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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #14A: Moralistic God   Worldview Theme#14B: Reincarnation 

Contrast Worldview Themes #14A and #5A --these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Contrast Worldview Themes #14A and #10 --these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Contrast Worldview Themes #14A and #11A --these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Authoritarian God -- the 2006 Baylor Religion survey identified this as one of "America's Four Gods". God is seen as highly engaged with and involved in individual daily lives.  He (most identified God as such!) is believed to be very capable of punishing individuals and people in general, in particular those who are sinful or ungodly. Many believe God is quite angry.  

baptism -- a Christian religious ceremony signifying spiritual rebirth in which water is sprinkled over a person’s head. The water supposedly represents God’s power to cleanse the person’s soul of sin.

Christianity -- a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. Christians believe Jesus, a Jew who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago,  to be the son of God, sent to Earth to save mankind from sin.  For Christians, the cross symbolizes the cross on which Jesus was nailed to and killed.  They believe that three days later he rose from the dead, and some forty days after this resurrection  ascended to Heaven.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Christian Church authority was originally (by the 4th century) centered in the Roman Catholic Church, headed by the Pope. Two schisms have since undermined that authority:               1) by the 14th century the Eastern Orthodox Church had completed its breakaway from Rome, and 2) the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century saw Catholicism splinter into what became various Protestant denominations. 

conscience--a sense of 1) what is morally / ethically right or wrong, and 2) which actions a) will produce more pleasure and happiness vs. more pain and suffering, b) will be praised vs. blamed, c)  potentially promise benefits vs. involve risks and potential liabilities.  When conscientious behavior and actual behavior diverge, guilt and feelings of remorse can result.  H.L. Mencken referred to it as "the inner voice that tells us that somebody might be watching."Some connect conscience with religion: it has been termed "God's voice."  Others make no such connection.

Critical God -- the 2006 Baylor Religion survey identified this as one of "America's Four Gods". God is seen as not interacting with individuals or involved with the world. Nonetheless God still views the world and is believed to be very displeased with its current state. This displeasure will become evident as appropriate in one's life after death (many feel "divine justice may not be part of this world"). 

Devil, the--conceived of in various religions as the supreme supernatural evil being and enemy of God.  Often depicted (especially in Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions) as tempting humans by offering them something they desire in exchange for their soul, the Devil is supposedly assisted by evil spirits or demons.  Most people who believe in the Devil conceive of God as a moralist.  The Devil has long served as a scapegoat: those who did evil acts can claim they were possessed and blame it on him!

divine or cosmic justice--justice administered by God, either now or in a judgment made after one's death, or by karmic forces.

dualism of substance-- an answer to the classical One / Many problem that asserts that Reality is ultimately composed of two different kinds of substance, typically referred to as mind (or spirit) and matter.

evil, the problem of -- this problem has plagued philosophers at least as far back as the ancient Greeks. Epicurus (341-270 BC) appears to be the first to consider it at some length. Simply put, it has two aspects, one religious, one secular, that can themselves be stated as questions, First, why does an all powerful, all knowing God allow evil to exist in the world? Second, how should society fight human’s wicked and evil acts -- won’t fighting them with evil (violence, vengeance, capital punishment, etc) just result in more evil? Those who embrace non-violence, forgiveness, and oppose capital punishment basically feel that good can not come out of evil. Others argue that if evil is left unchecked and unpunished, and not countered with strong action, then more evil will result.

fear--a strong, primary emotion associated with unpleasant anticipation of danger and pain.

free will and sin--it seems reasonable to conclude that only if humans have free will are they capable of sinning. Those who conclude this, argue that without free will, humans are ultimately not responsible for their actions and therefore have no moral responsibility.  Bringing pre-destination into their argument, they ask, "What kind of God would pre-determine your behavior long before you were born, and then on judgment day condemn you to Hell for the sinful behavior that you had absolutely no control over? Certainly not one that we can conceive of?"  It turns out that throughout the history of Christianity many have disputed arguments like this. Indeed St. Paul's question (in the New Testament book of Romans) "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor" has been used to blame individuals for sinful acts even though they were pre-ordained by an omniscient God.

grace -- a person’s belief -- sometimes difficult to sustain given hardships or evidence to the contrary -- that God , Nature or Reality is ultimately on his or her side and will occasionally gift one with unwarranted help. Those who more fully embrace its existence may use the term “miraculous” (or “amazing” as in the song!) in describing grace.

guilt -- an emotional state produced by knowing that one has committed a breach of conduct or violated moral standards. If one accepts society’s version of acceptable behavior, the punishment guilt produces is self-administered.

