Are religions of the world simply different expressions of the same thing? Is Christianity the counterpart to Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism, and do these religions merely “complement” one another? Is Allah the same deity as Jehovah, and is Jehovah the same as the Hindu god, Brahman? There are some who think that we are all trying to get to the same place, and simply call God by different names or approach Him in different ways. Thus, in the final analysis, the different approaches are coequal, and therefore equally acceptable to God.
The brief answer to these questions is a simple “no.” These religions are not the same truth in different wrappings. We can discern why by noting some of the radical distinctions at the very heart of these religions that show how completely distinct and unrelated they are. Of course, they have things in common (they are religions, they have deities, they have holy books, etc.), but this does not mean that they are equally efficacious, any more than a book with blank pages is equal to a book filled with good information.
Let me introduce an important term—“ontology.” Ontology refers to something’s being, essence, or nature. It has to do with what makes it what it is even after being stripped of all its unnecessary elements. Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity are different ontologically. When you strip them of their coincidental characteristics and focus on what makes them distinct as religions, they are radically divergent. They are different by their very nature, even in their most basic elements. Their books, their concepts of salvation, and even their deities are wildly different from one another. Let us make a simple beginning by noting a few of their essential differences.
THE BOOKS OF WORLD RELIGIONS
DISASSOCIATE THEMSELVES FROM ONE ANOTHER
Individuals who claim to be members in good standing of one religion (whether Christian, Moslem, or Hindu) sometimes extend the hand of fellowship to those in other religions. That is, some express a willingness to accept people who remain in other religions as if they have their deity’s blessing. But for the most part, these open-armed well-wishers are viewed as heretics by the faithful followers because the holy books themselves, which form the very center of the religions, are not so accepting of one another. Can the follower be better than the “inspired” book from which he gains faith?
The Bible—For example, the New Testament clearly claims to be the only way by which a person can come to God (specifically, one must come through Jesus—John 14:6; 2 John 9; et al.). This establishes solid barriers against all who disagree with the person of Jesus depicted in the gospel accounts. Prior to New Testament times, Judaism carried the same policy. In the Old Testament, God always spoke against pagan religions and their followers. The religions of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Canaan, Greece, and others are roundly attacked, condemned, and described in great detail as false and devilish.
Obviously, simply calling something “god” and worshipping it does not mean that it is acceptable to the God of the Bible. Jesus said that they who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Amazing as it may seem to those who think that the God of the Bible approves of other religions, the apostles of Christ even condemned those in the Christian age who were going backward, trying to be saved by the Mosaic law, a religion that unquestionably centered on the same God as Christianity (Galatians 5:4). In addition, they even condemned their own Christian brethren if they were living wrongly (Acts 8:18-23; Galatians 2:11).
Thus, even if the different religions did comprehend the same God, worshipping the same God does not legitimize one’s religion or religious practices according to the Bible since the one true God must be worshipped properly, that is, as the Bible prescribes (Colossians 3:17). The Bible claims to be the uniquely acceptable religion before God, and specifically condemns any other as illegitimate. Whatever we say about Islam and Hinduism’s relationship to Christianity, we cannot say justifiably that biblical Christianity has any affiliation with them. Any superimposition of fellowship between them would be forced and unnatural.
The Koran—The Islamic holy book, the Koran (or Qur’an), claims to be the final word from God. It claims that the Bible was just a step in its direction, so the Koran is further and final revelation (Sura 4:161). Whereas the Bible says that the apostles would be led into all Truth, and although it condemns additional and different alleged revelations as false (e.g., John 16:13; Galatians 1:6-9), the Koran teaches that if a person has only the Bible, it is not enough because then he rejects the greatest prophet of all, Mohammed. Since the Islamic holy book condemns unbelievers, it condemns those who accept only the Bible.
Whereas the Bible says that Jesus was and is God, and is the only way to heaven (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 5:9), the Koran exalts Mohammed above Jesus. Mohammed explicitly says several times that Jesus was not God, but a prophet and apostle (Sura 5:79; 4:169, et al.). The apostle John, however, calls the teacher of this doctrine “the antichrist” and has a lot to say about his spiritual condition (1 John; 2 John; 3 John).
