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Religious terms

Meanings of ambiguous terms
beginning with the letters "A" to "R"

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Abrahamic religions:

The term "Abrahamic Religions" is derived from the Abraham of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Through him, God is said to have made a covenant with the Jewish people. The three major religions which trace their roots back to Abraham are often referred to as the Abrahamic religions (a.k.a. Abramic religions). These are: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Wikipedia states: "What constitutes an Abrahamic religion can be controversial, as this is not a standardized classification, and the terminology is often used to imply continuity between divergent faiths, in a way that is offensive to some adherents of those faiths." 15 Sometimes, the Baha'i Faith is included. Many small non-Jewish groups such as the Druze, Falashas, Karaits, Mandaeans, Rastafarians, Samaritans, etc. trace their spiritual roots back to Abraham, but are not generally considered Abrahamic religions.

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Atheist, Atheism:

bulletA common dictionary definition of "Atheist" is a person who believes that no supernatural deity exists.
bulletIn the early days of the Christian movement, the Roman Government considered Christians to be Atheists because they did not believe in the existence of the Pagan Gods and Goddesses whose existence was taught by the state religion.
bulletMany Atheists themselves define the term as referring to anyone who has no knowledge of a deity. A newborn, for example, would be an Atheists under this definition because they have no awareness of supernatural being(s). They use the term "strong Atheist" to refer to a person who actively believes that no deity or deities exists.

We recommend that the third definition be selected, because that it the one that Atheists themselves use.  More details

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People have assigned many meanings to the word "Christian." Some definitions include everyone who has:

  1. Heard the Gospel in a specific way, and accepted its message, or
  2. Been "saved" in their youth or adulthood, (i.e. trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior, perhaps after having repented of their sins), or
  3. Been baptized, or
  4. Gone to church regularly, or
  5. Recited and agreed with a specific church creed, or
  6. Simply tried to understand and follow Jesus' teachings.

More definitions of "Christian"

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Cult, cultic:

We have identified one positive, four neutral, three negative and one very negative meaning for this word. All are essentially unrelated. 

In the media, the term is often used to refer to a destructive religious group which:

bulletIs new, small, evil, and dangerous.
bulletOften has a single charismatic leader.
bulletEngages in brainwashing and other mind control techniques.
bulletBelieves that the end of the world is imminent.
bulletCollects weapons in preparation for attack.

Fortunately, such groups are extremely rare. 

The word has other neutral or positive meanings, such as:
bulletA Christian group that teaches one or more untraditional beliefs. Counter-cult groups (a.k.a. CCM or discernment ministries) generally use this definition.
bulletAny group which forms a small religious minority in a given country. This is a commonly used definition used by sociologists.
bulletA recently founded religious group. also called a New Religious Movement or NRM. This is a much more emotionally neutral term than "cult."
bulletA particular style of worship. For example, the  "Cult of Mary" is a theologically neutral term used to refer to the special veneration accorded the Virgin Mary.

More details

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bulletOriginally, this referred to a person who was from the countryside -- from the heath.
bulletAccording to the HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, it is a derogatory term used to refer to followers of any non-Judeo-Christian religions.
bulletFollowers of Asatru (Norse Paganism) and of other reconstructionist religions often refer to themselves as Heathens.
bulletMembers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) were once referred to as heathens because of their practice of polygyny

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The occult, occultic:

bulletThese terms originally meant a series of esoteric activities in which neophytes were gradually introduced to the group's secret knowledge. This once included such essentially unrelated and diverse activities as Witchcraft, Tea-leaf reading, Satanism, astrology, the Masonic Order, Tarot cards, horoscopes, etc.
bulletHowever, the original definition rarely applies today. Anyone can now go to any large bookstore and purchase books which describe these activities in great detail.
bulletSome conservative Christians view the occult as a highly organized and coordinated, profoundly evil, criminal, destructive, life threatening, international organization controlled by Satan worshippers. Their goal is to create many "fronts" for Satanism to entrap people, and lure them into worshipping Satan. Many conservative Christians define the term "occult" very broadly to also include heavy metal music, yoga, some forms of meditation, etc.
bulletOthers see it as a harmless group of unrelated, fascinating, collection of religions, methods of foretelling the future, men's spiritual organizations, and other groups and pastimes. More details

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Pagan, Paganism:

These terms have at least six common and unrelated meanings. Some are:
bulletA synonym for "Wiccan" (see below)
bulletA general-purpose snarl word to attack a person whose beliefs are different from the speaker's.
bulletAn ancient polytheist -- e.g. Canaanites, ancient Romans, ancient Greeks, etc.
bulletA follower of an Aboriginal religion --e.g. Native American Spirituality
bulletA follower of a religion other than the classical three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam or Christianity. Abrahamic religions are those which revere the patriarch Abraham. The Baha'i Faith should qualify as an Abrahamic faith, but often is not considered one. Under this definition, the world is about 33% Christian, 20% Muslim, less than 1% Jewish and 47% Pagan.

More details

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Reconstructionism, reconstructionist:

When used in a religious sense, these terms can refer to many different and unrelated faith traditions:

bulletThe term has been used to refer to the recreation of major ancient Mediterranean religions, most of which which had become extinct by about 1000 CE. Examples include ancient Pagan religions from Canaanite, Celtic, Egypt, Greek, Norse, and Roman cultures. Included within this definition are:
bulletHellenic Polytheism, (a.k.a. Hellenic Reconstructionist Paganism, Hellenism, and Hellenismos), the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece. 2
bulletKemitic religion, (a.k.a. Kemitic Orthodoxy) the religion of ancient Egypt. 3
bulletRomana, (a.k.a. Roman Paganism), the religion of ancient Rome. 4
bulletWicca and other Neopagan religions.
bullet Reconstructionist Judaism is a new, small, liberal movement started by Mordecai Kaplan as an attempt to unify and revitalize the religion. They reject the belief that Jews are a uniquely favored and chosen people.
bullet Christian Reconstructionism is an ultra-conservative form of Christianity which advocates a return to the Mosaic Code. This is an attractive religion for those who would wish to become slave owners. If the religion gains control of the U.S. or Canada, it could mean the death sentence for about 90% of the adult population of North Americans if they continued their current behaviors. Likely to be executed would be women who were not virgins when they first married, gays, lesbians, persons who worshiped other Gods, persons who engaged in adultery, etc.

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  1. "Abrahamic religion," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Drew Campbell, "What is Hellenismos?," About.com, at: http://paganwiccan.about.com/
  3. "Kemetic Religion," at: http://www.hethert.org/
  4. "Religio Romana," at: http://www.novaroma.org/

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Definitions > here

 Home page > Religious Information > Glossary of terms > Multiple definitions > here

or Home page > Religious Information > Multiple definitions > here

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Copyright © 2003 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-JAN-28
Latest update: 2006-MAR-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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