Are the World Religions That Different from Christianity?
- Sue Schlesman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 21 Aug
In the Western world—and even Western Christianity—ancient Eastern thought and practice seem in step with common cultural philosophy. Treat people with kindness. Be true to yourself. Practice self-awareness and self-control. Believe in something more powerful than yourself.
At first look, none of this seems too anti-Christian. Wasn’t Jesus the one who said to “turn the other cheek” and “love your neighbor as yourself?” Since these are true statements, then what could be wrong about practicing meditation, self-actualization, or recognizing the logic of karma?
Without too much trouble, Christians who embrace the tenets of popular world religions can become easily intertwined with a pluralistic, and even pantheistic, perspective about spirituality, sin, and personal accountability.
We can easily distance ourselves from a personal gospel, so as not to offend everyone around us. We can slide Jesus into a category with Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, and Lao-Tzu, a collage of sages who collected followers, made wise and quotable sayings, and amassed enough believers to form a religion that has endured for thousands of years.
Aren’t All Religions Basically the Same?
That’s a good question. I’ll start with what the Bible says about it and then move on to the other religions themselves.
According to the Bible, accepting other religions as viable alternatives to Christianity—or even assimilating them together as if they promoted the same ideologies—desecrates the entire gospel of Christ (even the parts we like, such as the 10 commandments).
In 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul delivers a compelling defense for sharing and preserving the gospel of Jesus’ death over accomplishing anything else. In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul said anyone preaching any other gospel would be “accursed.” So what? Don’t all religions condemn other religions?
The crux of the issue becomes the focal point of the religion. Obviously, the focus of Christianity is Jesus Christ. His life marks the change from B.C. to A.D. He is quoted more than any other religious leader. The Bible is the most-translated and most-sold book of all time.
Jesus answered questions about his spiritual authority and message when he was alive (because people then had the same questions you have). He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
But what if “the Father” is only a Jewish term, and can be swapped out for Krishna or Nirvana or enlightenment? What if Allah and God are the same? What if every religion is equally correct—that it truly doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re a good person?
These are an old arguments, and they are the reason so many religions have popped up throughout the centuries.
Who decides what’s good enough?
How do we know the real “way” to eternal bliss?
Why are we here?
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What Other Religions Teach
In Hinduism, you focus only on doing good yourself, to advance in the next life and keep doing so through reincarnations until you work your way out of samsara. Fixation on improving your place in the next life relieves you from having to help anyone in this life because assisting the poor or forgiving your neighbor might be holding them back on their own journey of reincarnation.
In Hinduism, you don’t interrupt the sufferings of others or interfere with the natural world. In fact, religious violence is encouraged and practiced because it demonstrates your commitment to Hinduism and will help you advance in the next life.
In Islam, your kindness and neighborliness is a critical aspect of culture. God (Allah) is a person of power, authority, and mercy toward believers. He is lauded for his merciful nature, yet he reserves his mercy for those who belong Islam; infidels are accursed—or in the case of radical groups—persecuted or killed.
To step outside this belief system is to invite punishment and destruction. While the Qur’an contains Bible characters in some of its stories, the stories themselves don’t work toward a unified purpose of revealing God’s love or sacrifice for the world.
In Taoism, followers are absolved of making right and wrong decisions because the focus is balance and simplicity. You will achieve ecstasy if you become immortal, if you refrain from absolutes or disrupting the balance in nature.
Harmony, rather than truth, becomes your focus. Your religious experience is about you and for you only. Consequently, Taoism (and the New Age mindset) is appealing to Western culture.
In Buddhism, you accept that all life is suffering. Your spiritual quest toward Nirvana involves an 8-fold path of striving for perfection, a quest to desire nothing and belong to nothing. You escape samsara (reincarnation) when you escape your own humanity and achieve perfection. Wow, that sounds hard.
And then we have the countless variations under the umbrella of Christianity, which accounts for 1/3 of the world’s population. From the mainline denominations to the cults masquerading as Christian religions, each group snatches sections or ideas from the Bible to bolster their theology and practice.
One denomination emphasizes good works for attaining salvation; another stresses becoming part of “the chosen;” another preaches against sin; another speaks only of grace and forgiveness; another excuses racism, slavery, and polygamy. When you take verses out of context, you can make the Bible prove almost anything.
Do all religions contain basic beliefs about deity, heaven, and earthly behavior? Basically, yes. But they differ vastly from one another and even more so from the Bible’s teachings. The world’s religions are all diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christianity and more importantly, against the life and message of Jesus Christ.
