There are thousands of religions out there! Multiply that by the many factions and denominations within them and the options are almost endless. It will take many lifetimes to thoroughly examine them all!
The good news is that we don’t need to become an expert in all the details. We need to focus on the essentials and the key fundamentals. That is why we have our four criteria. They help us get to the roots of each belief tree to quickly and surely know what kind of fruit (life and teachings) must be produced.
For example, the many ancient religions that no longer exist obviously cannot teach a complete worldview from beginning to end. Also, most of them were based on a slave-like system of animal/human sacrifices to appease an angry, distant, non-communicative Deity. Those religions not only fail to show an infinite good person, but they also fail to meet our first criteria that people are best motivated by positive faith, hope, and love.
Therefore, we will look at a list of major modern religions. These next few chapters may be tedious, yet they will be brief as possible. I strongly encourage you to follow up with your own study of each one so that you can see and decide for yourself. I am trying to condense years of personal study into a presentable form without putting my readers to sleep.
One more note before starting: The order of the religions is based on a very rough estimate of the number of adherents. Survey methods and data sources vary greatly in quality and age. The number of believers is not a strong argument for or against that religion, but it is interesting to see the relative proportions of global decisions. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures. Taking this into account is the first step towards loving and understanding others.
Realizing that some of these numbers may already be out of date, we will start with the smallest of the religions and religious categories. (The underlined names are hyperlinks to help you start your research.) The focus will be on criteria #2, because I found that looking for an infinite good person was the fastest way to narrow down the list.
22) 500 thousand - Scientology
"A precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one’s true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being." "The concept of God is expressed as the Eighth Dynamic—the urge toward existence as infinity." [God is concept, not person.]
21) 600 thousand - Rastafarianism
"There are many sects of Rastafari that have developed over the years. Its adherents worship [Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia] in much the same way as Jesus in his Second Advent, or as God the Son." The use of cannabis "opens people's minds to the truth." [Personality cult of finite person.]
20) 800 thousand - Unitarian-Universalism
"Affirms and promotes seven Principles, grounded in the humanistic teachings of the world's religions. Our spirituality is unbounded, drawing from scripture and science, nature and philosophy, personal experience and ancient tradition as described in our six Sources." [Seeking unity and coexistence is good, but contradictory worldviews cannot be harmonized. Also, God is an optional concept, not a person.]
19) 1 million - Neo-Paganism
"Group of new religious movements influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe." [Essentially, pantheon(s) of finite gods as in many ancient mythologies.]
18) 2 million - Tenrikyo
"Tenrikyo came into existence on October 26, 1838, when God the Parent, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, became revealed through Oyasama, Miki Nakayama, to save all humankind. God the Parent is the original and true Parent who not only created humankind but has nurtured and protected human beings ever since." "God… wishes to have all of us awaken on our own and make efforts to approach the divine intention." [An attempt to teach an infinite good person. See next chapter.]
17) 2.6 million - Zoroastrianism
Good God [Ahura Mazda] will eliminate evil God [Angra Mainyu]. Good deeds must outweigh bad deeds so that the dead can cross the Chinvat Bridge to heaven. [Teaches infinite good person. See next chapter.]
16) 4 million - Cao Dai
"Various religions contain one primordial truth (which we call CaoDai). If CaoDai religion is only CaoDai, a separate defined entity, it would not truly be CaoDai as it is meant to be. If CaoDai is not only CaoDai, but encompasses Buddhism, or Taoism, or Confucianism, or Christianity, or any path toward God, it is then truly CaoDai. CaoDai does not propound to convert the followers of any path, but wishes to unite all faiths in the understanding that faiths all are of one same principle, and teach tolerance between the religions." [Logical mishmash based on lowest common denominator of humanistic tolerance. No infinite person.]
15) 4 million - Shinto
"Shinto has no founder, no official sacred scriptures, and no fixed creeds." "Shinto today is a term that applies to the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of gods (kami)." [No infinite person.]
14) 4.2 million - Jainism
Right belief, knowledge, and conduct is the threefold path to liberation—"omniscience without any activity." "Jain texts reject the idea of a creator or destroyer God and postulate an eternal universe." [No infinite person.]
13) 7 million - Baha’i Faith
“We believe there is one God, a loving Creator. God is limitless, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-merciful. All the best human qualities are reflections of God’s divine attributes.” [Infinite good person. See next chapter.]
