Friday, May 6, 2011

Religion Friday: Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism was founded by the prophet Zoroaster around 1400 BC in Persia. It’s the father of monotheistic religions. Followers believe the world is in battle of the good Ahura Mazda and the evil Aura Mainyu. The concept of “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds” is central. One’s place in the afterlife is determined by good deeds vs. evil deeds. Confession and repentance helps the scale weigh toward good. Zoroaster wrote poetic verses on his conversations with Ahura Mazda that are known as the Gathas; they are the core scripture of the religion.

Fire is an important symbol in Zoroastrianism. A sacred fire must be kept burning in Zoroastrian homes, and there are ceremonies for the creation of a new fire and purification of a fire. The faravahar (the symbol of the man in a disk with spread wings) is an ancient symbol first representative of sun-gods. Today, Zoroastrians have adopted it to represent one’s progression toward Ahura Mazda.

Though the faith is almost over 3,000 years old, there are only about 280,000 Zoroastrians in the world today. And while most still live where the faith was founded, in what is modern Iran, many adherents now live in India, where a group of Zoroastrians fled after Islamic invasion of Persia in the 10th century. I’ve never met one.

While I don’t really know much about this religion, it interests me because it seems to be the first religion that deviated from the polytheistic faiths that covered the western world at the time. The prayers, the prophet, the battle of good versus evil with good ultimately triumphing, the emphasis on good deeds are not completely foreign to me.

I’d guess that many Christians agree with Zoroastrians that good deeds outweighing bad deeds will secure you heaven. I agree that the idea is by far the most fair. But salvation isn’t fair, and that’s good, because otherwise I wouldn’t obtain it. It’s frustrating to think that a deathbed conversion of a murderer is just as good as someone who has strictly adhered to the Bible and done good deeds throughout his life, but it’s also reassuring that our evil actions and thoughts won’t keep us from salvation.

Next Friday: Judaism

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