Edward Rommen




Few of us would question the fact that we live in a religiously

pluralistic world. In fact, the ever increasing exposure to

representatives of other faiths with their long histories, traditions,

highly developed cultures, and ancient rites has prompted many to call

for a "Copernican revolution" in our thinking about other religions.

The advocates of this view suggest that each religion be viewed as one

religion among others, no matter how different it may be from the

other religions. One group, they say, cannot simply distance itself

from the whole realm of the world's many religions. The resurgence of

many non-Christian religions and the general tolerance of our age have

led to an uneasy coexistence between various belief systems. In some

cases the different groups are no more than consciously aware of one

another. In other cases mutual recognition and varying degrees of

respect makes a genuine exchange of ideas possible. But no matter

what the arrangement, most people would agree that no religion can

afford to ignore the fact (existence) of the other faiths, since an

arrogant, isolated, or self-sufficient attitude will yield nothing but

counterproductive antagonism and ultimately rejection.

This leads to the question of how a Christian should approach the

other religions? For the believer the answer should be obvious and

non-negotiable. Whatever the nature of our interaction with the

adherents of other faiths, the Lordship and Saviorhood of Christ are

not to be relativized in any way. We need no other justification for

this stance than that of Christ's unique offer of salvation and our

obedience to his command to share with the world's peoples his offer

of salvation. (John 6:69, Matthew 16:16; 28:18). Yet, in terms of

our relationship to them we do have a number of options. We can

reject them as demonic, false, deceptive, or even as forerunners of

Christianity. But, no matter what positions we have initially

(traditionally) adopted, the present situation requires fresh

theological reflection based on accurate information about the various


Before we turn to that information and a comparison between

Christianity and other faiths, several preliminary questions need to

be addressed. They include the definition, the study, and the

classification of religions.

1.1. The Definition of Religion

Defining religion is a notoriously difficult task. Generally speaking

religion has to do with the way in which man relates to and interprets

the world around him, in particular to any unseen dimensions of that

world such as spirits, demons, and gods. A second important element

is the concept of salvation. Almost all religions seek to help the

individual 1) find the meaning of his world and his own life and 2)

find a solution to his own weakness and sinfulness. In many cases

salvation is interpreted as protection from natural disasters, fear,

and hunger. In other case it is thought of in terms of forgiveness

and/or freedom from some evil. Religion, then, provides a framework

within which an individual can interpret the world around him and a

source from which he can derive hope, love, security and purpose.

1.2. The Study of Religion

The study of religion is generally divided into five major areas:

1.2.1. Philosophy of religion concentrates on the meaning and the

truth of religious experience. It is an analysis of the existence and

nature of God, the epistomological basis of religious truth, and the

logical relationship between faith and reason.

1.2.2. Psychology of religion focuses its attention on the subjective

aspects of man's religious experience. Sigmund Freud, for example,

suggested that religion is an expression (projection) of our fears and

guilt feelings. Other studies have examined conversion, worship, and

prayer, all in an attempt to explain this subjective element of


1.2.3. Phenomenology of religion (comparative religions) is an

analysis and systematization of the objective and institutionalized

aspects of religious life. This involves anthropological and

sociological examination of the empirical state of any given religion

and provides an objective basis for comparison.

1.2.4. History of religion deals with the process that has led to the

form of each religion as we know it today. This often begins with the

question of the origin of the various religions. These theories can

be divided into several categories. First, there are evolutionary

schemes which suggest that the highly developed religions (monotheism)

have developed from primitive nature religions. One such theory

suggests that dreams about departed loved ones led to the belief in

spirits and ultimately in gods. Second, there are theories which

posit some form of original monotheism which was subjected devolution

not evolution. Man deliberately left or abandoned his loyalty to the

one God. As a result, man began to develop a myriad of religious

practices, most of them designed to manipulate and control the spirits

that man had come to fear.

Since no researcher has access to the original state of affairs, most

scholars have abandoned most attempts to find and describe man's

original religious state.

1.2.5. Theology of religion represents an attempt by the adherents of

one religion to define their relationship to other religions.

Questions that are raised include: to what extent are the claims of

other religions valid, true, or salvific; when, if at all, does God

reveal Himself in the other religions.

1.3. Classifying Religions

Researchers have discovered many parallels between the religions of

the world. Since the concept of God is crucial to all religions, some

have suggested that this be used as the main criteria for categorizing

religions. According to that scheme the major religions fall into two

broad groups - polytheistic and monotheistic. In a polytheistic

religion the existence of more than one God or divine being is

accepted. A monotheistic religion maintains the existence of only one

God. This is the approach adopted for the following comparison.

(Buddhism and Hinduism will be used to illustrate polytheistic

religions and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the major

monotheistic religions).


2.1. Historical Overview

Unlike the other religions which will be presented in this chapter

Hinduism is extremely difficult to describe. There are several

reasons for this. First, it represents a wide variety of religious

experiences and beliefs ranging from polytheism through henotheism,

monotheism, and monism. Second, Hinduism has no founder. It is the

result of a long process of development, and for that reason has no

clearly definable formative period. Third, Hinduism so thoroughly

dominates Indian society that it has become almost synonymous with

that culture. Fourth, there is no single official scripture. Fifth,

worship is not limited to either temples, specific rituals or even

gods. In light of these characteristics Hinduism is best described in

terms of four stages of development, each with its own set of beliefs.

