Hinduism  is also called Sanatana Dharma (Eternal religion) and Vaidika Dharma(Religion of the Vedas). Overall, adherents to Hinduism make up around 15% of the global population with over a billion members, and approximately 95% of those live in India. There are two major divisions within Hinduism: Vaishnavaism and Shivaism. Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of one's soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes that's called Samsara. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. Hindus body of scriptures is divided into Sruti and Smriti. Hindus organize their lives around certain activities (Purusharthas). These are called the Four aims of Hinduism or "The doctrine of the fourfold end of life." They are:
- Dharma: righteousness in their religious life. This is the most important of the three.
- Artha: success in their economic life; material prosperity.
- Kama: gratification of the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and mental enjoyment.
The main goal for the "Nivritti," those who renounce the world. is:
- Moksa: Liberation from "samsara." This is considered the supreme goal of mankind.
Hinduism is unique due to the fact that there is no real distinction between beings divine and human. In Hinduism humans can appear divine, and gods human. Also, unlike most religions such as Christianity, there are two supreme gods Vishnu and Shiva, who are equal in power. Hinduism also has other gods such as Lakshmi and Parvati, who are wives to Vishnu and Shiva. A staple of Hinduism is greetings. Many times Hindu’s will bow their heads or raise heir hands as a sign of greeting and respect. It is this same raising of the hands which Hindu’s praise and worships their gods. In most pictorials of the deities, the divine are often showing this same way of greeting, showing that the divine must show respect.
Hinduism today is seen and argued as being polytheistic or monotheistic. In fact they would both be right. They do worship many deities, but they believe that each one is part of a whole unity. This is the panentheistic principle of Brahman: that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is one divine entity that is at one with the universe. Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, meaning they recognize a single deity, and recognizes other gods and goddesses as facets, forms, manifestations, or aspects of that God.
Viashnavism is a tradition of Hinduism distinguished from other schools by its worship of Vishnu or his manifestations, principally as Rama and Krishna, as the original and supreme God. Viashnavism is seen as monotheistic, since adherents to this form of Hinduism believe in one Supreme God. They believe that the living entity (or soul) is eternal, and that the purpose of life is to be free from reincarnation through spiritual practices. Bhakti Yoga (the spiritual practice of fostering loving devotion to God) is seen as the most direct method to achieve this. Desire is seen as the root of all evil, and thus a great deal of importance is assigned to the control of the senses, mainly through meditation and yoga practice. Material nature is seen as temporary, and is said to contain 3 modes: Goodness, Passion, and Ignorance. Desire, or lust, is said to be the result of material contact with the mode of passion, which is inevitably transformed into ignorance. The Supreme Personality Of Godhead is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent. He is male, and eternal. He is the Creator and the Destroyer. It is said that He created the material world by impregnating it with His eyes. The Material Universe is said to last 311 trillion 40 billion years and then die. At this point the devastation takes place, which means that the energy manifested by the Lord is again would up in Himself. Then Creation follows, and material energy is let loose once again. This cycle repeats infinitely... 
The monotheistic worship of Vishnu was already well developed in the period of the Itihasas. Hopkins says "Vishnuism, in a word, is the only cultivated native sectarian native religion of India. Vaishnavism is expounded in a part of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita, which contains the words of Krishna, one the avatars of Vishnu.
Vaishnavism flourished in predominantly Shaivite South India during the seventh to tenth centuries CE, and is still commonplace, especially in Tamil Nadu, as a result of the twelve Alvars, saints who spread the sect to the common people with their devotional hymns. The temples which the Alvars visited or founded are now known as Divya Desams. Their poems in praise of Vishnu and Krishna in Tamil language are collectively known as Naalayira (Divya Prabandha).
In later years Vaishnava practices increased in popularity due to the influence of sages like Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Manavala Mamunigal, Vedanta Desika, Surdas, Tulsidas, Tyagaraja, and many others.
Large Vaishnava communities now exist throughout India, and particularly in Western Indian states, such as Rajasthan and Gujarat and north eastern state Assam. Important sites of pilgrimage for Vaishnavs include: Guruvayur Temple, Sri Rangam, Vrindavan, Mathura, Ayodhya, Tirupati, Puri, Mayapur and Dwarka. Krishna murti with Radha Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford, England
Since the 1900s Vaishnavism has spread from within India and is now practiced in many places around the globe, including America, Europe, Africa, Russia and South America. This is largely due to the growth of the ISKCON movement, founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966.
Sikhism is a religion based in Punjab, India. It is the fifth-largest world religion. It is founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak, along with ten successive Sikh Gurus. Guru Nanak founded the religion in 1469 CE. The principle belief of Sikhism is faith in Waheguru, which refers to God or Supreme Being. It means "wonderful teacher" in the Punjabi language. Sikhism promotes the idea of salvation through disciplined and personal meditation on the name and message of God. The concept of God in Sikhism is oneness with the entire universe and its spirit. Sikhs must eliminate ego to be able to find God. Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell. "Heaven" can be attained on earth by being in tune with God while still alive. The suffering and pain caused by ego is seen as "hell" on earth. They believe that upon death, one merges back into universal nature. Sikhs view men and women as equal in the world. Women are expected to participate in the same religious life as men are. In Sikhism, every person is fully responsible for leading a moral life. Sikhs have no priestly class. Therefore, those who are educated in the ways of the religion are free to teach others about Sikhism, however, they cannot claim to have access to God. The only religious text of the Sikhs is Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, which contains hymns written by Guru Nanak and the other Gurus. Sikhs believe they have no right to impose their beliefs on others or to cajole members of other religions to convert. All individuals, regardless of race, gender, or nationality, are eligible to become Sikhs.
Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest recorded monotheistic religions. It originated from Persia and is based on the teachings of Zoroaster, a prophet of the early 5th century BCE. Many present day theologians point to Zoroastrianism as the influence for many of today's monotheistic world religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism etc. Zoroaster preached the following of Ahura Mazda which equates to God. Ahura Mazda is the supreme being of good whose enemy is represented by "druj" which is the power of evil. Zoroastrianism asks its followers simply to do good and to go through life with good thoughts, good words, and good deeds as these are necessary to create happiness and to keep the "druj" at bay. Pre-Islam Iranian governments promoted the teaching of Zoroastrianism during that time. Zoroastrianism was extremely popular to the Iranian people and was considered a state religion until it was marginalized by other religions in the 7th century. However it is still significant due to its history, the possible influence it had on other religions, and its followers who still are around today. Currently there are approximately 200,000 Zoroastrians in the world.
