It is common to ask if religions really are different, and whether Christianity is really a better religion than some of the others. N.J. from Australia writes:
I have watched debates on religion in Western countries which always confine and seems to recognize, being aware of, Jews, Christians and Muslims all of which grew at same place, in deserts of what is now called the Middle East, and also they all believe in Abraham to be their father/God but each of them call their preacher as son of GOD, which simply is saying that others are not. A bigger question which arise is that what about Hinduism which is most oldest organized and practiced religion. It can be understood that it was difficult at that time to know about all the practices of organised religions though those so called flag bearers of these three religions, from all over their places, reached to invaded India hearing about its wealth and prosperity with the sole objective of looting and indulged in barbarism, destruction of culture, language, civilisation and everything good and also spreading their own religion. Are these really religions and have God?
Thanks for writing in. First, we have to understand that we have to separate the claims of a religion itself from the actions of people professing to act in its name. This is because people can act inconsistently with what they believe, and there can be all sorts of political and personal motives for action which have nothing to do with religion. This isn’t to say that these aren’t important, but considering these things has to come after we consider the religion itself.
When we’re evaluating a religion, we have to look at the character of its God/god/gods. The Muslim god is cruel and changeable, and cannot be trusted. He is not the true God, and is not worthy of worship. Christians believe that the Jewish faith reveals the true God and the Jews prior to Christ were actually saved through believing within this system (though they were only saved because their religion looked forward to Christ, who alone can save). However, by the time of Christ, a religious tradition grew up around Judaism which corrupted it.
Christians believe that Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish religion (the biblical concept of fulfillment is a bit more complex than just when predictive prophecy happens, but that is definitely part of it). We believe that He was not just a man, but the Son of God who came down to earth to live as one of us so that He could pay the penalty for our offenses against God on our behalf, and so His righteous human life could be credited to us instead. The central claim of Christianity is that man can do nothing to save himself—we have rebelled against God and deserve punishment, and there is nothing we can do ourselves to avoid it. But God wanted to save human beings and sent Jesus so that anyone who believes in Him can be saved.
Throughout history, Christians have been responsible for good things like education, advances in science and medicine, and political reforms. Christians were behind the abolition of the slave trade in the western world, at a time when slavery was economically lucrative and popular with the general population (except slaves, presumably). We have traditionally believed that these things are a natural consequence of what we believe about the nature of God and how He works in the world. We believe that bad things in the world that cause suffering are the result of sin ruining a once-perfect creation; because Jesus came to relieve the effects of sin, Christians follow Him in alleviating the effects of this curse whenever possible.
I only understand a little of the history of the UK’s former colonial relationship with India, but I don’t doubt that it was at least partially exploitative. But there is nothing in the Bible that condones this sort of colonialism; rather, Jesus is clear that His kingdom is a heavenly one, and that Christians are to live as travelers and exiles in this world while we wait for our heavenly home.
Hinduism, by contrast, has Brahma, who is impersonal and pantheistic. The world is thought to be an illusion. Hinduism has no salvation, rather, the goal is to be ‘dissolved’ into this ultimate reality which then leads to the absence of suffering. But I would say that the Hindu philosophy fails at the most basic level, because we can’t really live as if the world was an illusion. For instance, if I saw your message, and said, “Oh well, guess I can delete it without responding, because N. J. is an illusion—and I can’t answer it anyway, because I am one as well,” that would be consistent with Hindu thinking, but inconsistent with how we actually live.
No human actually wants to be dissolved into a ceaseless Nothingness where individuality is lost. What we want, what we long for, is to live forever, to see our dead loved ones again, to have a world free of the struggle and strife of this life. Christianity succeeds on this most basic level because it acknowledges that something is really wrong with this universe, and it presents the promise of a future restoration back to how each of us knows everything should be.
I spent more time on this response than I normally do, because I wanted to help you understand a little bit what Christians believe and why we would dispute the claims of Hinduism. I would also add that the Bible gives us the true history of the world, which is that after the global Flood with eight saved on the Ark, and following the dispersion of the population at Babel a few generations after the Flood, people migrated into various parts of the world, including India. In other words, the forefathers of Indians today had the knowledge of the one true God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and like most other peoples of the world, progressively abandoned and corrupted this knowledge. There are hints of this original knowledge of the truth about God and the history of the world in legends and traditions, including the Hindu Scriptures. Thus, Hinduism is not the ‘oldest religion’ at all. The earliest recorded forms of worship in ancient China, for instance, are very much like that of the worship of the one true God in the Old Testament, as shown in this article, with the progressive rejection of the true religion happening over time. This also means that biblical Christianity is not a ‘white man’s religion’, or some new invention, as some of your countrymen have been led to believe but is the natural progression of something that was planned and foretold from the earliest times following creation.