2.1.1. Vedic Hinduism (ca. 2000-600 B.C.)

The earliest form of Hinduism developed in pre-Aryan India. Between

B.C. 3200 and 2500 a vibrant culture had developed among the ancestors

of the Dravidians in the Indus valley. These people had developed a

highly advanced civilization which may have included cultural exchange

with the Sumerians. Both the content and the practice of Dravidian

religion was taken from sacred writings known as the Veda. Completed

some time before 1500 B.C. the Veda contain a collection of hymns and

ritual instruction which represents the religious seedbed for


Between 2000 and 1500 B.C., a central Asian people known as Aryans

invaded India from the north driving the Dravidians south. The

religious ideas and practices introduced by these light-skinned

conquerors altered the face of Dravidian Hinduism. The Aryans

worshiped the powers of nature rather than images. The most important

of their gods were Indra, a god of the atmosphere and stars, Varuna, a

sky god, and Agni, the god of fire. Because the Dravidian gods were

assimilated rather than displaced the emerging religion developed a

complicated array of gods and goddesses.

The Aryans also developed an elaborate system of rituals and

sacrifices, which were seen as a defense against ravages of war and

natural disasters. That led in turn to the need for priesthood (the

Brahmins) - powerful positions which the Aryans eagerly assumed. This

was, in all likelihood, the beginning of the Caste system. According

to this pattern social structure is organized around five classes: a)

the Brahmin (priests), b) the Kshatriya (warriors), c) Vaishya

(professionals and skilled workers), d) the Shudra (slaves), and

Panchama or Harijen (the untouchables).

The source of these religious beliefs and practices is the Upanishads.

These writings, philosophical commentaries on the Veda, reinterpreted

the Vedic texts and reduce the various ideas of god to a single

principle or absolute universal soul called Brahman or Paramatman.

This monistic or pantheistic viewpoint held that the universe is God,

and God is the universe. As a result the real world was considered to

be an illusion (maya) and man a part of the Paramatman, who's destiny

was to be freed from earthly life by the knowledge that he and the

world soul are identical. Short of attaining that knowledge man's

only hope of salvation was the faithful pursuit of the four

permissible goals of life: duty (dharma) as prescribed by one's

particular caste; material gain (artha); love, pleasure and esthetic

enjoyment (kama); and finally spiritual victory over life (moksha).

Each Hindu was also expected to work his way through four stages of

life: student, householder with family, a hermit seeking enlightenment

after renouncing all family ties, and finally a homeless but holy


2.1.2. The Period of Traditional Hinduism (600 B.C. - A.D. 300)

This period was characterized by several revolutionary changes: A reaction against the dominance of the Brahmin led to

Hinduism being divided into a popular religion of the masses and a

more philosophical religion. This dissatisfaction with ritualistic

development also led to the formation of several other religions

including Buddhism and Jainism. Worship was concentrated on one god - Vishnu and his many

incarnations. These incarnations, called Avatars generally involve

some kind of divine intervention in order to save the world from grave

peril. The form of the incarnation was not limited to that of man.

Vishnu also appeared as a fish, an amphibian, a boar, a man-lion, and

a dwarf. The seventh and eighth incarnations of Vishnu, Rama and

Krishna, are the most important and are worshiped more than Vishnu

himself. A new class of religious literature was introduced. Whereas

the Vedas were referred to as shruti, these later writings were called

smriti. They included: a) The Laws of Manu, a collection of social

and religions laws from about the time of Christ; b) the Puranas

(ancient tales) which contain stories about the gods; and c) epic

Poems. The Ramayana tells the story of Rama and his wife Sita and

provided teaching on the marriage and the family. The Mahabharata

describes Krishna's involvement in a war between two families. It

offers instruction on man's duty, something which is seen as more

important than asceticism, sacrifice, or even philosophical

speculation. The most popular part of this work is the Bagavad-Gita. During this period, the concept of salvation shifted from an

emphasis on fulfillment of duty to an emphasis on release and escape

from life. Life on earth began to be viewed quite pessimistically in

terms of karma and samsara.

The law of karma was a moral law of cause and effect. According to

this idea an individual could build up either good or evil karma

depending on his or her deeds.

According to the idea of samsara all life goes through an endless

succession of rebirths. Every living thing is on the wheel of life,

and the status of each new rebirth is determined by the karma

accumulated in the previous life. Salvation is defined as the

"breaking out of this endless cycle." This release is know as Moksha.

It occurs when a person extends his being (sat) awareness (chit), and

bliss (ananda) to an infinite level. Since Brahman, the impersonal

absolute, is infinite being, awareness, and bliss, the only way a man

can obtain Moksha is to come to the realization that his own self

(atman) is actually part of Brahman (Paramatman). This can be

summarized in the phrase "Tat Twam Asi" (used today in TM) which means

"You are that." Salvation, then, is achieved by detachment from the

finite self and attachment to reality as a whole. If and when this is

achieved, the individual has reached Nirvana, the "State of

Passionless Peace."

2.1.3. Philosophical Hinduism (A.D. 300 - 1750)

There are six schools (Darsanas) of Orthodox Hindu Philosophy. Common

to each school is the assumed authority of the Vedas. Although the

actual ideas can be traced back to the ninth century B.C., the systems

were not developed until between the fifth B.C. and the third century

A.D. and assumed final form during the following 1000 years.

1) Sankhya was founded by Kapila (ca. 7th century B.C.), focuses on

the two eternal categories of being - Purusha (soul) and Prakriti

(matter), and is dualistic and atheistic.

2) Yoga, developed by Pantanjali (second century A.D.) as a practical

means (physical control and meditation) of attaining enlightenment.

3) Vedanta emerged about the time of Christ and is divided into three

schools: a) Sankara (A.D. 800) teaches a non-dual (advita) position

which maintains that everything is Brahman; b) Ramanuja (A.D. 1000)

teaches a modified non-dualism in which the physical world, individual

souls, and ultimate reality are each real and yet one; c) Madhva (A.D.

