Ever wonder what the differences are in the world’s largest religions, and what each of them believe? Allow me to break it down for you. But first let me say that this task wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be when I set out. Some Eastern religions are not simple, and trying to define what they believe isn’t even the right way to think about them. They are more of a philosophy gone extreme or something. I’m going to start with those then work my way into the Bible-based religions (and their various spin-offs). I will try to do this along a sensible chronological order, following the timeline from when the religion started.
I am lumping these together because they are extremely similar. The main Chinese religions are Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese Folk Religion. They don’t concern themselves with a supreme God or creation or life after death – those are unimportant concepts and consequently a waste of time to think about. Buddha (the original one) never claimed to be a God or deity, just a man who figured out how to reach enlightenment – which is some kind of perfect floating state where you are detached from everything and don’t have to be reincarnated anymore.
They believe in multiple gods and that by practicing their religion well enough they can actually become a god, whatever that really is. In the meantime they are continually reincarnated until they get it right and their lives are affected by karma, a sort of self-fulfilling justice. These religions are quite old but have evolved with modern times. It is possible to practice all of them, meaning that you can be a Buddhist, Taoist, and other stuff all at the same time.
Pretty much the same thing as the Chinese religions (with a stronger emphasis on Karma), with one glaring exception: Everybody is God. You, me, everyone. Not only that, everything is God. Your keyboard, that lamp in the corner, the old spare tire in your backyard. You keep getting reincarnated (as animals or people) until you get it right. Your ultimate goal is to practice your religion well enough to have the privilege of ceasing to exist altogether.
There is one God who created the universe and all life. He didn’t want dolls with pull-strings that say I Love You, he wanted real children who freely choose to love him. So everybody gets that choice. We are born sinners by nature and are inherently evil, but can be reconciled to God through repentance and faith. The Bible tells the story of creation and God’s relationship with man throughout history (which hasn’t always been pretty), and claims to be the inspired Word of God. It is divided into two parts, The Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Old Testament promises a Messiah (or Saviour) for man in it’s prophetic verses. The New Testament asserts the fulfillment of that prophecy when God’s son Jesus Christ comes to this earth to teach us, and ultimately is tortured to death as the price to pay for all of man’s sins. God raised him from the dead (as witnessed by his followers) and he ascended to heaven to await the day he returns and sets up his perfect kingdom on the earth. Meanwhile those who die with faith in Christ go to heaven and will return with him when he comes back.
The Old Testament contains some of the oldest written documents on Earth. The New Testament completes itself with a graphic end-times prophecy depicting God’s final judgment upon the earth in the days just before Christ’s return.
Jews accept the Old Testament but reject the New Testament. They do not accept the deity of Jesus Christ. Some claimed he never lived, but most simply believe he was just an overzealous teacher (and of course did not rise from the dead). As a result they still attempt to keep God’s laws given to man in the Old Testament, including many of the ancient rituals and celebrations.
Jews are still waiting for the promised Messiah. They believe he will be a man, not God incarnate as Jesus claimed to be. They think they will know him because he will be the one to help them rebuild their ancient temple, the site of which is currently occupied by a Muslim mosque.
Israel was completely scattered by the Roman empire around the year 300 and miraculously became a nation again in their original homeland in the year 1948 (right after World War 2, the only nation in history to ever pull this off). Both Christians and Jews agree that this was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy written in Ezekiel chapter 37.
Christians maintain that Jesus is not God’s son like you and I are God’s children. He is actually a being like God and is in fact part of him, a separate manifestation of the creator’s consciousness. People who live after the time of Christ can only attain salvation by simply believing in him, as he is the provision that God made for us. True belief in Christ means repenting from the sin that separates you from God, and accepting Christ as your Lord and savior. That is, putting your trust for salvation in him and him alone.
Christians believe that salvation is a gift from God and the only way to receive a gift is simply to accept it. It cannot be earned and you cannot get to heaven by works, or by being an ethical and moral all-around good person. If you accept Christ he promises to give you a new heart and as a result you will become a moral, ethical, and all-around good person. But it works in that order, not the reverse. Christians accept the fact that even after they are saved they still sin, but are continually forgiven as they realize their mistakes and seek forgiveness through Christ.
Interestingly, the New Testament states that the Jew’s eyes have been blinded as to the deity of Christ. This is a result of their religious leaders initially rejecting him and plotting against him. The person they will finally accept as the Messiah will actually be a political leader possessed by the Devil (known as the Anti-Christ), and their eyes will finally be opened during the final judgment of God on this earth when the political leader shows his true colors.
The original Christian church still survives today with millions of members worldwide. But they added a few things to the Bible which non-Catholic Christians question. One is the idea of Purgatory, a place between Heaven and hell where most people have to do some time before getting into Heaven. This is in direct contradiction to the Bible’s teachings.
