eNotes

World Religions

The history of the world's major religions are well documented. All emerged in a certain area of the world, this being the populated nations and ancient civilizations of Southeast Asia and the Middle East.  Often, the religion of the region is deeply imbedded into the culture, adding a flavor unique to that society and people of that land. As a cultural experience, it can be very enchanting and wonderful, yet it is important to distinguish this aspect of cultural identity from the religious observances and beliefs held in order to determine whether there is any truth of God that can be found.


It would seem reasonable to conclude that if all religions worship the same God that there would exist a commonality among them. Specifically the message, and revelation regarding God's nature and character. And although it is important to respect the beliefs held by others, that should not be taken as agreement or acceptance that what is viewed as truth is in fact true. That would still need to be validated.


It should be noted that there is not a different set of rules to determine "truth" when it comes to God, religion or faith. Therefore, the process that is applied to one would need to be applied to all. The process of investigation and evaluation of the evidence.


The God of Scripture presented Himself to each world power throughout man's history, as noted in our coverage of the "dispensations" of time. Whether it was the Babylonian kings, the Pharaoh's of Egypt, the nations of the Mediterranean, even the wise men of the East had knowledge. The following "eNotes" on religion are merely a brief overview.


Hinduism

 

This part of the world was populated by Noah's son Shem.


Hinduism, to the western mind, and in light of biblical revelation, is the strangest of all world religions. It is one of the oldest, and comes from the word "Hine" so named for the sacred river "Indus". The word itself does not appear anywhere in Hindu sacred writings. The proper name for Hinduism is 'Sanatan Dharma'. Sanatan = eternal ,  Dharma = religion. It is in this region (the Indian subcontinent) that Hinduism sprang forth from. Most likely among the Indus people who have had a continuous civilization since 2500 B.C., when the inhabitants of the Indus River valley in Pakistan and Western India developed an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade. This civilization declined around 1500 B.C., probably due to ecological changes.  


It is somewhat vague when Hinduism began since there is very little chronological or archeological evidence with regard to Hinduism itself. However, based upon the study of the people of the region, and the records of other civilizations about them, it is generally placed about 2000 B.C. This was around the time God was establishing His covenant with Abraham, and when the Aryans conquered the people of the Indus valley, bringing with them a form of animism, or primitive belief that natural objects and forces have souls.


There seemed to have been a lack of a sense of importance in noting their history, events and the like among the ancient Indian scholars and people, thus historical records of any type are almost non-existent and historical references scarce.


Hinduism is not attributed to any founder, but is a mixture of Brahmanism and Buddhism. It is a religion of hymns, chants, prayers with belief in many gods, along with many sacred books that are often in conflict with each other. The following are the primary writings of Hinduism:


1. The Vedas, which would be the oldest

2. The eighteen Puranas

3. Epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana

4. The Bhagavad Gita, contained within the Mahabharata, summarizes the spiritual teaching of the Vedas


Basic Beliefs:


Reincarnation is the belief that when a person dies he will then be reborn in the body of another human, or lower form of life. Good actions performed in one's life moves them higher up the ladder toward achieving "moksha," or salvation. Doing bad things does the opposite. If, over time and enough rebirths, through yoga and meditation, one can sufficiently purify their mind and intellect, they can attain the goal of life, basically to become "divine". That translates into becoming a deity, a god. The familiar theme of "mind power" by thinking your way to perfection and wholeness is evident. Quite opposite of biblical scripture that states the problem is one of the heart. This process of reincarnation is repeated over again in an endless cycle until an individual finally gets it right and achieves this "divinity".  A Hindu's salvation then is based upon "good works" and their own effort. Score enough points and one gains a different status, and finally ending any repeat performances of rebirth.


Karma is the belief that if we were evil in this life, we will be reborn into a lower form of life and/or pay for past sins. And if very good we may be born into a higher form of life (if there is any). This is also called transmigration of souls. So, good karma reaps a good future. Bad karma, reaps a bad one.


