Spirituality is a fundamental part of the human condition. From the dawn of our species, to the present, spirituality has shaped the way we see everything around us. And, to better explain and organize our spiritual beliefs, people created religions. However, like almost anything that puts people into definitive groups, almost every religion has developed stereotypes and misconceptions over time. So, today, let us review some of the less truthful ones and get to the bottom of these falsehoods as to further our understanding of the world around us.
The top 10 religious misconceptions that are actually untrue.
10. Muslims Are Not Violent
Islam is the second most popular Abrahamic religion. And the second most popular religion overall, right behind Christianity. Islam is a monotheistic religion, with its two main teachings being that there is only one God and that Muhammad (PBUH) is the last prophet of God. The Islam has a estimated total of 1.8 billion followers or around 24% of the entire world’s population. Islam, although it has existed for centuries, has recently developed some negative stereotypes as a result of recent terrorist attacks.
After numerous terrorist attacks caused by radical Islamic extremists, Islam has recently developed the stereotype of being violent. However, in actuality, this is far from the truth. For starters, Muslims in the US are more likely to condone terrorist attacks than the general population (source). Furthermore, the act of Islamic terrorism is so rare, that it is practically non-existent. The risk of an American being killed by any act of terrorism in a given year is roughly one in 3.5 million. And, only a small number of those deaths are a result of Islamic terrorism. For comparison, the average American is more likely to be killed by their own furniture. Lastly, Islam itself actually condemns terrorism of all kinds.
9. Hindus Are Not All Vegetarians
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, and the largest Non-Abrahamic religion by far. Unlike other religions, Hindus do not follow one specific cannon, prophet or even God/s. Instead, Hinduism is more akin to a web of different ideas, obligations, traditions, customs and beliefs all sharing the same banner. Because of the wide diversity of beliefs within Hinduism, it should come as no surprise that different groups within Hinduism hold different beliefs.
A large percentage of Hindus do indeed have varying diets that exclude some foods. For example, pork and/or beef are avoided by some Hindus. And, yes, some Hindus are indeed vegetarians. However, against the beliefs of Hinduism, that being that people should refrain from harming anyone or any living creature, some Hindus do not practice this particular belief. According to government studies done by the Republic of India, only about 30% of Indians are practicing vegetarians in a country that is 80% Hindu. This is contrary to the stereotype that all Hindus don’t eat meat.
8. Priests Are Not Pedophiles
Christianity is the largest Arabhamic religion and the largest religion by far. Its followers follow the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. There are many branches of Christianity, however, by far, the largest denominations of Christianity follow some sort of hierarchy based around apostolic succession. A doctrine that necessitates that the leaders of churches must be appointed by someone with authority given to them by God. These people are usually called Priests, although they can hold other titles, such as Bishop, Deacon, Pope or Cardinal.
After recent revelations of sexual misconduct on a large-scale. Like the horrific accounts from Philadelphia or Chile, it’s no wonder that priests have developed the reputation of being child molesters. However, this stereotype is actually, factually, untrue. Of the more than 300,000 catholic priests in the world, only about 3.3% have been accused of sexual misconduct. To put that into perspective, that’s a lower rate than the average adult man.
7. Buddhists Are Not All Pacifists
Buddhism is a religion that focuses on one’s spiritual development. Buddhists believe that all people are stuck in a permanent cycle of life and death, being reincarnated over and over again. To transcend this cycle, Buddhists attempt to attain nirvana, a state in which the person becomes free of the cycle of death and rebirth. Currently, there are around 400 million Buddhists worldwide.
Although Buddhists do indeed teach that all life is sacred, that doesn’t mean that all Buddhists are pacifists. Buddhists are indeed permitted to defend themselves if they are attacked. However, they must not kill their attacker. However, like most religious groups or spiritualities, some believers of Buddhism have not lived up to their religions teachings. For example, Buddhists have fought in wars for centuries. Militant monks have fought in Chinese armies since Buddhism emerged. Most notably, Japanese samurai, the fiercest warriors in all of medieval Japan, were Buddhists according to historical records.
6. Jews Are Not Greedy
Judaism is the one of the oldest monotheistic religions on the planet. Jews believe that Abraham was chosen by God to be his chosen people. They also believe that, some day, that God will send to them a ruler called the Messiah who will make them a heavenly kingdom on earth. Jews live in small communities almost everywhere, with different groups having different beliefs. Unfortunately, over the millennium, Jews have developed multiple negative stereotypes. With the most notable being that all Jews are greedy.
