Researching Unusual Belief Systems
I was raised Roman Catholic (ten years in Catholic schools) and even though I am no longer a practioner I have a keen interest in belief systems that have unusual components. I have spent a considerable amount of time looking into the specific beliefs of several religious practices. I have read the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Dianetics (A Scientology starter) and even the Urantia Book.
I have always wondered why Muslims believe that the men will be rewarded with 72 virgins when they enter Paradise. It turns out that that promise is not contained in the Koran, but the concept of the Houri. Houris are women in Islamic eschatology who will accompany faithful believers in Paradise. Muslim scholars differ as to whether they refer to the believing women of this world or a separate creation, with the majority opting for the latter.
The concept of the Houri is actually only mentions in a few of the Hadiths of which there are tens of thousands. The Hadiths are a collection of traditions containing sayings (supposedly) of the prophet Muhammad which, with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Koran. Keep in mind that no one knows who wrote or exactly when the Hadiths were composed. Also, the translation of the concept of Houri is in dispute and could well have a different meaning. The truth is that the vast majority of Muslims do not subscribe to this belief, but it has been an effective tool in recruiting potential martyrs for radical Muslim terrorists.
The belief system that I find most interesting in Mormonism (AKA the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, AKA the LDS.) I really admire the architecture of their temples and the ethics and morals practiced by many of their faithful. I laughed my ass off at the South Park episode that featured the history of the religions foundation and a typical Mormon family (season 7, episode 12). I traveled to Austin to watch “The Book of Mormon” and enjoyed it immensely (it was completely different from the TV episode).
I found the actual Book of Mormon to be a difficult read. Despite their official complete name, you will not find much in the book referencing Jesus. The believers view faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement as fundamental principles of their religion. Church theology includes the Christian doctrine of salvation only through Jesus Christ, though LDS doctrines regarding the nature of God and the potential of mankind differ significantly from mainstream Christianity. The church has an open canon which includes four scriptural texts: the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Other than the Bible, the majority of the LDS canon constitutes revelation received by Joseph Smith and recorded by his scribes which includes commentary and exegesis about the Bible, texts described as lost parts of the Bible, and other works believed to be written by ancient prophets. Because of some of the doctrinal differences, Catholic, Orthodox, and several Protestant churches consider the church to be distinct and separate from mainstream Christianity.
What is contained in the Book of Mormon that I find especially unusual is the submarine voyage that the Jeredites took from (I guess from the east coast of Africa to the New World, I surmise it was South America).
Jared and his people were among the many scattered peoples from the destruction of the Tower of Babel. The brother of Jared is described as “a large and mighty man … highly favored of the Lord”, and seems to have been the spiritual leader of the group. He was given a vision of the history of the world, and inscribed prophecies, which were “sealed up” until the Lord decides to reveal them. The Lord told the brother of Jared to build unpowered submarines, termed “barges” or “vessels”, to cross the ocean to the promised land. The barges could circulate fresh air because of openings in the top and bottom of the vessel. The hole in the top could be “stopped up” when the waves crashed over the vessel to prevent scuttling. The hole in the bottom is assumed to have been constructed as a sort of “moon pool” with the lip above the waterline so it would not flood the vessel. This would also allow wave action and the buoying of the vessel to pump fresh air in and out of the vessel when the upper opening was uncapped. Because the vessels could not sustain fire or windows for light, the brother of Jared went to a mountain and prayed for help. God touched several molten stones and made them shine. Because of the brother of Jared’s great faith, he saw the finger of God. He then saw and spoke with Jehova. The people launched the vessels and traveled through great storms. After 344 days, they arrived at the Americas. Jared and his brother led the people to successfully establish a righteous nation.