Speaking of misbelievers (which would most definitely include Hindus) who turn others from the path of God, the Koran says in Sura 13:34, “For them is torment in this world’s life; but surely the torment of the next is more wretched still—nor have they against God a keeper” and “the recompense of misbelievers is the Fire!” (13:35). Also, “Whosoever craves other than Islam for a religion, it shall surely not be accepted from him, and he shall, in the next world, be of those who lose” (Sura 3:79).
Mohammed claimed that his revelations came from God via a Heavenly Book from which all Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian revelations came. The Bible, however, teaches that God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), which would be contradicted if all of these conflicting religions came from the same source. The Koran says that Moslems believe what was revealed to Jesus and the prophets, but this is incredible in light of the aforementioned facts in addition to hundreds of others left unmentioned here (Sura 3:78-79). Amazingly, Richardson says in his introduction to the Koran, “the Qur’an often contradicts itself as well as other scriptures. Allah, then, changes his mind and alters the text of the Heavenly Book accordingly (Surah 13:39).” Compare this with Jesus’ statements, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35), and “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
Hindu Writings—Contradictions between the most basic doctrines of the Bible and the Koran could be multiplied, and the Hindu Vedic literature is widely divergent from these two. As different as they are, the Bible and the Koran have more in common than either has in common with Hindu writings. Vedic materials are something altogether different. The point here is that if the major religious books condemn and contradict one another on such fundamental issues, where does anyone get the idea that they belong together? If we believe any one of them, we must disbelieve the others. They cannot be related unless severely mutilated. They clearly are mutually exclusive. Since they so clearly do not affiliate, which, if any, is the right one?
HISTORICAL EVENTS AND INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES
The Koran—Islam is based entirely upon the secret, private experiences of one man. Mohammed regularly went alone to a cave and said that a Revealer delivered visions to him there. He later identified this person as the angel Gabriel. Only one person allegedly saw the angel. Only one person allegedly heard a voice. Only one person allegedly saw the visions. The only way to become a Moslem, then, is to take this one man’s word for it. We must believe a man who was kicked out of his home town, became a robber baron, led a pack of thieves in attacks on caravans, and then later returned to the city and took it by force. Compare the lifestyle and character of this man with that of Jesus Whom he claims to supersede, and see who is more worthy of belief.
The Bible—In vivid contrast to this approach of having to take one man’s word for an entire religion and basing one’s eternal destiny on one person’s private visions, the Bible is rooted and grounded in objective historical events—things many thousands of people beheld. Its specific times, places, people, and events can be located in history. Archaeology, ancient history, geography, literature, etc., corroborate its details. These give the Bible the ring of authenticity, and tie it to reality outside the mind of any single person or any group of people.
Because of this, the Bible has a beginning, middle, and end. It has a flow, a progression, a unity. It is very orderly and systematic. The Koran, however, is a very disjointed collection of many small apothegms called Suras. This is because Mohammed could not write and did not intend for his revelations to be compiled into a book. Richardson’s introduction to the Koran says, “It was addressed to the ear, not to the critical eye....” However, after Mohammed died and many began to question the legitimacy of his visions, believers gathered together the leaves, potsherds, etc., on which his sayings allegedly had been copied by some of his hearers. Someone later edited them and put them in a book format. Richardson says, “Apart from its preposterous arrangement, the Qur’an is not so much a book as a collection of manifestoes, diatribes, harangues, edicts, discourses, sermons, and such-like occasional pieces. No subject is treated systematically....” It certainly does not appear to be related to an alleged Mother Book from which the Old and New Testaments also were derived. The Koran’s sum and substance is very different from Scripture as Christians know it.
Hindu Writings—The holy literature of Hinduism encompasses many volumes, and is referred to as the Vedic literature. The most widely known is the Bhagavad-Gita, a small section of the much larger section, the Mahabharata—a huge work that has influenced Hinduism profoundly. It allegedly was composed over a period of eight hundred years (400 B.C. to A.D. 400), and supposedly tells the Sanskrit history of the ancient world. But as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says in his translation, the Gita is “the essence of Vedic knowledge.”
