“ Be the Change that you want to see in the world. ” ...is by Mahatma Gandhi...

7 settembre 2010

Overview of World Religions


Found in old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore 1692*
Then found by Jeff in Rich and Susan's bathroom, June 1996

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

[* There is some controversy as to the origin, age and authorship of Desiderata. Several sources attribute Desiderata to Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived from 1872 to 1945. Per these sources, the rector of St. Paul's Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. At the top of the handout was the notation, "Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore A.C. 1692." The church was founded in 1692.]
Overview of World Religions

The capsulated summary of the studied religions provided below is extracted from web postings of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Each description has been kept very short so that it is easy to read straight through all of them and get a general impression of the diversity of spiritual paths. As a result, a great many things have been omitted.

Hinduism - 4000 to 2500 BCE

The origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization sometime between 4000 and 2500 BCE. Though believed by many to be a polytheistic religion, the basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called Brahman. The purpose of life is to realize that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existance and rejoin with God. This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as samsara. One's progress towards enlightenment is measured by his karma. This is the accumulation of all one's good and bad deeds and this determines the person's next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even an animal.
Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the Brahmins, may perform the Hindu religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples.

Buddhism - 560 to 490 BCE

Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BCE, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted 'The Middle Way' as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of mortification of the flesh or hedonism. Long after his death the Buddha's teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a savior, prayer, or eternal life after death. Since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.

Confucianism - 500 BCE

K'ung Fu Tzu (Confucius) was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu in China. He traveled throughout China giving advice to its rulers and teaching. His teachings and writings dealt with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power. He stressed the following values:
bulletLi: ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc. 
bulletHsiao: love among family members 
bulletYi: righteousness 
bulletXin: honesty and trustworthiness 
bulletJen: benevolence towards others; the highest Confucian virtue 
bulletChung: loyalty to the state, etc. 

Unlike most religions, Confucianism is primarily an ethical system with rituals at important times during one's lifetime. The most important periods recognized in the Confucian tradition are birth, reaching maturity, marriage, and death.

Taoism - 440 CE

Taoism was founded by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Confucius in China. Taoism began as a combination of psychology and philosophy which Lao-Tse hoped would help end the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts of his time. His writings, the Tao-te-Ching, describe the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life. Taoism became a religion in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion.
Tao, roughly translated as path, is a force which flows through all life and is the first cause of everything. The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao. Tai Chi, a technique of exercise using slow deliberate movements, is used to balance the flow of energy or "chi" within the body. People should develop virtue and seek compassion, moderation and humility. One should plan any action in advance and achieve it through minimal action. Yin (dark side) and Yang (light side) symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen through the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. The impact of human civilization upsets the balance of Yin and Yang. Taoists believe that people are by nature, good, and that one should be kind to others simply because such treatment will probably be reciprocated.

Judaism - 2000 BCE

Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i faith all originated with a divine covenant between the God of the ancient Israelites and Abraham around 2000 BCE. The next leader of the the Israelites, Moses, led his people out of captivity in Egypt and received the Law from God. Joshua later led them into the promised land where Samuel established the Israelite kingdom with Saul as its first king. King David established Jerusalem and King Solomon built the first temple there. In 70 CE the temple was destroyed and the Jews were scattered throughout the world until 1948 when the state of Israel was formed.
Jews believe in one creator who alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. He monitors peoples activities and rewards good deeds and punishes evil. The Torah was revealed to Moses by God and can not be changed though God does communicate with the Jewish people through prophets. Jews believe in the inherent goodness of the world and its inhabitants as creations of God and do not require a savior to save them from original sin. They believe they are God's chosen people and that the Messiah will arrive in the future, gather them into Israel, there will be a general resurrection of the dead, and the Jerusalem Temple destroyed in 70 CE will be rebuilt.

