Religion

Spirituality and Religious Worship in the Age of COVID-19
With most houses of worship closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, believers are finding alternate ways to practice their faiths.

With most houses of worship closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, believers are finding alternate ways to practice their faiths.

The novel coronavirus has significantly changed life on planet Earth, including how humans approach spirituality. With multiple nations enacting shelter-in-place measures and urging citizens to practice social distancing, houses of worship have closed to the public. Many belief systems are inherently communal, so how are devotees practicing their faiths in these unusual times? With flexible approaches, perseverance, and a little help from modern technology.

Impacts on Communal Worship

Religious authorities and communities all over the globe have taken steps to keep worshippers safe. Vatican News reported on March 30 that Pope Francis is broadcasting his daily Masses to isolated Catholics worldwide. Similarly, Catholic dioceses across Canada and the rest of the world have canceled public worship and are now livestreaming Masses, the Holy Eucharist, and other services.

Muslims have also been affected. Al Jazeera reveals that mass prayers have been suspended in several countries. Writing for The Star, Muslim legal scholar Shaikh Ahmad Kutty and lawyer Faisal Kutty decry religious leaders who have kept their mosques open. “One of the five higher objectives of the Sharia is the preservation of life,” they argued. “Therefore, Muslims are mandated to take all steps to prevent harm…[including] to prevent the spread of diseases.” Canadian synagogues have also halted public worship, with many rabbis conducting online services.

Devotees of other religions are following social distancing guidelines during their spiritual practices. Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu temples have halted worship services. Buddhistdoor Global mentions that several organizations are offering online retreats and livestreamed programs. Neopagans and followers of African and Indigenous spiritual traditions continue solitary worship while reaching out to their online communities.

Social Distancing and Solo Spiritual Journeys

Despite the strange new reality created by COVID-19, social distancing has provided some unique opportunities. Some are using the extra time at home to better cultivate solitary spiritual practices. Depending on the person, these may include prayer, creating or developing in-home altars, reading religious texts, and meditation. Even people who aren’t particularly religious have turned to meditation to help themselves cope with the pandemic. YouTube hosts tons of guided meditation videos, and health coach Amanda Capritto profiles several meditation apps in a March 27 CNET piece.

For others, social distancing offers a chance to evaluate their beliefs and seek answers. “At this time of self-isolation and social distancing we have a lot of fear of not knowing,” reads the front page of the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple website. “This will be a good time to listen to the Dharma but also to ask questions.”

Charity and Community Support

Communities of faith are providing financial and social relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian Jewish News profiled Jewish Free Loans Toronto, which offers several interest-free loan options to people impacted by the outbreak. Some churches have kept their food pantries open while practicing social distancing measures to avoid infection. The Washington Post reported on March 19 about an Alabama megachurch that hosted drive-through coronavirus testing.

COVID-19 has proved especially challenging for Sikh communities, which typically offer free community meals at their gurdwaras. Some have kept their langars open while practicing extensive precautions to keep visitors safe. The Surrey Now-Leader mentions Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib, which switched to drive-through and takeout langar meals. The temple also provides grocery delivery to senior citizens, disabled individuals, and international students.

Faith in a Time of World Crisis

The COVID-19 outbreak has altered human life, perhaps for good. However, it’s also proven humanity’s resilience and indomitable spirit. Many are looking to their faiths during this crisis for comfort, community, and answers. Developing inner peace, reaching out to other believers, or finding ways to help others are all salient examples of how faith and religion can have positive impacts in our uncertain times, even without the group worship component traditionally associated with many religions.

Sacred Grounds: The Surprising Religious History of Coffee
The humble coffee bean has a surprising religious history that weaves together many fascinating tails and origin stories.

The humble coffee bean has a surprising religious history that weaves together many fascinating tails and origin stories.

Would you call your morning cup of coffee a mystical experience? In our quest to power up for the day, we probably don’t think about coffee’s origins. Yet this humble bean has a surprising religious history. It’s a fascinating and complex tale that began in Africa many centuries ago.

