The Four Gospels

First of all I would like to say that this course was very interesting and thought provoking. To be able to choose just one specific area is going to be difficult but I would like to talk about the book of Mathew.

It’s interesting to first note that the gospels are not placed in order in the bible, but rather in the order of what makes sense. I was looking at the estimated dates of when the gospels were written and discovered that the gospel of Mark was actually written first, followed by Luke, then Mathew and finally John.

However, having said this, I find Luke to be the least in depth of all the gospels and Mathew to be the most detailed. I seemed to be constantly drawn toward the book of Mathew for the main reason that it’s the first book in the New Testament and has often been unofficially declared the “New Genesis”, meaning that it is the book that sets the foundation for the New Covenant.

Upon reading the book of Mathew we see that it starts with the outline of Jesus’ lineage demonstrating that His return was indeed foretold from the very beginning, in fact it was talked about in the book of Genesis. In fact it is quickly understood that Jesus is God incarnate and that He is coming to live as man so that He can fulfill the promises for the new kingdom, Jesus has to become a human and live among men not as a rich man but as a man of humility, He is born of a virgin whose husband is a carpenter. This picture of humility is illustrated many times throughout the bible as it is the spirit that is more important, the body is just a temporary shell and as we know, God does many great works through those who are looked down upon by the world. Jesus was no different, He was disrespected by many in His time but He demonstrated great faith and continued to share His teachings to all who would listen. Despite what people thought and said, Jesus was to become the new Adam except this time to live a life that was sinless, in a sense, cleaning up Adam’s mess!

The first part of Mathew talks about the birth of Christ and the visitation of the 3 Magi or Priests. We see right from the get go that Jesus was threatened with death by Herod so He had to be taken to Egypt until it was safe to return to Nazareth.

John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin paves the way for Jesus saying to the people that the Messiah is coming and when He does come, Jesus is baptized by John. We see that in order for the new covenant to succeed, Jesus has to experience all that man has had to experience, including being tempted for 40 days and nights by the devil. What this demonstrates is that Jesus not only became human but it shows that with the faith that Jesus had in His father, man can overcome anything, this is important because in order for Jesus to truly understand what man is, He has to become what man is, including the experiences of man.

After Jesus calls His first disciples, he travels throughout the land performing miracles, which included healing the sick and raising the dead. This is also the time when Jesus lays down the law, so to speak, starting with the beatitudes and reaffirming that the law will indeed be upheld until the end of time and if any of the laws or commandments are broken, they will be called least in the kingdom, but for those who practice and teach the laws, will be great.

Jesus, for those who may have had a memory lapse, provided some refresher courses around the commandments so that all knew what had to be done. Jesus also taught about other things that must happen, from practicing humility, feeding the hungry, loving your enemies, fasting and prayer, just to name a few.

The book of Mathew is a book of great wisdom and is an instruction manual for eternal life and riches. Jesus had never ending wisdom and that wisdom He taught through parables, in fact the book of Mathew is the first we see of the parables and we see 14 of them, the other gospels talk about the parables but in less detail. The idea behind the parables is that if you have the “eyes and ears” needed, meaning the true faith of God, you will understand Jesus’ parables. I have found this in my personal life as I have grown in my faith. When I first started out reading the New Testament, I didn’t really understand, I saw Jesus’ parables as really confusing stories, but now, I have re read them and they make a lot of sense, the depth of such wisdom in them is unparalleled anywhere else, in fact many times in Mathew we see the disciples asking Jesus what He meant by His many stories. This has always been a surprise to me, even after they saw Jesus perform such wondrous miracles, they still questioned their faith and they still questioned Him, can you imagine!

As part of Jesus’ ministry, we see Him cast out demons and thus we have the first exorcisms recorded, and with His great teachings, the disciples learned to do the same thing. This demonstrates and foreshadows on a smaller scale, the predicted defeat of Satan, the defeat that will signal the beginning of the new kingdom.

Mathew is also the book where we see the great sermon on the mount, when Jesus knows that His end is near and He has gathered all in the land to pass on the things that must be done in order for the new kingdom to be successful. The sermon on the mount is what Christians should be abiding by today…He basically has said that we are the body of Christ and that it is important for us to go forth as the arms of Christ and reach out to all that need to be saved, helped and healed. This sermon is probably one of the most important ones in the entire bible and I would say that this is the “backbone” of Christianity.

