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 Questions About Life and God

Connecting with the Divine

The major religions of the world and their beliefs…

By Marilyn Adamson

We all want to make it through life with success, some sense that we did it right. So what about the major world religions? Is there anything in them that might give our lives greater depth and direction?

The following looks at the major world religions... Hinduism, New Age Spirituality, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.* There is a brief description of each, their view of God, and what a person can gain from that religion. The ending explains how Jesus' teaching differs from the major religions.

*Each of these religions has sects with differing beliefs. The description given here focuses on the core beliefs of each religion. Other major religions, such as Judaism, could be discussed, but for brevity, we have chosen these.

Hinduism and its beliefs

Illustration of Hinduism with arrows all pointing in various directions to show infinite manifestations of God.Most Hindus worship one Being of ultimate oneness (Brahman) through infinite representations of gods and goddesses. These various deities become incarnate within idols, temples, gurus, rivers, animals, etc.

Hindus believe their position in this present life was determined by their actions in a previous life. Hinduism therefore provides a possible explanation for suffering and evil in this life. If a person’s behavior before was evil, they might justifiably experience tremendous hardships in this life. Pain, disease, poverty or a disaster like a flood is deserved by that person because of their own evil actions, usually from a previous lifetime.

A Hindu's goal is to become free from the law of karma...to be free from continuous reincarnations. Only the soul matters which will one day be free of the cycle of rebirths and be at rest.

Hinduism lets a person choose how to work toward spiritual perfection. There are three possible ways to end this cycle of karma: 1. Be lovingly devoted to any of the Hindu deities; 2. Grow in knowledge through meditation of Brahman (oneness)...to realize that circumstances in life are not real, that selfhood is an illusion and only Brahman is real; 3. Be dedicated to various religious ceremonies and rites.

New Age Spirituality and its beliefs

Illustration of New Age Spirituality, showing arrows interconnecting in a circle, to illustrate that a person becomes their own God.New Age Spirituality promotes the development of the person's own power or divinity. When referring to deity, a follower of this type of spirituality is not talking about a transcendent, personal God who created the universe, but is referring to a higher consciousness within themselves. A person pursuing spiritual development would see themselves as deity, the cosmos, the universe. In fact, everything that the person sees, hears, feels or imagines is to be considered divine.

Highly eclectic, New Age Spirituality is a collection of ancient spiritual traditions, taught by a vast array of speakers, books and seminars. It acknowledges many gods and goddesses, as in Hinduism. The Earth is viewed as the source of all spirituality, and has its own intelligence, emotions and deity. But superseding all is self. Self is the originator, controller and power over all. There is no reality outside of what the person determines.

New Age teaches eastern mysticism and spiritual, metaphysical and psychic techniques, such as breathing exercises, chanting, drumming, meditating...to develop an altered consciousness and one's own divinity.

Anything negative a person experiences (failures, sadness, anger, selfishness, hurt) is considered an illusion. Believing themselves to be completely sovereign over their life, nothing about their life is wrong, negative or painful. Eventually, a person develops spiritually to the degree that there is no objective, external reality. A person, becoming a god, creates their own reality.

Buddhism and its beliefs

Illustration of Buddhism, with a universal sign of nill, a circle with a slanted line through it, to illustrate that Buddhists do not believe in any God.Buddhists do not worship any gods or God. People outside of Buddhism often think that Buddhists worship the Buddha. However, the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) never claimed to be divine, but rather he is viewed by Buddhists as having attained what they are also striving to attain, which is spiritual enlightenment and, with it, freedom from the continuous cycle of life and death.

Most Buddhists believe a person has countless rebirths, which inevitably include suffering. A Buddhist seeks to end these rebirths. Buddhists believe it is a person's cravings, aversion and delusion that cause these rebirths. Therefore, the goal of a Buddhist is to purify one's heart and to let go of all yearnings toward sensual desires and the attachment to oneself.

Buddhists follow a list of religious principles and adhere to personal restraint, fasting and very dedicated meditation. When a Buddhist meditates it is not the same as praying or focusing on a god, it is more of a self-discipline. Through practiced meditation, a person may reach Nirvana -- "the blowing out" of the flame of desire.