Buddhism is a religion based on personal spiritual development with some atheistic characteristics formed by a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly called "the Buddha" (which is actually a title that means "the Enlightened One"). He was believed to be born in Nepal around 563 BCE. Buddhism was formed after Siddhartha came to disagree with the practices and beliefs of asceticism. Born into a royal family, he became aware of suffering after taking a trip outside of the palace. Here, he encountered people suffering from disease, old age, and death. At the age of 29, having witnessed such sufferings, he decided to leave his life of comfort and become an ascetic in an attempt to find the solution to end suffering. For six years he ate only tiny handfuls of rice each day and did little besides meditating, in an attempt to free himself of bodily concerns. It is said that after those six years, he ran into a little girl by a river, who offered him a bowl of rice to feed his famished body. At this same time, a man (so the story goes) was traveling down the river playing a stringed instrument. Here Siddhartha came to a realization, which he later explained as: "Look at the lute. If its strings are too tight, they will break. If they are too loose, it cannot be played. Only by tuning them neither too tight nor too lose will the lute work." The Buddha later called this the Middle Way, the path of neither giving in to one's desires nor walking the line of extreme self-deprivation. After this realization, he broke away from his ascetic practices and sat under a tree (latterly called the Bo-tree, or Tree of Enlightenment), entering a deep meditation. This act is what is known as Jiriki or self-power. At the age of 35, after meditating for 49 days, he attained Enlightenment and was henceforth called "the Buddha". After attaining enlightenment, he went on to help others reach nirvana. During his experience of enlightenment, Siddhartha came to realize the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Buddhism also splits into three subcategories, the first being Theravada Buddhism (which is found in South East Asia), Mahayana Buddhism (found throughout East Asia), and Vajrayana Buddhism (this includes many subcategories of Buddhism including Tantric Buddhism and Mantrayana) . Zen is another school of Buddhist thought that developed in China during the 7th century, by an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, from a combination of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism. Practitioners of Zen aim to see the world as it truly is, without lasting thoughts or feelings but instead as a constant stream of unconnected thoughts. Zen is predominantly practiced in China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea but in recent years has gained popularity in the western world. It is estimated that there are currently 365 million people who practice Buddhism today. This makes the religion the fourth largest in the world.
Concepts of Buddhism
Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Paths
The Four Noble Truths deal with the nature, origin, cessation, and path to the cessation of suffering. These four things are the core of Siddhartha's message, and presumably expresses what he learned while meditating under the Bo-tree.
- Life leads to suffering
- Suffering is a result of a craving of worldly pleasures in any form
- Suffering ends when this desire is gone
- When one follows the path described the Buddha, one can be relieved of desire and achieve enlightenment
The Eightfold Path is part of the Fourth Noble Truth, or the path leading to the cessation of suffering. It is referred to as the Eightfold Path because of the eight categories or divisions that it is composed of, those being:
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
These paths are used to avoid two extremes: one extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses; the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of ascentism. It should not be thought that the categories should be followed by the numerical order above, but should instead be used more or less simultaneously, according to the capacity of each individual.
The Concept of Rebirth and Samsara
Like Hinduism, Buddhists believe in a rebirth of oneself. Rebirth is the idea that one goes through a series of lifetimes. When one dies, he or she moves to another body. However, Buddhism rejects the idea of an eternal soul such as in Christianity. It is an ever-changing process that is regulated by karma, the laws of cause and effect. Karma dictates the context of one’s rebirth. Besides the immediate effect of an action in this world, karma helps dictate the rebirth process. Possessing good karma will allow for a better realm of rebirth than bad karma. Buddhism says that the cycle of rebirth takes within one of five or six realms depending on the type of Buddhism one practices and within these realms, there are 31 planes of existence.
- Naraka Beings: those who live in one of the many hells of Buddhism
- Animals: They live among humans but are separate kind of life
- Preta: Shares place with humans but is often invisible, (hungry ghosts)
- Human beings: a realm in which Nirvana is attainable
- Asuras: demons, titans, antigods, and lowly deities and is not recognized by some schools of Buddhism
- Devas: gods, deities, spirits, and angels.
Samsara is a Buddhist concept that directly related to this cycle of rebirth. It is the world in which the human race currently resides and in which there is much pain, suffering, and sorrow. One can only leave Samsara once they have reached nirvana.
The Ten Fetters is a series of items that keep a person in Samsara.If one possesses any of these, he or she will remain in Samsara. One, according to Buddhist thought, should strive to overcome these things.
- Belief in a separate individuality or personality
- Doubt without desire for satisfaction
- Attachment to rules/rituals without a critical perspective
- Craving of sensuous things
- Wishing harm or ill will on others.
- Desire for more material items or greater material existence
- Desire for non-material existence
Pilgrimage in Buddhism
Buddhists take part in religious travels to sacred sites called pilgrimages. Similar to the travels to Mecca in Islam or the Vatican in Catholicism, Buddhists travel to four main sites in Northern India and Southern Nepal. These sites are significant places in the life of Siddartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Gautama taught that these four main sites would make his followers feel a sense of spiritual urgency, as they coincide with the life and spiritually significant experiences of the religious leader. The four significant places are as follows: Lumbini, where Siddartha Gautama was born, Bodh Gaya, where he was enlightened, Sarnath, where he gave his first teaching, and finally Kusinara, where Siddartha died.
The sacred site Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddartha Gautama is surrounded by an area called a monastic zone, or, an area in which only monasteries can be built. The site is visited by many looking to meditate and chant near the exact place of Siddartha's birth, and the sacred Bodhi tree. The site was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Traveling on a pilgrimage is an act Buddhists believe will earn them merit for future incarnations. The farther and longer the journey, and the more humble the mind of the person traveling, the greater the merit will be. Going on a pilgrimage is also a way for Buddhists to practice becoming free from worldly attachments. They might aim to no long feel so attached to an old home, to old relationships, or too old desires. By dedicating oneself to the pursuit of a holy place in a humble mindset, one comes closer to walking the Eightfold Path. The traveling of many monks over the centuries is attributed as one of the main causes of the spread of Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally has been responsible for the governing of Tibet. However, the Chinese government established control in 1959. The Dalai Lama's official residence before 1959 was the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. However, after his exile, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was instrumental in granting safe refuge to the Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has since lived in exile in Dharamsala, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government-in-exile) is also established.