Pantheism is the belief that God is a force that is in everything (people animals, plants, rocks etc.) This is the opposite of the Christian God, who is personal and completely separate from his creation. Because of the belief in pantheism, the Hindu religion has 330 million gods and goddesses. Each is supposed to represent a different part of God. Due to this belief, most Hindu's are vegetarian, not eating meat, since they venerate all living things, but apparently not enough to not eat at all.


Brahman is an impersonal, Universal God of which the goal is, after many reincarnated lives to produce enough cleansing to be absorbed, or united into this universal spirit. Much like a water drop falling into an ocean.


Atman is the essence of that impersonal God, that is in each human being.


 Many of the hymns of Hinduism were recorded in 1000 B.C. in a collection called the "Veda", about the same time David was composing his psalms. During the time Jesus was walking the streets of Jerusalem, some Hindu writer composed a long epic poem known as "Bhagavad-Gita", a battle between a man name Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna. Krishna it turns out was the God Vishnu, who took human form to offer salvation to anyone who would surrender their life to Krishna. Was this just coincidence? It was wise men, knowledgeable of Hebrew scriptures, that came from the East to Jesus birth, demonstrating an awareness of the biblical God in this part of the world, and yet was rejected.


Romans, Chapter One, gives the historical setting for the growth of such religions. Even though the founders knew God, they preferred not to worship Him, choosing instead to worship nature and self, exalting man as being a god. Modern Hinduism as it exists today was developed after Christ.  


Today there are over 400 million professed, religious Hindus, with 95% of all Hindus living in India. The total Hindu population of the world could be nearly a half billion or more.


Hinduism admits that it concerns itself more with finding "deeper" spiritual meaning in stories and teachings than whether any story or scripture is historically accurate or true. An acknowledgment that their own scriptures contain a mix of historical fact and myth.


Can this belief system be validated, investigated, corroborated or verified as true? Simply put, no.  Or, of God? No. Then where did all of this come from? No one knows, but one can guess. Are there not "truths" found in Hinduism? Sure, an example would be good or positive thoughts are healthy, bad or negative thoughts are not, each brings about different things. These are universal truths common to man. The same goes for sitting by a fireplace, with a cup of coffee and chilling for a while to calm your thoughts. An equivalent to sitting in a yoga position and meditating. These are simply self-help measures not uncommon around the world. Each culture approaches them from different angles, in different ways which become different traditions. These are not the truths we have been dealing with, it is determining the "truth" concerning God that we remain focused on within these pages.


Buddhism


Was started by Siddhartha Gautama, (or referred to also as Gautama Buddha) who was born a Hindu about 560 B.C. He lived during the time of Confucius and Ezekiel.  Born in Nepal in Northern India of a warrior caste and of wealthy parents, little of the traditional story of his life can be established as historically true. After marriage and the birth of a son, Siddhartha ventured out one particular day beyond his father's property to end up seeing the suffering beyond it's borders. Having a profound impact, he abandoned his wife and son and set out to find the means of escaping such misery (good luck) After 40 days (some say 49 days) of deep contemplation under a Bodhi tree, and vowing not to get up until he had found the "truth", apparent illumination broke upon him and he decided he was now free from the endless rebirths or reincarnation of his Hindu faith. Thus, announcing himself "Buddha" or enlightened one, having gained "bodhi" or "awakening". He spent the rest of his life teaching his insights and philosophical views. These were mostly views on what is reality, or non-reality, in finding the "middle ground" in avoiding extremes and in attempting to reform Hinduism. But instead of reforming it, he inadvertently started another religion. As an atheist, he sought to rid Hinduism of it's many gods which he thought held Hindu's bound to this world of karma and suffering. Interestingly, the very idolatry that he hated and condemned, in the end, he became, as today we find the many shrines and statues of Buddha that people pray to and worship.