Christianity - 30+ CE 

Christianity started out as a breakaway sect of Judaism nearly 2000 years ago. Jesus, the son of the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph, was bothered by many of the laws and practices of his native Jewish faith and began preaching his own message of God and religion. During his travels he was joined by twelve others who became his disciples and followed him in his journeys and learned from him. He performed many miracles during this time and related many of his teachings in the form of parables. Among his best known sayings are to "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek." At one point he revealed that he was the Son of God sent to earth to save mankind from our sins. This he did by being crucified on the cross for his teachings. He then rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and told them to go forth and spread his message.
Since Christianity and Judaism share the same history up to the time of Jesus Christ, they are very similar in many of their core beliefs. There are two primary differences. One is that Christians believe in original sin and that Jesus died in our place to save us from that sin. The other is that Jesus was the Son of God and part of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. All Christians believe in heaven and that those who sincerely repent their sins before God will be saved and join Him in heaven. Belief in hell and satan varies among groups and individuals.
There are a multitude of forms of Christianity which have developed either because of disagreements on dogma, adaptation to different cultures, or simply personal taste. For this reason there can be a great difference between the various forms of Christianity they may seem like different religions to some people.

Islam - 622 CE 

Islam was founded in 622 CE by Mohammed the Prophet, in Medina. Though it is the youngest of the world's great religions many Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They belief that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Mohammed as the last prophet was to formalize and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qu'ran, which are the words of Allah "the One True God" as given to Mohammed, and the Hadith, which is a collection of Mohammed's sayings. The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and are:
bulletRecite the shahadah at least once. 
bulletPerform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing Mecca. 
bulletDonate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy. 
bulletFast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Mohammed received the Qu'ran from Allah. 
bulletMake at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if economically and physically possible. 

Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs, and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.
Much of the material on this page was adapted from the descriptions of the different world religions at the web site of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Please visit their site if you would like more information on these faiths. They also have many links to resources on the net for each faith.

Other Asian
Middle East / Western
Before the Common Era (BCE, BC)
Yangshao culture
Longshan culture
Indus Valley civilization
Mesopotamian culture
Lunar calendar
Xia Dynasty
Old Babylonian Empire
Epic of Gilgamesh (1900)
Shang Dynasty
360-day calendar
Ideographic script
Vedic society (1500-500)
Vedas in India (1200-800)
Syrian, Phoenician alphabets (1600,1400)
Moses leads Hebrews (1250-1200)
Hebrew occupation of Canaan (1200-1025)
Trojan War (1250)
Chou Dynasty (1027-221)
Upanishads in India (800-600)
Unified Hebrew monarchy of Saul, David, Solomon (1025-933)
Kingdom of Israel (933-722)
Kingdom of Judah (933-586)
Assyrian Empire (750-612)
New Babylonian Empire (612-539)
Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem (586)
Life of Confucius (551-479)
Life of Lao-Tse, Taoism
Life of Gautama, the Buddha (563-483)
Life of Mahavira, Jainism (540-468)
Persian conquest of Indus Valley
Persian conquest of Babylon, Egypt
Warring States period
Iron plow
System of weights and balances
Emporer Ashoka, India (273-232)
Conquests of Alexander the Great
Chin Dynasty (221-206)
Destruction of Confucian literature (221)
Great Wall built
Han Dynasty (221BCE-220CE)
Confucianism is state philosophy
Invention of rudder (100)
Greek invasion of India (183-145)
Beginning of Japanese state (100)

Common Era (CE, AD)
Extensive 'silk route' trade with Roman Empire
Invasions/rule of Northern India (0-300)
Buddhism strong in China
Classic age of Hindu culture, India
Life of Jesus Christ (0-33)
Peter, Bishop of Rome, dies (64)
Glass, magnetic compass
Barbarian invasions
Gupta Dynasty, India
Adoption of Chinese characters, Japan
Sui Dynasty (581-618)
China reunified
Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Emphasis on the arts
Taoism is state religion
Spread of Buddhism in Japan
Life of Muhammad (570-632)
Muslims conquer Syria, Persia, Egypt
Publication of Koran (651)
Islam split Shiites, Sunnites
Woodblock printing
Song Dynasty
Feudal period
Taoism/Confucianism compete with Mahayana Buddhism
Abbasids Dynasty, Islam (750-1258)
Gun powder (1150)
Inoculation for smallpox
Genghis Khan, Kubla Khan
Muslim invasions of India
Shogunate, Japan feudalism
Destruction of Buddhism, India (1192)
Zen Buddhism, Japan (1200)
Christianity split, Orthodox and Roman Catholic (1054)
Crusades (1095-1291)
Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty (1279-1368)
Marco Polo travels (1275-1300)
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
"Forbidden City" in Beijing
Mongols unsuccessful invasion of Japan (1274, 1281)
Mongols destroy Baghdad (1258)
Turks capture Constantinople (1453)
Ching (Manchurian) Dynasty (1644-1911)
Foundingof Sikh religion
Introduction of Christianity to Japan (1549)
Protestant movement, Martin Luther (1517)
Opium Wars (1839-1842)
Republic of China (1912-1949)
People's Republic of China (1949+)
Gandhi and Indian independence (1947)
Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species (1859)
Sources: Derived from a number of web sources.

