19 Religious Facts People Get Wrong All The Time

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By Darryl Henderson

Religion shapes beliefs, traditions, and views worldwide. Because it’s such a complex aspect of human culture, many people can misinterpret information, spreading incorrect religious facts. To show you what we mean, let’s look at 19 religious facts that people get wrong all the time.

Only 10 Commandments

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Many believe there are only ten commandments, but the number of commandments varies slightly between Christian denominations. Either way, they’re not consistently numbered or ordered; in fact, Judaism recognizes a staggering 613 commandments in the Torah! We’ll probably stick to 10 for simplicity, though.

Confusion Over the Trinity

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The Holy Trinity is often misunderstood as three separate gods rather than one God in three persons. Confusingly, the term ‘trinity’ does not actually appear in the Bible; it was originally developed as a result of early Christian theology and is rejected by some denominations.

Buddha is Not a God

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Buddha was a teacher of Buddhism, not a god. According to Britannica, he was born in the 6th-4th century BCE in what is now known as Nepal. Buddhism generally does not involve the worship of gods and is instead focused on personal spiritual development. Buddha was simply the first person to become enlightened.

Virgin Birth of Jesus

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The virgin birth refers to Mary conceiving Jesus without a human father, but some confuse it with the concept of immaculate conception. The immaculate conception refers to Mary conceiving Jesus without sin, but this is not universally accepted by all sects of Christianity.

Hindu Deities

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Some people believe that Hinduism has millions of gods, but these gods actually represent various aspects of a single supreme reality. For example, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva symbolize creation, preservation, and destruction rather than three separate gods; they’re simply three parts of the Hindu belief system.

Kosher Laws

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Kosher laws are often thought to be about health, but they are actually religious laws that focus on maintaining spiritual purity. Rabbinic tradition elaborates on the laws in the Torah, and staying kosher is a way for Jews to maintain their religious identity.

The Meaning of Jihad

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Jihad is sometimes mistranslated as “holy war,” but as the BBC defines it, the literal meaning of Jihad is actually “struggle” or “effort.” The mistranslation of Jihad has often been appropriated by extremist groups to justify violence, which we think is terrible.

Nature of the Holy Land

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Many people assume the Holy Land is only significant to the Christians and Jews, but it’s also sacred to other religions, including Muslims. Important religious sites, such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, are present in Jerusalem, and many historical and recent conflicts have developed over its control and access.

The Sabbath Day

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The Sabbath is observed on different days by different religious groups–not always Sunday. It’s a day of rest and worship rooted in the Biblical narrative, where God rested on the seventh day when creating the world, but that doesn’t imply the seventh day was necessarily a Sunday!

Pagan Roots of Christmas and Easter 

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Contrary to common belief, Many Christmas and Easter celebrations have origins in pre-Christian pagan festivals. The Christmas tree, gift-giving, and Easter eggs are examples of pagan customs, and these holidays coincide with the winter solstice and spring equinox. That’s so confusing!

The Concept of Karma

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Karma can be misunderstood as instant retribution for good or bad, but the National Institutes of Health points out that it’s actually attached to reincarnation and involves a complex system of cause and effect across entire lifetimes. The concept is significant not only to Hinduism but also to Buddhism and Jainism.

Women in Religious Texts

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Misinterpretations about women’s roles in religious texts are common. For example, figures like Mary Magdalene in Christianity are mischaracterized despite their important roles, and Hindu texts feature powerful goddesses, while Islam emphasizes equality between men and women. Despite this, many claim that religious texts oppress women. 

The Significance of Saints

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Saints are significant in Catholicism but not typically in Protestant traditions, believed to be able to pray to God on behalf of others. However, many people believe that they are synonymous with all sects of Christianity, which is simply not true.

Differences Between Sunni and Shia Islam

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The split between Sunni and Shia Islam came from a dispute over the rightful successor to Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims are the majority, while Shia Muslims form minorities in countries like Iran and Iraq, yet many people assume that all Muslims believe the same thing!

Original Sin

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Original sin is a key doctrine in Christianity and is often misunderstood as a personal sin rather than a state inherited from Adam and Eve. This concept varies among Christian denominations, with Eastern Orthodoxy rejecting the idea of inherited guilt altogether.

Misunderstandings of Atheism

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Atheism is not a belief system but an absence of belief in gods. Atheists might have certain ethical and moral frameworks, but these are independent of religious doctrines. Agnosticism, on the other hand, is uncertainty regarding the existence of gods, generally categorized as agnostic theism or agnostic atheism. 

The Golden Rule Across Religions

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The belief in treating others as one would like to be treated is found in almost every major religion, not just Christianity. Teachings regarding this belief also exist in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, amongst others. All of these religions emphasize empathy and ethics.

Errors About Reincarnation

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Reincarnation is a belief found in several religions, and it’s often confused with resurrection. Britannica explains that it’s instead the rebirth of the aspect of a person that persists after the body dies, whether that be the mind, soul, or consciousness. Ideas of reincarnation vary widely across religions and denominations.

Function of Religious Icons

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Lastly, many religious icons are not worshipped but instead respected as windows to the divine. They serve as tools for devotion and are believed to convey spiritual presence, with their use and significance varying significantly across different faiths and denominations. Not every religious figure is a God!

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