The Role of Beliefs The Big Idea!

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Unit Four

The Role of Beliefs

The Big Idea!
People’s religious and philosophical beliefs play a big role in helping people to make decisions and take actions that impact their world. In this unit we will study 5 of the world’s earliest beliefs that continue to play a role in shaping the way we treat ourselves and the world today.

The Hebrews, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and Taoists

Essential Ideas

By the end of the unit you will know

  • Key beliefs of the Hebrews, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, and Taoists

  • Significant events in the history of each of the Hebrews, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, and Taoists.

  • How each of these groups use their beliefs to explain events both in their past and in our present world

Essential Skills

By the end of the unit you will be able to

  • Apply past beliefs to personal challenges.

  • Choose a reading strategy that helps you retain information.

Unit At A Glance

So far this year we have looked at what has made large societies successful or failures. Hopefully you are now starting to realize that there is a difference between recognizing how to solve a problem and having the motivation to actually fix it. The Egyptians knew they should stop spending all their money on defense, but they didn’t! We know we shouldn’t be spending all of our money on defense, but it’s hard to stop. Just how do you find the motivation to make the tough decisions?

Throughout history societies have developed beliefs and philosophies to help motivate people to deal with the tough challenges. In this unit we will look at 5 of the oldest beliefs that are still with us today. To this day they provide billions of people around the world with guidance and hope to face some of the biggest problems in life.
A warning: Yes, we will be learning about religions in this unit. Yes, it is legal for me to teach you about religious beliefs. Our goal in this unit is not to have you believe that one religion is better than another. Our goal is just for you to see how different cultures in the world use their beliefs about gods and the afterlife to motivate themselves to deal with life challenges.
The Work

In this unit we will study the Hebrews, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Confucians and spend a little time with the Taoists.

For each group we will do the following:

  1. I will start you off with a background reading. Read it, take notes and prepare for a reading quiz the next day in class. If you take notes, you can use those notes to take your quiz. This will earn you an Information Literacy grade.

  1. In class, I have a PowerPoint that will take us through the actual beliefs of each religion. Learn them!

  1. At the end of each belief, I will give you a modern world problem to practice with. As a group you will use the belief we studied to determine how that belief would motivate people to solve the problem. This will be practice for you final Historical Connection Assessment.

When we are done all 5 beliefs I will give you two final assessments.

  1. The first will be your historical literacy grade. It will be a multiple choice and written response test from the reading packets and quizzes and the PowerPoints on the actual beliefs.

  1. The second will be your Historical Connections and Writing assessment. It will be an on demand Persuasive writing essay in which you will draw a problem from “The Bucket of Fate”. You will then choose a belief (of your pick) to persuade people to use to motivate themselves to solve the problem. Don’t panic just yet, I’ll give you more specific instructions when it comes time.

Learning Expectations and Grading

LE1: Historical Connection

You will choose one belief to demonstrate how that belief would solve a modern problem. You will have 4-5 opportunities to practice this in class first and then demonstrate your final performance with an on demand writing prompt.

LE2: Historical Literacy

I expect you to be able to identify the basic beliefs of each religion and know how each was developed. You will get this information from the background readings and the class notes. You will be able to practice with quizzes in class. Your summative assessment will be a multiple choice and short answer test.

LE3: Information Literacy

I will give you 5 background readings for different beliefs. This covers information that I want you to get on your own and not have to go over in class. I will give you the reading and then I will give you a quiz to check your understanding. If you take notes on the reading you may use them to take the quiz. If you take notes on all the readings, then you will get a 95 for a IL grade, no matter what your quiz percentage. If you don’t take notes, you will get whatever average you score on the quizzes.

LE4: Writing

I will give you a writing grade for your on demand Historical Connection Essay. The score will be based on your ability to write with purpose, organization, detail and voice. I will use the Persuasive Writing rubric to score you.

LE5: Work Habits

Since your homework in this unit is already scored elsewhere, you work habits in this unit will solely be based on your class effort. See rubric below for details.





Use of Class Time.

In class and on task all time.

Asking and responding to questions.

On task and participating for group discussions.

May be out of class, but not an issue.

Participates some.

Mostly on task during group work

May have to be spoken to about being off task

Distracting behavior
Wasting time.