Heaven-- according to many religious traditions, Heaven is where the souls of righteous people spend a peaceful eternity with God.  Some conceive of it as an actual place in the sky; others look within themselves for it. Some traditions (including native Chinese) hold this is where the ancestors reside; in others (Buddhist) it is a temporary station in a cycle of rebirth that can eventually end in enlightenment. 

Hell--according to many religious traditions, Hell is where the souls of wicked, ungodly, sinful people go to be punished by God after death.  While many conservatives conceive of it as a real, fiery, underground place of demons and eternal torture, to the more liberal it is a psychological state associated with pain and loss.

immortality -- existing forever, never dying, but living on, perhaps not in physical form, but at least retaining conscious memory for eternity

Islam -- a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Mohammad, an Arabian prophet who lived around 1400 years ago, as laid down in the Koran (or Qur’an).  Those who believe in Islam are called Muslims (or Moslems) and seek to live in submission (Islam means "submission" in Arabic) to the will of God (known as Allah).  Muslims believe in the "Five Pillars of Islam"-- faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.  The crescent and star are Islamic symbols. Most Muslims are either Sunnis (85%) or Shi'a (15%).  Their differences can be traced to disputes over who were the rightful  leaders of the Muslim community in decades after the death of Mohammad in 632.  Sufism is a mystical --ascetic brand of Islam.

Judaism -- the religion of the Jews, the oldest of the great monotheistic religions. Sacred texts include the Old Testament of the Bible, Torah, and Talmud. Jews believe that God revealed Himself to them and gave them rules to live by. The Bible recounts how God made a covenant with Abraham (perhaps around 1900 BC) and how He sent Moses (around 1300 BC) to lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt.  The six pointed star and a candelabra (menorah) are symbols of Judaism.     

near death experience -- what the wide awake consciousness of a patient who is near death (in a few cases has been declared clinically dead!) experiences, and later reports after recovery. After examining many such reports, researchers conclude that the experiences are remarkably vivid and seem to share certain common features. These include a 1) review of one’s life, sometimes experienced as flashing before one’s eyes, 2) a feeling of peace, euphoria, joy, freedom from pain and fear, 3) a feeling that one’s consciousness has detached from one’s body and is floating high above , 4) seeing light at the end of a tunnel, and a feeling of traveling through the tunnel and encountering a world of light and color, 5) meeting and telepathically communicating with long lost relatives, 6) seeing a supernatural, luminous, benevolent presence, and 7) despite feeling great happiness, sensing unfinished business and deciding to return. While exactly what is reported varies: some of it seems to cut across cultural and religious boundaries, while some images are only reported by those of the same religious background.

original sin --while the concept that  something is wrong or out of order in human existence is found in most religions, the idea of original sin appears to be a uniquely  Christian belief.  That tradition teaches that all people are saddled with this type of sin at birth due to the sinful choice made by Adam in the Garden of Eden. Such sin is to distinguished from actual sins that people may or may not commit during their lifetimes.

predestination ---a religious concept involving belief that the complete script of the human drama has already been written--that is, already determined by God--and that humans, completely lacking control over their own behavior and fate, are like actors merely acting out what’s been predetermined. It has been suggested that -- as far as humans can tell, given their illusion of being in charge of their own destiny -- it should make absolutely no difference in their behavior whether humans really have free will or not. The reasoning is that you should behave as if you’re in control and if you aren’t, because you lack free will, then there’s nothing you can do about it anyway!

Protestant work ethic -- an ethic based on self reliance, hard work and frugality being the path to salvation that has been important in shaping post Reformation western (especially American) society of the last five hundred years. Thus, ingrained in my people’s heads, since their earliest childhood, were sayings like “God helps those who help themselves”, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, etc. Only recently has a consumption ethic begun to seriously compete with, some would say replace, this work ethic.

purgatory--a state of “final purification"  per Roman Catholic Church belief.  Specifically, a state (and also to some a place) in which the souls of those who have died in God's grace must make satisfaction for past sins and thus become fit for heaven.  