The high god in Hinduism is Brahman. In a sense, Brahman is the All, the infinitely embracing Everything—ultimate reality. In another sense, Brahman is a god composed of Brahma, Shiva (the one often pictured with four arms), and Vishnu. Each of these three has a basic personality and work. Brahma creates, Shiva destroys, and Vishnu preserves. Each has wives, sons (one of Shiva’s sons is the elephant-headed Ganesha), daughters, and a series of folklore-type adventures. Their consorts also are worshipped, so there is actually an indefinite number of gods. A Hindu expert will tell you that they often use the number 330,000,000 as a convenient way of describing how many are worshipped. The boundaries and eccentricities of Hinduism, therefore, are very loose, and there are many types and sects of Hindus. What ties them together seems to be their belief in Brahman and the pantheon of gods, reincarnation (the idea that after you die you are reborn into another life on Earth), karma (the law which says that if you were bad in this life you will have a difficult life in the next), and the Vedic teachings.
One of Vishnu’s avatars (incarnations) was named Krishna. He has been described as “an impetuous, violent, and erotic figure.” Krishna is the speaker and the hero of the Bhagavad-Gita, in which he is prince of a great dynasty. The Gita’s setting is a battle in which he is involved with relatives who are enemies of his kingdom. There is no way of checking whether these events actually occurred or if this is pure legend, since we have no record of the events outside the Gita itself.
Someone might respond, “But why is it better to be historical and checkable (like the Bible) than to be non-historical (like the Koran or Vedic writings)?” The real issue, of course, is that we believe we must be rational in regard to religion. Does anyone seriously suggest that we be irrational about it? If we are to be irrational, then what is the use of arguing rationally that we must be irrational? Why worry about persuading people that the major religions are all the same if it does not really matter? Actually, all of the world religions attempt to use reason and (with the possible exception of Buddhism) teach their adherents to use their minds in religion. Even though Buddhism tries to get its adherents to a point in meditation where they lose thought and feeling, it uses reason to teach them, to explain itself, and to get them to that point. The point is, should reason and proof be the “engine that pulls our train of life” or not? Should we not require proof for what we believe? If not, that would put us in the position of accepting every person who claimed a divine vision. The Bible both demands proof and provides it (Deuteronomy 18:20; Isaiah 41:21-24; 1 Thessalonians 5:21, et al.).
UNIQUENESS OF INCARNATION
The Bible—The Christian system centers on the fact that God has come to Earth in a physical body and made a one-time sacrifice for sin (John 1:1-14; Philippians 2:5-9). The Bible says that the salvation of mankind was accomplished only through this act and that apart from it, man would be hopelessly lost in sin (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7, et al.). The incarnation of the Word, along with His death and resurrection, combine to form the fundamental essential truth that defines Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Without it, Christianity would not exist.
Hindu Writings—In Hinduism, there is no requirement to escape from sin before judgment comes (Hebrews 9:27) because for the Hindu, there is no final judgment day. Rather, the Universe is eternal; we live here forever in different personalities, one lifetime after another. The goal is to gain release from being reincarnated. The incarnation and sacrifice of someone in Jerusalem plays no role at all in Hinduism. Hindus gain release from this cycle through individual observance of ritual, right thinking, and right acting. Everything we get in this life is what we deserve because of the way we lived in past lives (even though we cannot remember our past lives so as to learn to do better in the next one, we still suffer for them). If we are better in each successive life, we will climb the ladder of goodness until we finally achieve release and oneness with divinity and the Universe.
Thus, there is also no unique one-time incarnation of God because the Hindu god, Vishnu, has come in the flesh many times in a number of guises. Vishnu has visited Earth ten times as a deliverer (as Rama, Krishna, et al.). For example, the one to whom the Gita is directed is a warrior named Arjuna. One day Krishna is driving his chariot, and Arjuna says to him, “You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest” (10:12-14). In the section “Knowledge of the Absolute” Krishna says, “as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come” (10:26). He elsewhere comments, “This material nature is working under My direction.” Hence, he was allegedly deity in the flesh several times.