Jesus demonstrates a couple of times in this book, the awesome power of faith and prayer, specifically demonstrated with Him feeding the five thousand and the four thousand; during these times, Jesus goes off on His own and prays to God demonstrating to the people that God is indeed their provider, as a result all of the people were fed with food left over.

As we approach the end of Mathew, Jesus predicts His death, a death that has to happen in order to fulfill the new covenant. He gives 3 of His disciples a “sneak preview” of what is to come at the resurrection, but He is sure to tell them not to say anything until He has risen. Jesus foretells who is going to betray Him and later as we see, is subsequently arrested, all for things He didn’t do. When looking at this, Jesus is also teaching that just by being a Christian, we will be unjustly persecuted as He was but if you have faith and do not deny Christ, you will enjoy glorification in Christ’s name and have eternal life.

In the final chapters of Mathew we see the fruition of Jesus’ prediction and He is put to death on the cross and 3 days later He rose from the dead in His entire splendor, fulfilling the predictions from Christ Himself.

The book of Mathew is a fantastic book, a book filled with such great wisdom that despite the number of times you read it, there are many treasures to be unearthed. It is a book of hope, of awe, of wonder and excitement, it is a book of things to come, and it is “the new beginning”.

Rev. Jason Carey

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The Universal Life Church Seminary is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, and Paganism.  We have two courses in Metaphysics, as well as courses in Mystical Christianity, Buddhism and Comparative Religion. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Comparative Religion

COMPARATIVE RELIGION
The Comparative Religion Course gave me a better understanding of the various religions and beliefs practiced by many of diverse cultures in the world and now being practiced here at home In the United States.  Coming myself from a family of mixed religious backgrounds, beliefs and traditions; we lived in a kind of harmony because we each held in our hearts that there is a common thread that binds us as human beings and not just family. We respected each other’s beliefs and faith never puffing one belief over the other. This course explained the commonalty that all religions and beliefs have in worship, prayer, how they view life and that all men are spiritual from ancient times to present. In addition, this course has shown that all religions of today have a common source that you will find when one looks far enough. And that each religion has borrowed from the other. I remember talking to my late cousin who was a practicing and ordained follower of Krishna. I remember saying to him “that there are many paths and each in the end leads to what all humans seek that is a union with God “he said “so true.” This course confirms this believe which I have held for long time. Now I feel that I have a working  knowledge base and the confidence that will enable me minister to those who are not of my faith when approached by them for help and through this knowledge base there will be no misunderstanding but understanding between us.
I liked the way the course was setup. Many years ago I took a course similar to this. But it was not the same. I was given a few books to read and told to write a paper and that was that. Here the instructor takes the student from what is known and then brings the student to what was not known. I liked how Rev. Kythera Ann explains the vocabulary that is part of the study of religion. The examples that she used in the discourses such as the flood showed a common thread among the religions used in one example names may have been different but the story was the same, and even the photographs and pictures helped enforce the topic at hand. I liked how each discourse built upon the other keeping with what I said before known to unknown.  The internet activities were great reinforcements to the end of each of the discourses.
There wasn’t anything about the course that I disliked except for the last discourse and then only one section of it. When it came to cults a lot of time was spent on the Baha’i Faith how Islam views it as cult and how Iran is persecuting it followers today. Then it goes to Mormonism with a small paragraph and one small sentence taken from Wikipedia about them, calling Mormonism a cult. The Mormons too were persecuted by main stream Christianity in its beginnings with their leader Joseph Smith being killed with many other of his followers. I am aware that she also said that it was a new religion but using Mormonism as a cult example did not follow the final statement that when the leader dies so does the cult which never happened to both the Baha’I and Mormon religion. However, I was expecting to see The Reunification Church a.k.a MOONIES, Scientology, Christian Science, and The Jehovah Witness mentioned as cults these too being out of the mainstream of recognized religion with Scientology being a newer religion of modern times. Instead The Branch Dravidians, Heaven’s Gate and Aum Shinri-kyo  were mentioned at the beginning  of section as new age cults that had made the news.
I think these discourses could be improved by using the PDF format. This may cut down on how many times a discourse been resent because of being received incomplete.  Also, it would allow for better printing of the discourses. I had one discourse which needed to be reformatted before reprinting because there were no margins in the discourse. 

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TheUniversal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.