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet. The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title posthumously.
According to Buddhist belief, the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama who decided to be reborn again to continue his important work. The Dalai Lama essentially chooses to be reborn again instead of passing onward. A person who decides to be continually reborn is known as Tulku. Buddhists believe that the first tulku in this reincarnation was Gedun Drub, who lived from 1391–1474, and the second was Gendun Gyatso. However, the name Dalai Lama meaning Ocean of Wisdom was not conferred until the third reincarnation in the form of Sonam Gyatso in 1578. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity" A widely cited, but apparently spurious quotation attributed to Albert Einstein 
Commonly translated as "The Way of the Gods," by combining the borrowed Chinese ideograms for 'gods' or 'spirits' (shin) and 'philosophical path' (tō).
Shinto is a form of animism that is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is a form of worship that is based upon nature. It teaches that every living or non living object in the world contains “kami”. “Kami” can be most easily explained as an inner spirit or god within that object. So any tree, rock, car, dog, cat, person, or anything else has a Kami. Kami also means 'paper' in Japanese, so the usage of it is a common theme in marking shrines and divine objects. In Japan, it typically is practiced alongside Japanese Buddhism. Since Buddhism focuses primarily on the afterlife, Shintoism focuses on the present. Unlike most other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood. 
There are 4 affirmations to Shintoism that include 1)Tradition and family, 2)Respect of nature, 3)Physical cleanliness, 4)and the celebration of festivals (matsuri) for the various kami.
Shinto is centered on `KAMI' (innumerable gods or spirits) of places, families, communities who interact with us. Kami are:
- Mostly associated with some particular place - a grove of impressive trees, a waterfall, a town, village, valley, etc. The kami are believed to move among their shrines and to reside in a small house-shaped box built for them at the shrine (or jinja).
- Usually beneficent, but not always. Occasionally they may be vengeful.
- Many kami are the spirits of deceased ancestors, emperors, prominent military figures, important animals (tiger, fox, etc), waterfalls, forests, distinctive rocks, rivers, etc.
- No `allpowerful god' in Shinto - only lots of little ones. Each has limitations. But the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is dominant however. She gave birth to the first emperor. Her main shrine is called Jingu and is located in a forest at Ise in western Japan.
- No concrete visual representation. No paintings, sculptures, masks, etc. of the kami themselves. Only Buddhist temples use physical representations (in painting and sculpture) of the Buddha and the Boddhisatvas.
- Religious ceremonies are attempts to please and entertain the kami. For example, sumo wrestling matches and the many local festivals, called matsuri, began as means of entertaining local kami.
Judaism is the first monotheistic religion and is a product of Abraham’s covenant with God. Judaism is based on the laws and principles of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym for Torah (“Teachings”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”). Within the Tanakh there are a total of twenty-four books. According to Judaism, God created a covenant with the Israelites when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. Judaism’s values stand on three things: Torah and the commandments, the study and doing of good deeds (mitzvah). Their Holy land is Israel, but their perceived right to the land is great source of controversy between the Jews and their Muslim neighbors.
Because of their banishment from the land of Israel in ancient times, Jews now live all over the world. There are approximately 14 million practicing and secular Jews today. The United States is home to around 5,602,000 Jews, New York alone has some 1,654,000 Jews, and Israel has about 4,390,000 Jews. Since 250 AD, Jews have been kicked out of 109 countries total. Throughout history, many Christians have blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. During the high Middle Ages, Jews were expelled, massacred, and forced to convert to Christianity. In the mid-14th century, as the Black Death devastated Europe, rumors spread that the Jews had caused the disease by poisoning the wells. In Strasbourg, a city that hadn't yet been affected by the plague, 900 Jews were burnt alive. After much more persecution throughout the next few centuries, such as the Holocaust that lead to the death 6 million Jews and the displacement of most of Europe's Jews. After such a tragedy, the Jews saw to the formation of a recognized Jewish State known as Israel in 1948.
Sects/Branches of Judaism
There are three main sects in Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. Jewish men and women wear special clothing during times of prayer and other religious practices. While praying, eating, reciting blessings, or studying Jewish religious texts, a round brimless (for the most part) skull cap called a kippah or yarmulke is worn. The tzitzit are special knotted tassels that are worn on the four corners of a prayer shawl; different Jewish customs explain when these should be worn. Tefillin are two square leather boxes that contain bible verses and are worn during the weekday morning prayers. A kittel is a white knee-length overgarment that is worn by prayer leaders on the high holidays and the head of the household wears this at the Passover seder. The tallit is similar to the kittel and is worn in similar situations as well as by boys and girls becoming bar/bat mitzvahs when they turn 13 and become adults in the eyes of the Jewish community.
Orthodox Jews traditionally pray three times a day, and on holidays a fourth prayer is added. Prayers are typically recited throughout the day upon waking, and before and after eating a meal. Although most prayers can be recited in solitude, communal prayer is often preferred. In many reform temples, musical accompaniment such as organs and choirs are used. Further, a fifth prayer service, Ne'ilah ("closing"), is recited only on Yom Kippur.
The Jewish religion can be categorized into six major branches in America. They are the Reform, the Conservative, the Modern Orthodox, the Re-constructionist and the Ultra Orthodox or Haredim, which breaks into two separate groups called the Hasidim and the Mitnaggedim. Reform is the largest branch in America and is the most liberal. Between 1885-1930, immigrating Jews decided that Jewish law is a personal idea and not a requirement. These changes were made in an attempt to keep Jewish people Jewish as there was no longer a pressure to remain Jewish once people assimilated to American culture. The Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox and Re-constructionist function as denominations or different branches of the same religion. The Haredim are a community based group and culturally connected. These are those who life in strict adherence to the Halacha.
One of five major world religions, Christianity is a monotheistic religion made up of roughly 2 billion people, and is considered one of the Abrahamic religions, which originally began as a movement from Judaism. Where Christianity and Judaism depart from one another is in the Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth (Christ or simply Jesus) was divine and was literally the "Son of God." Christians believe that God sent His "one and only son" to Earth to die as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity, in order to "pay" the price of sin and death. Jesus mainly taught about God's love and mercy, but also taught about forgiveness, charity, and treating yourself well. Jesus was crucified on a cross by the Romans in His act of sacrifice. Christians also believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and when He did, He allowed the Holy Spirit to "enter" into anyone who chose to believe in Him so that they may have eternal life with God in Heaven after their physical bodies die on earth. There are many branches of Christianity that are not the same. Christians believe in one God and one God only, it is just how they express their love and grace for him. This ranges differently from the vast amount of Christian groups.