Revelation, book of--the last book of the New Testament of the Bible is sometimes referred to as the Apocalypse of (its author) John since it provides an account of the last days of the Earth / God's harsh judgment based on his vision.  The contents of this controversial and difficult to understand book represent a prophecy of end times built on vivid imagery, metaphor (the four horsemen of the Apocalypse being the most famous) and use of magical numbers--most notably 7 and 666 (the latter representing the number of the beast).  

righteousness—a moralistic, theological term, important in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that refers to the quality of acting in accordance with moral law or divine plan, and thus being free of sin and harboring no guilt.  For example, in the Old Testament of the Bible the guiltless are said to be righteous, while the guilty are judged. 

sacrifice–giving up something precious or important as offering to honor or placate a god, deity.

salvation -- the saving of a person's soul, from the suffering and punishment that their sins would otherwise justify, by forgiving their sins and thus redeeming their souls. This can happen by the person 1) asking God for forgiveness, and by backing up the request with signs of repentance, or 2) continuing participation in the cycle of birth and rebirth, which some see ending when the person gives up all desires.

sin --a term typically applied  in a religious context. In daily life it refers to an act which violates moral law; in a bigger sense it can refer to committing an offense against God, breaking His laws and becoming alienated from Him.  Some traditions associate guilt coming from one's conscience with notification that a sin has been committed.  

soul--another term difficult to define. Here are three definitions: 1) the vital spirit in all human beings; 2) the part of a human being that is immortal; 3) the feeling /emotional domain of one’s personality.  Do animals have souls? “Yes!” some would say.

spirit-- another term difficult to define.  Here are three definitions:  1) an animating principle or vital force that gives life to organisms. It accounts for the difference between a living being and dead corpse.  2) A non-physical, non-quantifiable substance or energy present in living things   While spirit is sometimes considered synonymous with soul, for many this latter term implies having an immortal existence--something not necessarily attributed to spirits. 3) an apparition, ghost, demon, sprite, or supernatural being.  Of course God falls in this last category. It should be noted some conceptions of spirit include the belief that all individual spirits interconnect to form a greater unity, oneness, Cosmic Mind, etc.

spirituality--can be narrowly defined as the quality or state of being spiritual--which relates to matters pertaining to vital spirit or soul--or it can be much more broadly considered.  Definitions that fit into this latter category are: 1) "the process and result of nurturing one's soul and developing one's spiritual life" (David N. Elkins),  and 2) "one's spirituality is the range of one's emotional relationships to those questions that cannot be answered..."like  'What happens when you die?'"(Jaron Lanier).  Some confine their spirituality to the boundaries provided by traditional religion;  others look elsewhere to meet their spiritual needs.

Ten Commandments, The--behavioral and moral rules found in the Old Testament of the Bible and important to Jews and Christians. They are traditionally believed to have been written by God and given to Moses on Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago. 

theophobia -- the irrational fear of being punished by God for one’s real or imagined sins

  Contrast Worldview Themes #14B and #5A-- these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!  

Buddhism -- to some a religion, to others more of a personal, physical, and spiritual discipline involving meditation. The goal is finding meaning, wisdom, peace, tranquility, and freedom from desire.  Buddhists believe that all suffering is caused by attachment to the material world, so an end to suffering comes with breaking such attachment.  Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and imagine one rides a Wheel of Life, symbolizing change and rebirth, until one reaches Nirvana and this cycle ends. Buddhism began with Siddharta Gautama (563-483 BCE) in northern India, whose answer to "What are you?" of "I am awake" earned him the title of Buddha --meaning "awakened one" or "enlightened one." 

consciousness --  one of those difficult to define terms. Here are four definitions: 1) generally thought of as a process not a thing, held by religious tradition to reside in the soul or spirit, and identified with self awareness; 2) an inward sensibility of something -- knowledge of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, etc -- and comprising the sum total of mental processes occurring at any moment; 3) according to Roger Penrose, the non-algorithmic, judgment-forming ability to separate truth from falsity, beauty from ugliness, etc; 4) according to some in the artificial intelligence community, it merely passively accompanies a sufficiently elaborate control system (based on algorithms) -- but doesn’t do anything. To some consciousness is linked to intelligence; linguist Ray Jackendoff and philosopher Ned Block have distinguished three more specialized meanings: 1) self knowledge (including the ability to recognize one’s self in a mirror), 2) sentience (knowing “what is it like” to be someone because you are that someone), and 3) access to information. This last meaning ties into Freud’s distinction between the conscious and unconscious mind. If someone asks about what you are thinking / feeling or exactly how you did something, you have access to some information or details and can report, but much involving bodily processes or mundane routines happens automatically and more information or details are unavailable to you

déjà vu--from a French phrase  meaning "already seen", this refers to the eerie feeling that you been someplace or experienced something before, even though rationally you know you haven't.  Surveys put the part of the population having experienced this at around 70%.  Some believers in reincarnation have contended that déjà vu provides evidence of past lives.  In mid 2007, neuroscientists at MIT reported finding a defect in the memory circuits in some brains--a neuronal mechanism, that leads to mixing pattern recognition and pattern storage--that could explain this phenomenon. 