I would encourage you to read the Bible if you have access to one. If you have Internet access, there are many websites which have the Bible on them that you can read for free. Also read https://creation.com/good-news for an explanation of why we need to be saved and how Jesus Christ can save us when we believe in Him.
I used to listen to the Theravadin Buddhist monks from the Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia. They do not believe in God, but they shared a few outstanding ‘pearls’ of wisdom that I now recognise as having been ‘borrowed’ from the Bible (The Word of God) but the rest was the pseudo wisdom of man.
I saw them as ‘good’ people and one day while telling a young lady (who I did not know was a Christian) about my Buddhist influenced ideas, she quietly said:
“You know Rex, being ‘good’ is not what gets one to Heaven”
It was this perfectly timed, gentle comment that led to my eventual acceptance of our Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour…Such is the power of the one and only true God!
Philip R., Australia, 16 August 2014
I wish to comment on some further points N.J. raised.
Judaism has had multiple prophets throughout biblical times, but no single figurehead "preacher". Islam does have a figurehead "preacher", Mohammed, who they consider to be God's prophet. Christianity has/had multiple "preachers", but the figurehead is Jesus, and only He is considered the "Son of God", i.e. God Himself, as one person of the Trinity. Judaism and Islam do not have an equivalent concept.
His comments on the three Abrahamic religions invading India with the sole objective of looting, and destroying everything good about India have little resemblance to reality. Judaism was not interested in India, and Christianity did not arrive to loot.
In 1600 Britain allowed the British East India Co (BEIC) monopoly rights to trade in India. In the 1700s India comprised a large number of independent states. At the time, Christianity in Britain had deteriorated to the point that the country could barely be called Christian. The BEIC, however, became very powerful and by the second half of the 18th century began to rule much of India. Around the same time, Britain experienced an "awakening", and became Christian again. Christians realised that India needed change, and petitioned the government to force the BEIC to allow missionaries. When the missionaries did come, they brought education, fought bride burning, and promoted agriculture, among other things. They later also helped the Indian people fight for independence.
Jack L., United States, 16 August 2014
Very impressive and powerful response that answered very difficult questions. I learned a few things. Thank you Lita Cosner
T. O., United States, 17 August 2014
`But I would say that the Hindu philosophy fails at the most basic level, because we can’t really live as if the world was an illusion. For instance, if I saw your message, and said, “Oh well, guess I can delete it without responding, because N. J. is an illusion—and I can’t answer it anyway, because I am one as well,” that would be consistent with Hindu thinking, but inconsistent with how we actually live.' The first two things that came to my mind when I read your reason for why Hinduism was provably wrong were the following two verses: Proverbs 11:1, Matthew 7:2. If we can say that a religion is false if its scriptures fail to match with how we actually live life, then we as Christians are obliged to apply that same standard to all religions, including Christianity itself. Let's apply that test to Romans 13:2. Either this is an absolute command, or its not. If it is an absolute command, then that means every authority is the ordinance of God. This means that the ordinance for the extermination of Jews given by Nazi Germany is an ordinance of God. We do not nor can we live our lives as pro-Nazis, so as an absolute command fails your test. If this is not an absolute command, then we have another problem: moral relativism. Namely, one of God's commandment is `relative' to society, and that means that whether or not God's commandments are binding is relative to society. As CMI has said numerous times, we cannot live our lives as moral relativists, so this command fails your test. Either way, by your test, Romans 13:2 fails. Because we accept that Christianity is true, we must acknowledge that your test, when applied to Christianity, generated a false positive. So how do we know that it didn't generate a false positive for Hinduism when you applied it?
Lita Cosner responds
T.O., I did not say "a religion is false if its scriptures fail to match how we live life". I said that a religion is false if it's Scriptures are impossible to reconcile with how we live life. It is difficult to obey Romans 13:2, and many do not. But it is not impossible. And surely you can see the difference between a moral teaching flowing from a foundational principle being difficult, and a fundamental teaching of a religion being inconsistent on the most basic level with how we live our day-to-day life!