The Ten Commandments, which are found in the Old Testament, Exodus Chapter 20 are the basis for the Christian faith, but when Jesus Christ came to earth as a man. He came not to destroy those laws (Ten Commandments), but to fulfill those laws as stated in Matthew 5:17-48. He fulfilled those laws by showing perfect love through dying on the cross, which was the ultimate sacrifice, and abiding by those laws. Therefore, fulfilling the law is Jesus Christ living out the laws perfectly, so that his followers will also be able to do the same.
The Ten Commandments are as follows: "And God spoke all these words, saying: 'I am the LORD your God… 'You shall have no other gods before Me.' 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.' 'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.' 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.' 'Honor your father and your mother.' 'You shall not murder.' 'You shall not commit adultery.' 'You shall not steal.' 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.' 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.'
Christians use the bible as a tool to communicate to God. The bible is where Christians get all of their wisdom on how to live their life for God. Another name for the bible is the "Word of God". Another way Christians practice their faith is by going to church. The church is somewhere Christians can go to worship and dive deeper into God's word. The church can also be a safe place for people to go if they are feeling any sort of pain. The main way Christians practice their faith and live for God is to show everyone God's love.
One way of connecting to God is though the ritual of holy communion where participants consume symbolic representations of the body and blood of Christ. This is an example of unity of consciousness in which the consumption of the body (bread) and blood (wine) brings the participant and God closer together by letting God become one with them.
Catholicism, made up of about 1.2 billion members is a form of Christianity that focuses on understanding and commitment to tradition; the believers live a Christian lifestyle but obtain a catholic perspective. Catholics believe that people are good but corrupted by a sin nature and the only way to redeem people from that sin is divine grace from the sacraments. However, unlike non-Catholic Christianity, some Catholic sects do not believe that salvation is obtained solely through accepting Jesus Christ as ones Savior, but believe that good works are required to obtain salvation and are a visible manifestation of faith in Christ.
Catholic Churches are unified under the Pope in Rome. Under him are Cardinals, Arch bishops, Bishops, and Priests. Priests preside over individual churches also known as parishes. Catholicism entails that God created everything, nothing is outside of God’s jurisdiction and that includes the believers’ thoughts, word, and deed all of the time. Although there is very important aspect of Christianity that believes in Free Will. The term free will implies that although God rules all things, he wants humans to make their own choices, we can choose to sin or to turn away from sin. Unlike Non denominational Christians, Catholics are involved in using the Sacraments. Sacraments of the Catholic belief consists of: Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Anointing of the sick, and also Holy Orders.
The Vatican is located in the Vatican City, a sovereign country of which the Pope is the sovereign leader. The history of the Catholic Church starts from apostolic times making it the worlds oldest and largest institution covering nearly 2,000 years.
The Pope is recognized by Catholics of the world as the successor to Saint Peter who was an early leader of the Christian church and had a large part in writing the New Testament. Peter was the first official Bishop of Rome, making all of his successors superior to any other worldly Bishop. The current pope is Pope Benedict XVI, making him the current leader of the Catholic Church. He was elected April 19, 2005, and took office April 24th 2005. He succeeded Pope John Paul II.
Protestantism began in Europe during the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation, which began as an attempt to reform the Catholic Church. The name Protestant comes from those who "protested" against the Catholic Church and therefore were named Protestant by the church. It is believed that the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther when he published his Ninety-Five Theses against the Catholic Church. This religion then moved to the Americas during colonization by the English. The religion originated out of the belief that the covenant was broken by Adam and Eve and was then recovered by Jesus. So they believe that they owe God their obedience do to the recovery of the covenant. When things in their lives are going well it shows Protestants that they are fulfilling the covenant with God. It is the opposite when things in their life begin to go wrong, they must not be fulfilling the covenant. Basic beliefs consist of the Bible holding all truths and that God has a set hierarchy; God, King, fathers/husbands, wives, children, and lastly animals. Another basic belief is that the individual must subject themselves for the good of the whole, because even though there is a set hierarchy each individual needs each other for the strength as one. This being said everyone in their society has set responsibilities and everyone is then dependent upon one another. Further more Protestants see themselves as God's chosen people and at the time of colonization it was their duty to God to pass on his word to Native Americans and those who did not know God.
Anglicanism started with the Church of England created by King Henry VIII during the Protestant Reformation. It is referred to as the Episcopal Church in the United States which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is considered one of the main traditions of Christianity. King Henry VIII created the Church of England because the Pope refused to divorce him and his wife; this act severed the relationship between Roman Catholicism and the United Kingdom, and was one of the causes of the later war between Ireland and Great Britain. The Church of England's values are relatively similar to that of Catholicism, with the exception of divorce and a few other minor differences that imply that the Church is slightly more lenient than the Romans. While Anglicanism and Protestantism are separate, the Church of England was created with many Protestant ideals. Centuries later, Anglicanism was spread around the world with many countries creating their own autonomous organizations of Anglicanism, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Anglican Church of Canada. The church has been sought out by many diverse groups due to its reputation of acceptance to homosexual couples and ordination of female leaders. Anglicans are most concentrated in the United Kingdom, with a few members found in the United States and Canada.
Islam is considered a monotheistic religion originating from the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. The definition of Islam is 'submission,' which symbolizes the complete submission required to praise God. Practitioners are referred to as Muslims (literally, 'those who submit'). There are approximately 1-1.8 billion Muslims in the world. This makes Islam the second largest religion in the world, right behind Christianity. Indonesia has the highest percentage of Muslims anywhere, at approximately 88% of the population. Nearly all Muslims belong in one of the two major denominations, Sunni and Shi’a. The Sunni’s comprise of 85% while the Shi’a compose 15% of religious followers.
Muslim faith places Muhammad as a prophet who received the Qur’an directly from the angel Gabriel. Muhammad is considered the final prophet of God, and his words and deeds are fundamental sources of Islam. Muslims however do not consider Muhammad the founder of Islam. Instead, they believe Muhammad restored the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition holds that Jewish and Christian based faiths are distorted versions of Islam.