dharma--a concept central to the religions of India, symbolized by the wheel, it refers to the underlying principles / inherent order in nature and belief that it is one's duty to live in accordance with them

Hinduism -- the ancient religion of India. Its sacred books include the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads.  Important beliefs are that the soul (atman) is immortal, in reincarnation, karma, yoga, and the sanctity of life.  Hindus have a sacred triad of three main gods:  Brahma (the universe’s Creator), Shiva (representing destruction and rebirth), and Vishnu (representing preservation), and several minor ones, such as Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune.  The cow and the crow are sacred to Hindus and are not killed.

hypnosis -- a state of mind, somewhat similar to being asleep, induced by a person (a doctor, researcher, or some figure accepted as an authority or trusted by the subject) in a subject who readily accepts this person’s suggestions. There is debate as to whether a true hypnotic state exists -- those who dispute it argue that the seemingly special state of mind seen in subjects under hypnosis merely represents an extreme in the continuum of human receptiveness to suggestion. Some believers in reincarnation claim that, under hypnosis, some people can remember their past lives. 

Jainism--a religion of ancient India, one of the world's oldest.  Built around asceticism, non-violence, a tradition of scholarship, dharma, karma, reincarnation, and moksha (nirvana), it teaches that a person's soul can be liberated from suffering if one lives in a way that respects and honors nature. Jains are strict vegetarians and believe that all living things have souls capable of attaining moksha.

karma -- from the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad Gita, “Karma is the force of creation, wherefrom all things have their life.” Western classical physics (in the form of Newton’s 3rd Law) includes the principle that for action (or force acting) there is a reaction (a reaction force, equal in strength but oppositely directed). An eastern version of this -- a “Law of Karma” -- might be cast as “Whatever you give to the world you receive back from the world”.

medium -- a sensitive person who apparently perceives and communicates with the spirit world, or who acts as a channel for spirits to speak through direct voice. Whereas mental mediums are limited to receiving and transmitting messages, physical mediums can produce physical effects such as levitation or materialization.

New Age Movement-- an affluent Western society movement that grew out of mind expanding experiences of the 1960s and really blossomed in the 1970s, which blends older religious and spiritual traditions from both east and west with more modern ideas about human consciousness, human potential, psychology, physics, and ecology.  While New Age enthusiasts possess diverse (and sometimes conflicting) beliefs, one notion embraced by many "New Agers" is the idea that all living things--and, for many, all matter in general--is fundamentally interconnected (either spiritually, by some life force, energy, consciousness, light, God, etc.) The movement provides a large umbrella under which one finds mystics, psychics, astrologers, alternative health practitioners, those who value meditation / ancient wisdom,  believers in reincarnation, angels, the magic powers of crystals, Atlantis, UFOs and space aliens, etc.  Perhaps 20 % of the adults in western societies are sympathetic to New Age beliefs--including  pseudoscientists and quacks, a few respected scientists / doctors / scholars--and many promoting some belief / product and seeking monetary gain.

Nirvana -- a state of oneness with the ultimate reality, of total liberation from human suffering, a state of consciousness beyond further description. Nirvana is a Buddhist concept -- the equivalent in Hinduism is moksha.

Noble Eightfold Path, The--a practical prescription for behaving ethically, gaining meditative discipline and wisdom. The Buddha taught that following it was the way to end suffering.

rebirth—a Buddhist concept to be distinguished from the reincarnation of Hinduism and other Indian religions.  After death, Buddhists conceive of rebirth as something of a spiritual regeneration that occurs as consciousness emerges in a new form. The particular form taken depends on past life circumstances and karmic forces.  So, unlike in other conceptions of reincarnation, here the soul , self, or “dweller within” the body, is not reborn wholly intact.  

seance -- a meeting between one or more persons and a medium typically with the purpose of communicating with the spirits of deceased people.

transmigrationism -- belief that the soul passes into another body at death.

Yoga—from Hinduism, a way to suppress physical and mental activity offering a path to spiritual mastery where the goal is liberating the self; more popularly, a discipline and system of exercises and postures for staying physically fit and maintaining health.


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