As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Gospel of Thomas Essay by Rev. Blackman

Grace unto you,and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The New Testament Apocrypha contains several writing that were similar to New Testament books but were not included as a part of the new Testament. These writing were greatly influenced by the philosophies and religions of the cities or nations out of which they came. The Gospel of Thomas proclaims a change in the way that we see things and transformation in what we are.It uses a definite set of symbols and images to communicate this and tells us Thai if we find the inner meaning of these saying, we shall not taste death.
One of the methods that the Gospel of Thomas uses to describe the human being is to use imagery from the first couple of chapters of the book Genesis. The taste to which we must aspire is the state from which we have fallen.It is light, it is the spirit, it is the beginning.Just as Jesus says that life is movement, so the spirit across the face of the waters on the first day,and God finds rest from work on the Sabbath, the seventh day in Genesis.
If we merely nod our heads at the Gospel of Thomas, or marvel at its profundity, we are like Jesus’s students saying that twenty-four prophets spoke to Israel, and all of them spoke of you, and so forget about the living one who is in our presence.it is not that a book gives us the answer, rather the kingdom of the father is already spread out on the earth and no one sees it. The Gospel of Thomas ask us to choose between being dead and becoming the image of God.
Yours In Christ,
Andrew Blackman

Spirit-Quest

When I started this path I had a lifetime of lessons that helped lead me here. Becoming a Reiki Master and Teacher was just the beginning. I started meeting people and taking classes. I realized that I needed to learn more. This course offered me the knowledge and the tools I needed to help not only myself but others.
As you go through this course, their will be moments of realizations. Changes in your life, your thoughts, and your spirit. It makes your life lessons easier to understand and accomplish.
There are many important lessons in this course. One I found to be life-changing is when you look at things in your lifetime. Things that hurt or made you angry. Or maybe things you may have done. When you can learn to forgive yourself and others. It can be a very freeing experience. This tool is very important in these times and throughout your life.
I learned a new and fun way to meditate and to communicate on a more spiritual level. Creating roses to help communicate or get answers was interesting. Blowing them up was fun also. I can’t tell you how many roses I’ve created and destroyed.
Manifesting is an awesome tool to learn also. It didn’t take long before I realized things that I had manifested were happening. For example, I had asked to make more money, so I could pay bills and to be able to continue my education. I didn’t ask for money to drop into my lap. But for my job to have increased business, so I could earn the extra money. Business has increased and I now have the extra income I needed. Not only did I benefit but the owner and my fellow employees did too.
This course has allowed me to grow spiritually and personally. It also has given me the tools to help my children, friends, and on occasions people I just met. This is what I consider to be a wonderful blessing.
Another gift from this course is this statement. God loves you. You were created by perfection, in perfection, for perfection. Your success is guaranteed. It’s not just a catchy phrase. It’s a great affirmation. Saying to yourself feels great. But when you can feel it and really believe it anything is possible. This also means it goes for everyone else too.
This makes you think. Especially when you’ve been hurt or gotten angry at someone. You realize God loves them too. You become better person. You look at things in a different way.
I really have enjoyed this course. I recommend this course to anyone who wants to grow personally and spiritually. You receive the tools to help yourself and others. As for me I found this course to be life changing. In every aspect. It has enriched and enlightened my life.
Thank You
Many Blessings
Brenda Firestone
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The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.


As a long time member of ULC, Rev. Long created the seminary site to help train our ministers. We also have a huge selection of Universal Life Church  minister supplies. Since being ordained with the Universal Life Church for so many years and it’s Seminary since the beginning, I’ve watch the huge change and growth that has continued to happen.



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As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Paganism