Another is the concept of a class of people known as Saints, which were like really really good Christians when they were alive. They even advocate praying to these saints. The Bible is very clear that only God is to be prayed to, and that all who die in faith become Saints and are immediately ushered into the presence of the Lord.
Catholics are also in the habit of making images of worship, something strictly prohibited by God in the Bible. In the book of Revelation Jesus stated that he hates the establishing of a priesthood, something the Catholics are big on. Finally, they exalt the Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus) to an almost-deity level. They even pray to her, and still consider her to be a virgin. In fact the book of James in the New Testament was written by James, Jesus’s blood brother. The point being she had other kids after Jesus and did not die a virgin.
Christian Reformation Denominations
In the early 1500’s a group of Christians led by Martin Luther broke off from the Catholic Church for reasons stated above, along with the fact that the church had become corrupt in that era. This first group were known as Protestants, but in the centuries that followed many slightly different denominations formed. These include the Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, and other churches.
These Christian denominations today vary widely in (mostly) insignificant doctrinal interpretations of the Bible. But they all abandon the problematic religious traditions of the Catholics described above.
Non-denominational Christian Churches
These are becoming popular. Any church that calls itself a Bible Church or Church of Jesus Christ probably fits this category. Also, the incredibly successful Calvary Chapels fit this category. They Believe that the Bible can be taken literally, word for word, and needs no subjective interpretation. In other words, God said what he meant and meant what he said.
They also take issue with some of the rituals that the denominational churches practice, such as infant baptism. An infant does not possess the faculties for making a decision for Christ and you should not go through life thinking you are saved because you were born Christian or had some water sprinkled on your head as a baby.
Islam was invented in the seventh century, that is 700+ years after the Bible was completed. It is in fact a religion created in direct opposition to the Bible. Those who tell you that this is a peaceful religion which seeks to coexist with Christianity haven’t read the Quran.
A guy named Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel (from the Bible) and told that the Jews and Christians got it all wrong. Select parts of the Bible are accurate but the rest is rubbish. God had no son, Jesus was a prophet and was never crucified. God’s name is Allah and salvation can only be obtained through works.
If you make it to heaven your rewards will include eternal sex with really hot virgins and access to free-flowing rivers of wine. (Interesting that the rewards you get are the stuff you got to stay away from when on earth.) Sounds like a playboy’s dream come true.
The Quran has it’s own version of end-time prophecy as an answer to the Bible’s last book of Revelation. In their version the Muslims kill all the Jews and then kill all the Christians, and then live happily ever after.
This is a very large religion and what’s scary is that Arab country political leaders not only believe in it but are actually attempting to help bring the end-time prophecy to fruition.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a discussion on cults. Before we look at them individually, we need to define the term. A cult is any group or denomination who claims that their little group are the only ones going to heaven. Surprisingly, there are a lot of them operating in modern day America – and most of them are using the Bible in one form or another.
Mormons. Otherwise known as the Church of Latter Day Saints. Most of them can be found in the state of Utah. Much like the way Islam got started, an angel visited a guy name Joseph Smith in early colonial America and told him everybody has it wrong.
They do accept the Bible mostly, with the exception that they maintain a belief that Jesus is not God – which is the key point of Christianity. They believe he is a created being and is actually Satan’s brother.
They strongly believe in works. If you are a really, really good Mormon you get to grow up to be a God someday – almost equal with the creator and in charge of your own planet full of people.
Jehovah’s Witnesses. These guys had their own version of the Bible translated after they established their original doctrine, bent to support it of course. They mostly accept the Bible with the critical exception that Jesus is not God – he is an angel or similar created being. They have somehow gotten the notion that they are the special 144,000 mentioned in the book of Revelation, even though the Bible clearly states that this group are virgins who all speak Hebrew. (After their numbers grew beyond 144,000 they changed their teaching on this, allowing for extra members to have a lower place in eternity than the first 144,000.)
They use classic cult-recruiting tactics. It’s hard to really nail down what exactly their doctrine is because it keeps changing. However at one time they claimed that Jesus had already returned and was cooped up in a special room in their Watchtower building in New York.
Seventh-day Adventists. Another popular cult in modern society. These folks base their doctrine on one point of the Old Testament, that being the Sabbath – or day of rest. God is to be worshipped on Saturday, not Sunday. This is so critical that if you try to worship God on Sunday you are actually worshipping Satan instead and are going to hell as a result. Consequently only Seventh-day Adventists are going to heaven.
Church of Christ. A Bible-based cult with a bunch of strict rules about silly things that you better not break or else. Stuff like not using more than one cup for communion, women cannot speak in church, without water baptism you are not saved, no socializing with other Christian denominations, etc. If you get tired of this nonsense and try to leave they hound you down and threaten your salvation. Only Church of Christ members are going to heaven and by leaving their church you sacrifice your salvation.