Muslims are required to adhere to the Five Pillars and the Six Articles of Faith, which serve to unite the Islamic followers in a community. In addition, Islamic followers obey Sharia, or Islamic law. Sharia is a compilation of the Qur'an and the Sunnah (the recorded words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad). These traditions and rulings have touched upon all aspects of life. In some cases, however, it is necessary for Muslims to turn to taqlid, the judiciary interpretations of respected scholars.
As a ritual, Islamic men and women also wear special head and body coverings in order to reflect their overall modesty, both in actions and in appearance. Men often wear turbans which are like hats and only cover the top of the head, whereas women wear veils which cover the whole head, hair, and sometimes the lower half of the face. In public or in a man's presence, women also wear cloak-like garments which are intended to cover the shapes of their bodies as well as their actual skin. In general, men are to wear clothing that covers from the waist to the knees, but men usually wear garments which cover them from the neck to the ankles. Women are also not expected to wear flashy jewelry because this may defeat the purpose of presenting oneself in a modest fashion. Still, the way in which Muslims live is more important in revealing their modesty than is their style of dress.
The Qur'an ( Arabic : القرآن ) is the most important religious text of Islam. Unlike the Bible, Muslims believe that the words of the Qur'an came directly from God through the prophet Muhammad by the angel Jibril. Often referred to as the "book of guidance" it serves as a guideline regarding how to live life for Muslims. Its contents include conflict resolution, early forms of a legal system, praises to God and addresses domestic affairs.
The word ‘qur’an’ appears in the Qur’an several times throughout the reading, representing various meanings at different points. Though there is not one particular definition for the word, many Muslim authorities believe the origin to come from qara’a, meaning ‘he read’ or ‘he recited’. Many Muslims see this as a very important lesson: to recite the message. They take this to be a vital meaning of the word.
The Five Pillars of Faith
Islam includes many religious practices but the core lies within the Five Pillars. These five pillars are the framework of the Muslim life. They are the testimony of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
- Shahada: to become a Muslim one must go through a Testimony of Faith where they say, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah."
- Salat: prayer is to be done five times a day towards the direction of Mecca.
- Zakat: annual almsgiving by giving one-fortieth of their income to the needy. Muslims are also encouraged to undertake personal, non-ritualized Zakat throughout the year.
- Sawm: During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. This develops self-control, devotion to God through the denial of wordly distractions, and identification with the needy.
- Hajj: Each Muslim is supposed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if it is possible to do so.
The Six Articles of Faith
The main doctrines of Islam are the Articles of Faith, traditionally numbered at six.
- Belief in one God, Allah, Supreme and Eternal, Creator and Provider. God has no mother or father, no sons or daughters. God has no equals. He is God of all humankind, not of a special tribe, race, or group of people. He is the God of all races and colors, of believers and unbelievers alike.
- Angels are a part of human life. They have different purposes and messages from God. Everyone has two angels: one for good deeds and one for bad deeds.
- There are four pieces of scripture that the Muslims follow. The Torah, the Psalms of David, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Qur'an. The Qur’an is the most important to the Islamic faith.
- Muslims follow the messages of the six most significant prophets, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Muhammad is the last and most important of Allah's messengers.
- On Judgment Day those that follow Allah and Muhammad will go to Islamic heaven while those who do not will go to hell.
- Divine Creed  Belief that Almighty God has knowledge of, and control over, everything that exists in all time and space.
The Sunni are a religious denomination that branch off of the religion of Islam. The Sunni make up around 90% of Islamic believers. The Sunni put far more importance on the pilgrimage to Mecca to achieve Hajji status. There are few theologies and traditions that set the Sunni apart from all the others. A few of these include:
• The Theology of Ash’ari
• The School of Maturidiyya
• The School of Athariyya
Theology of Ash’ari
The theology of Ash’ari was founded by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari. The Ash’ari theology emphasizes many different ideas but the most pronounced is this: divine revelation over human reason. Human reason cannot develop ethics as read in the Qur'an and that it is solely derived from God’s commands. This theology also describes that divine omnipotence is over human free will. It is believed within the Ash’ari that the Qur'an is eternal and uncreated. Basically, the theology of Ash’ari teaches that what the Qur'an says about God should be directly understood as being true, even though some statements can’t be fully conceptualized
School of Maturidiyya
The school of Maturidiyya, along with Athariyya, form the basis for the understanding of the Sunni. Maturidiyya was incorporated into the Sunni-Islamic religion through Turkish adherents of Central Asia. The Turkish people eventually traveled to different areas of the Middle East taking the tradition of Maturidiyya along with them, thus allowing other believers to be exposed to new theories and ideas. The theory behind Maturidiyya argues that the knowledge of God’s existence can be derived through human reason alone. This, in combination with aspects from the theory of Ash'ari, provide the very basic background and understanding of the Sunni denomination
School of Athariyya
The school of Athariyya, unlike the school of Ash’ariyyah, teaches instead that the attributes and names given to God by the Qur'an can be taken in a literal sense. For instance, in the Qur'an it describes God as having a “yad” (hands) and a “wajh” (face). So according to the teachings of Athariyya, God has a face and some hands. It is also mentioned that God does not resemble his creation in any way. So the faces and hands of God do not resemble that of his creation but in a way that is only befitting to him. The teachings of Athariyya only convey the idea that God exactly describes himself only suiting to his majesty in literal form.
Sunni Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion that is adhered to by those of the Muslim culture. The word Islam in Arabic literally means “submission.” The word Muslim in Arabic means “one who submits to God.” It is believed in the Muslim culture that God delivered the Qur'an to them through an angel by the name of Gabriel who sought out the prophet named Muhammad. The Qur'an and Sunnah (words divinely spoken by the prophet Muhammad) are the foundation of which Islam was based upon. It is believed that Muhammad simply restored the religion of Islam rather than creating it, and that other religions such as Judaism and Christianity distorted the true meaning and constructed a false interpretation. Muslims are found throughout various parts of the world, all the way from the West coast of Africa to some parts of China. Most Muslim cultures are found within the Middle East. The Muslim culture practice a very strict type of ritual, which can also be seen as a religious duty, in which they pray five times a day. People are considered to be a Muslim after publicly reciting the Shahadah.
Men: must avoid wearing tight clothing and cover the area between the knees and the navel. This is normally done by wearing a loose gown and usually a turban. Men must also grow a beard, as long as is possible.