1200) developed a dualism which envisioned enlightened souls

consciously enjoying the presence of one supreme God (monotheistic!).

All others will spend eternity locked into the cycle of


4) Nyaya (1200 A.D) is a positivitic school based on the third century

(A.D.) writings of Gautama (not the founder of Buddhism) which teaches

that misery follows from false notions which in turn allow for

activities which have bad consequences in successive rebirths.

5) Purva-Mimamsa (400 B.C.) teaches the literal inspiration of four

Veda and expounds on the practical aspects of man's duty.

6) Vaisheshika (400 B.C) teaches that the world is a self-existent

reality formed of eternal and indivisible atoms combining and

recombining eternally.

2.1.4. Sectarian Hinduism (900 A.D. - )

Beginning around the 10th century a number of sects sprang up and

flourished in Hinduism. They differed from the followers of the

smriti in that they worshiped only one God such as Vishnu, Siva, Kali,

etc. On the basis of their devotion to that god they expected some

favor in return and thus tended to emphasize grace rather than works

as a means of salvation. In contrast to the non-dualist Vedanta they

held that the one God was personal. Of particular importance to this

discussion are the various paths (marga) to salvation offered by

sectarian Hinduism.

1) Karma-Marga, the way of works, advocates following the ancient

vedic rituals and teachings.

2) Jnana-Marga, the way of knowledge (Vedanta), confirms with the way

of life taught in the Upanishads. Knowledge becomes the source of

peace and security in a transitory world.

3) Bhakti-Marga, the way of devotion, which hopes that the gods turned

to in devotion will respond by helping man in his present life.

2.2. Basic Teaching

2.2.1. Creation and the World. According to Hindu teaching the world

was created from that which already existed. Since the creator and

the creation are one and the same, creation (including man) has no

real or separate existence. This tends to downplay the value of the

individual and seems to leave creation without a clearly defined


2.2.2. Deity. In philosophical Hinduism, God is generally an

impersonal force as opposed to the personal God of Christianity. In

popular Hinduism, there are great multitudes of gods (3 Million by one

count!) and goddesses.

2.2.3. Man. In Hindu teaching man's primary problems are caused by

the effects of maya. In light of the illusory nature of both man and

his actions there can be no recognition of sin in the sense of moral

guilt. Sin itself becomes an illusion. Since man is at the same time

part of the world soul, he cannot be separated from God by his sin.

2.2.4. Salvation. In spite of its philosophical orientation

Hinduism's offer of salvation is made on the basis of good works or

duty (dharma). Unmerited mercy and the forgiveness of sins find no

place in a system dominated by the idea of karma. As has already been

pointed out, each person has many lives in which his own deeds

determine the amount of karma and whether or not the slow progress

toward reunification with or absorption into the world soul is being

made. Salvation, then, is the ultimate dissolution of the individual.

2.3. Present Strength and Distribution

The total number of Hindus is approximately 655,695,200. They are

distributed as follows: North America (810,000), South America

(660,000) Europe (591,200), Asia (651,929,000), Africa (1,410,000),

Oceania (295,000).



3.1. Historical Overview

The founder of Buddhism Siddhartha Gautama was born about 567 B.C. in

Southern Nepal near Kapilavastu (about 130 miles north of the modern

city of Benares). According to tradition, his father (Suddhodana), a

petty ruler of the Kshatriya class, was informed by a Seer at the

birth of his son, that Gautama was destined to become a great ruler.

However, if he were to see four things - disease, old age, death, and

a monk who had renounced the world - then the boy would abandon his

earthly destiny in order to become the founder of a new way of

salvation for all of the world. As a result, Gautama's father sought

to keep him from these experiences. He built a palace in the midst of

a sheltered park and ordered that neither the sick nor the aged nor

the dead nor the monk should be allowed near the palace. So it was

that the boy grew up shielded from the world.

Tradition goes on to report that gods intervened and on successive

days that as Gautama was being driven through his park, he saw a man

covered with sores, a very old man, a corpse, and finally a monk. As

Gautama was told what each one of these things were, he began to

meditate on the meaning of these new experiences recognizing that all

must grow old, perhaps become sick, and eventually die. However, it

was the peaceful appearance of the monk which convinced him to abandon

his family and seek salvation as a monk (compare this with the four

phases of life in Hindu teaching). So we are told that one night he

went to the door of his bed chamber, looked once upon his sleeping

wife and son, and left never to return. Gautama shaved off his hair,

put on a yellow robe, and went on his great quest for enlightenment.

This path took him through several stages: discussions with a Brahmin

master (study of Upanishads) followed extreme asceticism which left

him near starvation. Having found no satisfaction, he abandoned the

latter course by accepting food offered by a young maiden. Still

intent on finding enlightenment he seated himself under a tree and

vowed not to move until he had achieved what he was looking for. For

forty nights and forty days the evil one, Mara, fought to dissuade.

But finally he experienced the bliss of Nirvana and ultimate

salvation. This experience is best described as having become awake

(Bodhi). In that moment, Gautama became the Buddha - the fully

awakened or enlightened one.

It should be noted that to most Buddhists it makes no difference at

all how much of the above is actually historical. As one writer put

it, "to the extent that Buddhism is true it is, like the essence of

Christianity, beyond the accidents of time and place, of fact and

history. To the extent that it is untrue, it does not become more

true by being pinned to a set of words produced by a certain man on

such and such a day." (Humphreys, 'Buddhism', 25-26) That this is

true for Buddhism is beyond question. As for Christianity; here lies

a major difference between Christianity and Buddhism.

