18 Little Known Facts To Challenge Your Views About Religion

Ever since I started practicing meditation about a year and a half ago, it has become a subject of regular study for me. After reading countless blogs, books, and listening to recorded talks on meditation, I had found that groups from every religion, not just Buddhism, practice some form of meditation or other. In fact, I learned that meditation was often the one most important part of a religious practice for many sects, whether you were an orthodox Jew or a Sufi mystic.

After having learned this one fact, I found within myself a deeper respect for other religions, even ones which I had regarded in the past as backwards, overly superstitious, or reactionary. I realized that if this one fact about meditation could challenge my preconceptions about what really makes up a religion, perhaps I could find others as well. This is why I have assembled a list of facts which aim to show that religions can’t be put inside a box, and that all of them have wisdom and insight that the world could definitely use.

This list was organized in no particular order:

1. Many Early Christians Believed in Reincarnation

Reincarnation was a widely accepted belief among the early Gnostic Christians. The idea that someone went to heaven or hell based on something they did in one lifetime was a doctrine developed by the Roman Catholic Church, most likely to establish more control over adherents to the religion. After all, if people got more than one chance to get to heaven, the laws of the church would then be rendered meaningless because sinners would get infinite chances to try again.

Further Reference: Adishakti.org

2. The Buddha Was Probably Not a Vegetarian

Many Buddhists are vegetarian because of the first Buddhist Precept:  I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life. This precept also includes the taking of any animal life. Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all Buddhists need to become vegetarians. In the Pali Canon, a major Buddhist text, it was said that the Buddha would not eat meat from an animal killed specifically for him, but apparently didn’t have a problem eating meat bought from the marketplace and already dead.
Further Reference: Dhamma Musings

3. Jesus Christ is Mentioned 5 Times in the Qur’an more than Muhammad

Jesus is considered one of the great prophets of the Islamic religion, and is highly revered, though not as the son of God as Christians believe.
Further Reference: Islam 101

4. Hindus Can Also Be Atheists

Hinduism is generally viewed as a Polytheistic religion with a rich mythology. It is, however, quite possible to be both Hindu and Atheist. Although Hindu Atheists may not have the same eschatological beliefs as other Hindus, they do follow the same moral and ethical code.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

5. Judaism Evolved from a Polytheistic Religion

According to Mark Smith in The Early History of God, the Jewish God Yaweh was one out of four main Gods worshiped by the early Jewish people. The other three gods were El, Asherah and Baal. It was only later that Yahweh became the one and only God for the Jewish religion.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

6. Meditation is not Limited to Eastern Religions

These days meditation, or the practice of increasing spiritual awareness through the cultivation of high states of concentration, is often associated with Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. It turns out, however, that every major religion has meditation techniques associated with them.  There’s Christian Meditation, Islamic Meditation and Jewish Meditation. Within each of these religions are various meditation techniques which bear a striking resemblance to meditation techniques practiced in Buddhism and Hinduism.

7. New Religious Texts Continue to Be Discovered

If you’re the founder of a religion, people will write a lot of stories about you, many of which aren’t true. This is why the Bible has so many outtakes (See #14). Does this mean, however, that when new religious texts are discovered we should dismiss them as historical curiosities or should we examine them against our current beliefs? One good example of a text that warrants study is the Gospel of Judas, a recently discovered Biblical text that portrays Judas Iscariot, commonly seen as the Bible’s villain, as the one apostle who fully understood Jesus’ teachings and turned Jesus over to be crucified because Jesus asked him to.
Further Reference: BBC News

8. The Buddha was Canonized as a Christian Saint

A Buddhist text from the 4th century was eventually translated and retranslated until the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment was retold in the context of a prince named Josaphat who renounced the world and converted to Christianity. Apparently this story was so compelling that this Josaphat became a Christian Saint.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

9. Islam had the First Theory of Evolution in the 9th Century

While religion and science have been and continue to be at odds, one notable exception is during the height of the Islamic empire, when scientific ideas advanced significantly. Even the idea of evolution, an idea which still remains a difficult  one to swallow by some fundamentalist Christians, was first advanced by a devout Muslim and scientist by the name of al-Jahiz.
Further Reference: salaam.co.uk

10. Non-Jews Can Get Into Jewish Heaven

According to Rabbi Sholom Lipskar “One does not have to be Jewish in order to be able to merit going to heaven in the afterlife and meriting all blessings of God.” There doesn’t seem to be many references to the afterlife in the Torah, but there seems to be agreement that the “righteous of all nations” will enjoy the blessings of an afterlife.
Further Reference: Wikipedia,  Judaism 101

11. Even With a Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Homosexuality may Not be a Sin

In a recent talk, Biblical scholar Matthew Vines discusses whether or not the Bible actually condemns homosexuality, and provides a very convincing argument for why homosexuality should not be considered a sin, even with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

12. The First Buddhist Statues Were Made in the Greek Hellenistic Style

Greco-Indians living in the region of Gandhara were actually the first to carve images of the Buddha. The topknot hairstyle common in most Buddha statues today was probably borrowed from similar statues of the Greek God Apollo. The historical Buddha probably didn’t have this hairstyle.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

13. The World’s Oldest University was Established by a Muslim Woman

The Islamic religion has long been characterized as backward and misogynistic. This characterization is misleading, however, and there are many examples throughout history which have shown the opposite to be true. One of them is the University of al-Karaouine, founded by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a rich merchant. At the university subjects like rhetoric and astronomy were taught alongside religious studies. By some accounts, this was the first school that handed out academic degrees.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