12) 14 million - Judaism
"When it comes to beliefs, Judaism is best known for its 'ethical monotheism,' which is the belief in one God who demands ethical behavior of humans." Beliefs range from no afterlife to eternal destiny determined by behavior. [Teaches infinite good person. See next chapter.]
11) 15 million - Spiritism
"Spiritism postulates that humans are essentially immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies for several necessary incarnations to attain moral and intellectual improvement. It also asserts that spirits, through passive or active mediumship, may have beneficent or maleficent influence on the physical world." We are our own gods is a popular teaching. [No infinite person.]
10) 19 million - Juche
"The official state ideology of North Korea…. It says that an individual is the master of his destiny, that the North Korean masses are to act as the masters of the revolution and construction, and that by becoming a self-reliant and strong nation one can achieve true socialism." How many of these “adherents” are enthusiastic? [Personality cult of the North Korean leader]
9) 23 million - Sikhism
"There is but one all-pervading spirit, and truth is its name! It exists in all creation; it does not fear; it does not hate; it is timeless and universal and self-existent, You will come to know it through seeking knowledge and learning!" [Impersonal, infinite force or consciousness.]
8) 100 million - African Traditional & Diasporic
Generally polytheistic and/or nationalistic. Some are monotheistic, usually deriving from blending with another religion. [No infinite good person of its own.]
7) 300 million - primal-indigenous
Varied mixtures of pantheism, animism, fetishism, infinite mind, etc... [No infinite person.]
6) 500 million - Buddhism
"Over its long history, Buddhism has taken a wide variety of forms. Some emphasize rituals and the worship of deities, while others completely reject rituals and gods in favor of pure meditation. Yet all forms of Buddhism share respect for the teachings of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth." Nirvana is "passing through the gate of Emptiness (sunyata) – realizing that there is no soul or self in any living being, then passing through the gate of signlessness (animitta) – realizing that nirvana cannot be perceived, and finally passing through the gate of wishlessness (apranihita) – realizing that nirvana is the state of not even wishing for nirvana." [Infinite force or consciousness.]
5) 400 million - Chinese traditional religion
Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, etc… Ranging from pantheism to social ethics to spiritual philosophy. [No infinite person.]
4) 900 million - Hinduism
"A diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, pandeism, monism, and atheism among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an over generalization." [No infinite person.]
3) 1.1 billion - Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist
2) 1.6 billion - Islam
One God (no Trinity) revealed perfectly, as opposed to the imperfect revelation through the other Abrahamic religions: Judaism and Christianity. "One's eternal destination depends on balance of good to bad deeds in life…. The day of judgment is described as passing over Hell on a narrow bridge in order to enter Paradise. Those who fall, weighted by their bad deeds, will remain in Hell forever. The Quran specifies two exceptions to this general rule: Warriors who die fighting in the cause of God are ushered immediately to God's presence (Surah 2:159 and Surah 3:169); and - 'Enemies of Islam' are sentenced immediately to Hell upon death." [Infinite good person of sorts. See next chapter.]
1) 2.1 billion - Christianity
Started as a movement within Judaism 2000 years ago based on the core belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate who loved us enough to give his life to save us. A full spectrum of beliefs exist about salvation: from grace will save you no matter what you do to sufficient personal suffering must be accrued to pay for personal sins. Splintered into thousands of denominations. [Many variations of infinite good person. See next chapter.]
Our brief survey has yielded six candidates for further study: Tenrikyo, Zoroastrianism, Baha'i, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The next chapter will investigate them, but before we do, let’s review themes of the religions we are leaving behind.
They worship finite people who are less than good, or they follow abstract principles or spirits. While noble ideals may be scattered across this collection of religious temples, what is the ideal for humanity? A disembodied “mind in the sky?” A disciplined keeper of law? An incense burning statuette? A cow?
If it is true that by beholding we become changed, then their potential for humanity is either low or warped or both. To seek oneness with an infinite good person is like removing the ceilings from our man-made temples and journeying to the limitless heights with a Friend or Father. Humans become more, not less, human every moment of ascent.
This is borne out in history. The vast majority of creative advancements have come from people growing in the direction of an infinite good person. Society moves in the direction of its people, who are moved in the direction of their worship.
In your words:
Why do think there are so many religions? Why are there so many religions that seek to combine others? How did the world shift from mostly polytheism to monotheism?