As Buddhism developed, it split into two major groupings. One called

Hinayana, the doctrine of the lesser way, or Theravada Buddhism. This

movement does not view Gautama as a god but rather as one who has

shown the way. That way involves rigorous monastic life, and

therefore limits salvation to a relatively small number of

individuals. It is most common in Southeast Asia, in particular Burma

and Thailand.

The other major grouping, Mahayana Buddhism, whereas as Theravada

Buddhism offers salvation into Nirvana only to those who renounce this

world, Hinayana, the great vehicle, seeks to overcome this restriction

by offering hope to anyone. This form of Buddhism developed about the

time of Christ. One of the major characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism

is the concept of Bodhisattva, a being whose essence is enlightenment.

This is a person who like Gautama, achieved enlightenment but did not

pass immediately into Nirvana. These beings have taken a vow not to

enter Nirvana and thus can serve as helpers for those who call upon

them in faith. In light of this kind of mediating help, an individual

can lead a normal life and on the basis of his devotion to

Bodhisattva, can continue on the path to Nirvana. This, of course,

leads to a modification of the idea of Nirvana. Autonomous, agnostic

position was not very appealing, and Mahayana sects have introduced a

whole series of heavens and hells in which the promise of paradise is

made for the faithful.

3.2. Basic Teaching

3.2.1. The teachings of the Buddha.

It is difficult to be precise about the written sources for the

Buddha's teachings since there is no closed cannon of scripture in

Buddhism. Although hundreds of works could be included, there is a

body of scripture which is held to be basic by most Buddhists. The

Tripitaka (the three baskets) are the result of a long oral tradition

which was not recorded until about the first century B.C. The

Tripitaka is made up of three major divisions: a) the Vinaya Tripitaka

which is a collection of disciplines, rules of order, b) the Sutta

Tripitaka, the basket of discourses - dialogues between Buddha and his

disciples on the teachings of religion, and c) the Abhidhamma

Tripitaka - collection of teaching on metaphysics.

The teachings of Gautama can be summarized in terms of the four noble

truths. The fact of Suffering. According to this principle, the

very fact or act of existing necessarily involves suffering.

Suffering is associated with five factors of existence. They are:

man's physical existence, man's feeling and emotions, imagination and

perception, will and activity, and consciousness. From this it can be

seen that anything from birth to death, both waking and sleeping,

dreaming and desiring, all involve suffering. The cause of suffering. The ultimate source of suffering is

man's desire (tanha). It's man's desire for pleasure, security and

life itself which causes him to cling to the wheel of life which in

turn causes an endless cycle of rebirth. Overcoming suffering. Since existence itself is suffering,

and suffering is caused by desire, the ultimate solution is overcoming

that desire. By eliminating all desire, all craving, and thus

bringing unending cycle of birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth,

suffering can be brought to an end. The way to overcoming suffering. In order to overcome

suffering, an individual must follow the noble eightfold path. These

are usually translated as: l) right views, 2) right aims or intent,

3) right speech, 4) right conduct or action, 5) right means of

livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, and right

meditation or contemplation. This is the path that leads to the

cessation of desire and finally to Nirvana cessation of the cycle of


Another important aspect of this teaching involves the "Three

refuges." Those who would follow the path of Buddha and seek

salvation Nirvana renounce the world and make the following

declaration of faith: "I go to the Buddha for refuge; I go to the

Dhamma for refuge; I go to the Sangha for refuge." In this way the

prospective Buddhist declares his intention to learn and follow the

four noble truths and the eightfold path. The Dhamma refers to cultic

practices which involve three separate exercises described as

honorable living (eightfold path), concentrated meditation, and

grasping the transcendental. This was the religious law which

determined the unity and fellowship of the Sangha. This amounted to a

religious order. Those entering were required to make the above

mentioned confession of faith, and submit to the order (Dhamma).

3.3. Present Strength and Distribution

The total number of Buddhists is approximately 309,626,1000. They are

distributed roughly as follows: North America (190,000), South America

(490,000) Europe (536,000), Asia (308,381,300), Africa (12,800),

Oceania (12,000).



4.1. Historical Overview

4.1.1. Although Judaism is the smallest of the three monotheistic

religions, it antedates both Islam and Christianity. Abraham,

regarded as the founding patriarch, migrated from Ur of the Chaldees

to Palestine around 2100 B.C. Under the leadership of one of his

descendants, Jacob, also called Israel, this semitic people moved to

the upper Nile delta region of Egypt (ca. 1870 B.C.) in order to

escape famine. During the course of several hundred years, these

people proliferated and were organized into tribes each associated

with one of the twelve sons of Jacob. After having suffered much

abuse at the hands of Egyptian task masters, these tribes were led out

of Egypt by Moses (ca. 1500 B.C.). At the end of a forty year sojourn

in the desert, leadership was passed to Joshua who led the twelve

tribes into Palestine where they subdued its Canaanite inhabitants.

Under the judges (leaders who were divinely appointed to deliver and

maintain Israel) the twelve tribes organized a loose federation

(anphictyonic covenant). Around l050 B.C. Saul established the Jewish

monarchy. Saul and his successors, David and Solomon, led the Jewish

nation to a golden age of economic, military, and cultural success

which reached its highpoint around 960 B.C.

In 930 B.C. the kingdom was divided into a northern (Israel) and

a southern (Judah) kingdom. In 722 B.C. Israel was defeated by the

Assyrians. In 586 B.C. Judah was conquered by the Babylonians and

many Jews were exiled to Babylon. Some of the exiled Jews were

allowed to return in 537 B.C. but a series of conquests prevented

them from regaining and maintaining full control.