Hebrew Reading Two

Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox is the most traditional expression of modern Judaism. Orthodox Jews believe the entire Torah - including "Written," the the Pentateuch, and "Oral," the Talmud) was given to Moses by God at Sinai and remains authoritative for modern life in its entirety. According to a 1990 nationwide survey, 7 percent of American Jews are Orthodox. American and Canadian Orthodox Jews are organized under the Orthodox Union, which serves 1,000 synagogues in North America. {1}

Orthodox Jews reject the changes of Reform Judaism and hold fast to most traditional Jewish beliefs and practices. Orthodox Judaism has held fast to such practices as daily worship, dietary laws (kashruth), traditional prayers and ceremonies, regular and intensive study of the Torah, and separation of men and women in the synagogue. It also enjoins strict observance of the sabbath and religious festivals and does not permit instrumental music during communal services. {2}

Orthodox Jews consider Reform and Conservative Jews adherents of the Jewish faith, but do not accept many non-Orthodox Jewish marriages, divorces, or conversions on the grounds that they were not performed in accordance with Jewish law.

The Orthodox Union dedicates significant resources to its OU Kosher division, which certifies an estimated 660,000 products in 77 countries around the world. {3} The OU symbol is one of the most common certification symbols seen on kosher foods.

Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism is the most liberal expression of modern Judaism. In America, Reform Judaism is organized under the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations), whose mission is "to create and sustain vibrant Jewish congregations wherever Reform Jews live." About 1.5 million Jews in 900 synagogues are members of the Union for Reform Judaism. According to 1990 survey, 42 percent of American Jews regard themselves as Reform. {1}

Reform Judaism arose in Germany in the early 1800s both as a reaction against the perceived rigidity of Orthodox Judaism and as a response to Germany's increasingly liberal political climate. Among the changes made in 19th-century Reform congregations were a deemphasis on Jews as a united people, discontinuation of prayers for a return to Palestine, prayers and sermons recited in German instead of Hebrew, the addition of organ music to the synagogue service, and a lack of observance of the dietary laws. Some Reform rabbis advocated the abolition of circumcision and the Reform congregation in Berlin shifted the Sabbath to Sundays to be more like their Christian neighbors. Early Reform Judaism retained traditional Jewish monotheism, but emphasized ethical behavior almost to the exclusion of ritual. The Talmud was mostly rejected, with Reform rabbis preferring the ethical teachings of the Prophets. {2}

Modern Reform Judaism, however, has restored some of the aspects of Judaism that their 19th-century predecessors abandoned, including the sense of Jewish peoplehoood and the practice of religious rituals. {2} Today, Reform Jews affirm the central tenets of Judaism - God, Torah, and Israel - while acknowledging a great diversity in Reform Jewish beliefs and practices. Reform Jews are more inclusive than other Jewish movements: women may be rabbis, cantors, and synagogue presidents; interfaith families are accepted; and Reform Jews are "committed to the full participation of gays and lesbians in synagogue life as well as society at large." {3}

Conservative Judaism (known as Masorti Judaism outside the USA) is a moderate sect that seeks to avoid the extremes of Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Conservative Jews wish to conserve the traditional elements of Judaism while also allowing for reasonable modernization and rabbinical development.

The teachings of Zacharias Frankel (1801-75) form the foundation of Conservative Judaism. Frankel broke away from the Reform movement in Germany in the 1840s, insisting that Jewish tradition and rituals had not become nonessentials. He accepted both the Torah and Talmud as enduring authorities but taught that historical and textual studies could differentiate cultural expressions from abiding religious truths.

In 1902, Solomon Schechter reorganized the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and made it the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism. Future Conservative rabbis are still trained there. {1}

Conservative Jews observe the Sabbath and dietary laws, although some modifications have been made to the latter. As in Reform Judaism, women may be rabbis. In 1985, the first woman rabbi was ordained in a Conservative synagogue. Conservative Jews uphold the importance of Jewish nationalism, encouraging the study of Hebrew and support for Zionism. Beyond these basic perspectives, beliefs and practices among Conservative Jews can range from Reform to Orthodox in nature. It is more "a theological coalition rather than a homogeneous expression of beliefs and practices." {2}

The Conservative movement has been especially successful in the United States, where it is represented by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ). The USCJ was founded in 1913 and today encompasses about 1.5 million Jews in 760 congregations. {3} Future Conservative rabbis are trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, NY, founded in 1883.

