the animating life force of the universe, our love, our passions, even what gives us purpose. This concept of God is much like the Force in Star Wars. This is also where we get Christian-atheists, they believe in God as a force for good but not as a person who exists and whom we should know, fear, or obey. In the second possible materialist concept, God is the Universe or the Universe is God’s body. In this way we are all quite literally part of God. This concept makes God, physical, singular, in a way all powerful, the creator of Earth but not really the creator of the universe and certainly not personal.

Materialist conceptions of God necessarily connect God to creation which is very different from the inmaterial supernatural concepts of God in all three major monotheistic religions. To religious monotheists saying that God is part of the universe is idolatry (worshiping creation) and a major sin.

The third question to ask about God is, how knowable is he? To Deists and most philosophic monotheists, the Spinozas and Aristotles out there, God is a necessary part of the metaphysical or ethical reality, he certainly exists but he is not knowable. He probably doesn’t care about us (why would he?), he is probably not a person in the way we think of a person, and there would be no way for us to find him or communicate with him if he was. Aristotle believed, God was perfect and so did the most perfect thing, which Aristotle believed was thinking and because God was the perfect thinker he only thought about perfect thoughts and the only perfect thoughts were thoughts about the perfect thing which was himself. Aristotle’s God was wholly consumed with thinking about himself, not a very personable guy.

Jews and Muslims both believe in a God who is a person and does have ideas about us and what we should be doing, but who is still not very personable; he is know-of-able. By the term, know-of-able I mean he can be learned about, possibly even interacted with but he is very difficult to know as we know our family members or even as we know politicians or celebrities.

Obviously there is a very broad spectrum of what individuals believe but in general, Jews believe in a God who cares for them and directs them, on occasion even intervening for them but who primarily speaks through the scriptures and is a God to be feared not approached lightly. In Islam, God occupies a place between Judaism and philosophic Deism; Allah has given them his words in the Quran but it is blasphemy to even suggest that he would interact with the created world. This is why it is so offensive to Muslims to suggest that Jesus, a man is the son of God. Allah could not even dictate the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad directly but instead had an intermediary, an angel bring the message to the Prophet.

The third option is that God is knowable as a person. This is where the Christian concept of God falls and also interestingly enough, most polytheistic gods. Zeus is a literary character, there are stories of what he has done, his battles with the Titans, his rivalries with his brothers, his affairs with mortal women, and his own marital problems. He is also a god who interacts with humans, he has favorites whom he intervenes for, he appears to people, he is very knowable. Christians, such as myself, also believe God is very knowable and personal. He came to Earth in the form of the man Jesus to live and die as a man, to demonstrate his character, to teach love, and ultimately to sacrifice himself for the salvation of his people. Christians also maintain that the Spirit of God dwells in them and speaks to them. After his death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to many people as recorded in the New Testament including famously, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and Paul. Contrast the personal knowable Jesus and Zeus with Allah who couldn’t even speak to his own prophet, the God the Jews whom Moses could only glimpse from behind without dying, and the God of Aristotle who couldn’t care less and you see the difference that made by how knowable God is.

The final question to ask about God is, is he transcendent or not? A transcendent God is a god beyond the universe, that is, he transcends space and time. A transcendent God is not dependent on the universe and his position privileges him to make claims that non-transcendent beings could not rightly make. Transcendence allows God to be truly all powerful, as he is not dependent on anything. It allows him to have all knowledge as there is nothing which is beyond him. It allows him to make claims about truth which cannot be disputed because no one else knows all or created all. If God is transcendent then reality is quite literally what God says it is, reality bends to his will. A transcendent God is a truly awesome and scary thing; this is what Anselm had in mind when he defined God as, “the being than which no greater can be conceived.” Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Deists all believe in a transcendent God. Contrast this with the God of the materialistic monotheists and the gods of the polytheists; these Gods are not all powerful because they are part of the universe and bound by it as we are; they also have no special claim to determining morality, and their only possible claim to special knowledge would be that they are more intelligent, older, have more experience, or see more of the universe. Their claims to special knowledge about the universe are the exact same type of claims made be human experts in their particular fields not the kind of knowledge which is true by definition that a transcendent God can claim.

Asking these four questions should clear up the vast majority of equivocation about God out there. I hope this helps you to avoid any future God confusion. The four questions to ask whenever a contentious conversation about God arises are; is this God monotheistic or polytheistic, is he natural or super-natural, how knowable is he, and is he transcendent? Below I’ve made a cheat sheet of the most common answers people give to these questions.

Cheat Sheet of the Gods
Pagan and most Eastern gods are polytheistic, supernatural, knowable, but not transcendent.

Materialistic conceptions of God are usually monotheistic, natural, unknowable, and not transcendent.

Philosophical Diestic Gods are monotheistic, supernatural, unknowable, and transcendent.

The God of the Jews is monotheistic, supernatural, slightly knowable but not very personable, and transcendent.