His "Four Noble Truths" are:


1. Life is suffering

2. Suffering is caused by desire

3. The cessation of desire eliminates suffering

4. The stopping of desire comes by following the "middle way".


Of course, who wouldn't want to avoid any suffering, so the message was surely appealing to those round about who were in this state. Apparently he was oblivious to the beauty that can be found in life, or that there may be good or right desires, as well as bad or wrong desires. Nor the idea that the cessation of desires cannot stop the suffering caused by disease, infection, physical trauma and the like. Maybe he was intending to work on another set of noble truths that would have addressed this, but then the desire to work on it was quenched, having suffered enough already due to the desire in wanting to do the first set.


The goal for a follower of Buddhism is to reach "nirvana". Like Hinduism, this is the liberation from this world of suffering. From reincarnation and becoming one with the Impersonal. You lose all personality, awareness and merge yourself into "nothingness". It has been likened to the blowing out of a candle. At this point you are obviously free, for you no longer exist. All that effort for nothing.


Buddhism is mainly atheistic in that the notion of a theistic, Creator God is absent. Instead, Buddhism starts with the human condition and looks toward attaining a higher plane, or godlike state. And though they  do not believe that man has a soul or spirit, Buddhism does hold that one's feelings and desires can be reincarnated into another person. This life will obviously be plagued by suffering, having received someone else's "desires". That is, of course, until one can reach nirvana.


As we know, two opposites cannot both be true. Here, the "truth" of Buddhism's denial of the existence of God with the "truth" that there is a God. Both cannot be true, either one is true or the other. Can Buddhism's "truth" claim be verified or supported? Simply put, no. I'll go with the one with the most evidence supporting it.... there is a Creator God.


Islam


Islam was founded long after (some 500 years) the New Testament had been written and copies of Scripture were easily available.  


The term "Islam" means "submission", and those that adhere to Islam as Muslim, meaning "those who submit".


Islam was founded by Mohammed sometime around 610 A.D. Mohammed was born to a prominent and highly respected family in Arabia, in the city of Mecca, in 567 A.D. Raised by his grandfather and uncle, he spent time herding sheep and leading camel caravans. His life took a hopeful turn when, at 24 years of age, he married a wealthy woman by the name of Khadijah, who employed him for caravan work. This new found wealth offered him opportunity to stop working and meditate on his favorite past-time, religion.


Prior to Mohammed's establishment of Islam, the Arab people were pagan worshipers. Like the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and others of the past in Mesopotamia, we find that Syria, Turkey, ancient Persia, Palestine and throughout the Middle East there were many gods and idols that were worshiped. Popular among them was the worship of the Moon-god with the crescent moon being its symbol (this helps explain the use of the crescent moon used by Islam today). Called by many different names such as Nanna, Suen and Asimbabbar for the Sumarians, and later  Sin, Kusuh, Nannar and al-ilah, meaning "the deity" to show that this god was the chief or high god among the gods. It was later shortened to .... Allah. His daughter's names were al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. Archaeological digs have uncovered a wealth of statues, relief's, tablets, altars and more dedicated to the worship of this Moon-god. Evidence has shown that temple worship of the Moon-god Allah was still active even in the beginning of the Christian era up to the time of Mohammed's day.


At the age of 40, while still meditating on religion in a cave of Mt. Hira, near Mecca, Mohammed stated he had a vision and was told by some angel to go preach that Allah was the supreme god. Hating the idolatry and immorality of the Arabs who lived in Mecca, and encouraged by his wife, he announced himself a prophet of Allah and began to preach in the streets and marketplaces. He didn't have to explain who Allah was, for the name was already familiar to the Arab people as one of the many pagan gods they had. Mohammed was simply preaching that "Allah was the greatest" and therefore should be worshiped only. Hoping to gain acceptance with the Jews and Christians, he looked to convince them that Allah was their god also, but they knew better and as history points, rejected Allah as a false god.  