Coffee’s Ethiopian Origins

Coffee cultivation takes place in over 80 countries today, most of them located in tropical regions. One popular legend claims that an Ethiopian goat herder discovered the plant after noticing strange behavior out of his goats. After finding a green shrub decked with bright cherry-colored berries, he picked some of the fruit and brought it to a local monastery. The caffeine enabled the monks to stay awake, and the rest was history.

Except that it wasn’t really history.

Journalist Livia Gershon explains that the coffee plant did first grow wild in Ethiopia. However, the local tribespeople discovered it first. Thanks to its energizing properties, the bean was used as a sacrament in communal ceremonies. Hunters also imbibed it to stay alert and stave off hunger while seeking their prey. It eventually made its way to other parts of Africa, where other cultures found more uses for it. Some brewed a drink from the vivid red berries, while others roasted them in fat or chewed them without any prep. The Haya people of Tanzania even traded the beans as currency.

Java and Midnight Meditations

Just in case you thought the Ethiopian goat herder would get all the credit, there are two other myths about coffee’s origins. The Spruce‘s Lindsey Goodwin mentions one story in which a Sufi mystic finds and chews the berries during his journey through Ethiopia. Another tale claims that an exiled sheik on the verge of starvation discovered the plant in the wild. When he tossed the berries into his campfire, he fell in love with their aroma but found them too hard to chew. After trying to soften them in water, he drank the liquid and felt invigorated.

It’s hard to separate truth from myth, but we do know that Yemenite Sufi Muslims consumed coffee to keep alert during nighttime chanting rituals. Coffee eventually spread throughout the rest of the Muslim world, fueling Yemen’s economy for over 250 years. Many people drank it to stay awake during late-night Ramadan festivities, and coffeehouses sprung up to fuel the demand. More legends propagated about the bean’s origins, with some crediting Muhammed or the archangel Gabriel for gifting it to humanity.

Coffee Comes to Europe and America

Coffee was widely consumed in the Muslim world by the 1500s. Around this time, Europeans began encountering the drink during their travels. Although they found it bitter due to its initial lack of sugar, they loved its energizing effects. The drink soon came to Europe, where it was both loved and considered controversial. Just as in the Middle East, coffeehouses popped up in major cities throughout the continent. They became cultural centers and community meeting places, much like taverns were during America’s colonial era.

One often-repeated legend claims that several clerics asked Pope Clement VII to ban coffee, insisting that it was “Satan’s brew.” Yet when the pope tried coffee for himself, he enjoyed it so much that he gave it his blessing. From there, coffee came to the Americas, where early colonialists embraced the brew. “Coffee makes a man more reasonable, better able to concentrate and hardworking,” comments Laura Turner in the Washington Post. “No wonder people might see it going hand in hand with the Protestant work ethic.”

All Hail the Mighty Bean

Canada ranks third in the world for coffee consumption. For many of us, this bold brew is a must-have that fuels our bodies and minds. Whether or not we thank the divine for our daily drink, it certainly holds a revered place in our modern lives.

Buddhism: A Religion, Philosophy or Both?
Around 1 percent of Canadian residents follow Buddhism. Practitioners seek meaning, an explanation for human suffering, and ways to live better lives.

Around 1 percent of Canadian residents follow Buddhism. Practitioners seek meaning, an explanation for human suffering, and ways to live better lives.

According to the latest National Household Survey, around 1.1 percent of Canadian residents follow Buddhism. Although that’s a small percentage out of a nation of 34 million people, Buddhist words and concepts have made their way into common usage. However, there’s much more to this way of life than you might realize, and it comes with complex sets of beliefs and concepts.

Ancient Origins in India

The Canadian Encyclopedia revealed that Buddhism may have originated around 2,500 years ago from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who was born in either northern India or southern Nepal. Legend holds that around age 29, the sheltered royal renounced his palace comforts to adopt an ascetic life after encountering three men in miserable states: one elderly and frail, another with a terrible illness and a third who had just died. After six years living in austerity, he is said to have become “enlightened” and chose to follow a “middle way,” embracing several key tenets:

  • the impermanence of existence (anitya)
  • the eventual dissatisfaction and suffering in ordinary life (duhkha)
  • the lack of a permanent soul or self (anatman)
  • a cessation of the drives that fuel the ongoing cycle of suffering and rebirth (nirvana)

Upon reaching these realizations during meditation underneath the legendary Bodhi Tree in India’s modern-day Bihar province, he began sharing them with others.

