Everyday Religious Questions: Religion scholar and columnist finds surprising similarities in world religions

Dr. Earl Crow, professor of religion and philosophy
Dr. Earl Crow, professor of religion and philosophy and columnist for the Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal.

Dr. Earl Crow taught religion and philosophy at two North Carolina universities—High Point, a private liberal arts university affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and Wake Forest. He earned a degree in religion at Duke University and attended Duke Divinity School, studied at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester, England. Today he carries out pastoral duties and writes a column, “Everyday Religious Questions,” for the Winston-Salem Journal, where this column appeared January 7, 2017.

Obviously, I find the study of all religions interesting. Most of the time, I am surprised by the similarities. As promised, I will continue the discussions about religions. Probably the most frequently asked question from students is about Scientology. The first Church of Scientology was founded in 1954. Presently, there are 10,000 churches worldwide. Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, who was born in 1911 and died in 1986. He became interested in philosophy at a young age, and his travels to Asian countries nurtured this interest. He was particularly interested in Buddhism.

Scientologists practice Dianetics. The dictionary explains that it “is a set of ideas and practices regarding the metaphysical relationship between the mind and body.” “It seeks to alleviate harmful emotions and fears.” They believe that humans are immortal spiritual beings, which is the reason that it concentrates on the mind and spirit but not the body. They also believe that humans are by nature good and have unlimited possibilities. It is not a dogmatic, doctrinal, religion, but much like Buddhism, strives for spiritual enlightenment.

The church does not define or prescribe, but one is led or trained to increase personal spiritual awareness. God is thought to be the urge of existence toward infinity. The individual’s spiritual awareness moves toward the full understanding of what is called the Eighth Dynamic or infinity and the relationship to the Supreme Being.

Hubbard wrote in Science of Survival, “No culture in the history of the world, save the thoroughly depraved and expiring ones, has failed to affirm the existence of a Supreme Being. It is an empirical observation that men without a strong and lasting faith in a Supreme Being are less capable, less ethical and less valuable to themselves and society…. A man without an abiding faith is, by observation alone, more of a thing than a man.”

Additional research will reveal different views of the man and the religion. Scientology is controversial, so I urge readers who have an interest to research and develop their own opinions.

Another religion we often hear discussed is the Baha’i faith. It was founded by Baha’u’llah around 1844 in Persia, modern Iran. It has spread to over 5 million followers in 200 countries. The followers believe that all humanity is one family and all religions come from God who is eternal.

Other more social/political ideas include gender equality, truth unfettered by tradition or superstition, harmony between science and religion, a world court to solve problems and avoid war, redistribution of wealth and compulsory education.

I have only known one person of the Baha’i faith, and he was a gentle and kind man whose adherence to his faith was more important than his business success. A quote from Baha’u’llah gives insight into the religion, “Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts.”

Since I have mentioned Persia, I might also mention a religion native to the area that has almost died out. The latest census gives the estimate of 124,000-190,000 Zoroastrians worldwide with an estimate of 45,000 in the United States. Zoroastrianism was founded by Zarathustra around the 5th century BC and served as the state religion in pre-Islamic Iranian empires. The sacred text is Avesta, and Ahura Mazda is The Lord Creator. They believe in heaven and hell and free will. The basic beliefs include the following sayings:

Good Words, Good Thoughts and Good Deeds,
There is only one path and that is the path of Truth.
Do the right thing because it is the right thing and rewards will follow.

By any measure, it is a fascinating religion. On March 26, a new Zoroastrian Temple, Dar-e-Mehr, opened in New York. The inauguration date paid tribute to the start of the traditional Persian New Year and the birthday of Zarathustra, the prophet and founder of the faith. I believe that Matthew’s three wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem were likely Zoroastrian astrologers. It is amazing to note the parallels between the life of Zarathustra and the life of Christ.

Dr. Crow’s column appears weekly in the Winston-Salem Journal. He accepts questions on religion and faith at ecrow1@triad.rr.com

Bahá’í faith L. Ron Hubbard Religious scholars Supreme Being Zoroastrianism