A number of studies have shown that there is a large gap between what the Conservative movement teaches and what most of its laypeople have incorporated into their daily lives. Conservative Judaism holds that halakha (Jewish law) is normative, i.e. that it is something that Jewish people must strive to actually live by in their daily lives. This would include the laws of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath); the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher); the practice of thrice daily prayer; observance of the Jewish holidays and life-cycle events. In practice, the majority of people who have come to join Conservative synagogues only follow all these laws rarely. Most do follow most of the laws some of the time, but only a minority follow most or all of the laws all of time. There is a substantial committed core, consisting of the lay leadership, rabbis, cantors, educators, and those who have graduated from the movement's religious day schools and summer camps, that do take Jewish law very seriously. Recent studies have shown an increase in the observance of members of the movement. {4}

Buddhist Reading One
The Life of The Buddha

According to tradition, the historical Buddha lived from 563 to 483 B.C., although scholars postulate that he may have lived as much as a century later. He was born to the rulers of the Shakya clan, hence his appellation Shakyamuni, which means "sage of the Shakya clan." The legends that grew up around him hold that both his conception and birth were miraculous. His mother, Maya, conceived him when she dreamed that a white elephant entered her right side. She gave birth to him in a standing position while grasping a tree in a garden. The child emerged from Maya's right side fully formed and proceeded to take seven steps. Once back in the palace, he was presented to an astrologer who predicted that he would become either a great king or a great religious teacher and he was given the name Siddhartha ("He who achieves His Goal"). His father, evidently thinking that any contact with unpleasantness might prompt Siddhartha to seek a life of renunciation as a religious teacher, and not wanting to lose his son to such a future, protected him from the realities of life.

The ravages of poverty, disease, and even old age were therefore unknown to Siddhartha, who grew up surrounded by every comfort in a sumptuous palace. At age twenty-nine, he made three successive chariot rides outside the palace grounds and saw an old person, a sick person, and a corpse, all for the first time. On the fourth trip, he saw a wandering holy man whose asceticism inspired Siddhartha to follow a similar path in search of freedom from the suffering caused by the infinite cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Because he knew his father would try to stop him, Siddhartha secretly left the palace in the middle of the night and sent all his belongings and jewelry back with his servant and horse. Completely abandoning his luxurious existence, he spent six years as an ascetic, attempting to conquer the innate appetites for food, sex, and comfort by engaging in various yogic disciplines. Eventually near death from his vigilant fasting, he accepted a bowl of rice from a young girl. Once he had eaten, he had a realization that physical austerities were not the means to achieve spiritual liberation. At a place now known as Bodh Gaya ("enlightenment place"), he sat and meditated all night beneath a pipal tree. After defeating the forces of the demon Mara, Siddhartha reached enlightenment and became a Buddha ("enlightened one") at the age of thirty-five.

The Buddha continued to sit after his enlightenment, meditating beneath the tree and then standing beside it for a number of weeks. During the fifth or sixth week, he was beset by heavy rains while meditating but was protected by the hood of the serpent king Muchilinda. Seven weeks after his enlightenment, he left his seat under the tree and decided to teach others what he had learned, encouraging people to follow a path he called "The Middle Way," which is one of balance rather than extremism. He gave his first sermon in a deer park in Sarnath, on the outskirts of the city of Benares. He soon had many disciples and spent the next forty-five years walking around northeastern India spreading his teachings. Although the Buddha presented himself only as a teacher and not as a god or object of worship, he is said to have performed many miracles during his lifetime. Traditional accounts relate that he died at the age of eighty in Kushinagara, after ingesting a tainted piece of either mushroom or pork. His body was cremated and the remains distributed among groups of his followers. These holy relics were enshrined in large hemispherical burial mounds, a number of which became important pilgrimage sites.

In India, by the Pala period (ca. 700–1200), the Buddha's life was codified into a series of "Eight Great Events". These eight events are, in order of their occurrence in the Buddha's life: his birth, his defeat over Mara and consequent enlightenment, his first sermon at Sarnath, the miracles he performed at Shravasti, his descent from the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods, his taming of a wild elephant, the monkey's gift of honey, and his death.

Buddhist Reading Two Three major schools of Buddhism

The Theravada form of Buddhism is dominant in southern Asia, especially in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. For this reason it is sometimes known as "Southern Buddhism." Theravada means "The Way of the Elders" in Pali, reflecting the Theravadins' belief that they most closely follow the original beliefs and practices of the Buddha and the early monastic Elders.

The authoritative text for Theravadas is the Pali Canon, an early Indian collection of the Buddha's teachings. The later Mahayana sutras are not recognized.