A Unique Way of Life

While Buddhism is typically classified as a religion, some followers regard it as a philosophy instead. BuddhaNet’s introductory guide revealed that it can be a way of life, instructing and inspiring its adherents to adopt some key behaviors and practices:

  • leading an ethical life
  • remaining aware of one’s thoughts and actions
  • cultivating wisdom and understanding

The Canadian Encyclopedia calls Buddhism a “transformative teaching,” adding that many scholars disagree over its classification as a religion. For one, it does not focus on the reverence or worship of any deities. Conversely, it offers liberation from “samsara,” its term for a cycle of suffering resulting from desires fueled by craving and ignorance. Moreover, it has branched into multiple traditions:

  • Theravada, based on Pali texts originating in southeast Asia
  • Mahayana, arising from Sanskrit texts in northern India
  • Vajrayana, commonly called the “Thunderbolt” version

These schools of Buddhism have led to more offshoots, such as China’s Zen Buddhism derived from Mahayana traditions. Additionally, Buddhism does not exclude followers from adopting other belief systems alongside it. For example, it’s not uncommon for Chinese people to observe both Buddhist and Taoist practices.

Canadians Encountering Buddhism

Unsurprisingly, the Canadian Encyclopedia discloses that most Canadians encounter Buddhism either through Asian immigrants who follow it or while attending higher education institutions. Japanese and Chinese workers who emigrated here were the first to import Buddhism, followed by later settlers from India. Meanwhile, public colleges and universities, such as the University of Calgary, began adding Buddhist studies to their program offerings in the middle of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, Buddhism’s rise in popularity in the West has also brought with it misconceptions about its imagery and terminology. A 2016 article in Everyday Feminism describes how its icons and concepts have fallen prey to cultural appropriation, with examples such as the inclusion of Buddha images in mass marketing and the misuse of the word “Zen.” Author Kim Tran cautions readers to give this faith the same level of reverence as with Judeo-Christian religions.

Multifaceted Traditions and Practices

Just as Christianity or Islam each has many different sects and traditions, the same is true of Buddhism. It has benefited from over two millennia of development while taking root in multiple parts of the world. As one of the major belief systems on the planet, its followers seek meaning, an explanation for human suffering and ways to live better lives.

Selecting a Church Near Your New Home

Picking a church near your new home is a big decision. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be a challenge. Check out these tips to make your choice a bit easier.

Moving to a new area can be scary. While you may have thought through your decision, there are probably plenty of concerns still swirling around in your mind. After being involved with community groups like a local church, many people worry that they will not be able to find another organization that lives up to the last. Picking a church near your new home is a big decision. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be a challenge. Check out these tips to make your choice a bit easier.

Do Your Research

The beauty of the internet is that it has made life a lot easier on almost all fronts. When you’re seeking information about your new neighborhood, hop online. A simple search on Google can provide you with a ton of information about churches and other religious organizations in the area. Be as specific as possible, mentioning your denomination and any other factors that might come into play when picking a church. For example, some groups are more welcoming of LGBT members than others. Search for gay-friendly options to avoid feeling uncomfortable or judged in your chosen place of worship.

Settle In

While you might be able to glean a lot of useful info from a quick internet search, the old-fashioned methods can prove even more beneficial. How you experience the community you are moving into will be dictated by the routine you establish there. Take your time with big decisions like selecting a church. Wait until you’re settled in your home and have begun working at your new job. This will allow you the chance to learn the lay of the land and meet some locals. The more familiar you are, the easier it will be to select a fitting option.