The Koran—Islam teaches that Jesus Christ was not deity, but rather one of the great prophets (see previous quotes). His death is not necessitated for redemption, and if He died on the cross at all, its purpose was definitely not to wash away our sins. Moslems believe that salvation is obtained through observance of the “five pillars” of Islam: recite the creed (which is basically, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”); pray five times daily while facing the holy city of Mecca; give alms to the poor; fast for an extended period each year; and once in your life make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
RADICALLY DIVERGENT DIVINITY
Hindus do not believe the Universe was created by God out of nothing. It is simply an eternal emanation from Brahman. It is illusory and must be escaped so that we may gain what is real, viz., oneness with the Universe and oneness with Brahman. Islam and Christianity think of this as blasphemy, for Jehovah is perfect in every way, and infinite in every attribute. A created being never could attain such a degree of being and certainly never could become God.
Hindu gods in their many thousands of representations are commonly worshipped by means of figurines and “idols” that are condemned by both Old and New Testaments (e.g., the first two of the ten commandments—Exodus 2:3-4). One of Mohammed’s primary goals was to condemn and destroy this practice.
Islam also says there is only one member of the godhead, Allah. Christianity preaches a trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18). Obviously, Christianity and Islam are as opposed to Hinduism on this matter as it is to them.
DECIDING WHICH IS RIGHT
From this brief introductory study it can be seen that these three religions and their books cannot be equated. But the question remains, which one should we accept? I maintain that we should accept the Bible over other religious books because no book can amass the evidence for supernatural origin that the Bible can. No other book exhibits such profound evidence for inspiration. We should accept the Bible because:
It claims to be from God. That in itself does not prove its claim, but the claim is something we should look for. Would God send His revelation anonymously?
It is based in history, not in the subjective experience of one individual. That opens it to being tested. It can be proven or disproven.
It contains the highest and purest moral teachings. They remain unsurpassed for their simplicity, applicability, and profundity.
It contains prophecies that are made and fulfilled. They surpass the possibility of human or natural powers to foresee or bring about.
It has a sublime unity about it in every way—doctrine, progression of thought, story line, theme, details, structure, etc.
It is accurate in every way—historically, geographically, scientifically, etc. As diligently as skeptics have tried for centuries, there never has been one flaw or contradiction proven to be in the Bible that would establish that it is not what it claims to be. Yet, “to err is human.”
It contains medical and scientific knowledge ahead of its time. The Bible did not partake of its contemporary medical and scientific ignorance.
It has had an immeasurably profound impact on the world and always in a positive way whenever faithfully practiced.
It has the best textual sources of any ancient book. That is, we can trace its history back to its beginnings more accurately, and with greater corroboration, than any major writing of the ancient world.
It contains a reasonable view of God, man, and truth.
It is indestructible. Its most powerful, rabid, and scholarly opponents have failed to do away with it.
It always is current. Last year the Book of the Month Club asked 2,000 of its readers what book most influenced their lives. The Bible was number one.
It addresses our fundamental questions about why we are the way we are, why suffering exists, where we came from, what our destiny will be, how the Universe began and how it will end, etc.
It fulfills our spiritual, social, psychological, and emotional needs.
It is incredibly brief, although it is set forth as a seminal book from the Creator. Men are notorious for their verbosity in such matters.
It is based on the testimony of thousands of witnesses throughout its history.
It portrays its heroes, flaws and all. It is unbiased in its treatment of history, unlike works of men praising their heroes.
On the other hand, the evidence for the inspiration of the Koran is based solely upon the testimony of one man, Mohammed. The same kind of “evidence” would make you a Hindu. Why accept Mohammed’s testimony and reject the Hindu testimony? Or, why accept the Hindu writings and reject the Koran? Both have essentially the same evidence in their favor. One cannot be proven to be any more legitimate than the other.
However, the preceding list includes just a few of the many very significant avenues that should be considered if a person is truly seeking to be open-minded about searching for truth among the world’s alleged books from God.
All religions are not the same. Their most basic doctrines readily contradict the others. However, there is one religion that is based upon a book that provides good reasons to be believed—unity and consistency of thought, high standards of thought and conduct, etc. Which should we believe?
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Kippy Myers holds an M.A. in philosophy and Christian apologetics from Harding Graduate School, an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Dallas, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is an assistant professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee.]