Paganism Final Exam
Rev. Jean Pagano
The Paganism for A New Age class was truly an enjoyable undertaking. So many different facets of paganism were covered in the class because, I believe, paganism is multi-faceted. It is obvious to me that the author of this course was not merely an academic examining a discipline from a distance – this is a person who has intimate insights into the practice of paganism. There were many lessons which I found insightful. I will touch upon my favorite ones and describe what I liked best about each of them.
Lesson #9, entitled The Sacred Place, detailed the altar and mentioned three separate setups: standard, enhanced mage, and master/mistress. While the three different types suggested different levels of complexity, they all described functional altars, regardless of the elaborateness of design. In addition to the setups, a very thorough description of things one could have on the altar is included.
Lesson #10, entitled Creating the Sacred Place, describes various methodologies for dealing with the sacred space, from creating and cleansing the circle, to the calling of the guardians, the release of the guardians, and finally in the releasing of the circle. A series of different techniques, some traditional, some refreshingly non-traditional, are included and described.
Lesson #13, entitled Sacred Nature, has a wonderful list and description of many magical trees. As a student and teacher of the Ogham, many of the trees in this list are Ogham trees! There is also a very nice tree meditation included to help the student get in tune with a given tree. Herbs and stones are also listed and I found both lists very informative and enlightening.
Lesson #14, entitled The Mind and Spirit, has a great guide to meditation that is not only simple but it works. The manipulation of energy exercises are fantastic and will give any student a good luck at what one can do with intent and direction – truly amazing!
Lesson #18, entitled The Magick of the Mysteries, is by far my favorite. The idea of using stones in circle really resonates with me, and since it is such a natural tool, it seems particularly appropriate for a pagan circle. The best part of the whole course, in my mind, is to use the winds to perform ritual. In this way, one performs the ritual according to the winds, not in spite of them. The Gods choose the ritual to be performed in this manner.
The final lesson has a long list of links to web sites to further expand on topics touched upon by the course, or possible avenue for research and membership, if people so choose. This has been a most enlightening class and I would recommend it to anyone on the pagan path or those just interested.
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The Universal Life Church is a comprehensive online seminary where we have classes in Christianity, Wicca, Paganism, two courses in Metaphysics and much more. I have been a proud member of the ULC for many years and the Seminary since its inception.
As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Comparative Religion

Final Essay for Comparative Religion Masters
Rev. Katherine MacDowell
The Comparative Religion Masters course distilled a complex topic in a coherent and well-designed format with super adjunctive reading recommendations and website options.  One of the critical elements I gained through exploring the material of the course is not only an appreciation of the shared elements of faiths, but also their unique differences.  As I read through the opening lesson’s discussion of the philosophical interpretations of the nature of God, I could not help but also ask what is the nature of the differences between these faiths and how do these differences ultimately shape how we find our religion.  As a psychologist, I am deeply embedded in questions associated with how individuals come to make their choices, as well as issues of cultural difference.  Recently, I finished reading Chet Raymo’s When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy and he emphasizes the role of parents and our primary cultures determining our religious affiliation—in his own bias (he is largely against religion as something that is counterintuitive to the revelations of our contemporary sciences, but that is for another discussion all together!) he holds that such determination cannot truly reflect the development of an authentic religious self, which must be engaged with and consciously chosen.  I would hazard a guess that many faiths would take issue with the notion that one should “choose” their faith, as many hold that God “chooses” you.  Nevertheless, as I read through the lesson material, I wondered at the process unique to our contemporary time and increasing global culture of how we come to choose our faiths.  What are the subtle differences that draw our focus?  I asked myself, having grown up an Episcopalian and traversing through many religious paths before settling on religious naturalism and shamanism, what invites me in to these paths?  When I consider the elements of Catholicism that I feel drawn to—what stops me from considering myself a Catholic?  I found it amusing that the author of our material found a website that allows you to input answers to find which faith resonates most closely with you!  This of course added to my own questioning of how has our access to the Internet changed how we relate to religion and are we really the first generation who has choice and thus can embody a new kind of fervor in our faith?  I know that these are more questions than specific facts learned, but this is how I engage with material and likely is a reflection of my own background in the sciences.  I find more is gained when I retain an openness to being deepened by questions than by answers.
There were specific elements of the course that I thoroughly enjoyed, such as the ongoing use of recommended reading at the end of each lesson, thus allowing me to deepen my knowledge of a topic that struck me.  I thoroughly enjoyed discourse 19′s discussion of religious archetypes and found this a superb way of exploring the shared elements of religious roles in an organized fashion.  This also appeals to my psychological background in the possibility of how might individuals, not attaining a more professional role in a religion, engage with these roles on a personal level either through embodying them or through relating to others in these roles.  I also found discourse 11′s exploration of the fundamental questions religion seeks to answer (afterlife, painful experiences, suffering,  etc.) to be well organized and providing some areas for fascinating further examination.   I loved the definition of sacrament: “It has at its core the belief that taking into the body something that is divinely charged will unify the microcosm and the macrocosm” (Discourse 12).  I found this to be a profound statement that explores an underlying philosophical position of what is above, so it is below.  As such it highlights the notion of union with the Divine and speaks to our hopes of bringing this energy and the associated conceptions of the afterlife or the personality of the Divine into everyday human existence.  It does also suggest that human also hold a fundamental conception of themselves as somehow lacking and their surrounding world as that which is filled with suffering.  Indeed, the sacrament appears to be the solution to the issue of suffering and may provide a fascinating psychological benefit to allow individuals to experience a sense of resiliency and power through their capacity to engage in this specific behavior (likewise underlying ritual/ceremonial behavior whereby individuals provide an offering to a deity in the hopes of securing a different outcome in their physical, every-day life).  I absolutely loved the flow chart in the concluding chapter about the interconnective development of religion, although I would disagree with the notion that a Goddess tradition underlay all others—more on this in a moment.
I think what I least liked was the two discourses on hermeticism, alchemy, and secret societies.  I would not consider these religions per se as systems of magic or perhaps philosophy as they lack real theological clarity and other elements that define religion.  I think a chapter on philosophical influences would have been enough to explore hermeticism.  I would have liked to have seen greater exploration of the philosophical elements of religion that are introduced in discourse one and how religions seek to answer these philosophical positions.  I do think Neopaganism and its religious children (Wicca, Druidism, etc.) should have been more widely visible in the entirety of the lesson alongside older faiths.
My main point of contention with the course is the author’s supposition that a Goddess faith underlay all other traditions in the last discourse.  There is substantial archeological dispute about this view largely asserted first by Robert Graves in The White Goddess and later by Marja Gimbutas and a handful of feminist scholars—none of whom other than Gimbutas are in fact archaeologists.  All of which has been argued against by mainstream archaeology, including women within this field.  I would direct the author to Lotte Motz’s The Faces of the Goddess, which provides counter arguments to the underlying beliefs that God was initially a woman.  It’s worth the read to ensure that one’s assertions are accurately and not presented as “fact”.  What would be a more historical accuracy would be to discuss the Goddess traditions within the contemporary context, where they have a powerful life of their own as explored by Starhawk, Z Budapest, and Carol Christ for example.   Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the course.
Katherine MacDowell