Comparative View of World Religions

As Viewed by Biblical Christianity

Reference:  paraphrased selection from 17 faiths compared to Biblical Christianity, Christianity, Cults & Religions, 1996 Rose Publishing.
Note:  It is not clear what specific affiliation Rose Publishing has, but it seems that "Biblical Christianity" would represent the more literalist Protestant denominations, and perhaps to a lesser extent Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

FoundingWritingsWho is God?Who is Jesus?Holy SpiritTo be SavedAfter DeathOther
30-33CE by Jesus Christ in Judean province of Palestine under Roman EmpireThe Bible, orig. in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament)One God in 3 persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a spirit, personal and involved, eternal, loving and perfect.God the Son; begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; only way to Father and salvation; died on cross as payment for man's sins, rose from the dead, then seen by over 500 eyewitnesses; will come again at the end of the world.God the Holy Spirit; a person, not a force or energy field.Salvation is by God's grace, not by good works; must be received by faith that Jesus died for their sins and physically rose again.All await final judgment; all are resurrected, those saved live with Jesus in Heaven; those lost suffer separation from God (Hell).Group worship in churches; no secret rites; Baptism; Communion; Jesus said His followers would be known by their love for one another.
Hinduism1800-1000BCE in IndiaVedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita and many othersGod is "Absolute" universal spirit; everyone is part of God (Brahman) like drops in the sea.Jesus was a teacher (guru) or an avatar (an incarnation of Vishnu); his death does not atone for sins.Not part of this belief.Release from the cycles of reincarnation; achieved through meditation; final salvation is union with Brahman.Reincarnation into a better status (good karma) if person has behaved well.Worship many gods and goddesses that are manifestations of Brahman.
Buddhism525BCE by Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) in India; offshoot of Hinduism.The Tripitaka (three baskets) with over 100 volumes.Mostly atheistic; Buddha is a universal enlightened consciousness or god.Not part of this belief, although generally viewed as an enlightened man.Not part of this belief.Goal of life is nirvana, to eliminate all desires/cravings and in this way escape suffering.People do not have a soul/spirit, but one's feelings can be reincarnated; no heaven or hell.Eightfold path... right knowledge, intentions, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and meditation.
Judaismca. 2000BCE by Abraham in the middle eastThe Tanakh (Old Testament) and Torah (first 5 books of OT), Talmud (explanation of Tanakh), writings of sages.God is spirit; to Orthodox Jews, God is personal and compassionate; to other Jews, God is impersonal.Jesus seen as either an extremist false messiah or a good but martyred teacher.  Orthodox Jews await the Messiah.Another name for God's activity on Earth.Some Jews believe that prayer, repentance and obeying the Law are necessary for salvation.There will be a physical resurrection; obedient will live forever with God and unrighteous will suffer.Sabbath is Friday eve to Saturday eve; circumcision; many holy days; Jerusalem is holy city.
Islam610CE by Muhammad (570-632) in Mecca and Medina.Koran in Arabic; Hadith (Muhammads's words and deeds); certain Biblical works accepted but considered corrupted.God (Allah) is one; revealed the Koran to Muhammad through Gabriel; God is a severe judge (sometimes merciful) and is not depicted as loving.Jesus is one of 124,000 prophets; born of a virgin but not Son of God; was sinless; ascended to heaven without dying (not crucified); a messiah and ayatollah (sign of God).See the angel Gabriel as the Holy Spirit.Humans basically good; balance between good and bad deeds determines eternal destiny in paradise or hell; God's mercy is arbitrary and uncertain.Resurrection of bodies; final reckoning; eternal hell for infidels, those who reject Islam.Five pillars... one God with Muhammad as prophet, pray 5 times daily, give money (alms), fast during month of Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca. 
World Faith
1844CE by Mizra Ali Muhammed (the Bab) and Mizra Husayn Ali (Baha'u'llah, glory of Allah) in Iran; HQ in Haifa, Israel.Writings of founders; Kitab-i-Aqdas and Kitab-i-Iqan; The BibleGod is an unknowable divine revealed thru 9 manifestations, including Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad and Haha'u'llah.One of many manifestations of God; is not God and did not rise from the dead; not the only way to God; returned to Earth in the form of Baha'u'llah.Divine energy from God.Faith in the manifestation(s) of God; knowing and living by Baha'u'llah's principles and teachings.Personal immortality based on good works; heaven and hell are conditions not places.Originated as Islamic sect; teaches that all religions have the same source, principles and aims.