Mohammed felt from the beginning that military force would be required to get people to conform, and so rounded up a band of men who were willing to be loyal to him in return for reaping some rewards should they be successful in taking control of the city of Mecca. Their hopes were dashed when the Jews and Christians resisted his efforts to take over. His actions stirred up an angry mob of citizens who sought to kill him, but before they could, he and his band of hoods fled to Yathrib, later renamed Madina. What they didn't achieve in Mecca they accomplished in Madina, taking control and setting up shop. Those in the city were given the choice, accept Mohammed's teachings or leave town. They were lucky, for later on it would be submit or die. As they raided nearby towns and villages, Mohammed began to build up an army of followers willing to do his bidding. "Jihad" was the mode of operation to spread his "message" of Allah, acquire the necessary "cash flow" for his newly established government and to gain followers. The edge of the sword and the fear of death continues to be  the hallmark of Islam as they continue their goal of converting the whole world to Islam. The choice remains the same, submit or die.


After his wife died, Mohammed married two other women, one a Jewess and the other a Christian. This exposed him to Scripture and the God of the Bible, which he rejected, yet it began the process of Allah's evolutionary change to what it is today. The attempt has been to shape Islam as having roots in, and authored by the same source as that of the Judeo/Christian faith, but that is a Trojan horse. Allah is not Jehovah and the message of the Koran is far removed from the revelation found in Scripture. What comparisons there might be, Mohammed borrowed from the original.


Again, we find that works are the means of salvation. Pray certain number of times a day, make an annual trip, public recitations, fasting at particular times as well as other regulations and rules to uphold in efforts to appease Islam's  vindictive, stern god.  Whereas the God of Scripture looks to free people, Islam enslaves them. Where Christ said he gives peace, Islam strikes fear. Scripture states salvation is a free gift of God, Islam states you need to earn it.


A wonderful people with a rich heritage and culture, nevertheless blinded to the bondage they are in.


Paul states in Gal. 1:6-9 "I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you to the grace of Christ to another gospel. Which is not another, but there are some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven,  preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel to you than that you have received, let him be accursed."


Judaism & Christianity


Christianity's roots are found in Judaism, Christ marking the difference between them. Whereas Christianity recognizes Jesus as the Messiah that was to come, as foretold in the Old Testament, Judaism is still in anticipation of him, not recognizing the two different advents mentioned in the Torah with regard to this Savior. In light of that, Judaism continues in and under the Old Testament scriptures and the Mosaic Law, whereas Christianity embraces the New Testament with its emphasis of grace and life in Christ.


The Jewish nation was anticipating a conquering King that would destroy her enemies, not a suffering Messiah. God had a bigger picture in mind in redeeming all of mankind and not just restoring Israel. The first advent was to establish a means of extending grace and forgiveness. In offering a means to bridge the gap between God and man and in making a way that all men might be free from the bondage of sin, suffering and death. The second advent, also called the "Second Coming of Christ", will be Christ returning as king and ruler.


All other faiths and religions reveal man's attempt to reach up to God, to earn their place in heaven. Or, to save themselves through works and human effort. Here we find the marked difference. Biblical scripture reveals God reaching down to save man who is not able to save himself. In offering freely the gift of life and heaven to all, not on any merit man can achieve or effort he can accomplish, but by simply receiving God's offer through means of acceptance by faith and trusting in keeping His word.


There are many faiths that claim to be the way to God, to heaven, or the truth. However, as we have been dealing with what is factual and true, what holds up to investigation and evidence, we find that the field of candidates narrows down considerably when applying the same rigors as we have done within these pages. In fact, it is this writers conclusion that there is only one that has demonstrated any validity, that being the Judeo/Christian belief in the biblical God.


When considering God's nature and character, even from a reference of applied common sense and reason, it would be illogical and irrational to believe that God could be so inconsistent in His principles, double minded in His intentions, and contradictory in His communications with man to have developed such a conflicting group of beliefs. And yet that is what is being asked of individuals to believe when it is stated that all religions lead to the same place and say the same thing. The fact is the message each espouse are quite different. Even McDonalds is consistent in their company policies, procedures and overall operational structure no matter where they are in the world. You can go to any location and can usually find continuity of business practices, quality of operation and product as established by the company. If man is smart enough to put together a successful business plan that transcends language, culture and any other boundaries, is God not able to put together a successful plan of salvation with a message that would be the same for everyone?  It would be hard to conceive that the one who was quite capable of creating all things ended up to be so inept in His communication skills as to not at least rise to the level of any of today's  international   corporations, or advertising  agencies, in getting a consistent message across of such importance to the broadest of audience.  