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Spirit Quest

  SPIRIT QUEST

                                                         Final  Essay

 

     Thank you, Rev. Long, for this extensive discourse on finding and following my own quest for spirituality.  Throughout the last thirty weeks I have learned and used many new tools and reinforced tools I have used in the past.  Some I have forgotten and you brought them to the surface again.  My senses and awareness have opened up.  I see my surroundings differently, more vividly.  My choices have been refocused to include myself not just what can be done for others.  Taking care of the home spirituality first makes it easier to serve others.  So creating a life that I am comfortable with and willing to share others seeking their own paths.
 
 

     Meditation is a practice I have had for years.  Through these lessons, my technique has improved.  I can feel myself opening up to the greater possibilities of communication with the higher self.  I receive better answers, that are clearer.  The guidance is gentle yet obvious.  During the day , there is an openness of awareness to nature and the sense of being one with all.  This is very calming.  I have always been sensitivity to the moon cycles, now I feel this connection with greater conviction and a knowing of how I fit into the universe.
 

     I must say that the rose technique was not my favorite model.  During the course I modified these practices, which I changed to using different colored balloons.  Using Balloons to fill up with the negative thoughts or hurts and sending them into the sky to float out over the ocean and disintegrate.  The same in verse of the universe sending a colorful bouquet of balloons to me with a power of positive acts of loving, caring or whatever I need for that day or week.  The word ‘destroy’ has a strong inner reaction for me and maybe the idea of destroying a rose was not the feeling I need to invoke.  Also, since pink roses were my mom’s favorite flower, I can enhance them, just not destroy.  The concept of the practice was great, so I felt that a slight change in visualization was still appropriate and it worked for me!
 

     Thank you once again, Rev. Long, this was an informative and enlightening discourse.  
 
Highly recommended!

 

Rev. Constance
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As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Philosophy of Religion – Rev. Graham W Louden

Universal Life Church Seminary
Philosophy of Religion – Final Essay
Rev. Graham W Louden

This is an excellent course which is recommended as required reading for all those who seek to understand more fully the nature, provenance and  future prospects for  religious belief and faith groups in the modern world.   Past approaches and contemporary studies are outlined succinctly and effectively and the amount of useful information of offer is highly impressive.