Furthermore, you use Romans 13:2 as a prooftext without considering the full context of Scripture. For instance, Acts has an instance of the apostles disobeying the authorities' command not to preach in the name of Jesus, because they must obey God rather than man. That is an important concept--that God's law has a higher claim than human authorities.
Patrick P., Australia, 18 August 2014
I once had an opportunity to witness to a Buddhist which might assist others when comparing other religions. I was in a work situation where I was with this Buddhist for a number of hours and the opportunity to share our different faiths arose. I allowed him to give a detailed account of Buddhism which really did not amount to very much. He might have been a new convert to Buddhism but all he could offer was that it mostly involved following the teachings of Buddha and being the best kind of person he could be. When he had exhausted his explanation of Buddhism I asked him specifically just what Buddha had done for him? He was at a loss and there was a period of silence after which he challenged me as to what Jesus had done for me! I could not have asked for a better opportunity and explained the Gospel to him and how Gods’ grace was available to all who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Unfortunately he did not want to take the matter further but at least a seed was sown. I would think that this strategy would work with anyone who follows any of the non-Christian religions which can really do nothing for their followers.
Robin B., New Zealand, 21 August 2014
You have labelled the Muslim God 'Cruel and changeable and not worthy of worship'. This appraisal is first of all incorrect, as Allah is viewed within Islam as unmoved and unaffected by his creation, a distant god in that sense, and in many ways Allah and Yahweh share many common characteristics. However I agree that a God who would enforce upon humans some of the things written in the Koran is not worthy of worship. But if I am also candid, some of the things in the Old Testament supposedly commanded by God I also find odious and if I believed that if Yahweh did actually command such I would struggle to worship such a God. For example in Deut 22v28-29 we read if a man rapes a virgin he is to pay her father 50 shekels and the girl is forced to be the wife of her rapist until death. This is but one of dozens of odious laws which are barbaric which we read in the Old Testament, and if you are going to look at the barbarism in Islam you've got to consider the tree from which it was hewn.
Both Islam and Judaism are theologically cultures of death, whereas Christianity is life giving, and Buddhism and Hinduism are cyclical. The awkward part comes when trying to justify parts of the Torah as Holy Writ. You may believe in a God that inflicted upon the Israelites a set of barbaric beliefs and practices, but this Law kills, yet the Holy Spirit is all about Life. I cannot worship a God characterised by certain claims in the OT, but find the God of Christianity worthy of worship.
Lita Cosner responds
Robin, the 'problem' is that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are one and the same. Christians have always affirmed this, ever since Marcionism was declared a heresy early in the Church's history.
For more information, I would encourage you to look at the articles Is the Bible 'evil'? and Is God a 'moral monster'?.
Jesse C., Indonesia, 21 August 2014
I live in Indonesia which is a Muslim country but the area in which I reside is predominantly Hindu. Before becoming a Christian myself, I sampled as many of the major religions, (and hybrids thereof such as Bahá'í), as I could while seeking God. I knew it was Him that I was seeking but did not know down which path He was to be found. I always felt that the true God was a personal God otherwise, why would our basic natures crave relationship with Him or with others? All other major religions offer these 3 things only: 1. No firm offer/guarantee of 'salvation' or 'moksa' (liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth, death, re-birth)
2. The requirement to work one's way to the ultimate goal of the religion. (Through good deeds, abstinence, observance of ritual etc.)
3. God/The Ultimate Reality does not care if an individual earns or attains paradise/moksa/eternity.
I came to the understanding that Christianity is either the only faith which is wrong, or the only one which is right as in this unique faith system it teaches that: 1. Your salvation is guaranteed. 2. There is nothing that you must or can do to earn this salvation (apart from believing that Jesus' life and sacrificial act fulfilled all requirements) 3. God designed and created us for the specific purpose to have a personal, fulfilling and perpetual relationship with Him. He therefore cares whether we return to an understanding and acknowledgement of Him or not.
Luan S., South Africa, 22 August 2014
Even though I wholeheartedly agree with your statement :"The Muslim god is cruel and changeable, and cannot be trusted. He is not the true God, and is not worthy of worship", I feel you cannot just claim it like that in an article without referring to substantiating articles or explaining your reasons...
Lita Cosner responds
The doctrine of abrogation shows that the Muslim god is changeable, or at least his revelation is (and how else can we know a god except through revelation?). And one only needs to read the Qur'an to discover how cruel he is. Of course, it is a false god and a false religion which cannot save anyone, so the cruelest thing is that many Muslims will serve their whole lives in a false religion that cannot save them from Hell.