4.1.2. Several centuries later Jews, under the leadership of the

Maccabees revolted against hellenistic kings who gave them a degree of

independence in l28 B.C. which lasted only until the Romans conquered

the country. During the Maccabean era and the ensuing Roman

occupation, several important religio-political parties emerged. The

Sadducees (priests in the temple) the Pharisees (teachers of the law

and the synagogues) the Essenes (a religious order associated with the

Dead Sea scrolls discovered in l947) and the Zealots, a para-military

organization prepared to fight for independence. In 68, the Zealots

led a revolt against Roman occupiers which was suppressed in A.D. 70

resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. The Jews

were scattered into what is called the Diaspora.

4.1.3. The destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. introduced a number

of significant changes. Meeting places known as synagogues, which

were first organized during the exile, became the focal point of

Jewish life. For example, the sacrificial system lost with the

destruction of the temple was replaced by the ritual, prayer, and the

study of the Law provided in the synagogues. The Levitical

priesthood, which was also tied to the temple, was replaced by

teachers of the Law, many of whom were Pharisees who had developed an

elaborate oral tradition based on their interpretation of the Mosaic

Law. In that tradition the Law was applied to every detail of life.

External observance of the Sabbath, dietary rules and holy days were

stressed. These Pharisaic teachers were known as rabbis (teachers).

With the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system gone,

Judaism began to stress the idea that every Jew had an immediate

access to God. As a Jew he needed no conversion or redemption.

Instead, a Jew could reach salvation by obedience to the Torah. The

rabbis broke the Law down into 613 precepts - 365 negative precepts

and 248 positive precepts which govern every detail of religious life.

In the 12th century, a Jewish philosopher named Maimonides produced a

creed which is still the generally accepted standard of Orthodoxy. He

considered Moses to be the greatest of the prophets and the Law to be

the highest form of revelation. This creed emphasized the

omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, and oneness of God. As the only

creator and source of life, he alone should be worshiped. Maimonides

also taught a system of rewards and punishments, the coming of the

Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead.

4.1.4. One of the most important facets of Judaism are its festivals

and holy days. Rosh Hashanah, the new year celebration, is marked by

10 days of penitence and solemnity. The 10th day of penitence is the

Day of Atonement, when Jews acknowledge their sins and pray for

forgiveness. Other important festivals include: the Feast of

Tabernacles (Succoth or Booths), Passover (Commemoration of the Exodus

from Egypt), the Feast of Weeks (Shabuoth or Pentecost), and Hanukkah

(Festival of Light). These special days commemorate the joys and

sorrows of Jewish history and serve as a conscious reminder of the

past. They also illustrate Judaism's concept of history as the

meaningful product of God's activity.

4.1.5. Today Judaism is divided into three main branches. Orthodox,

Reform, and Conservative. Orthodox Judaism has changed little in the

last 20 centuries. It follows the talmudic teachings and precepts

about Sabbath observance, kosher dietary rules and religious

isolation. One reason for the absence of change over the centuries is

the introspective tendency in Judaism. This may have been caused by

the oppression which Jews have had to endure in many countries.

Recently the Jewish people have shown increasing desire to adapt

themselves to modern society. This has led to Reform Judaism, in

which many of the talmudic practices and precepts have been put aside.

Having abandoned basic concepts such as the expectation of a Messiah,

Reformed Judaism has become little more than an ethical system based

on a monotheistic philosophy.

The third branch of Judaism is an intermediate position between the

Orthodox and Reform extremes. Conservative Judaism retains the feasts

and many of the Jewish traditions in an attempt to hold to the

essentials of Judaism. At the same time it cautiously reinterprets

the Law in an attempt to make it relevant to modern thought and


4.2. Jewish Teaching

4.2.1. Scriptures. Jewish teaching is based on the threefold

Scriptures - the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Law (Torah)

consists of the first five books of the Old Testament. Although there

has been considerable discussion as to the authorship, tradition

ascribes it to Moses. The Torah describes the early history of

classical Hebrew religion and contains the ethical and ceremonial

commandments which define Jewish religious life. Prophets, the second

division of Scripture, contain both books of history, as well as the

actual teachings of the Hebrew prophets. The Writings include wisdom

literature, much of which is in poetic form.

4.2.2. Deity. Although many gods were known to the various peoples in

the Middle East, for the true Jewish believer there was only one God,

Yahweh, who must be worshiped and obeyed to the exclusion of all other

gods. Yahweh's three basic characteristics - He is the creator, all-

powerful controller and sustainer of creation, and He is viewed as the

judge of all those who oppose His will. (Creator, Savior, and Judge)

Many modern writers have speculated that early Jewish religion was

polytheistic, idolatrous and primitive. However, there is no evidence

that can support these theories. These theories are built on anti-

supernatural evolutionary presuppositions rather than solid factual

data. Actually, the earliest books of the Old Testament reveal an

advanced ethical monotheism without parallel in ancient literature.

From the very beginning the God of the Old Testament is seen as a God

of unlimited power, love, goodness, and justice. He is the infinite

and personal Creator of all creation.

4.2.3. Man. Man has been placed in the world by Yahweh and his

primary duty is to obey the creator. The first book of Moses

describes God's creating man out of the dust of the earth and

breathing into him life. Man is also described as having a free will

and can therefore choose to obey or disobey. That becomes the basis

upon which man will be judged.

Judaism rejects the doctrine of original sin, saying that sin is an

act, not a state. Thus, man has the ability to live according to the

Law. If he fails, he only needs to come to God in repentance. With

this view of sin, Judaism has eliminated the need for a Savior. Many

Jews do not anticipate the coming of a personal Messiah at all, but a

messianic age. Those Jews who do expect a Messiah usually think of

Him as a political and social deliverer, not a Savior from sins.