Women: more conservative followers of Islam require women to wear loose-fitting clothes and to be covered from their ankles to their wrists. A veil is to be worn on the head, and too much makeup and perfume should be avoided. However many more modern Muslims especially residing in North America and Europe practice their faith without covering themselves up to such an extent. Today there are many Muslims, mostly the younger generation, who believe that there is much more to having faith in Islam and following the word of God than focusing on what one wears. 
Shi'a Islam is the world's second largest Islamic denomination behind the Sunni denomination. Shi'a Muslims make up the majority of the population in Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Bahrain. The distinguishing characteristic of Shi'a Islam is that it believes that after the Prophet Muhammad died, political and spiritual leadership of the Muslim community should have gone to his family and descendents, mainly his cousin and son-in-law Ali. They believe that only god can appoint the successor to the Prophet and that before his death, Muhammad appointed Ali as his successor. Shi’as call the political and spiritual leaders Imams. They believe that there have been twelve Imams, starting with Ali. The last Imam, Mahdi, is believed not to have died, and is a messianic figure who will return with Christ. According to Shi'a doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation and once returned will re-establish the rightful governance of Islam and replete the earth with justice and peace.
One of the most important Shi’a practices is the annual commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. This battle involves the death of Husayn, Muhammad’s grandson, at the hands of Yazid, son of Mu’awiya.
After Muhammad’s death in 632, rule of the Muslim community was passed to Abu Bakr, then to Umar, then to Uthman, then finally to Ali. Mu’awiya claimed that Ali was unfit for various reasons to inherit the throne and led an uprising against him. After Ali’s death, Mu’awiya instated himself as Caliph and appointed his son, Yazid, as his successor.
Ali’s sons, Hassan and Husayn, rebelled against Yazid’s undertaking of the Caliphate. Hassan was quickly poisoned. Husayn led his followers against Yazid, but was overwhelmed and killed. These events are recounted in annual reenactments. The deaths of Hassan and Husayn are considered tragic, and the reenactments are very emotional. They are considered by Shi'as yet another way the rightful leadership of the Muslim community has been denied by usurpers—first with Ali’s death, then with the death of his sons.
African traditional and diasporic: 100 million. (Diaspora: A dispersion of a people from their original homeland.)
This is not a single organized religion, but it includes several traditional African beliefs and philosophies such as those of the Yoruba, Ewe (Vodun), and the Bakongo. These three religious traditions (especially that of the Yoruba) have been very influential to the diasporic beliefs of the Americas such as Candomblé, Santería and Voodoo. Voodoo is a religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and southern USA, combing elements of Roman Catholic rituals with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession.
In the Yorùbá religion, all humans have Ayanmo (manifest destiny) to become one in spirit with Olódùmarè, or Olòrún, the divine creator and source of all energy. Each being in Ayé, the physical realm, uses energy to impact the community of all other living things to move towards destiny. In other words, one's destiny is in one's own hands. To attain transcendence and destiny in Òrún-Réré, the spiritual realm of those who do good things, one's Orí-Inu (spiritual consciousness in the physical realm) must be elevated to unify with one's Iponri (Orí Òrún). Those who stop improving are destined for Òrún-Apadi, the spiritual realm of the forsaken. Life and death are physical cycles that alternate while one’s spirit evolves toward transcendence. The religious capital of the Yoruba religion is at Ile Ife.
Ewe religion is organized around a creator deity named Mawu. Mawu is the Supreme Being, separate from daily affairs. “Se” is a word for law, order and harmony; Se is the maker and keeper of human souls; in an abstract sense, Se is destiny.
The Bakongo or the Kongo people, also called the Congolese, are an ethnic group living along the Atlantic coast of Africa. Traditional Kongo religion believed heavily on the concept of the dead, and that most of their supernaturals or deities are thought to have once lived on Earth. Only Nzambi Mpungu, the name for the high god, existed outside the world and created it from outside. Other categories of the dead include bakulu, or ancestors, the souls of the recently departed, and in some cases, more powerful beings believed to be the souls of the long departed. There are also supernatural beings who are guardians of particular places and territories, sometimes considered to be the soul of the founder, and there are those who inhabit and are captured in minkisi (singular nkisi), or charms, whose operation is the closest to our modern idea of magic. The value of these supernatural operations is generally seen as a reflection of the intentions of the worker, instead of the worker being intrinsically good or bad.
Vodou, or Voodoo, Voodoo is a religious cult practiced in the Caribbean and southern USA, combing elements of Roman Catholic rituals with traditional African magical and religious rites, and characterized by sorcery and spirit possession. Though relatively small in comparison to other world religions in practice, Vodou can be encompassed under the Catholic religion as many practitioners of Vodou consider themselves devout Catholics. Vodou is the Haitian spelling for Vodun, which is an amalgamation of West African traditional religion with Catholicism. Consisting of veneration for Catholic saints, Vodou also consists of veneration of ancestral spirits that can be evoked to posses a host through Catholic hymns and ritual dance and sometimes through animal sacrifice, most commonly of chickens. These ritual parties are normally induced at a spirit's birthday or another important celebration, at which gatherers give the host food or money for the visiting spirit that is used for the party and salutations for the spirit guest. Vodou communities are tightly knit, and are sparing on outsiders as they are surrounded by poverty and are misunderstood by most onlookers that stereotype Vodou to be a form of black-magic practice by using voodoo as a derogatory term and; therefore, looked down upon by outsiders. Like Catholicism in the act of personal saints, those who practice Vodou often have their own spirits to look after them. Maintaining these spirits’ happiness is very important to the health and protection of those who practice Vodou. In Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn there are often times when the priestess Mama Lola's spirit, Ezili Freda, will not come to her if she has not showered. Ezili Freda admires and requires cleanliness. If her expectations are not met she will simply leave. 
5 basic beliefs can be identified as uniquely and commonly Rastafari:
- Haile Selassie is seen as the Messiah; The chosen one.
- They are part of the tribe of Israel, who, at the hand of the White person, has been exiled in Jamaica.
- Everyone is Rasta in terms of being children and servants of God.
- The Jamaican situation is a hopeless hell; Ethiopia is heaven.
- Because of the Nazarite Vow which Jesus, Moses and Samson took, no instrument shall touch the hair or beard unless it is an atonement.