Ask Around

As you get to know more people in your community, you may feel comfortable enough to start asking for recommendations on local spots. If someone you’ve met has openly discussed his or her religious affiliation with you and it aligns with your own, then you might have an easy time finding a church. However, not all people you encounter will be able to provide you with useful information. Just as a restaurant recommendation is based around the tastes of the diner, a church opinion reflects the opinions of the one who has come to worship. Explore all suggestions to see if any fit.

Practice Patience

If it is taking you a very long time to find a church that you’re satisfied with, you may feel compelled to settle on any option that comes your way. Sadly, this will not yield good results for you. While your connection with God means you can take your faith with you wherever you go, some churches are just not good fits. By settling on one out of frustration, you are setting yourself up for an unhappy experience. Exhibit patience throughout your search, and eventually you will discover a church that makes you happy.

Pray

Finally, never look past the power of prayer when you need guidance. Take time to talk to God and ask for some clarity. While you might not receive a direct answer, there will likely be signs pointing you in the right direction. It has been said many times that God works in mysterious ways. By clearly expressing your problem through prayer, it becomes a bit easier to see the path that She has laid out for you.

Selecting a church is one of many tough decisions you will need to make after moving to a new home. Finding success comes down to weighing the options presented to you. Practice patience, ask around for input, and discover a house of worship that satisfies your soul.

Avatar: The Journey of a Fascinating Loan Word
When someone says the word “avatar,” you may already hold a specific meaning in your head, but it communicates a vital concept developed in Hinduism.

When someone says the word “avatar,” you may already hold a specific meaning in your head, but it communicates a vital concept developed in Hinduism.

When someone says the word “avatar,” what images come to your mind? You may think of a picture that represents you in social media and other online spaces. Perhaps James Cameron’s 2009 film comes to mind. It’s easy to forget the word’s original religious origins, but it communicates a vital concept developed in Hinduism over thousands of years. To understand the journey of this simple word, we need to look at its roots and how it entered the English language.

Avatar: A Linguistic Trip Through History

Look up “avatar” in any dictionary and you’ll see words like “incarnation” and “manifestation.” While they convey some idea of its meaning, we need to look to its deeper roots. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that it comes from two Sanskrit roots: “ava,” which translates as “off” or “down,” and “tarati,” a verb that means “to cross over.”

The word “avatar” or the original Sanskrit “avatara” aren’t used as nouns in classic Vedic texts or the Upanishads. That doesn’t happen until about the 3rd century CE when the first Puranic stories were recorded in written form. In that literature, “avatar” denotes the physical appearance of a deity.

Vishnu and His Many Forms

Just as Christianity contains many denominations, Hinduism is full of philosophical diversity. Vaishnavism is one of its four major traditions, and its devotees believe that Vishnu is the supreme deity of the universe. He’s called the Preserver because he protects and maintains cosmic order. In classical Hindu art, he’s usually depicted with blue skin and four arms. Wearing a garland around his neck, he holds a conch, a lotus flower, a mace, and the Sudarshana Chakra–a spinning disk-like weapon.

Georgetown University’s Berkley Center explains that avatars are a huge part of Vaishnavism. While Vishnu may have assumed an infinite number of avatars, most believers focus on 10 primary incarnations. The first three were animals: Matsya the fish, Kurma the tortoise, and Varaha the boar. The fourth, Narasimha, was half-human and half-lion. The remaining six appear as humans: Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki.

Vishnu assumes an avatar when the cosmic order is threatened and humans need his help. Krishna is the most famous, with heroic exploits that include slaying demons and protecting a village from a massive flood. Kalki, the final avatar, has not yet appeared. Various texts predict that he will arrive on a white horse with a fiery sword to end the Kali Yuga, the darkest age in history.

From Religion to the Virtual World

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary dates the first known English use of “avatar” to 1784. Sir William Jones, an 18th-century philologist, used it when discussing Vishnu’s 10 manifestations in the Asiatick Researches journal. English writers such as Lord Byron began to use this new loan word, and that’s when it took on new meaning. Like Vishnu appearing in the physical world, “avatar” also signified a concrete form of an abstract idea.