Buddhism provides something that is true of most major religions: disciplines, values and directives that a person may want to live by.

Islam and its beliefs

Illustration of Islam, with one arrow pointing up to a transcendent God, to illustrate the relationship with God is one serving that God.Muslims believe there is the one almighty God, named Allah, who is infinitely superior to and transcendent from humankind. Allah is viewed as the creator of the universe and the source of all good and all evil. Everything that happens is Allah's will. He is a powerful and strict judge, who will be merciful toward followers depending on the sufficiency of their life's good works and religious devotion. A follower's relationship with Allah is as a servant to Allah.

Though a Muslim honors several prophets, Muhammad is considered the last prophet, and his words and lifestyle are that person's authority. To be a Muslim, one must follow five religious duties: 1. Repeat a creed about Allah and Muhammad; 2. Recite certain prayers in Arabic five times a day; 3. Give to the needy; 4. One month each year, fast from food, drink, sex and smoking from sunrise to sunset; 5. Pilgrimage once in one's lifetime to worship at a shrine in Mecca. At death -- based on one's faithfulness to these duties -- a Muslim hopes to enter Paradise. If not, they will be eternally punished in hell.

For many people, Islam matches their expectations about religion and deity. Islam teaches that there is one supreme deity, who is worshiped through good deeds and disciplined religious rituals. After death, a person is rewarded or punished according to their religious devotion. Muslims believe that giving up one’s life for Allah is a sure way of entering Paradise.

Christianity and its beliefs

Illustration of Christianity, with an arrow of God reaching down to an arrow of a person being able to connect with God.Christians believe in one eternal God who is creator of all that is. He is viewed as a loving God who offers everyone a personal relationship with himself now in this life.

In his life on Earth, Jesus Christ did not identify himself as a prophet pointing to God or as a teacher of enlightenment. Rather, Jesus claimed to be God in human form. He performed miracles, forgave people of their sin and said that anyone who believed in him would have eternal life.

Followers of Jesus regard the Bible as God's written message to humankind. In addition to being a historical record of Jesus' life and miracles, the Bible reveals his personality, his love and truth, and how one can know and relate to God, as you could a friend.

Christians believe that all people sin, including themselves. They see Jesus as their Savior, as the Messiah who was prophesied by all the prophets of the Old Testament, in the Bible. They believe that Jesus Christ, out of love for us, paid for the sin of all of humanity by dying on a cross. Three days later, he rose from the dead as he promised, proving his deity.

How distinct are these major religions?

In looking at these major belief systems and their views of God, we find tremendous diversity:

  • Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses.
  • Buddhists say there is no deity.
  • New Age Spirituality followers believe they are God.
  • Muslims believe in a powerful but unknowable God.
  • Christians believe a loving God who created us to know him.

Are all religions worshiping the same God? Let's consider that. New Age Spirituality teaches that everyone should come to center on a cosmic consciousness, but it would require Islam to give up their one God, Hinduism to give up their numerous gods, and Buddhism to establish that there is a God.

What does each religion require?

The world's major religions (Hinduism, New Age Spirituality, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity) are also quite unique in their requirements.

Photo of a smiling young man to illustrate that in Christianity there is not the burden to earn God's acceptance.Most of the world religions place an individual on their own, striving for spiritual perfection.

In Hinduism, a person is on their own trying to gain release from karma. In New Age, a person is working at their own divinity. In Buddhism, it is an individual quest at being free from desire. And in Islam, the individual follows religious laws for the sake of paradise after death.

All religions are working on the same problem.

We’re all aware of personal failings and the need to be better. This is what leads to the creation of religions.

We also want to feel at peace, fulfilled and have inner strength. And so we move to practices like meditation, religious rituals, self-help books, fasting, prayer, personal sacrifice, pilgrimages, etc.

We hope these will increase our inner goodness and make amends for our sins.