The Rastafari movement was developed in the slums of Jamaica during the 1920's and 30's. During the 1930's Jamaica was experiencing a severe depression, and the people were subject to racism and class discrimination. This set the stage for the poor and rural Jamaicans to embrace a new religion and ideology. This movement began with the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Garvey believed Africans were the original Israelites, who had been exiled to Africa as divine punishment. Garvey's "Back to Africa" movement encouraged black pride in the people and helped to reverse the mindset of black inferiority.
On November 2, 1930 Ras Tafari Makonnen became emperor of Ethiopia, and took the name Haile Selassie. Followers of Marcus Garvey believed Selassie was the messiah that had been predicted, and that the return to Africa would begin. Jamaicans named this movement Ras Tafari. This movement became visible in the 1930's when peaceful communities in the Kingston Slums began to grow.
Bob Marley, (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981), was a famous reggae musician and arguably the most famous rastafarian. He is credited with taking reggae and expanding to a worldwide audience. He wore dreadlocks and preached the use of cannabis in his lyrics. Most of his music, lyrics and album covers contained nyabinghi and Rastafarian chanting. He was baptized by the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 4, 1980.
"The Lion Of Judah"
Rastafari tradition believes the famous King Haile Selassie I was a direct descendant of a lineage from King David and Solomon, of the historic faiths. The Rastafari religious figures were from then on known for their bloodline which gave them the name Lion of Judah, which has been a symbol on the Rastafari flag since the birth of Rastafari. This concept is one of the most important aspects of the Rastafari way of life, and culture. The symbol is synonymous with other religions, which give it a multicultural connection to many other traditions.
Ganja: Religious Sacrament
Rastafari have unique practices that are recognized worldwide. The most well known practice is the use of marijuana, which grows plentiful in Jamaica. Rastas know it as ganja, cannabis, dank-dank, reefer, pot, the holy herb, or Callie, and they believe it was given by God. It is used as a part of a religious ritual and as a means of getting closer to their inner spiritual self. The verse Psalm 104:14 is used to validate their explanation as it states “He causeth the grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man." Before Rastafari practice began, marijuana was used for medicinal purposes by herbalists in Jamaica as a medical remedy.
Ganja, or marijuana is used among the Rastafari as a religious ritual. At first it was smoked or used in teas as a way to rebel against the system, "Babylon." The Babylon system came to symbolize Western society and oppression in general. However, Ganja is also used for several other reasons. Those reasons include gaining a sense of unity, attaining higher meditation, and calming the mind during fearful times. Thus Ganja has become a very dominant symbol in Rastafari culture. (Barrett pg.128-9)
Marijuana is used at all times, but especially during the most celebrated rituals: reasonings and nyabingi. Reasoning is a meeting in the form of a ceremony that usually takes place out in the woods or in secluded areas. Rastas get together to discuss and debate issues such as ideologies, philosophy and theology. Marijuana is used during this time with the intention of opening up and becoming more open-minded for discussion. Nyabinghi is a musical ritual dance held on special occasions and holidays. Hundreds of Rastafaria come from around Jamaica and gather for this celebration, which can last for days at a time. The Rastas dance and sing all night until the morning. In the day time, they “rest and reason”. The heart-beat rythyms of Jamaican music in rock steady and reggae form the basis of Rasta prayers. They seek peace, love, and trust between all the creatures of the living earth.
There are many Jamaican holidays, most of which are focused on events in the life of Emperor Haile Selassie. The most important ones are:
• January 6 - Ceremonial birthday of Selassie
• February 6 – Bob Marley’s birthday
• April 21 - Selassie's visit to Jamaica
• July 23 - Selassie's personal birthday
• August 1 - Emancipation from slavery
• August 17 - Marcus Garvey's birthday
• November 2 – The coronation of Selassie
Rastafari have transformed the word "dread" from unkempt, dangerous, and dirty, to instead be a symbol of pride, power, freedom and defiance. The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water. The way dreads are worn, how long they are, and the newness of them means a lot. If one does not have dreadlocks but is a Rastafari, they are called a "cleanface." People who have short newly started dreads are called "nubbies," and this can sometimes determine the respect that one is given. Rastas maintain that dreadlocks are supported by Leviticus 21:5 ("They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.")
Rastas do not eat much meat. They eat small fish such as herring, but the foods they eat the most are vegetables. Most call the food I-tal which means, "The essence of things, things that are in their natural states." This translates to using nothing artificial and refraining from salt. They drink no alcohol, caffeine, or milk, but will drink anything made with natural herbs from the earth.
Red, Gold, Green, and Black-Jamaica's colors
Red: The triumphant church of the Rastas as well as the blood shed of the martyrs in the black struggle for liberation.
Gold: The wealth of their African homeland, the color of Jamaica and hope to end oppression
Green: Ethiopia's beauty and lush vegetation as well as the riches that were stolen from the Jamaicans
Black: The color of the people that make up most of the Jamaican population
The Bahá'í Faith is one of the youngest of the world’s religions. Its founder, Bahá'u'lláh (1817–1892), is regarded by the Bahá'ís as the most recent messenger from God. The line of messengers goes back before recorded time and includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad.
The central theme of Bahá'u'lláh's message is that humanity is one single race and that the time has come for unity. “God”, Bahá'u'lláh said, “has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification”.
One of the purposes of the Bahá'í Faith is to help make the unification of mankind possible. There are around five million Bahá'ís worldwide, representing most of the world’s nations, races, and cultures on earth. The Bahá’í World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Bahá’í community, is located in the twin cities of ‘Akká and Haifa in northern Israel.
The Bahá'í writings describe a single, personal, inaccessible, omniscient, omnipresent, imperishable, and almighty God who is the creator of all things in the universe. The existence of God and the universe is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end.
Atheists holds a lack of belief in any god, making up about 2.3% of the world population. Certain countries such as Japan (65%) and Sweden (85%) have higher populations of Atheists. Atheists are often considered 'strong atheists' or 'weak atheists' depending on the context and certainty of their beliefs or lack thereof.