4.2.4. Salvation. Yahweh chose the Israelites from among all nations

as that group with which he was to make a covenant. That agreement or

covenant defines and controls the life of the nation. Man's basic

problem was the sin of disobedience which occurred either by following

one's own selfish interests rather than the revealed will of God, or

serving some God other than Yahweh. Salvation is closely linked to

obedience. If the individual served Yahweh to the exclusion of other

gods and maintained the ethical and religious stipulations of the

covenant, he could expect peace, prosperity, health and happiness.

Ritual provision for the forgiveness of sins was provided by daily

temple sacrifices and the yearly Day of Atonement in which one animal

was sacrificed on behalf of sins of the nations ceremoniously put on

the other animal which was sent into the desert. A symbolic way of

representing the carrying away of the peoples' sins.

4.3.Present Strength and Distribution. The total number of Jews is

approximately 18,075,400. They are distributed as follows: North

America (8,084,000), South America (990,000) Europe (4,606,600), Asia

(4,051,800) Africa (257,000), Oceania (86,000).



5.1. Historical Overview

Christianity was founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus, a

Jew, was born about 7 B.C. and was involved in a short public career

which ended in his crucifixion. The event and words of Christ are

recorded in the first four books of the New Testament. In addition to

many extraordinary deeds, including healings and raising the dead, he

proclaimed a message which was nothing short of revolutionary. At the

heart of that message was the concept of the Kingdom of God, the

realization of which he had come to announce and inaugurate. This

special mission was possible because of his unique nature. On

numerous occasions he referred to himself as the Son of Man. Against

the backdrop of Jewish messianic expectations, this title was

understood as a claim to be that Messiah, to share in the divinity of

God, and be able to forgive sins.

Jesus' ultimate destiny was fulfilled when he died on a cross,

executed as a common criminal. At the Last Supper (a celebration of

the Jewish Passover) he taught that his impending death was a

sacrifice in which he would bear the sins of the world, inaugurate a

new covenant, by which many would be saved.

According to Christian teaching Jesus rose from the dead after three

days. This has been interpreted as God's vindication of his message,

proof of his divinity, and legal basis for God's offer of forgiveness.

After the resurrection Jesus is reported to have appeared repeatedly

to his disciples. Forty days later he ascended into heaven and was

enthroned next to God, the Father. From there he continues to lead

and support his followers.

Just before his ascension he gave his disciples explicit instructions

to carry this new teaching to all nations. This command, known as the

"Great Commission" helps explain the missionary orientation of

Christianity. So it is, that after an initial phase of transition,

Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Samaria, Asia Minor, and most of

the Mediterranean Basin. By the end of the 3th century Christianity

was firmly established in countries stretching from Spain in the West

and Persia and India in the East. After repeatedly being subjected to

persecution, the Roman government, under Constantine, granted

Christianity official recognition in A.D. 313. Since that time,

Christianity has been the predominant religion in much of the Middle

East and Europe where it continued to spread throughout the Middle


Much of Christianity's recent advance has been generated by the modern

missionary movements. Beginning with early German Pietists and

Moravians around the beginning of the 18th century many Christians

began to reevaluate their responsibility to aggressively promote the

spread of Christianity in all parts of the world. This conviction led

to the so-called "Great Century." During the 19th century

Christianity enjoyed its greatest geographic expansion, establishing

daughter churches in virtually every nation.

The unity of Christianity had been impaired by several important

rivalries which divided Christianity into three major branches, each

with its distinctive form of organizational structure, worship styles,

and theological emphases. In 1054 the Church was split by a rivalry

between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) churches. In 1517 a

separation occurred within the Latin church. That schism, which is

known as the Reformation, was led by the Catholic Monk Martin Luther

and led to the formation of the major Protestant churches.

Christianity has also spawned a number of sects including the Mormons

and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Although the origin of these groups can

be traced to Christianity, most Christians consider these groups to be

aberrations or distortions of true Christianity.

5.2. Basic Teachings

5.2.1. Scriptures. Like Judaism, out of which it arose, Christianity

is a revealed religion. That is, it is a system of belief which is

based on teachings which were used by God through human spokesmen.

These prophets often wrote down the messages, leaving a permanent

record which was viewed as Scripture. Although Christians maintain a

continuity between the Old and the New Testaments, the writings of the

New Testament have become the predominant factor in the formulation of

their teaching. The New Testament contains several major divisions:

The Gospels, which describe the life and work of Christ; Acts, which

describes the early church; The Letters of Paul, a series of letters

written to the churches he founded; The Catholic Letters written by

Peter, James, John, and Jude; The Revelation of John, an apocalyptic

writing thought to have been written to encourage Christians suffering

persecution. These writings are considered inspired and therefore

completely authoritative in all matters of life and faith.

5.2.2. Creation and the World. According to Christian teaching the

God of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets is the Creator, Judge, and

Savior of the Universe.

5.2.3. Deity. Christianity maintains belief in one Triune God: God

the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. All

three share in the same divine nature, but exist as separate persons,

each with a specific set of responsibilities.

5.2.4. Man. Man was created to enjoy the world in which he was

placed. He is free to obey or disobey his creator, but has only one

life in which to make his final decision, the effects of which are

eternal. However, this does not imply the present reality of the

negative effects of that decision. Man's sin objectively affects his

relationship to God, his fellow men and the world. Ultimately sin is

a violation of God's clearly stated law and therefore an act of

rebellion which separates man from God. Thus, it is his own

disobedience to God and his own selfishness and lust and not the world

which hold him in bondage.