From there, it wasn’t much of a leap to the computing world. Inspired by its religious significance, game developer Richard Garriott named his 1985 release “Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar.” Through a series of quests, players would become Avatars embodying one of eight virtues. Online networks borrowed the term, representing physical users in virtual spaces.

Borrowed Words, Transformed Meanings

Language is alive. It lived on the tongues of our ancestors in southern Africa around 200,000 years ago, and since then, it’s grown and branched into thousands of distinct versions. Human linguistic diversity would not be possible without the ability of language to change. Loan words are just one way that language evolves, but they are a testament to the powers of human connection and cultural sharing.

Is Our Fear of Death Killing Us? Some Scholars Say Yes
Why do we fear death in modern times, and has this caused other problems for humanity? Anxieties about death may be at the root of our social ails.

Why do we fear death in modern times, and has this caused other problems for humanity? Anxieties about death may be at the root of our social ails.

Are you afraid of death? Many civilizations viewed it as an inseparable part of existence. Technology and medicine have lengthened our lives, but our world is also full of economic, social, and environmental turmoil. Why do we fear death in modern times, and has this caused other problems for humanity? As surprising as it may seem, anxieties about mortality may be at the root of our social ails.

Why We Avoid Thinking About Death

If you can’t wrap your mind around your own mortality, your brain may be to blame. Live Science mentions that our brains shield us from the idea of our own mortality. Researchers theorize that this may have evolved to ensure our survival. Greater awareness of our deaths could have made us more risk-aversive, discouraging us from engaging in activities like gathering food or finding mates.

Astonishing as this idea sounds, it’s not new. In his 1973 book “The Denial of Death,” psychologist Ernest Becker concluded that humans actively avoid thinking about their own mortality. On the Ernest Becker Foundation website, Glenn Hughes adds that mortality-related anxieties can prompt rigid identification and adherence to political, religious, or ideological beliefs. If these grow into intolerance and self-righteousness, it can lead to persecution, bigotry, and oppression.

There may be real-world evidence for Becker’s ideas. In the 2015 book “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life,” authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski document their experiments based on Becker’s thesis. They concluded that “after people are reminded of their mortality they become much more hostile and vicious.” Speaking to journalist Carey Goldberg, Solomon added that excessive fear of death influences our judgment, limiting our compassion for others and even impacting how we vote.

Religion, Mortality, and the Afterlife

Did our ancestors’ fear of death create religion? According to New Humanist writer Lewis Wolpert, anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski proposed that religion may have helped quell human anxieties about mortality. People desire answers and certainty to cope with the unknown. Belief in an afterlife and the existence of the soul could offer comfort to the living. Rewards in the afterlife can make our struggles seem to be worth the tribulations that come with them. Maybe it isn’t so bad if we reside in Paradise after we pass away, so the logic goes.

Sheldon Solomon proposes that culture develops to provide meaning in life and combat the terror of mortality. Culture and religion are often intertwined. Religious beliefs can be expressed as empathy and inclusive attitudes towards others. Fundamentalism does the exact opposite: gatekeeping and shutting others out, reducing one’s worldview to “us against them.”

The Death Positive Movement

The Order of the Good Death is at the forefront of the Death Positive Movement. It seeks to remove social stigmas around death, suggesting that the “culture of silence” surrounding it can be broken through discussion, learning, innovation, and artistic expression. Its key goals also include empowering people to care for their dead and make their own end-of-life decisions.

Learning from other cultures can also help, especially since many non-Western cultures deal with death more openly. Ghanaians throw funeral parties and craft elaborate coffins. Cultural Colectiva’s Zoralis Pérez describes Ma’nene, an Indonesian ritual in which mummified corpses are exhumed, cleaned, dressed, and interacted with by their families. Traditional Irish wakes began when a deceased person’s female relatives washed and kept vigil near the body.

Death as Part of Life

One day, each of us will die. How we handle death is just as important as how we deal with life. Religion and philosophies may provide some comfort, but altering our cultural view of mortality is also essential. This change can help us develop better coping skills and possibly understand the roots of social problems plaguing us today.