(Latter-day Saints)
1830CE by Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) in western NY; HQ in Salt Lake CityThe Bible (King James version); Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; Pearl of Great PriceGod the Father (Elohim) was once man but became God; he has a physical body and a wife; no trinity, 3 separate gods; worthy men may one day become gods themselves.Separate from Elohim; created by sexual union of Elohim and Mary; Jesus was married; death on cross does not provide full atonement for all sin, but does provide all with resurrection.Separate from Father and Son; an electricity-like emanation from God.Resurrected by grace, but saved (exalted to godhood) by works, incl. faithfulness to church, baptism, tithing, marriage and rituals; no eternal life without Mormon membership.Three separate kingdoms (heavens) with some achieving godhood; apostates (heathens) and murderers go to outer darkness.No alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine; near-mandatory 2-year mission; secret temple rituals members only; extensive social work; Blacks not granted full access to priesthood and privileges until 1978.
Jehovah's Witnesses
1879CE by Charles Russell (1852-1916) in Pennsylvania, later Joseph Rutherford; HQ Brooklyn, NY.The Bible (New World only); Watchtower publicationsOne-person God, Jehovah; no trinity.First creation of Jehovah; Jesus is not God; before coming to Earth, was Michael the archangel; Jehovah made the universe thru Michael; died on a stake, was resurrected as a spirit; returned visibly in 1914; very soon he and the angels will destroy all non-Jehovah's Witnesses (Armageddon).Impersonal Holy Spirit not God, but invisible force from Jehovah.Baptism as JW; must earn everlasting life on Earth by door-to-door work; salvation in heaven limited to 144,000 anointed ones.The 144,000 (already reached) live as spirits in heaven; rest must live on Earth for 1000 years or be annihilated.Anointed ones may take part in yearly Lord's Evening Meal; do not observe holidays or birthdays; do not vote, salute flag, work in military, or accept blood transfusions.
Unification Church(
Sun Myung Moon)
1954CE by Moon in South Korea; HQ in NYC.Divine Principle by Moon considered the Completed Testament, Outline of the Principle, and The Bible; believe Bible is a textbook teaching truth, but not truth itself.God is both positive and negative; the universe is God's "body"; God does not know the future, is suffering and needs man to make Him happy.Jesus was a perfect man, not God; the son of Zechariah, not born a virgin; mission (failed) was to unite Jews and form perfect family; did not rise from the dead; second coming of Christ is Moon, who is superior to Jesus.A feminine spirit who leads people to Moon.Obedience to the True Parents (Moon and wife) eliminates sins.Spirit world; no resurrection; members advance by convincing others to follow Moon; everyone will be saved, even Satan.Mass marriages; contact with spirits of the dead.
Unity School of Christianity1889CD by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore in Kansas City; HQ in Unity Village, Missouri.Unity magazine, Lessons of Truth, Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, the Bible with interpretation of "hidden" meaningsInvisible impersonal power; interchangeable with Principle, law, being, mind, spirit.Jesus was a man, not the Christ; Christ is a state of perfection in every person.The law of God in action.No evil, no devil, no sin; reincarnation until he learns truths and becomes "perfect".Death is result of wrong thinking; reincarnation until enlightenment; no literal heaven or hell.Prayer ministry by phone and mail.
Christian Science1875CE by Mary Baker Eddy in Massachusetts; HQ in Boston.Science and Health, With Key to the Scriptures, Manual of the Mother Church, Christian Science Journal and Sentinel; the Bible (not as reliable).Impersonal principle of life, truth, love, intelligence and spirit; God is all that truly exists, matter is an illusion.Jesus was not the Christ, but a man who displayed the Christ idea (perfection).Impersonal power.Humanity is already eternally saved; sin, evil, sickness and death are not real.Death is not real; heaven and hell are states of mind; the way to reach heaven is by attaining harmony (oneness with God).Members use Christian Science practitioners instead of doctors; healing comes from realizing one cannot be sick or die.
Scientology1954 by L. Ron Hubbard in California.  HQ in LA.Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health and others by Hubbard; The Way to Happiness.Does not define God; everyone is a "thetan", an immortal spirit.Not a part of this belief.Not a part of this belief.No sin or need to repent; salvation is freedom from reincarnation; one must work with an "auditor" on his "engrams" (hang-ups) to achieve the state of "clear" then progress up the "bridge to total freedom".Hell is a myth; people who get clear of engrams become operating thetans.Observe birth of Hubbard; much controversy follows this faith.