5.2.5. Salvation. The message of salvation offered by Christianity is

based on God's offer of free grace and an appropriate response by man.

Since man cannot escape the results of his own rebellion on his own,

he is dependent upon supernatural help. The basis for this has been

provided by the substitutionary death of Christ. However, this offer

has to be appropriated by faith, i.e., accepting God's offer of

redemption based on Christ's sacrifice. In other words, man does not

have to DO anything but believe. The result of this faith is not only

a changed status before God (forgiveness and justification) but also

new life. Having been freed from the negative effects of sin man is

able to develop toward full humanity. As a result, the effects of

salvation will be obvious in the behavior, life style, and thought of

the believer.


5.3. Present Strength and Distribution.

Christians number about 1,644,396,500 and are distributed as follows:

North America (232,554,500), South America (395,554,500) Europe

(517,294,100), Asia (207,176,700), Africa (271,035,700), Oceania



6.1. Historical Overview

6.1.1. Islam was founded by the prophet Mohammed, who was born in

Mecca around 570 A.D. After his mother died, he was cared for by his

mother's brother, Abu Talib. As a young man he traveled with caravans

as far as Syria and even Egypt. Having established himself in this

tradeinalle married a wealthy widow, Khadijah. He was twenty-five.

Having thus achieved material wealth and family stability, Mohammed

took up the practice of meditation, common in Arabia at that time. On

one occasion after he had retired to a cave in the mountains east of

Mecca, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed and commanded him to

recite in the name of the Lord who had created man from the clots of

blood. This was the first of many revelations received by the

prophet. Mohammed's reaction to that first revelation was not

particularly positive. He feared that he had become a hanif, a kind

of religious fanatic despised by most people because they were assumed

to have been possessed by evil spirits. However, after being

prevented from taking his own life by the angel Gabriel, Mohammed

returned to his wife, found confirmation, and soon began to realize

that he had been appointed by Allah to be a messenger to the world.

Mohammed's initial message of monotheism and coming judgment was met

by opposition which became so intense that in the year 620, the Mecca

Muslims retreated to the nearby city of Yathrib. They were followed

by the prophet himself in 622. This flight, called Hijra, marks the

beginning of Islam as a religion. All Muslim dates are calculated

from this date with the designation A.H., meaning the year of the

Khadijah. It was during the time in Yathrib that many of the major

social and religious practices were developed. These include the

Mosque, and the practice of praying five times a day towards Mecca.

Yathrib was renamed Medina which means City of the Prophet. During

this time the Muslims also increased their military strength and began

attacking the Meccan caravans. Their military might enabled them to

recapture Mecca in the year 627. The prophet died in the year 632.

6.1.2. Mohammed's entire work could have easily disintegrated after

his death, since he had done almost nothing to prepare his followers.

However, it seems that they quickly reached a consensus and without

too much difficulty appointed Abu Bakr and `Omar to leadership

positions. Although the decision was probably based on their

longstanding relationship (familial and professional) with the

prophet, both men had proven themselves to be capable political

leaders. But theirs was an authority quite different than that

enjoyed by Muhammad himself. They were halifa, i.e., Caliphs,

followers or representatives rather than Prophets and sources of


The term Caliph means "to leave behind" or "a successor". In the

Quran the word is used for a Vice-regent of the Almighty on earth,

e.g., Adam 2:28, David 38:25. It is the title given to the successor

of Mohammed, who is vested with absolute authority in all matters of

state, both civil and religious, as long as he rules in conformity

with the law and the Hadith. There is to be only one Caliph at the

same time. Muhammad is reported to have said: "When two Caliphs have

been set up, put the last to death and preserve the other, for the

last is a rebel." It was a dispute about this very issue which led to

the first major break in Islamic unity, a schism which gave rise to

the various Islamic sub-groups known to us today.

Under the leadership of the first three Caliphs (Abu Bakr 632-634,

`Omar 634-644 `Otman 644-656) Islam enjoyed a period of remarkable

unity and expansion. By 642 most of Palestine, the Syrian heartland

and Iraq, and Egypt had been conquered. During the same time period

the organizational structures required to maintain order in the

conquered areas was also put into place. This structure was built

around on three offices or functions: i) Governor (War and Religion),

ii) `Urafa - experts or judges, and iii) Quran readers.

The murder of `Othman 656 precipitated a crisis the effects of which

are still felt. Following the assassination, Ali, cousin and son-in-

law of the Prophet Mohammed, was elected Caliph. The basis for that

choice was not so much his family ties but rather the fact that he

vowed to keep the "Traditions" (Sunna) of Mohammed. However, because

he was elected by only one of several parties, Islam experienced a

series of (fitna) civil wars. The most significant of these wars was

initiated by Mu`awiya, Isalmic governor of Syria, who called for

revenge against Ali, who he considered responsible for `Otman's

murder. In a battle near Siffin (657) the Syrians put Quran verses on

the ends of their lances. Some of Ali's fighters withdrew (Hawarij)

and with that three parties had been formed. The entire matter was

given over to a commission which decided against Ali (658). As a

result, Mu`awiya's followers declared him to be Caliph. Ali's forces

crushed the Hawarij party in a blood bath near Nahrawan but he

continued to lose ground to Mu`awiya and was murdered in 661.

The three Parties that emerged each emphasized a different set of

criteria for the selection of a Caliph. The Hawarij (the withdrawers)

emphasized sinlessness character and religious piety of the Caliph.

The Shiites, followers of Ali, emphasized direct descendency from the

Prophet. The Shiites make up about 10% of Islam today and are

concentrated in Iran, Iraq and Yemen. The third party, the Sunnies

emphasized correct teaching and tradition. Today they make up

approximately 90% of Islam.

