We have been going through, for some while now, a series on the subject of apologetics. This is the defence of the Christian gospel. We meet all sorts of people in our daily lives and many have a problem with God or Christianity many times through ignorance of what true Christianity is. They reject God for all sorts of reasons, many of which we have already looked at and provided a defence for. Things such as; how can a good God allow evil, what about suffering, is science compatible, what about hell etc etc.
Last week I made quite a provocative statement that ‘Christianity is the only way to God’ and we looked at reasons why this statement was true. To make this statement confidently I think it is at least reasonable to have a general overview of what other religions believe so we can compare them to Christianity. So for a few weeks I’m going to look at the major world religions, covering each one very briefly and after that some of the most popular cults that you may encounter. When you understand where people are coming from and what their major belief system is, it should help you find a connecting point to introduce them to Christianity.
We have such good news to share and rather than preaching at people, I believe it is really important that we love them and walk with them and that will then hopefully give us an opportunity to bring them our life changing news and point them in the right direction. So without further ado, let’s look at some of the most popular religions you will encounter;
The Bahá’í Faith is one of the youngest world religions. It arose out of Islam in the 1800s and is now a distinct faith. It is based on the teachings of Baha’u’llah (Name means ‘glory of God’ in Arabic) who Baha’is believe is the most recent manifestation of God’s messengers (following on from Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammed). Recent because Baha’u’llah himself stated that he was not God’s final messenger. Bahá’í’s do not believe these prophets are all the same. The differences in the teachings of each prophet are due to the needs of the society they came to help and what mankind was ready to have revealed to it. They believe that God is transcendent and can’t be known directly, but he is known through the teachings of his prophets.
The Baha’i faith’s central idea is that of unity. It promotes gender and race equality, freedom of expression and assembly, world peace and world government, that people should work together for the common benefit of humanity. They believe that a single world government led by Bahá’ís will be established at some point in the future. Bahá’ís believe that every person has an immortal soul which cannot die but is freed to travel through the spirit world after death.
The Bahá’í religion may be unique in the way that it accepts all other faiths as true and valid despite their ‘apparent’ (I would say obvious) differences.
There are 6 million Bahá’ís in the world, in 235 countries
Their sacred Writings are: The Katab-I-Aqdas, The Katab-I-Iqan
Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BC, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted ‘The Middle Way’ as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of luxury or poverty. Long after his death the Buddha’s teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.
In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a saviour, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.
There are around 376 million Buddhists throughout the world
The origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization sometime between 4000 and 2500 BC. Though believed by many to be a polytheistic religion, the basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called Brahman. Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. The purpose of life is to realise that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existence and rejoin with God. This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as samsara.
One’s progress towards enlightenment is measured by karma. This is the accumulation of all one’s good and bad deeds and this determines the person’s next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even an animal. Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the brahmins, may perform the Hindu religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples. Hindus celebrate many holy days, but the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the best known. Unlike most other regions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture (although the main Hindu texts are called the Vedas) and no commonly agreed set of teachings.
There are over 900 million Hindu’s worldwide.
Islam (which means ‘submission to the will of God’) was founded in 622 AD by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (also spelled Mecca). Though it is one of the youngest of the world’s great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They believe that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalise and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur’an, which are the words of Allah (the Arabic word for God) as given to Muhammad and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad’s sayings.
The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and these are:
(1) Recite the shahadah at least once.
(2) Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah
(3) Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy.
(4) Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur’an from Allah.
(5) Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible.
Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to Allah will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs , and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.
Other aspects of Islam are ‘Sufism’ which is Islamic mysticism. There are 2 distinct divisions in Islam ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shi’a’ which are difficult to explain in this brief blog. With the risk of being simplistic their main disagreements are over who would succeed the prophet Muhammed. Shi’as believe it should have been Muhammed’s son in law and cousin Ali. Sunni’s believe it should be his close companion Abu Bakr. These disagreements have caused major rifts in the Islamic community.
Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion followers.
Next week we will look at some more world religions.