Rose Publishing states that "The final proofreading was done by Paul Carden, executive director of the Centers for Apologetics Research and former co-host for six years of the "Bible Answer Man" radio program sponsored by CRI (Christian Research Institute, San Juan Capistrano, CA). Other researchers who provided information and proofread rough drafts: Dr. James Bjornstad, Institute for Contemporary Christianity; Robert Bowman, Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project; H. Wayne House, author; Eric Pement, Sr. Editor, Cornerstone; and Brad Sparks, apologetics researcher."

As Viewed by Various Christian Support Groups

The following links are to sites that in one way or the other attempt to promote Christianity to non-Christians or provide information and counter arguments to Christians about other religions.
The Christian Attitude Toward Non-Christian Religions -- a well-written (if not totally convincing) article by Rick Rood, former director of publications at Probe Ministries, a non-profit corporation whose mission is to reclaim the primacy of Christian thought and values.
Comparative Analysis of the Major World Religions from a Christian Perspective -- actually a reasonably unbiased site prepared by Ernest Valea, a Romanian author and missionary.
World Religions Index -- seeks to equip Christians to understand other World Faiths and Religious Philosophies.  Included is a Table (in more detail than what is provided on our site) of data on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Primitive Religion.
including an interesting section on Responding to Muslim Claims
bulletIslamic Studies in Christian Perspective -- by the Reformed Internet

As Viewed by Non-Christians

The following links are provided to a few sites that attempt to inform believers and non-believers about their faith in contrast to Christianity.  Note that it appears difficult via the search engines to find much in this regard... seems like a) Christians are more ambitious missionaries than other religions, or b) advocates of non-Christian religions are less likely to publish English text on the web, or c) both a and b above.
Outreach Judaism -- Outreach Judaism is a non-denominational organization whose mission is to communicate Judaism’s perspective on Christianity and other religions in a manner that inspires Jews and fosters respect for Judaism among non-Jews.
Comparisons of Islam to other Faiths from the Islam101 site -- is an educational site on Islam, its way of life, civilization and culture. It includes an  introductory course on Islam and presents Islamic views on  contemporary issues. The  section on comparative religious studies has articles on the commonality and differences between Islam and other religions.
Buddhists and Christians -- Walk the Path of Unity -- from the Heartland Sangha, a group of American Buddhists who practice a non-dualistic, pan-sectarian Buddhism drawn from the original teachings of Gautama Buddha, Jodo Shinshu, Zen Buddhism and engaged Buddhism.

A Somewhat Independent View

The following sites do a reasonable job in depicting various spiritual and religious activities in a largely independent and non-judgmental way.
bulletOntario Consultants on Religious Tolerancewww.religioustolerance.org
bulletBeliefnet.com -- an independent multi-faith e-community designed to help you meet your own religious and spiritual needs -- in an interesting, captivating and engaging way.