Sunday, October 09, 2011

Zoroastrianism – A Dying Faith

Many in the world don’t realize the importance of Zoroastrianism or the impact that this Persian faith—the first monotheistic faith in the world—had on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Sadly, that great faith is now on the verge of dying out.
According to their own estimates, only 11,000 Zoroastrians remain in the U.S. They are following one of the oldest known religions, founded perhaps 1,000 years before Christ’s birth. Its philosophy is based on the teachings of prophet Zarathustra and was the predominant religion in Persia until it the invasion of Macedonia’s Alexander the Great in 334 BC.
It teaches that the god Ahura Mazda is creator of all good and no evil originates from him.
“We were once at least 40, 50 million — can you imagine?” mused Illinois psychologist Kersey Antia, senior priest at one of the few Zoroastrian temples left. “At one point, we had reached the pinnacle of glory of the Persian Empire and had a beautiful religious philosophy that governed the Persian kings.
“Where are we now? Completely wiped out,” Antia recently told Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times. “It pains me to say, in 100 years we won’t have many Zoroastrians.”
“There is a palpable panic among Zoroastrians today — not only in the United States, but also around the world — that they are fighting the extinction of their faith, a monotheistic religion that most scholars say is at least 3,000 years old,” writes Goodstein:
While Zoroastrians once dominated an area stretching from what is now Rome and Greece to India and Russia, their global population has dwindled to 190,000 at most, and perhaps as few as 124,000, according to a survey in 2004 by Fezana Journal, published quarterly by the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.
[…]
Why is the religion vanishing? Zoroastrians believe in free will, so in matters of religion they do not believe in compulsion. They do not proselytize, so there is little growth from newcomers, notes Goodstein:
They can pray at home instead of going to a temple. While there are priests, there is no hierarchy to set policy.
Some Zoroastrian priests refuse to accept converts or to perform initiation ceremonies for children of intermarried couples, especially when the father is not Zoroastrian. The North American Mobed Council is so divided on the issue of accepting intermarried spouses and children that it has been unable to take a position.
It’s always sad when any tradition, language, or culture is lost to the pages of history, but in this case I think it is even sadder considering how important Zoroastrianism was laying the foundation for the modern concepts of good and evil and the influence that it had on the Abrahamic faiths.  

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