The God of Islam is monotheistic, supernatural, know-of-able, and transcendent.

The God of Christianity is monotheistic, supernatural, knowable, and transcendent.

That should clear up most of the God Confusion.

The Role of God, Religion and Morality in Contemporary Society

The amalgamation of three current events makes this question perhaps more salient than ever. Primarily it’s the Christmas period. This is a time of monotheistic spiritual inception for the western world’s faithful and one on both consumption and giving for the secular. Secondly, the conjoining in the last few weeks of two polarising politics views regarding the matter of faith.

The death of aggressive atheist writer Christopher Hitchens, who not only posited the positive ramifications of secularised society but insisted on the dangers of both organised religion and the idealistic worship of higher beings. In the same week, and at the other end of the spectrum, David Cameron announced that he felt British society needed to embrace Christian values is a more assertive manner.

In the modern technologised world, ever more dependent on the scientific method as an effective means to an end where should the future of society, the State and Church run? Should we embrace the teachings of monotheistic religions or is time to focus on what atheists see as the rational pursuit of knowledge based on evidence and practical necessity thus demoting the supernatural to the domain of pure speculation?

This question is not a contemporary one. The role of deities and their employment by society has been discussed by political philosophers since ancient times. And where politics can be self enwrapping, there is often political motivations behind political decisions and statements; the politics behind the politics if you like. Does David Cameron sincerely believe that religious values, in this case Christianity, can really benefit society; or is it an alluring and illusory trick with the aim of pandering to traditional conservative support? Why does society and politicians need God?

The Greek Philosopher Seneca said that religion is believed by the masses, refuted by the wise and useful for those in power. This analysis perhaps is nowhere more applicable today than the United States. The far right branch of the Republican Party must appease the southern Bible belt. Thus adherence to dogmatic Biblical ethos is the norm. This means same sex marriage and abortion is forbidden due to archaic canon. The religious posture enacted by American politicians is ever apparent in the fact that Congress has only one open atheist amongst their flock. Certain Republicans prefer to conspicuously ramp up the religiosity meter. Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Ron Paul either question or reject the theory of evolution. Now one cannot say whether these politicians sincerely believe their own message. Whether they practice what they preach cannot be known but one wonders how much homework has been done by the PR team.

This enigmatic religious framework and the controversy it ignites within the social world has seen a resurgence in debate over the last decade. Terrorist bombers’ self sacrifice for the higher good fueled much of the new atheistic movement that included Christopher Hitchens. Is religion useful in any way? The new atheists would say it is far more dangerous than it is benevolent. The surrender to autonomy outside our world of existence and the acceptance of paradigms based on faith is a pernicious cognitive state. The blocking of stem cell research by the Bush administration was attributable to the adherence to scripture and its preference over rational scientific research. But does society need God and Why?

This question spurned Emile Durkherim, a founding father of Sociology. Durkheim proposed that religion was the glue that held social fabric together. It was both the most profound and affective way of ensuring a social collective outside the individualistic centered political philosophy espoused by Bentham and Mill. For Durkheim religion had vast practical benefits for society.

In the contemporary world, the arguments encompassing the need or disposal of religion tend to encompass the question of morality. This is partly because the question encapsulating the existence of God itself is obviously a prominently complex one. Theologians today tend to couch out some of their arguments in the cosmological realm. They state principles of “fine tuning” in an otherwise inhospitable universe. Others, even smarter philosophers propose that the existence of time and space cannot have a singularity in terms of cause an effect for the polar opposite of everything is nothing and “nothing” cannot cause a “thing”. Thus there must be a force of creation outside the boundaries of temporal linear cause and effect that transcends time and space. These issues depend on the riddled concepts of causation and explanation in philosophy of science. However my concern here is not an ontological one. I want to question the source of morality and its necessary employment in society.

Morality is undoubtedly a required protocol in society. And often is not because we do not want to be left by ourselves in a dog-eat-dog world where the winner takes all, by any means necessary. The majority of the time is that we cannot but help feel sympathy for, and empahtise, with others. The ramifications of guilt, sadness or sympathy in the conscious being are as perplexing as they are mysterious. Here we come to the source of morality in society and an area where religious champions believe they have a coup de gras.

Proponents of religion and its necessary integration with society propose a moral virtue grown out of religion. In effect without God there can be no morality. But do we need God and religion to be moral in society? Research from within the social and natural sciences says no. And if you think you need religion to be moral this raises the question of what you would behave like if you did not think morality was based on God and its consequences!

The source, role and function of morality have been the focus of much debate lately. Concrete definitions of right and wrong feature as arguments proposing the objectivity of morality, which can only have its source in God. This strays way from the relativist perception of morality and the “good life” proposed by Aristotle. For the religious, there are objective forms of morality that one innately knows to be wrong through life’s participation as a conscious being.