The stereotype of the greedy Jew is actually very old, with the stereotype originating in the middle ages. In the middle ages, Jews were not able to own land. As a result, the only way for many Jewish communities to survive, was with high-interest crediting, a role Christians were prohibited from having. (source). As a result, anti-Jewish sentiment flourished in the middle ages and even up to the modern day. However, the stereotype is far from factually true. As a matter of fact, Jews donate to charity more than almost any religious or ethnic group.
5. Muslims Don’t Hate Jesus
This misconception is actually rather new. And, unlike the other misconceptions on this list, this misconception originated thanks to a fundamental misunderstanding of Islamic doctrine by other groups. Contrary to popular belief, in Islam, Jesus is in no way hated. As a matter of fact, he is a prophet, much like Abraham, Moses or Muhammad. In the Quran, Islams holy book, Jesus is called by many names, such as Son of Mary. However, he is most commonly referred to as Isa. (source).
In the Quran, Isa was a holy boy, and was born of the virgin Mary. He performed many miracles as God’s prophet, such as turning some clay into a bird (source). However, unlike in Christianity, Jesus was not the son of God. Instead, he was just one of God’s prophets. Muslims also believe that Jesus never died on the cross, but instead was saved by God. Lastly, ironically, Jesus is mentioned more in the Quran than prophet Muhammad.
4. The Pope Isn’t Infallible
Catholicism is the world’s largest christian denomination by more than 50%. Like most other christian denominations, Catholics believe in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. However, unlike other forms of Christianity, Catholics do not take the entire bible literally. Rather, they believe that the bible is equal to sacred tradition, or, the belief that some traditions hold just as much weight as scriptures (source). One of the most controversial of these beliefs in the eyes of other Christians is the belief in a doctrine called papal infallibility.
Papal infallibility is one of the most misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church. It states that the pope is infallible in some circumstances. However, contrary to popular belief, Catholics do not believe that everything the Pope says is always true. First and foremost, the Pope isn’t infallible in general statements Rather, the pope is only infallible when speaking from the seat of St. Peter (source). This has only happened two times in the entire history of the Catholic Church. So, unless he is speaking from the seat of St. Peter, Catholics are not obligated to believe everything the Pope says.
3. Paganism Still Exists
Before Christianity made its way across Europe, and later the world, the vast majority of the people had indigenous beliefs. These beliefs would later be coined by Christians as Pagans, regardless of their differing beliefs. Most pagans in the following centuries of Christian dominance, eventually died out. However, in recent years, Paganism has made a bit of a comeback (source).
In 2008, over 300,000 people in the US alone identified as being Pagan. Since then, modern Paganism has only increased in popularity. It has been estimated that there are more Pagans in the UK than there are Hindus. Paganism is projected to rise substantially as Christianity declines in Western Europe.
2. Judaism Is Not The World’s Oldest Monotheistic Religion
Judaism is old, really old. So old, in fact, that it is almost twice as old as Christianity, which is more than 2,000 years old. Judaism, on the other hand, is much older, the oldest evidence we have for Judaism is over 4,000 years old. However, surprisingly, Judaism is not the oldest still practiced monotheistic religion in the world. That honor, instead, belongs to Zoroastrianism.
Zoroastrianism is the oldest, still practiced monotheistic religion in the world. The religion was originally founded in Persia. But most of its modern followers have lived in India since the Islamic invasions of Persia. The religion follows the teachings of Zoroaster, an ancient prophet that taught moral values. The religion is known for believing that fire is sacred, and for creating the basic base that all monotheistic religions after built upon.
1. Atheism Is Not A Religion
Perhaps the most widely believed misconceptions among religious people is the idea that Atheism is a religion. This misconception is caused mostly due to poor definitions of what a religion is. In the United States and elsewhere however, a religion is defined as a group that has a recognized creed and a place of worship. This definition is the most diverse, and most fitting, as it includes spiritualities that do not necessarily worship a God or Gods.
Atheism clearly does not meet this definition. As Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God/Gods (source). Therefore, Atheism doesn’t have a creed, or a place of worship. As a result, Atheism, at least by the US’s definition, is not a religion, rather, the lack of one. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in God, therefore, Atheism cannot be defined as a religious belief as much as being bald could be defined as a hair cut.
Written By: Mile Millerson