Ian D., United Kingdom, 22 August 2014
The late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones always reminded us that Christianity is fundamentally different from all other religions in the world. Every other religion, without exception, is man's attempt to make himself acceptable to God (or his gods). In other words, it is man trying to reach up to God. But Christianity is precisely the opposite. It is God coming down to man.
That is the wonder of the Bible -we have a religion that has been revealed by God Himself. We are not left to our own feeble attempts to make ourselves good or acceptable - God has told us how we can be right with Him and provided the way and the means as well.
L. D., United States, 25 August 2014
Faith and the relationship with God (in whatever form) seems to be a fundamental need in our human hearts and minds. However this article, the comments and the self proclaiming experts are so ............ sickening. Why does another person need to be wrong, just realise that if your God was all powerful then why is there so much suffering and ugly acts in this world. Why does he not take over his holy land, show himself or simply help us in this argument....because the Asian faiths are 100% correct...our lives, our systems and our petty arguments are an illusion...go out and hug a child, help a friend or share a meal with a lonely soul and you will feel God...
May you all find a level of peace that can only be achieved in removing your heads from your chosen sand pits...
All faiths are wrong as God is way beyond our understanding and rational...just practice what you can, have the relationship that brings you love and happiness and don't judge others...
Lita Cosner responds
If the Asian faiths are 100% correct, the child, the friend, and the meal would all be an illusion.
However, if there is an objective truth, then some things must be right, and other things must be wrong. To say this is not hateful to people who we think are wrong; the really hateful thing would be to refuse to say anything and allow people to go to Hell without hearing the Gospel.
Manuel T., United States, 25 August 2014
Lita wrote, "Hinduism, by contrast, has Brahma, who is impersonal and pantheistic. The world is thought to be an illusion.", and here Lita points out Hinduisms fatal flaw. For the Hindu to deny that Christianity is true, he must employ the law of non-contradiction. But, the laws of logic presuppose that our thoughts correspond to reality, and that reality is OBJECTIVE, the very thing that Hinduism denies. For unless reality is objective and true, "out there", independent of the mind of the observer, then we could never be sure that any two people could ever talk about the same thing. For quite simply, there could not exist, "out there", the very same thing for two people to talk about. EVEN IF, what Hinduism claims is true, that ALL is illusion, then it would be objectively true that all is illusion, and then EVERYTHING would not be illusion, for the statement "all is illusion" would be objectively true. If Hinduism is true, then it must be false.
Rabbi Chaim D., United Kingdom, 28 August 2014
I am sorry to see some negative comments about Judaism in the article and comments. Jewish tradition is not corrupt. It was transmitted from generation to generation, starting from G-d to Moses at Sinai. Josephus testifies that the Pharisees were simply following the traditions of their fathers, unlike the Sadducees who only accepted the written word. In fact, the founders of the Sadducees were Pharisee disciples who went wrong. Even Jesus, although unfortunately opposed to the Pharisees, kept some Rabbinic laws such as washing the hands before eating.
Judaism is a religion of life, not death. This is why Jews must transgress all Torah laws to save life, except the three cardinal sins (idolatry, murder, adultery). Laws of the written Torah cannot be understood without the Oral Tradition (for example, what is the significance of 'the day of blowing' on the first of seventh month? How do you make Totafoth? What do you write on the doorpost of your homes? What is the fruit of the beautiful tree taken on 15th of 7th month? And numerous other examples).
The laws of the Torah are kind, not barbaric. The case of a rapist who must marry the girl he assaulted is for her own good and is only if she chooses to marry him. Also, she may request a divorce at any time. It is only forbidden for the rapist to refuse to marry her or to initiate a divorce against her will. Societies that knew of the Torah became moral, civilised societies. Other societies were barbaric and corrupt. The Oral Torah helps us understand how righteous Torah laws are. For example. 'an eye for an eye' means only monetary payment, as does 'you shall cut off her hand'. Best wishes.
Lita Cosner responds
I am a Christian and you are a Jewish rabbi, so of course we are going to have a fundamental disagreement about the validity of the Jewish oral traditions. You can no more expect me to accept the oral traditions as from God as I can expect you to regard Paul's letter to the Romans as authoritative.
Jesus emphatically did not ceremonially wash his hands before eating. This was the root of a dispute between Pharisees and Him, recorded in Matthew 15.