14. The New Testament has a Lot of Outtakes

There were many books of the Bible that didn’t make it into the new testament. After Jesus’ followers were left on their own, the early Christians wrote many stories regarding the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Many of these stories were quite fanciful. The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew, for example, has a story of the young Jesus taming dragons (Chapter 18). Since early Christian writings often contradicted each other in terms of narrative and philosophy, it was up to the early fathers of the Church to decide which books of early Christian writings were to be deemed canonical and were reflective of official Church doctrine.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

15. Many of Our Great Scientists were Deeply Religious

Today with all the over-dramatized conflict between science and religion, it’s easy to forget that many of the greatest minds in science were actually devoutly religious. All you have to do is take a look at this list of Muslims and Christians who made significant contributions to our body of scientific knowledge to know that this is true.

16. Wearing a Veil is Not Required in Islam

While the Quran does require women (and men!) to wear modest clothing, nowhere does it specifically state that covering the face with a veil is required. The misconception that Islamic women are required to wear the veil probably comes from the fact that some fundamentalist Islamic thinkers have interpreted the need for modesty in women’s dress as the need for any woman going out in public to wear the hijab (head scarf).
Further Reference: Islam 101

17. Angels as we Know Them Today are Artist Inventions

Angels as originally described in the Bible, appear as 4 headed monsters or wheels that sparkled like topaz, or fearsome entities with 6 wings. It was only near the end of the 4th century CE that artists began to portray angels as the two winged bipeds as we know them today. This is just another example of  how our interpretations of religious stories can change over time.
Further Reference: Wikipedia

18. Islamic Fundamentalism is a Pretty Recent Development

As shown by facts numbers 9 and 13, Islam was far from a backwards religion, but one that promoted the sciences. Not only that, but Islam was actually quite tolerant of other religions as well. Today, however, because of the rise of religious fundamentalism in the Islamic world, we’ve been led to believe that intolerance has been a part of the religion since its inception. Actually, it not until the 1950s that Islamic fundamentalism became a real force, helped along by radical Muslim thinkers like Sayyid Qutb.


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  • Omar_Khayyam

    Bold claims on 9,13,18. Evolutionary theories were being debated in Greece, China, and Rome long before Muhammad’s crew stormed out of the hejazi desert (e.g. Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things”). University-equivalents, places of higher learning, were also prevalent throughout antiquity. Fundamentalism, a relative term, existed in the Islamic world prior to Qutb. He, and others like Abd al-Wahhab (co-founder of Saudi) were both influenced by Ibn Taymiyyah of the 13th century, among other Islamist scholars. Careful with your sources there; I advise against sourcing “facts” about the history of a particular religion from websites devoted to the promotion of such religion–religious propaganda is inevitable.

  • fast: real Omar_Khayyam was anti-theist 😛

  • rickcain2320

    Islamic fundamentalism isn’t new, The USA has been fighting muslims since the 1700s when they were attacking our shipping. Piracy was a common way to make money for muslims back then.

  • mankirat singh

    Good one…but kenji, what about sikhism. …what do you think about it. ..reply soon

  • Assska

    You realize the “founding fathers/sons of liberty” were considered terrorists by the British. One of the most celebrated acts (Boston Tea Party) was considered a flagrant act of terrorism. It lead to a full-on war with huge casualties – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolutionary_War

  • Saññā T’ai

    Thank you for the insightful article kenji, I’m really enjoying reading your articles!

    Although I feel that the point about the Buddha not being vegetarian is a bit ambiguous. From what I’ve learned from Buddha’s teachings it is my understanding that the precept to “abstain from causing harm and taking life (both human and non-human)” as well as other precepts were always followed by the precept to “not encourage others to do the same”. In Buddhism, it is as wrong to encourage or knowingly accept someone else breaking their precepts as it is to break your own, especially not for your sake. In that way, how could the Buddha encourage the meat seller to kill the animal by allowing his chefs or devotees to buy it for him? Also, how could he encourage others to encourage the meat seller to kill the animal by allowing them to buy it for him? These precepts are only beneficial because they are a universal good, therefore how can we encourage others to do something while we abstain from it and know it is harmful?
    The times when I can see it being acceptable according to this precept to eat meat could be an occasion when your act of eating the meat in no way encourages the killing of the animal, such as if you were invited to dinner and the family would have served meat wether you had been there or not, or if there was meat that was going to be wasted if you didn’t eat it. In other words, in situations where you eating the meat in no way increases the demand and supply (increased killing). Or if you were in a location or situation where it would be impossible to survive without eating meat (this is why Tibetan Monks eat meat).
    Just some thoughts from me, but its also great that this article is breaking down some of the common misconceptions and stereotypes about Islam and helping us all to forget what we think we know!
    Sanna 🙂

  • HughMungus

    Actually, the very first country to recognize the US as a newly independent nation was a Muslim country, i.e. Morocco.

  • Dhawal Abhimanyu

    A very useful article,but personally i dont like dees kind of thngs tht whnever some1 tok abt religion y others strted fighting over their beliefs,
    Mah request(if any1 can follow i’ll b highly thankful to him) :- Read,learn and if u can not learn due to ur highly appreciable intellectual abilities thn freinds “DO RESEARCH” on it
    ####Omnist 🙂

  • gray_man

    idiotic nonsense.

  • thank you for article!

  • Shankar bhandari

    Hinduism has first theory of evolution…. in Dashawatar…