Although, in essence, this is a fairly new field of academic research and interest,  it also draws together a wealth of approaches, sources and  content  that span the centuries and  provide an overview of a phenomenon that has influenced and moulded human affairs since first we sought to come to terms with the realities and challenges of our existence.

At the outset, in the nineteenth century,  studies tended to focus more on the shortcomings of other faiths rather than neutral appraisal,  in order to bolster the common perception that  monotheistic,  Christian practice was the ideal against which all other belief systems were to be assessed.    Nevertheless,  similarities were detected at the outset by researchers such as Feuerbach, noting the theophany in Hinduism, and these studies were soon overladen with  deeper psychological  explanations.  Sigmund Freud suggested that all belief systems emerged to combat the ’trauma of consciousness’  which evolved along with the realisation by early homo sapiens that the world about him was cruel, unforgiving and incomprehensible.   This harsh backdrop to existence could be made more bearable by attributing a god or spirit to every aspect of nature and developing rituals  of prostration and sacrifice to placate them and ward off calamitous natural events such as earthquakes and sacrifices.  This animistic prescription reached a highly developed form within the boundaries of the Roman Empire and much of this motivation was imported into early Christianity to accommodate the prevailing mindset and to aid recruitment to the new dispensation.  Studies of eastern religions indicate similar initial  approaches although divergence may have occurred later.

Various suggestions have been advanced to explain degrees of similarity between faiths which often developed in different eras  and geographical areas, seemingly without any discernible line of transmission or cultural contact.  The great American sociologist and  researcher into the power and nature of myth in religion and culture,  articulated the idea of the ‘Monomyth’  in his 1949 work, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’.  The ‘Hero’  is an archetypal figure who seems to come to the fore in most cultures and literatures over time.  The myth can be summarised thus,

‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural
wonder;  fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won.  The
hero comes back from this adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow
man.’

As we look back, we can see many examples of this scenario which run true to the above screenplay:  Osiris, the Buddha, Moses,  Christ, even Harry Potter!  It is, indeed, a theme taken up in 2005 by B J Oropeza in his book,  The Gospel according to Superheroes, in which he relates characters such as Superman, Batman, X-men, Hulk, Wonder Woman and the Fantastic Four to gospel themes in a very plausible way.

Organised religions have tended to move on, however, from relatively primitive metaphor  to flesh out what is usually a rather spare outline or a set of aspirational promptings with layer after layer of convoluted doctrine and elaborate ceremonial.  This, then, is where we move into dangerous territory when  institutionalised  religions with claims to the monopoly of truth  replace reassurance and comfort grounded in attempts to appease nature.   Joseph Campbell expresses his view thus:

‘Every religion is true one way or another.  It is true when understood
metaphorically.  But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them
as facts,  then you are in trouble.

No longer are we projecting our fears and  uncertainties about belonging, sense of purpose, self-worth and the like onto a local  god or gods made in our image and rooted in nature, we are now serving the one true god, at least in Christianity and Islam, under pain of dire consequences if we fail to observe  strict  codes of conduct.  The stage is then set for rivalry and conflict as different sets of  values clash over  minute interpretations of holy texts or traditional practices,  a situation satirised by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels where  he  describes the decades of conflict between Lilliput   and  Blefescu over  the Big-end versus Little-end controversy.

An enduring question is why, in the realm of religious belief,  similarities are so often overlooked and differences magnified leading to events such as the Crusades,  conflict in Northern Ireland or the burgeoning schism in the Anglican communion.  If we examine the core beliefs of most religions such as the Golden Rule, we  identify clear agreement between major faiths such as Christianity, Judaism,  Buddhism,  Hinduism and Islam.  We encounter this, too,  with many of the iconic stories that occur in numerous religions, the story of the Flood being a good example;  we are all aware of the story of Noah’s Ark but this metaphor for fall and redemption seems to occur in so many cultures that it suggests a cast of mind common to all mankind when attempting to explain a relationship with the divine.  In Hinduism, Manu is warned by a grateful fish that he must build a boat to save himself from the coming annihilation;  this he does, and is enabled to repopulate the world.  In Assyrian myth,  Utnapishtim is urged by a benevolent god to gather his family and a pair of every animal to avoid the wrath of the gods and the imminent flood.  Similarly, Atrahasis in Babylonian mythology, is urged by Ekni to build a boat and sail away with his family and breeding stock to avoid inundation.  Almost identical legends are to be found in Sumerian, Chinese, Druidic and Zoroastrian sources as well as  amongst the African religions.