Interesting Facts About Religion in Canada
Quebec recently put a law into place regarding religious expression in public, so it may prove valuable to learn some facts regarding religion in Canada.

Quebec recently put a law into place regarding religious expression in public, so it may prove valuable to learn some facts regarding religion in Canada.

A few months ago, the Canadian province of Quebec put a new law into place regarding religion. The regulation states that no public employees are allowed to wear or display items of religious significance. This move has caused a lot of criticism from the people, with many arguing that the law seems to specifically target Muslim women who are required by religion to wear head coverings while in public. The law has also started a dialogue about religion in Canada and unearthed some interesting facts about how people identify on a religious level.

Take a moment to explore these facts on religious worship in Canada. A little insight may be able to provide you with a greater understanding of current controversial laws and regulations.

Religion Is Less Present

One of the most interesting discoveries unearthed by recent conversations is that religion does not seem to be important for many people. According to a number of studies conducted throughout 2018 and 2019, roughly 64% of adults polled stated that religion seemed to be less important than it was 20 years earlier. Overall, the individuals who provided information for the studies felt that public life was no longer dictated by religion in the ways that it had been when they were younger. The studies do not, however, include facts on whether citizens feel this shift is good or bad.

Christianity Is Still the Top Religion

Recent years have seen a number of news stories centered around the growing Muslim population in Canada. While certain regions may have higher numbers of followers of Islam, the overall consensus is that Christianity is still the predominant religion in the country. A vast majority of citizens identify as either Christian, Catholic, or Protestant. While other religions are growing in popularity throughout Canada, these studies suggest that less than 8% of the population identifies as Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.

No Opinion

Interestingly, a large number of citizens seem to not identify with any particular religious movement. Studies suggest that there are growing numbers of individuals who refer to themselves as agnostics, atheists, or totally not connected with any religious group. In 1971, only 4% of Canadians identified as religiously unaffiliated. As of 2018, that figure has jumped to 16%. Overall, it seems younger Canadians are more likely to turn away from religious groups than the generations before them.

Few Restrictions

Some nations, like the United States of America, are known for religious troubles. In America, the “separation of church and state” has caused endless laws and regulations to be implemented in order to keep these entities apart. Canada, on the other hand, does not have the same history. Despite the new regulations banning religious symbols, Canada has very few government restrictions on religion. In fact, most organizations are willing to cater to religious individuals.

One example of this comes from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Years ago, the organization changed its uniform policies on religious grounds. According to its bylaws, members of the police are required to wear hats while working. As Sikh men began to apply for the job, an issue arose. Sikh men are required by their religion to wear turbans. To avoid any problems, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police granted Sikh men the ability to wear turbans instead of hats and still be considered in uniform.

Shifting Attitudes 

Religious attitudes in Canada have changed greatly over the last few decades. With new laws being put into place dictating when and where a public worker can display religious symbols, it is important to understand some facts about religion in Canada. In order to help create an environment that is more inclusive to all, give yourself time to understand the current religious landscape in your country.

Helping Your Children Find a Spiritual Center
Teaching your children to make moral decisions can be a challenge, but fortunately there are ways to help your children discover their spiritual center.

Teaching your children to make moral decisions can be a challenge, but fortunately there are ways to help your children discover their spiritual center.

Being a parent is a difficult, though rewarding, experience. While you want to guide your children through life as best you can, you may also realize there are some areas where your little ones have to make their own decisions. Spirituality, for example, can be tricky. You may belong to a particular religion or ascribe to a certain system of beliefs but feel like your children have the right to find whatever it is brings them the most comfort. This may be challenging for some parents. Luckily, there are ways to help your children discover their spiritual center.

Teaching your children to make their own decisions comes down to providing them with the right materials. Consider these tips and see if you can find a way to guide your little ones to their own spiritual paths.

Spirituality and Religion

There are many differing opinions out there about spirituality and religion. Some people believe they are two separate concepts, while others firmly state spirituality and religion are one and the same. Before approaching a discussion of this nature with your children, you might find it helpful to determine how you view these topics. How do you define your faith when questioned about your religion? Are you Catholic? Buddhist? Do you practice your religion with a community, or is worship a private affair? These may not be questions you’ve spent much time on in the past.