As an average Western person, you would probably never fully live out the tenets of any Eastern world religion because the Western world culture is based on a Judeo-Christian ethic of good v. evil, whereas Eastern religions are not.
While the definition of good and evil changes over time, this cultural base of good and bad remains, which makes it hard for Westerners to completely embrace the polytheistic or pantheistic mindsets of the ancient Eastern religions.
We like the idea of becoming our best selves. But we also like a structure of right and wrong for everyone else.
Why Jesus Is the Critical Issue in a Religious Discussion
Jesus is the center of Christian thought, and therefore, He is the catalyst for comparing the world’s religions. You must ask—What does every religion do with the person of Jesus?
Most acknowledge him as a historical figure, which he was.
Many hail him as a prophet or religious teacher, which he was.
But no religion, other than Christianity (and even some of them differ on this), will attest that Jesus was the Son of God, and by that he was inherently both fully God and fully man. Most religions in the world are afraid to say that Jesus was equal with God and was an equal member of the trinity of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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Why Does it Matter If Jesus Was God?
If Jesus were not fully God, then what was he? To use C. S. Lewis’ famous words from Mere Christianity: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher...Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
Because Jesus claimed to be God in multiple conversations (“He who has seen me has seen the Father.” – John 14:9), he would be a horrific cultish kind of leader to prepare his followers to suffer and die for a message that was based on a lie. He would have been the master deceiver, a manipulator of the worst sort.
And since Jesus healed people’s diseases, gave sight to the blind, and raised people from death, etc.—to what power must we attribute this? The Pharisees, who hated him, already tried that strategy. They said he used Satan’s power, to which he replied that Satan could not cast out Satan and still remain powerful (Matthew 12:24-26).
If Jesus was God, then we have but one response left: we must believe all that he said and obey all that he commanded.
We must not pick and choose the truths that we like. Not if Jesus was truly God.
And if he weren’t God, then why would we follow any of it? Why would any of the truths in the Bible prove true?
How Does Jesus’ Deity Affect Religion?
The impetus for Jesus’ deity leads us to his resurrection. No other religion on earth presents a central figure who willingly dies for the sins of his followers and non-followers. And certainly, no other central figure has risen from the dead.
Muhammed, Tao-Tzu, Buddha, Joseph Smith, Confucius, all the Popes, and every other religious leader in the history of the world are buried in a tomb, most with their name on it. There’s a body under there.
But Jesus’ tomb is empty. Non-biblical history accounts for his crucifixion. At least 500 people are recorded as having seen Jesus after his death. The resurrection actually happened.
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So What Must You Do with the Resurrection?
The resurrection proves Jesus’ deity. As the Creator of the Universe and the victor over the devil, Jesus is powerful enough to allow himself to be killed and defeat his own death. He raised many other people to life first; then He raised himself to life.
The truth of the resurrection is life-altering. It means that dead things can live again. That shattered lives can be re-born. That people can change. That sins can be forgiven. That suffering can bring about something good. That a heaven exists and I can go there after my earthly life is done.
The resurrection means that a life lived in relationship with Jesus is a life of ultimate victory.
The world’s religions have nothing close to this concept.
They teach working toward perfection with no hope that you will attain it and no proof that anyone ever has. They provide systems for surviving this life without having a plan for living a life of purpose and hope. They offer religious mantras without a central theme of love and belonging by God.
Deity, if they have one, is selfish, powerful, frightening, or as a minimum, unconcerned with the affairs of humanity.
Certainly, we have the ability to believe anything we want. We can make our own theologies and our own standards of good and evil. But we cannot call that faith. We cannot ask God to bless it. We cannot choose our own way and still call ourselves Christians.
Christianity, by definition, is a faith practice of people who call themselves “Christ-followers.” Disciples. People who do exactly what their mentor did. That would mean we as Christians believe in a faith by grace, we embrace suffering, we deny our sinful natures, we confess our wrongs, we love everyone, we share the story of Jesus’ life, and we have hope for eternity with God in heaven.
All of this is decidedly opposed to the rest of the world’s religious beliefs.
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Sue Schlesman is a Christian author, speaker, blogger, English teacher, and pastor’s wife. She has a BA in Creative Writing and a Master’s in Theology & Culture. Her second book Soulspeak: Praying change into unexpected places is a Selah Award finalist. Sue’s material appears in a variety of print, online, radio, and podcast mediums. She has a passion for missions, social justice, traveling, reading, and the local church. You can find her writing about life, education, justice, and Jesus at sueschlesman.com.