The purpose of life for Theravadins is to become an arhat, a perfected saint who has acheived nirvana and will not be reborn again. As a result, Southern Buddhism tends to be more monastic, strict and world-renouncing than its Northern counterpart, and its approach is more philosophical than religious. There are four stages to becoming an arhat:

  1. Sotapanna ("stream-enterer") - a convert, attained by overcoming false beliefs

  2. Sakadagamin ("once-returner") - one who will only be reborn once more, attained by diminishing lust, hatred and illusion

  3. Anagamin ("never-returner") - one who will be reborn in heaven, where he or she will become an arahant

  4. Arhat ("worthy one") - one who has attained perfect enlightenment and will never be reborn

Because of this focus on personal attainment and its requirement that one must renounce the world to achieve salvation, Mahayana Buddhists refer to Theravada Buddhism as the "Lesser Vehicle" (Hinayana).

In Theravada, it is thought to be highly unlikely, even impossible, that a layperson can achieve liberation. Because Mahayana disagrees, it regards itself as providing a "Greater Vehicle" to liberation, in which more people can participate.

Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century CE as a more liberal, accessible interpretation of Buddhism. As the "Greater Vehicle" (literally, the "Greater Ox-Cart"), Mahayana is a path available to people from all walks of life - not just monks and ascetics.

Mahayana Buddhism is the primary form of Buddhism in North Asia and the Far East, including China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia, and is thus sometimes known as Northern Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhists accept the Pali Canon as sacred scripture with the Theravadans, but also many other works, the Sutras, which were written later and in Sanskrit.

Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists differ in their perspective on the ultimate purpose of life and the way in which it can be attained. As discussed on the last page, Theravada Buddhists strive to become arhats, or perfected saints who have attained enlightenment and nirvana. This is considered to only be possible for monks and nuns, who devote their entire lives to the task. The best outcome the laity can hope for is to be reborn in the monastic life.

Mahayana Buddhists, on the other hand, hope to become not arhats but boddhisatvas, saints who have become enlightened but who unselfishly delay nirvana to help others attain it as well, as the Buddha did. Perhaps more significantly for one who would choose between the paths, Mahayana Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and this can be accomplished even by a layperson. The various subdivisions within the Mahayana tradition, such as Zen, Nichiren, and Pure Land, promote different ways of attaining this goal, but all are agreed that it can be attained in a single lifetime by anyone who puts his or her mind (and sometimes body) to it.

The Mahayana form of Buddhism tends to be more religious in nature than its Theravadan counterpart. It often includes veneration of celestial beings, Buddhas and boddhisatvas, ceremonies, religious rituals, magical rites, and the use of icons, images, and other sacred objects. The role of such religious elements varies, however: it is central to Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism, but is highly discouraged by Zen practitioners, who have been known to burn statues of the Buddha to demonstrate their unimportance.

Zen is perhaps the most well-known school of Buddhism in America. Its concepts have been influential on western society since the latter half of the 20th century. There are about 9.6 million Zen Buddhists in Japan today, and numerous Zen groups have developed in North America and Europe within the last century.

Both the words "Zen" (Japanese) and "Ch'an" (Chinese) derive from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, meaning "meditation." Zen Buddhism focuses on attaining enlightenment (bodhi) through meditation as Siddharta Gautama did. It teaches that all human beings have the Buddha-nature, or the potential to attain enlightenment, within them, but the Buddha-nature been clouded by ignorance. To overcome this ignorance, Zen rejects the study of scriptures, religious rites, devotional practices, and good works in favor of meditation leading to a sudden breakthrough of insight and awareness of ultimate reality. Training in the Zen path is usually undertaken by a disciple under the guidance of a master.

Several schools of Zen developed in China in the 9th century. The Rinzai (Chinese, Lin-chi) sect of Zen was introduced to Japan by the Chinese priest Ensai in 1191. Rinzai Buddhism emphasizes the use of koans, paradoxical puzzles or questions that help the practitioner to overcome the normal boundaries of logic. Koans are often accompanied by shouts or slaps from the master, intended to provoke anxiety leading to instant realization of the truth. Unlike the Ch'an schools in China, Ensai also taught that Zen should defend the state and could offer prayers and incantations. "These teachings influenced the warrior class and led to a Zen influence over the martial arts of archery and swordsmanship." {3}

Who Was Confucius? Confucius was born in 551 BC, in China. Confucius' ancestors were probably members of the aristocracy who had become virtual poverty-stricken commoners by the time of his birth. His father died when Confucius was only three years old. Instructed first by his mother, Confucius then distinguished himself as a passionate learner in his teens. It is not known who Confucius' teachers were, but his mastery of the six arts—ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic—and his familiarity with the classical traditions, notably poetry and history, enabled him to start a brilliant teaching career in his 30s.