By taking a bit of time to define a few points for yourself, you may find it easier to answer certain questions your children bring to you. If you identify as a Catholic and never attend church, your child might ask why. Without an answer, you could miss an opportunity to talk openly about religion with your kids. It can even be helpful to discuss this all with your significant other and approach the conversation like a team.

Moral Compass 

For many, religious and spiritual beliefs help to define specific morals. Though children tend to discover morality through a number of life experiences, spirituality plays a very big part in how a child reacts to various situations. Stealing, for example, is considered an offense in almost all organized religions. Some say stealing upsets God; others say it is wrong to commit an act you wouldn’t want committed against you. Regardless of the reason, spiritual teachings can help a child avoid bad choices by remembering what he or she learned.

The morals and values learned through life may start as generalities like “don’t steal” and “don’t kill,” but personal spiritual beliefs tend to get much more specific as one grows older. A person who finds appreciation for nature and connects it to spirituality is likely to always show respect to the land. Someone who views kindness as a virtue is likely to practice being kind. Teach your children the morals you’d like to impart without force. Try to explain why certain things are good or bad, and your children will start to develop their own moral compasses.

Talk Tradition 

Living a spiritual life is about more than personal beliefs and morals. The rituals associated with spirituality can also carry a lot of weight. Talk to your children about the traditions you know or that come from your family, whether it be prayers or relics or events. These are the concrete reminders of spirituality that your children are likely to remember throughout their lives. Even if your kids follow different spiritual paths, they may carry on certain traditions because they connect them to their family.

Guiding your child to his or her own spiritual path is a process. Over the years, you’re likely to have many conversations on the topic with your little ones. As long as you’re ready to engage and feel like you can teach them something, you’ll be doing the best you can to help your children along their way.

Canadian Pastor Sentenced to Hard Labor in North Korea Released
A Canadian pastor sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea was released last year after a successful advocacy campaign on his behalf.

A Canadian pastor sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea was released last year after a successful advocacy campaign on his behalf.

The Canadian government and a large church in Toronto were able to find a solution to the plight of a 60-year-old pastor who had been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor for crimes against the North Korean regime. Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim is a pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church. Although he grew up in South Korea, he made Canada his home in January 1986, at the same time he formed the church. He since became a Canadian citizen. In the 1990s, he became involved in humanitarian aid. He has worked in many different countries, but his focus has been North Korea. He was released in August of 2017.

Why North Korea?

In the ‘90s, North Korea experienced a four-year famine, in which hundreds of thousands of people died. North Koreans were not unfamiliar with famine, having been in crisis since the time of the war in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the North Korean economy collapsed when the Soviet Union collapsed. The Soviets had been providing aid to the agricultural center of North Korea. The local government could not respond to the crisis, and food production decreased. China tried to fill in the gap, but when it faced grain shortfalls in 1993, it, too, had to reduce its aid to the country.

In the following years, Korea, both North and South, experienced massive floods. It wasn’t just the destruction of current crops that caused a famine, but the destruction of emergency reserves of grain. Every social class was affected, with child malnutrition reaching 14 percent in 1997. In perspective, it was 3.21 percent in 1987, and 7 percent in 2002.

Humanitarian Work

Hyeon Soo Lim has worked with children’s organizations in North Korea since 1997. He and the church have tried to improve the lives of many people in the country by starting businesses and importing food and other goods. He and the church have fed thousands of people. Lim’s efforts have been focused around the district of Rajin, which is in the Rason Special Economic Zone where North Korea is making an effort to improve foreign investments.

Imprisonment in North Korea

In January 2015, Lim traveled back to North Korea and disappeared. It was later determined that he was arrested for crimes against the government. Specifically, the court determined that Lim attempted to “undermine its social system with religious activities.” However, Lim had confessed to assisting North Koreans in defecting. It is suspected that Lim only confessed because of coercion. The prosecution originally sought the death penalty, but Lim was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 16, 2015.