6.2. Basic Teaching

Muslim doctrine can be summarized in terms of five teachings and five


6.2.1. Five basic doctrines. There is only one true god, Allah. Here the emphasis is on

an almost radical form of monotheism. The absolute unity of Allah is

emphasized in such a way as to eliminate the possibility sharing in

that divinity with any other being. Allah is all seeing, all-hearing,

all-speaking, all-knowing, all-willing, and all-powerful. There are angels, chief of whom is Gabriel. Gabriel first

appeared to Mohammed in order to offer to him the Quran. Islam also

believes in a fallen angel, Iblis, and a whole series of satanic

servants or spirits who seek to prevent men from submitting to and

following Allah. Teaching of the inspired books. According to Muslim

doctrine, there are four inspired books: The Torah of Moses, the

Zabur of David, the Ingil of Jesus, and the Quran. Although all four

contain Allah's truth, his final message is addressed to all mankind

in the Quran, thus the Quran supersedes all previous revelations and

abrogates any conflicting claims to truth. Because Jews and

Christians have already received messages from Allah, they are

referred to as the people of the book and therefore treated with more

tolerance than pagans.

The Quran is said to contain only (but all of) the words of Allah as

spoken to Mohammed by Gabriel. It is composed of ll4 suras or

chapters which have been arranged by length with the longer suras

coming first and the shorter ones near the end. According to Muslim

doctrine, the Quran is an exact copy of an original in heaven. This

means that no translations can adequately substitute for the original


Another set of writings referred to as Hadith (tradition) serve as a

source of many teachings, rulings, and sayings of the prophet. In

contrast to the Quran, Hadith do not contain the words of Allah, but

rather the deeds and sayings of the prophet Mohammed. They are

considered inspired, not as authoritative as the Quran itself. There are twenty-eight prophets of Allah. Many of them are

well-know biblical characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, David,

Moses and Jesus, but the greatest of the prophets and their seal of

prophecy is Mohammed, the messenger of Allah. Teaching of the last things. The eschatalogical teachings of

the Quran are very dramatic and have great importance in Muslim

theology. Muslims believe in the resurrection of the body, a final

judgment, and a final destiny in heaven or hell. Whether or not man

achieves heaven is dependent in part on his adherence to the five


6.2.2. The five pillars (duties) of the faith. Confession of faith. To recite the Shahadah (there is no

God but Allah and Mohammed is the prophet. This confession must be

made with conviction to make one a Muslim believer. Prayer. (Salat) These prayers must be recited five times a

day toward the holy city of Mecca. The teaching of proper direction

is called kibla. The faithful are summoned to prayer by the call of

the Muezzin who stands in Minaret. Alms giving. (Zakat) This is the equivalent of a tax. The

money is used for practical needs within the Muslim community. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of

the Muslim Lunar year, all Muslins are required to fast between sun up

and sun down. Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). An official pilgrimage to Mecca

is expected of all Muslims who are in a position either physically or

financially to make the trip.


6.3. Present Strength and Distribution

The total number of Muslims today is approximately 860,388,300. They

are distributed as follows: North America (2,682,600), South America

(645,000) Europe (40,708,700), Asia (571,145,500), Africa

(245,110,500), Oceania (96,000).


Our survey of the history and the teaching of five major religions

established a minimal basis upon which to compare these belief

systems. This type of comparison is both interesting and useful

because it focuses our attention on certain basic religions issues and

the way in which others have sought to resolve them. Ultimately,

however, such a comparison challenges each one of us to interact with

the issues, evaluate options and make choices.

As stated at the outset, a religion can be expected to provide a frame

work within which the individual can a) understand and come to know

God, b) interpret the world around him, c) evaluate his own need, and

d) derive hope, love, security and purpose.


A comparison is only valuable if it helps the individual make the

choices required by life. Those choices seem to fall into several


1. A choice between meaning and meaninglessness. Only those belief

systems which regard the world, man and the cosmos as real both in

their existence and purpose can provide meaning for man. This, it

seems, reduces the field to three.

2. A choice between real guilt and illusion. Only those belief

systems which take man's sinfulness seriously can hope to provide a

satisfying answer. Again we are left with the same three religions.

3. A choice between self-help and salvation. Only one of the

religions surveyed above offers that which man cannot hope to achieve

for himself, namely forgiveness.


A story is told of a man who fell into a pit. He cried out for help

for a long time before noticing a figure standing above him. It was

Confucius. With an aire of profound wisdom the victim was instructed

in the ways of right living only to be told that he could have avoided

this calamity. After his discourse, the would-be savior left.

After a little while another figure appeared. This time it was

Buddha. Upon analyzing the situation this religious leader also

concluded that the man's dilemma was of his own making. It was the

result of a hectic non-reflective life devoid of meditation. At that

point Buddha began to instruct the captive in the ways of yoga and

meditation. At the close of the "lesson" he too disappeared.

A short while passed and another savior appeared. This time it was

Jesus. Seeing the man's predicament, his guilt and his complete

inability to do anything about it he jumped into the pit and helped

the unfortunate man out.


Sources for Further Reading

For the latest statistics see: "The World Almanac and Book of Facts"

New York: World Almanac, 1989.

Brow, Robert. "Religion: Origins and Ideas" Chicago: Inter-Varsity

Press, 1966. This book provides detailed descriptions of major

religions and has an extensive bibliography.

Noss, David S. "Man's Religions" New York: Macmillian Publishing

Company, 1984. This is a thought provoking Christian perspective on

the issues and options.

Computers for Christ - Chicago

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