One interesting resonance is that in ancient Egypt, Osiris, the Saviour  God  was called Lord of Lords, King of Kings and God of Gods, the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd and it is said that his birth was witnessed by three wise men.  By the time of the emperor Aurelian, in fact, there were so many  saviour-gods in the pantheon that their celebration was combined into one festival on December 25th,  namely the birthday of the Unconquered Sun, a date that was imported into Christianity despite any  clear connection with the birth of Jesus.    The Bahai  teaching handles this rather well by stating:

‘The birth of every manifestation is the rebirth of the world.  In that simple fact lies
profundity and the glory of every day that is celebrated as the coming of God’s
messenger, be it the birth of Osiris, Buddha,  Jesus, Mohammed or the Bab.  May we all
find blessing within their light.’

Sadly, many other faiths are not so accommodating.

So, in terms of content and structure,  the exoteric and the esoteric,  the stress on fine buildings surging towards the heavens, the pomp and panoply of a priestly hierarchy and sacred spaces where  the importance of mystery and ritual is evident,  whether it be a cathedral, a mosque, a temple or a synagogue, the same  elements will be discernible.

According to Karl Marx,  ‘religion is the opium of the people’  distracting them from the harsh inequalities of their lives and helping to maintain the status quo in society.   Certainly, there is some truth in this but it is unlikely to be the explanation in all cases.
Dr. Huston Smith has suggested that religion is a set of criteria which helps believers to establish their relationship with nature, with others and with themselves.  For many, as in Jewish communities, the faith is valued for its role in  transmitting the law and culture from generation to generation,  for others it can be a bridge between  reality and an otherwise unattainable ideal.   For some, like Albert Schweitzer, it is tied in with a reverence for nature and creation which we should always regard as a priority in our lives.  Many rely on their religious beliefs to shape their attitudes towards others   and this can lead to various responses such as the need to proselytize and convert  or even the wholly unacceptable stance of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas,  based upon bigotry, hatred and an uncritical self-righteousness..  It is worth noting, however, that there are countries such as Japan, with a very small proportion of  believers, (around 3% are church goers,  which have a low level of crime and anti-social behaviour, compared for example with  the United States with around 50% church attendance  and a very high level of violent crime.  The suggestion is that the absence of religious precepts causes a self-interest factor to ‘kick in’  based upon the  notion of ‘do as you would be done by’ and a personal calculation as to what would be the right and prudent way to behave.

Of late, a school of thought has begun to emerge which indicates that human behaviour in the context of religious organisation,  tends to conform to a prescribed pattern,  possibly due to factors within the human psyche.  Professor Roger Twigg of the University of Oxford,  in answer to the question whether human beings are predisposed to believe in God, has written,  ‘Not quite, but it is all in the mind’.  Speaking last year, he said, ‘We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of nature across different societies.  Attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts such as the existence of supernatural gods or agencies or of an after or pre-life…It isn’t just the quirky interest of the few, it’s a basic human nature.  You just can’t pretend it’s not there.’    Paul Bloom, of  Yale writes that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired, concluding that ‘all human beings possess the brain circuitry and it never goes away’.  Much research has also been done  by Dean Hamer who has speculated  on the possible existence of a ‘god gene’, and by scientists who are investigating the effect of serotonin and serotonin receptors upon our mental processes and our susceptibility to abstract ideas.  Clearly, the whole question of why, what and how people believe is being addressed from many different angles.

This certainly helps to address the basic question as to why people are drawn to religious beliefs and rituals and to systematise to a degree, the vast plethora of varying religious persuasions which are to be found world-wide.  Dr. AF Wallace suggested a scheme for classification based upon four sub-divisions,  namely  individualistic, communal,  shamanistic and ecclesiastical which  does enable us to establish parameters and norms as a prelude to further study.  Bertrand Russell  and Huston Smith  both added to the methodology by suggesting that religion helps with three basic problems:  those posed by nature,  by others and by one’s own nature,  otherwise designated as the natural, the social and the psychological problems.  If we then add to these possible approaches, other schema based upon  problems caused by political interaction and globalisation,  the way in which currently religious morality may conflict with a settled public morality especially on issues such as gay marriage,  gender equality,  women bishops, etc., we  can appreciate the complexity of this issue.  No longer is it simply a matter of recording and commenting upon doctrinal disputes or the differences between millenarian, eschatological and apocalyptic faiths,  it is now a matter of assessing religion against a wider backdrop of global ethical standards and progress.  In the past,  it was the churches that were regarded as the repository of moral guidance;   today, paradoxically, the churches are more and more judged against the  wider public morality and not infrequently, found wanting.  It is, perhaps, this element in the equation that will determine whether or not organised religion, in the developed world especially,  withers away or enjoys a revival.