While striving for enlightenment, Buddha never claimed sinlessness. Muhammad also admitted that he was in need of forgiveness. "No matter how wise, no matter how gifted, no matter how influential other prophets, gurus, and teachers might be, they had the presence of mind to know that they were imperfect just like the rest of us."1

Sacrifices in various religions

In most religions, you see some type of sacrifice required to pay for sin.

man meditating in worshipIn Hinduism, sacred fires can be used to overcome sin, suffering and adversity. In other religions, it is common to require hours in prayer or meditation multiple times a day; periods of fasting; financial sacrifices; long pilgrimages.

The prophet Isaiah is a prophet honored in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Instead of our striving to pay for our sins, Isaiah wrote of a coming Savior who would personally pay for the sins of all humanity:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity [sin] of us all.”2

Jesus Christ identified himself as this Savior that Isaiah talked about. “…the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”3

Jesus told his followers that he would lay down his life “poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins.”4

Forgiveness for sin

Indeed, Jesus was whipped, beaten, a crown of long thorns pressed into his head, then his hands and feet nailed to a cross where he hung until death, willingly dying in our place.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “he was crushed for our iniquities…he poured out his soul to death…an offering for guilt…he bore the sin of many.”5

The Bible says, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us."6

Our sin was paid for by Jesus on the cross. He now offers us complete forgiveness and welcomes us to freely come to him.

Life after death

Throughout his public life, thousands of people followed Jesus, as he performed countless miracles, healing the sick, causing the lame to walk, the blind to see, feeding crowds of 5,000 people.

Unlike other spiritual leaders, Jesus said he himself would judge the world, forgive sin, give people eternal life, answer prayers…attributes belonging only to God. Over and over he identified himself as equal to God, leading to his crucifixion.

However, Jesus also offered final proof of his deity, saying he would rise from the dead three days after his burial.

He didn't say he would reincarnate someday into a future life. (Who would know if he actually did it?)

Photo of a smiling young woman to illustrate that in Christianity there is not the burden to earn God's acceptance.Jesus’ power to perform miracles was so widely known, his executors stationed soldiers at the entrance of Jesus’ burial tomb to secure it.

Despite that, on that third day, Jesus' tomb was found empty and many people testified that they saw him alive again.

News spread throughout the world that any person could be fully forgiven by Jesus and know him for all eternity by believing in him. The message was clear.

"For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."7

(To know more about Jesus see Why Jesus is God.)

Jesus offers us a relationship with himself and eternal life.

Unlike many world religions…

God invites us to freely come to him. This is not a commitment to a method of self-improvement like the Eight Fold Path or the Five Pillars, or meditation, or good works, or obeying the Ten Commandments.

These seem clear, well-defined, easy-to-follow paths for spirituality. But they become a burdensome striving for perfection, and connection with God is still distant. Religious efforts or good deeds are insufficient to cover our sin.

Instead, we can know Jesus our Savior who fully accepts us because of his death for our sins and our faith in him.

Not religion – a relationship with God

He welcomes you to know him. The question is, do you want a relationship with God?

If so, you can begin a relationship with God right now. It is as simple as sincerely asking him for his forgiveness of your sin and inviting him to enter your life.

Photo of a smiling young woman to illustrate that in Christianity there is not the burden to earn God's acceptance.Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door [of your heart] and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him."8

You can open that door and invite him into your life right now, by simply asking him in prayer. The exact words are not important, but this might help you express it:

“God, I ask you to forgive me and invite you to enter my heart right now. Thank you, Jesus, for dying for my sins. Come into my life as you offered. Thank you for giving me an eternal relationship with you."

If you asked God to come into your life just now, you have begun a personal relationship with him. You can talk with him and he will guide you in this life now. Unlike world religions, Jesus doesn’t point you to a path, a philosophy, or rituals, but to personally know him and his love for you.

Here is how you can grow in your new relationship with God:

 I just asked Jesus into my life (some helpful information follows)...
 I may want to ask Jesus into my life, please explain this more fully...
 I have a question or comment...

Footnotes: (1) Erwin W. Lutzer, Christ Among Other Gods (Chicago: Moody Press,1994), p. 63 (2) Isaiah 53:6 (3) John 1:29 (4) Matthew 26:28 (5) Isaiah 53:5,10,12 (6) 1John 3:16 (7) John 3:16 (8) Revelation 3:20

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