North Korea and China are both clamping down on Christian activities. Another North Korean missionary, Kenneth Bae, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but after two years of being imprisoned, he was released. Three other Americans were released this past spring under an easing of tensions between Trump and Kim Jong-un.  Lim ended up being in custody for 2 years and 7 months, and had originally been sentenced to life in prison with hard labor.

Canadian diplomatic efforts were made through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, since Canada does not have an embassy there. Lim suspected he was released as a gesture of goodwill by Kim Jong-un after rising tensions with the West. He said both faith and propaganda had helped him through the ordeal.

Zoroastrianism, Abrahamic Religions and the End of the World

Some evidence suggests that the “end times” ideas in the three Abrahamic religions may have been influenced by an older system of thought: Zoroastrianism.

Although most individuals tend to think of religious doomsday-style predictions within a Christian context, you might be surprised to know that “the end of the world as we know it” doesn’t just exist in Christianity. Islam also has an anti-Christ figure, and some Jewish writings reference a final “Day of the Lord” in which the wicked are punished. However, some evidence suggests that the “end times” ideas in these three Abrahamic religions may have been influenced by an older system of thought: Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrian End Times Theology

The earliest manuscripts of Zoroastrianism’s chief apocalyptic text, the Zand-i Wahman Yasn, date to the early 15th century C.E. These writings describe several key events that the religion’s deity, Ahura Mazda, reveals to the prophet Zarathustra:

  • A battle between good and evil
  • The arrival of a savior figure known as the Saoshyant
  • A resurrection of the dead
  • The physical suffering of wicked people
  • The righteous transformed into a divine, immortal state
  • Humanity living as one under Ahura Mazda

Curiously, the state of the world prior to the Saoshyant’s arrival seems somewhat like what’s described in the Book of Revelation. Both writings describe worsening climate changes that lead to famine and nearly unlivable conditions on planet Earth. Also, each book insists that people’s deeds become increasingly wicked prior to good’s final showdown against evil. 

Influences During the Babylonian Exile 

If the Zand-i Wahman Yasn may have been written at least two millennia after Zarathustra’s lifetime, what are we to make of the possibility that “end times” concepts could have existed before the three main Abrahamic religions were even founded? To see the potential connections, it’s important to remember that Zarathustra himself lived and spread his teachings much earlier in human history. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that most scholars place his existence before the 6th century B.C.E., and BBC Religions writer Joobin Bekhrad mentions that he was likely alive between 1500 and 1000 B.C.E.

Both the ancient Greeks and the Jewish people of the Babylonian exile would have been exposed to his philosophies during the 6th century B.C.E., thanks to the Persian conquests of ancient Israel, Judea and Greece. In fact, it was the Greeks who gave him the moniker “Zoroaster” and helped propagate his notion that good and evil coexist as opposing forces. Along with this key concept, many of his other ideologies were eventually adopted by the three Abrahamic religions:

  • Monotheism, or the existence of only one god
  • Humans being either righteous or wicked
  • Two spiritual destinations in the afterlife, Heaven and Hell
  • The existence of angels and demons
  • An adversarial figure who opposes God
  • A final judgment determining the fate of every human for all eternity

During their captivity in Babylon from 598 to 538 B.C.E., Jewish exiles would have read and heard Zarathustra’s teachings. These trickled into their theology and culture around the same time that they impacted Hellenistic philosophies. From there, they would have been passed down into Christianity through New Testament writers such as Saint Paul and John of Patmos, who themselves may have also been influenced by Hellenistic ideas. Eventually, Islam would have inherited these same ideas, drawing from a similar ideological pool.

Its Eschatological Legacy Continues Today

Statistics Canada estimates there are only around 5,000 Zoroastrians in our country, and one of its last famous adherents, Freddie Mercury, died in 1991. Yet when we talk about the “end of the world” or fear Revelation-like conditions developing around us, we are rehashing ideas promoted by its ancient Iranian prophet over three thousand years ago. Its influences on religion and culture in the West are still apparent today thanks to his concepts leaking into the three major Abrahamic religions as well as Greek philosophies.