Four Gospels

It took me a bit longer on this one. I had to reread a few of the lessons. I thought that I had known about the four gospels from going to church all my life. Boy, was I wrong. I guess with age your perception of things change also. It was like I was reading it for the first time.
They (each book) each have their own version of the life of Jesus. Reading each one separately you would think they were about different people with similarities. I feel that is how it is perceived today. Each separate religion has their own interpretation of the story of Jesus. They pick and choice what they feel that it should be about. I think that Jesus had that written on purpose to show that everyone has their own way of thinking, and that is OK as long as the same message comes across.
Matthews writings were more from the human feelings, describing his healings and miracles. There is no order to his writings. I think it touches more of our emotional side.
Mark had another way of his experiences. He wrote of the teaching and his works. He wanted people to have no doubt in their minds that He was the true messiah.
I think Luke had the most accurate of them all. He presented Jesus as the perfect savior. They were a more spiritual account of his writing.
John’s gospel spoke to all the people. Christians and non-christians alike. His teaching was pure and simple. Who ever believes in Jesus Christ shall and will have eternal life.
The gospels of these four men show their differences in relating to God’s works. These four men are just like we are today. Each has a need of believing in their own way. Some people need more of a human connection while other people need more of a spiritual, faith filled connection. There is no right or wrong way to believe. The final outcome is the same – One God, whom we have eternal life if only we believe.
I believe that all four book intertwine with each other, kind of like complimenting each other. I also believe that these books are not a step-by-step instruction manual but a way of making us stop and think about and continually ponder on the writings. We are people of constant learning even if we read the same sentence over and over. God gave us a great ability to think in many different ways.
Thank you for yet another great study. Looking forward to my next.
Rev. P. Sylvia
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As an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church for many years and it’s Seminary since its inception, I’ve had the privilege of watching the Seminary grow.

Comparative Religion

This course reaffirmed for me many long-held beliefs in the commonality of man, as well as helped me discover new connections across traditions and times that I had never known of before but always felt must exist.  I am much more confident in discussing various traditions with others than I was before taking this course, as I was at a loss for the words to describe my ideas. We are all wrapped in God’s everlasting grace, though in our limited human vision we can only seem to embrace one of God’s infinite versions at a time. 

Imagine my surprise, learning in my 40′s what I thought was true since I was a child: we are all children of God, by whatever names and forms we envision for our Higher Power.  Newly-empowered with the right terms and a thirst to learn about my human brothers and sisters, I have reached out to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists.  My rewards are immeasurable, and the friendships I’ve made are strong and true and based on shared love of the spirit of God that lives within us all.  In the case of my atheist friend, it is the love of humanity that we share.

I found nothing in the Comparative Religion course that needed improvement.  I’m pleased with the content and I refer to my printed discourses often for information and refreshers.  Occasionally I would run into a broken or outdated link, but not to be dismayed, I’d google my way to alternate sites for related information and allow the journey to circle me back to Kythera Ann’s material for the week.  Her writing style and presentation is exceptionally beautiful, professional, and of the quality that one finds in a hard bound book.  My expectations were not only met but exceeded and made me want to delve further into each subject when I was finished reading the discourse. 

I’m definitely going to continue learning with ULC courses as the format is perfect for me.  Living with MS (multiple sclerosis) means having to be flexible and always be prepared to go with Plan B should my true ambitions fall through for the day.  The unpredictable nature of the disease means rigid classroom schedules are an insurmountable obstacle.  ULC gives me back my Plan A and allows me to read and research on my time as my situation allows.  That translates for me into a fuller learning experience and not just an exercise in stressful deadlines and commutes.  My gratitude is immeasurable.  Finishing this course, my first course at ULC and the first class I’ve been able to finish since MS, means something incredibly special to me.  I am looking forward to working my way through another course and then another. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.  Peace be yours!
Joy Lynn Zen Rosenberg


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