For the subscribers to a naturalistic perspective of morality, born out of evolutionary theory, they can be no objective framework from which to stand outside social life and classify behaviour as objectively right or wrong as these are cultural and social values dependent on contextual factors. For instance western contemporary societies no longer feel the need to publicly execute adulterers as where in certain societies this activity is seen as being morally depraved and worthy of execution.

Whether morality is subjective or objective one cannot dispute its existence, so where lies the source? I have already outlined the religious arguments for this but what about the alternative? Why is it that humans developed the need to be compassionate and thoughtful towards others especially in the face of survival of the fittest? Well known arguments consist of the ability and need for early nomadic tribes to coexist together. This then entails two primal functions of empathy and moral engagement. Primarily men need the assistance of others to survive and secondly it is in your own interest not to overtly engage in conflict with others. Disputes over ideals and decision making would have always existed and this is part of human disagreement. However acts such as stealing the food or children of others, murder and rape carry with them severe penalties and consequences due to the mental and physical well being of their effects. This gives an evolutionary basis for the development of morality as a functional role, bringing specific attention to why certain acts and ideas over others produce abomination from the collective society in question and your own conscience as a member of the same human species. However this does not justify a framework for objective morality only a series of learned and evolved processes over time that have enabled societies to coexist together by favouring certain acts an ideals whilst simaltaneously stigmatizing and chastising others.

Without the need to use God and religion to justify morality in society, an area in which all agree that ethical codes need to be enacted to protect members in society, what is the need and role of religion in society? Some say religion is comforting so it has its benefits even if it is fallacious. I believe that these claims of fantastical yet erroneous belief are dangerous. They seem to be an over glamorised version of eating chocolate as comfort food, which may be good in the short term but has health effects in the long term. Then there is the pluralist perspective in politics that freedom of speech and ideas are welcome in an open and free society. This is a view that most ascribe to; the ability and possibility to let others believe in something that you do not. On this politically philosophical account alone religion warrants its place in society as a belief system.

However on face value it appears as if religion is not needed for fully functioning societies. People can live fulfilled, responsible and inter-collective lives based around ethics that need not be cited by, or attributed to, an omnipotent creator. To a certain extent this was the goal of some of the enlightenment thinkers; that the exercising of reason and rationality embedded in an evidence based account of epistemology would eventually render belief in deities extinct. We have clearly not reached that stage yet and is it even desirable?

Part on the problem regarding the God hypothesis lies in epistemology. What evidence would warrant the existence of God? Conversely what evidence would disprove the existence of God? The question itself is not even a scientific one, for Karl Popper, as it is not falsifiable. What is apparent is humanity’s obsession with the metaphysical. By pushing the limits of known and unknown forms existence, humans in the 21st century have continued with their beliefs concerning multiple realities and other worlds. With religious dogma and scripture losing favour with the masses we have seen a spike in spiritualism and new age philosophy. This is the adherence to souls and the afterlife not necessarily connected to the concept God. Perhaps this poses the greatest problem and question for those divided on the God hypothesis: Is the continuous metaphysical adherence proof of God’s spiritual existence or does it illustrate, in profound terms, the obsession with God and the afterlife as being a naturally occurring phenomenon in the human psyche?

The Philosophy of Religion – Lectures and Video Worth Watching

Often when we think of religion we either dismiss it as superstition or we get images of fanatical followers of God who never listen to reason. The fact is that religion itself has gotten a bum rap, just because some people take certain spiritual texts and twist them to suit their own purposes, that does not mean that there isn’t specific knowledge within these texts that can benefit you. The trick is knowing where to look and what is worth looking at.

Philosophy and Religion are often separated in our minds. Religion is looked at as the devotion to god (or an idea of god) and Philosophy is often painted as gibberish and pointless. The fact is that philosophy is the original religion. If you look at every major religious text you will see that the characters they are based on were really quite philosophical. They questioned existence, they questioned themselves, and they had a drive to answer those questions. Religions today usually claim to have the answer and further exploration is frowned upon.

It is rare that you will find a religious speaker now days that has anything but scriptures to spew out at you, but what about Philosophy? Looking into it we find that many of the most recent philosophers have tied religion into their search for truth. Anyone truly focused on understanding the world and themselves would be foolish to discount some of the oldest books on the planet. What can you find on the Philosophy of Religion? Lectures, video, books, and even blogs.

To name a few well-respected and influential voices in this field, Alan Watts and Jiddu Krishnamurti have to top the list in my mind. Watts was well known the world over for his in-depth interpretations of both eastern and western religions. You can find his Philosophy of Religion video lectures all over the internet, though it is sometimes difficult to find an online community who understands them.

What is the basic philosophy behind Religion? To put it simply it is the belief that existence itself, when seen in the right perspective and experienced solely in the moment, is the heaven promised by many of the most well known Prophets. This moment, without thought of the past or future, has indescribable possibilities. Nirvana, as the Buddhist put it, lies in the here and now.