How is it that God has generated so many belief systems? The fact is, He hasn't, we have. Quite frankly, most of the religions of the world were conceived from the mind of man. Whether produced out of superstition, philosophical musings, creative imagination, personal preference and such. Some, inspired by an ongoing enemy to confuse, confound and lead away from what is true. I am reminded of an Indiana Jones movie in which the lead character played by Harrison Ford, stood before a mass collection of drinking vessels, each supposedly representing the real chalice from which Jesus and the disciples drank from at the last supper they shared. He only had moments to determine which ones were the counterfeit and which one was the real cup. The collection assembled before him was vast indeed. There were fancy cups, jeweled drinking vessels, ones of gold and silver and of every variety and type one could imagine. It would have been easy to be swayed by the visually extravagant as to what would be "fitting for a king". But instead of being confused by all of this, he reasoned that what made more sense was a simple cup for a humble shepherd. As he gazed among those cups there was only one tucked among them that fit the type most fitting for that occasion so many centuries before. His choice of that cup ended up being the right one. Only one was the true, the others were mere decoys. Only one was real, the others were counterfeits. So it is with God. Only one is the real deal, the others counterfeit. Only one is genuine, the others mere decoys. It is stated that for experts to identify counterfeit currency, they do not focus so much on how to identify the phonies. Instead, they spend their time studying the genuine. They get to know it so well as to  make   it  easy  to spot  the   differences  found  in  bills   being  passed off as real money. But if this all is true, then what will happen to all those who have believed in the false? Who never heard the name of Christ? Or had the chance to read a Bible or hear its message?  


What we can understand of God's nature as He has revealed in scripture, is that He is, among other things,  fair, just, merciful, forgiving, long-suffering, patient, loving, caring, He searches the hearts of all men, knows and understands all things. He is no respecter of persons. Knows the motives behind the choices and actions we have made and knows the ones we would have made if given the opportunity to do so. A Hindu, as an example, will not find the truth of God or salvation in the doctrine, message or vessel of the Hindu religion, but that does not mean that God could not or does not reveal Himself to that person who is genuinely seeking to know Him in spite of it. It will not be by the outward religion, rituals and philosophy one observes (this is true even for those within Christianity who trust and believe in these same type of things) but by the revealed knowledge and understanding one has that God gives of Himself in establishing the personal relationship from which true faith and trust flow from. God is not into or about mere religion (the attempt to know about God) but He is all about relationship (knowing Him). What we cannot assume is that God has not been busy revealing Himself to each person, speaking to the hearts and minds of individuals even in the deepest of jungles. He has been doing so even now, with you, through this book. Knowing the heart, God knows our true motives and nature, as well as our true relationship with Him, this being the basis from which God starts with in His dealings with each of us and which will be the basis from which He will also judge.


With this in mind, we can be assured that God will be fair, just and right in any decision He will make with regard to our eternal future. Only He knows for certain where each of us stand with our relationship, understanding and knowledge of Him and out of that what we have believed and accepted, what our true motives were for good or evil and our conduct in life based upon the laws that He has already given  by having written them on the hearts of all people. One day, each person will get the opportunity to kneel before Christ when "every knee shall bow... and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." (Phil. 2:10-11). For some, it will be in confession to what they already knew or believed to be true on some level of faith, understanding and capacity. For others, an admission to a truth and of a life, despite the conviction, they had already rejected.


The following link is to a website I came across that you may find useful. Its stated goal is to be neutral in dealing with the various religions around the world and to simply present the facts:


www.religionfacts.com/big_religion_chart.htm


So, what do you believe? And, why do you believe it?


What convincing fact, information or evidence do you base this belief upon?


Your answer has eternal consequences.

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