Confucius developed concepts about education, society and government that he hoped to put into practice in a political career. But his loyalty to the king angered the people who were actually in control of China at the time, the large Chi families. His views on being a proper and moral person did not sit well with the king's inner circle, who kept the king distracted with sensuous delights. At 56, when he realized that his superiors were uninterested in his policies, Confucius left the country in an attempt to find another feudal state to which he could render his service. Despite his political frustration he was accompanied by an expanding circle of students during this self-imposed exile of almost 12 years. His reputation as a man of vision and mission spread. Although Confucius life goal was to teach the kings of China the proper way to rule, he never found a leader of China who would accept his teachings in his life time.

How do we know about Confucianism? . The philosophy that is known as Confucianism comes mainly from the speeches and writings of Confucius. Confucius ideas were recorded in a book called the “Analects”. Later followers of Confucius, such as Mencius, made important contributions to Confucianism as well which are found in the nine works: the "Four Books" and the "Five Classics."

What is Confucianism? Confucianism is an ethical system rather than a religion. (Ethics deals with human behavior and conduct.) Confucius was mainly concerned with how human beings behaved toward each other and paid little attention to such matters as sin, salvation, and the soul. Confucius believed that people, because of their nature, desire to live in the company of other people, that is, in society. It is only in society that people reach their fullest development. Therefore, it is important for people to know how to behave in society, that is, in their relations with other people.

The Five Basic Relationships According to Confucius, each person had a specific place in society and certain duties to fulfill. Confucius hoped that if people knew what was expected of them they would behave correctly. Therefore, he set up five principal relationships in which most people are involved. These relationships were (1) ruler and subject; (2) father and son; (3) elder brother and younger brother; (4) husband and wife; and (5) friend and friend. All, except the last, involve the authority of one person over another. Power and the right to rule belong to superiors over subordinates; that is, to older peo­ple over younger people, to men over women. Each person has to give obedience and respect to "superiors"; the subject to his ruler, the wife to her husband, the son to his par­ents, and the younger brother to the older brother. The "superior," however, owes loving responsibility to the inferior.

The Family and the State
Confucius placed great importance on the family. Family life was seen as a training ground for life in society. It is at home in the family that the child learns to deal with problems that he or she will face later in the world. The family is responsible for educating the child to be a good member of society. Confucius emphasized the importance of education, the aim of which is to turn people into good family members, responsible members of society, and good subjects of the emperor.

The state (government) was regarded as an extension of the family in many ways. The emperor and his officials were referred to as the parents of the people. Subjects owed the same loyalty to their rulers that they owed to the senior members of their family.

However, the emperor had duties to fulfill as well. Confucius believed that for society to be well ordered and for people to live in peace and prosper, it was necessary to have a good government and a virtuous ruler. It was the duty of the emperor and his officials to set a good example for the people. The good example of the ruler would transform the people, and make them better. Confucius believed that only the wisest and most humane men should rule. He further believed that if the emperor was not morally perfect, heaven would cause the world to suffer.

The emperor also had to maintain the proper relationship between himself and heaven. Heaven was regarded as the governing authority of the universe and the final judge of right and wrong. The Chinese believed that a dynasty ruled as long as it held the "Mandate of Heaven," that is, the right to rule. The people felt they had the right to say whether or not the ruler had the Mandate. When the Emperor did not see to it that there was water for irrigation, that canal barges could transport rice, that rivers did not flood, and that roads were safe for traveling, the people suffered. When the people suffered, they were sure that Heaven had taken away its protection of the Emperor, so they rebelled. When the rebellion was successful, the Mandate of Heaven was given to the leader of the rebellion. He became the emperor of a new dynasty.

Confucius himself was not very interested in the ideas of a God, an after life, heaven, and other ideas that we associate with religion. However, when Confucianism became the official philosophy of China, religious functions were incorporated into it. Confucius, together with his ancestors and famous followers, became objects of worship. Confucian temples were built all over China and sacrifices and rituals were performed.

The Importance of Confucianism
Although Confucius never persuaded any rulers in his life, leaders of the Han dynasty accepted his teachings after his death. For 2,000 years Confucianism was the official philosophy of China. The only way a person could achieve an important position in the government or in society was by having a good knowledge of Confucianism. To become a government official it was necessary to pass a difficult civil service examination based on the ideas of Confucius. Since it was Confucianism that kept the leaders in power, they were opposed to any changes. The Confucians believed that they were the only civilized community in the world and they looked down on the beliefs and cultures of other people. This attitude made the Chinese unwilling to change their way of life when they were first exposed to Western culture. This unwillingness to adopt Western ideas and techniques in the late 19th and early 20th centuries proved to be disastrous for the Chinese.

Hindu Reading One

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