Let’s look at a few major world faith systems: Hinduism, New Age, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Each of these religions has sects with differing beliefs, but we will look at the central ideas of each.
Hindus worship some of 300,000 gods and goddesses. These various gods all converge into a universal spirit called the Ultimate Reality or Brahman. Brahman is not a god but more of a term for ultimate oneness. Hindus see their position in life based on their actions in a previous life. If their behavior was evil, they might experience tremendous hardships in this life. A Hindu’s goal is to become free from the law of karma … to be free from continuous reincarnations. There are three possible ways to end this cycle of karma:
- Be lovingly devoted to any of the Hindu gods or goddesses.
- Grow in knowledge through the meditation of Brahman (oneness) to realize that circumstances in life are not real, that self-hood is an illusion and only Brahman is real.
- Be dedicated to various religious ceremonies and rites.
New Age promotes the development of the person’s own power or divinity. When referring to a god, a follower of New Age is not talking about the almighty, personal God who created the universe. Rather, a New Age god refers to a higher consciousness within that person. A person in New Age would see his or her self as god, the cosmos, or the universe. In fact, everything that the person sees, hears, feels or imagines is to be considered divine.
New Age presents itself as a collection of ancient spiritual traditions. 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. Self is creator, controller and god of all. There is no reality outside of what the person determines. They teach techniques such as meditating, breathing exercises, chanting, and drumming – all to develop an altered consciousness and one’s own identity.
Buddhists do not worship any gods or God. People outside of Buddhism often think that Buddhists worship the Buddha. However Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) never claimed to be divine and Buddhists reject the notion of any supernatural power. The Buddhists see the universe as operating by natural laws. Life is seen as consisting of pain – pain in birth, sickness, death, and continuous sorrow and despair. Most Buddhists believe a person has hundreds or thousands of reincarnations, all bringing misery. And it is the desire for happiness that causes a person’s reincarnation. Therefore, the goal of a Buddhist is to purify one’s heart and to let go of all desires. A person must abandon all sensuous pleasures, all evil, all joy and all sorrow. To do so, Buddhists are to follow a list of religious principles and intense meditation. When a Buddhist meditates, it is not the same as praying to or focusing on a god but it is more of a self-discipline. Through dedicated meditation, a person may reach Nirvana, the blowing out of the flame of desire.
A follower of Islam is called a Muslim. Muslims believe there is the one almighty god, named Allah, who is infinitely superior and distant 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, too great to be approached by people. So it is impossible for individuals to have a relationship with Allah or know much about him.
Though a Muslim honors several prophets, Muhammad is considered the last or most recent prophet; therefore, Muhammad’s words and lifestyle are the Muslim’s authority. To be a Muslim, one must follow five religious duties, called the Five Pillars of Islam:
- Repeat a creed about Allah and Muhammad.
- Recite certain prayers in Arabic five times a day while facing Mecca.
- Give to the needy.
- Observe Ramadan: One month each year, from sunrise to sunset fast from food, drink, sex and smoking.
- 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, a place of sensual pleasure. If not, he will be eternally punished in hell.
Christians believe in a God of justice and love who has revealed Himself and can be personally known in this life. In Christianity, the believer’s focus is not on religious rituals or performing good works, but on enjoying a loving relationship with God and growing in knowledge of Him.
Faith in Jesus Christ Himself, not just in His teachings, is how the Christian experiences joy and a meaningful life. In His life on earth, Jesus 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 sins, and said that anyone who believed in Him would have eternal life. He made claims like, “I am the light of the world! Follow Me, and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life” (John 8:12).
Christians regard the Bible as God’s written message to humankind. In addition to being an historical record of Jesus’ life and miracles, the Bible reveals God’s personality, His love and truth, and how one can have a relationship with him.
What is the difference?
In looking at these major belief systems and their views of God, we find tremendous diversity:
- Hindus believe in 300,000 gods.
- Buddhists say there is no deity.
- New Age followers believe they are god.
- Muslims believe in a powerful but detached god.
- Christians believe in a God who is loving and approachable.
Obviously, it is not logical to say that all of these claims are equally true, because different religions claim things which contradict or go against the truth of the other religions. Christianity speaks of a God who welcomes us into a relationship with Him and comes alongside us as a comforter, a counselor and an all -powerful God who loves us. You can begin a relationship with God right now. It is as simple as asking God for His forgiveness of your sins and inviting Him to enter your life. You can do this right now, simply by telling Him your heart’s desire, through a prayer:
“God, I ask you to forgive me and invite you to enter my heart right now. Thank you, Jesus, for dying for my sins. Thank you for coming into my life as you said you would.”
In other religions, a person has a relationship with teachings, ideas, paths, or rituals. In Christianity, a person has a relationship with the loving and all-powerful God. He welcomes you to know Him, to experience His joy, and to have confidence in a loving God in the midst of life’s challenges. Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that He lets us be called His children, as we truly are. (See 1 John 3:1.)