Some atheists strongly oppose creationism or intelligent design being taught in place of biological evolution in schools in the U.S. In 2005, after a Kansas State Board of Education decision, which allowed intelligent design to be taught in place of evolution, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was created by a group in response to the decision. The flying spaghetti monster is a sarcastic theory that pastafarians argue has as much scientific backing as the theory of intelligent design. Within the original letter that was sent to the Kansas School Board, Henderson showed that correlation does not imply causation by linking the increase in global warming to the decrease in pirate population. This example mocked the belief of some religious groups that the world was going though hardships, such as war and famine, because praise was not being given to a deity. This adds to atheists having a strong sense of boundary for church and state, keeping the sacrosanct state separate from religious interference. However, this strong belief in a boundary between church and state is not only limited to atheists and pastafarians. Many people simply do not think that organized religion is a benefit to society. Not only is it not taxed, but it indulges in what can be considered brainwashing of children, i.e. the repetitious statement of a known untruth to an impressionable child for years on end. Some argue that if those children had not been thus mislead he would at least look at the bible critically. In many instances of actions by organized religious groups throughout history resulted not only in the death of millions of people but has been a block in many cases to the abandonment of human rights. Atheism is often mistaken as a belief that there is no God, however this is not the case; An Atheist can also be an Agnostic. The two terms answer different questions. Atheism answers the question of what you believe, the lack of a belief in a God. And Agnosticism answers what you know, how confident you are in your belief. By this definition, a person can be an Agnostic-Atheist or a Gnostic-Atheist. We can also describe people as Agnostic-Christians or Gnostic-Christians. An Agnostic being someone that acknowledges that their belief is not a guaranteed truth, and a Gnostic being someone that claims they are positive in their belief, or lack there of.
Agnostics do not have a conviction as to whether there is or is not a god, often due to the difficulty in proving or disproving such an entity. It does not deny the existence of a supernatural being; however, it does not fully understand or accept there is a god or supernatural being. It is often seen as the middle ground between theist and atheism. Sometimes when asked what their religion is, many of those who are unsure of the existence of a God will reply "Agnostic".  The terms Agnostic and Agnosticism were created in the 19th century (many sources are different about the exact date)  by Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist who was an advocate of Darwin's theory of evolution. There is often prejudice against Agnostics to be unbound by moral code because of their lack of religion. Though recently the definition of an Agnostic has changed, for there are several definitions now. The two most predominant are Weak Agnostic and Strong Agnostic. A Weak Agnostic is someone who believes that God is unknown, meaning that God may be known, and some people may possibly know God. The second, a Strong Agnostic, is someone who believes that God is unknowable or cannot be known. However there are many different degrees to Agnosticism. Some examples are "empirical Agnostics" who believe that a God may exist, but nothing is or can be known about him/her/it. Also, there are "Agnostic Humanists" who are undecided about whether or not God exists, but they question the importance of the question. 
Satanism is the term for a number of belief systems that all feature the symbolism of Satan or other figures. Originally, Satan was the symbol for all those who challenged the Hebrew Bible. Proceeding this, the Abrahamic religions have described Lucifer as a fallen angel or a mislead demon that tempts people to sin. However, contrary to this, non religious or satanists see the Biblical Satan as a satire for individualism, freewill and enlightenment.
In modern times there are two types of Satanists:
Theistic: Satanists that believe Satan to be a deity and supernatural being. Theistic Satanism may include the use of meditation and self expansion or often includes the use of magic through rituals.
- One group that falls under the definition of Theistic Satanists are Reverse Christians. Reverse Christians follow Satan but in the context of the Christian version and biblical definition of him.
Atheistic: Satanists that regard Satan as a symbol of their freewill and of certain human traits. Some use Satan as a symbol to annoy religious people.
- LaVeyan Satanism: A religion founded in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey. Its teachings are based on individualism, self-indulgence, and "eye for an eye" morality. LaVeyan Satanists are atheists and agnostics who regard Satan as a symbol of humanity's inherent nature.
- Temple of Set: Established in 1975 by Michael A. Aquino and other members of the bitchen priesthood of the Church of Satan, who left because of administrative and philosophical disagreements. The philosophy of the Temple of Set may be summed up as "enlightened individualism" – enhancement and improvement of oneself by personal education, experiment, and initiation. This process must be different for each individual as each is enlightened in different ways.
- Symbolic Satanism: (sometimes called Modern Satanism) is the observance and practice of Satanic religious beliefs, philosophies and customs. In this interpretation of Satanism, the Satanist does not worship Satan in the theistic sense, but is an adversary to all, spiritual creeds, espousing hedonism, materialism, rational egoism, individualism and anti-theism.
The Pentagram is a five-sided star shown upside down in the Satanic religion. This star has a couple of meanings, most commonly being Lucifer or vesper, the star of morning and evening, and it also represents Satan as a goat of the sabbath (which when a goat's head is placed inside the inverted star, the horns point up, the sides are the ears, and the bottom point is the beard of the goat). The star also symbolizes rules and ideology within its affiliated religion, with each point representing an aspect of the Satanic belief. Satanist are supposed to follow each point and build off of it to have a better life. The five points of the pentagram are similar to the Ten Commandments they explain how to live your life and to be a Satanist you must follow these rules.
The First Point represents the social responsibility to respect others and treat them as you would like to be treated. Members strive to be law-abiding, tax-paying, honest and responsible Satanists.
The Second Point represents the power of magic as well as the power of will. Satanists believe that with strong will, their magic can become more powerful. This magic is used in Satanic practices and it is encouraged that Satanists experiment with the different types of magical paths or styles that they feel drawn to.
The Third Point represents the importance of enchanting one's life and living it to the fullest while staying in control and being responsible. This point states the Satanic rule, "do whatever you wish, but in doing so, harm no one deserving it." This leaves a lot of open space for Satanists to live their life and have fun. Addictions and breaking the law, however, are frowned upon and viewed as qualities of the weak.
The Fourth Point represents the "Wolf Pack," which is a respect for your family and friends. Any person that is close to a Satanist and fulfills their life is to be included in the 'wolf pack'.
The Fifth point represents the idea that man creates his own gods, is free to live as if they are the king or queen, and is able to believe in themselves. This point states that you can do the best you can and try your hardest throughout life. This is the most valued point of the star and it concludes that one should worship what they want and do what makes them happy.
The Pentagram as a non-satanic symbol
The image of a Pentagram is not purely linked to the practice of Satanism. Many cultures have utilized the pentagram as a symbol. For instance, various Neo-paganism beliefs such as Wicca or Neo-druidism, take a version of the pentagram and infuse it with their own ideas and imagery. In Wicca, the pentagram is not inverted as it is in Satanism, but rather is upright. The pentagram can even be found in older history Christianity where it was held as a symbol of health or as a representation of the five wounds of Christ. Further uses can be found in the Bahá'í faith where it is one of the major identifying symbols, and in Taoism where it represents the five elements of Earth, Fire, Metal, Water and Wood.