Are there many paths to God? A core truth shared among all religions?
Every religion has a story of an ancient flood which destroyed the earth, after which it had to be repopulated by a small family of survivors. This is a common thread among them, but it is also a fairly minor point. Do the religions agree on what is truly important? There are many persons who believe that each religion is just a different aspect of God and that you can “pick what works for you” with the idea that you can connect with the true God either way. Many are shocked at the intolerance of the belief that one religion will call itself correct and others wrong. Religious wars are not exactly history’s proudest moments and the idea of respecting all faiths as equally valid is promoted by some as a solution. Perhaps there is a common core of truth that is shared among the religions and it is only minor beliefs where each one went astray? We will look at some of the core beliefs such as salvation and see if they are similar enough to be reconciled.
There is some common ground among Christians and Muslims. Particularly in tracing common lineage to Abraham and the biblical prophets. Likewise there are certain teachings of Buddhism which are somewhat similar to what Christ taught. The principle of Karma has certain similarities to the doctrine of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7) and it also taught in Hinduism. The word Karma means “work.” Yet the bible teaches that nothing we can do can repay our evil deeds. We cannot “earn” salvation through a lifetime of good works. Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice which can atone for our sins. A person who has worked for and served Christ for their entire life is no more saved than one who shows true and sincere repentance at the time of their death. This is different than the idea of Karma, where you are required to spend millions of years suffering to repay evil deeds. Ephesian 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Given this difference on the critical issue of salvation, how can both Christianity and Buddhism/Hinduism be true? If we can repay our karma through suffering and good works, then apostle Paul was lying when he taught we are saved by grace alone and cannot repay our sins. This is not some minor issue of disagreement to brush aside; salvation is at the core of a religion’s purpose. There is no point in following a religion if its teaching on salvation is incorrect. So we have to pick one or the other between Buddhism and Christianity.
It is doubtful that any religion has 100% false beliefs. Even the most violent and backwards religion will promote some positive and healthy values. Nonetheless, religions cannot all be true. Why is that? Because many times they teach the exact opposite of each other. For example, Hinduism teaches that there are millions of gods for ruling over every minor aspect of life and that idols should be created and bowed down to for these. On the other hand, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all teach that there is only one God and that idol worship is worship of demons and utterly forbidden. Obviously one of these tracks of belief is true and the other false. If Hinduism is true, than the Abrahamic religions are teaching falsely in forbidding idol-worship and vice versa.
Hinduism is commonly sought out by westerners who are dissatisfied with organized religion and want to try something new. Christianity and Hinduism are about as opposite as you can get. Hindu’s teach a caste system where on the top of the pyramid there is a wealthy elite who should be treated with utmost respect. Meanwhile at the bottom are the “untouchables.” They are assigned the filthiest work such as cleaning toilets and are looked down upon as worthless. To be in contact with one is considered defiling, perhaps even to look at one. They are often murdered, banned from meaningful work, and prevented from integrating with society. The belief is that they were the biggest sinners in past lives so they ‘deserve’ their lot in life.
Christ had a very different set of teachings regarding the poor and outcast. He offered salvation equally to all who were willing to repent.
Luke 5:30-32 “And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.””
Luke 7:37-39 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:48-50 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
When it mentions her as a “sinner” it means she had a reputation as a local prostitute. Yet Christ did not reject fellowship with her. He did not demand that she leave his presence, but honored her in front of the others. Contrast this to the Hindu doctrine which teaches its followers to keep as far away from the sinful lower classes as possible. These religions are a night-and-day difference. There is no way they can both be true.
Besides idol worship there are also divergent teachings on the afterlife. Buddhism and Hinduism teach that after death you will be continuously reincarnated in endless cycles with a select few being able to break out of the cycle. Meanwhile the bible states: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). Upon physical death the biblical judgement has you either receiving eternal life and going to heaven, or being sentenced to hell and spiritual death. You can’t both go to the heavenly New Jerusalem and simultaneously transform into a pigeon; its either one or the other. We have to stop pretending each religion is a true path to God. When religions contradict each other only one of them can be true and the others must be deceiving people with falsehoods.
So we have examined how Hinduism, Buddhism are incompatible with Christianity. But what about Islam and Judaism? Perhaps the Abrahamic religions offer equally valid paths to God. Certain denominations are more favorable to this. For instance, the Roman Catholic pope Paul VI issued a declaration, “The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,” The pope here was probably not saying he thinks all Muslims are “saved,” but the statement does show a high level of tolerance for Islam. On the other hand, evangelical denominations utterly oppose the idea that Muslims believe in the same God as Christians.
Regardless of what modern leaders may believe, the core religion each texts make claims to exclusivity:
John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Quran 3:85 Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.
What is salvation in Islam? There are five main things a person is supposed to try to live out to be saved: 1. Declaration of belief 2. Prayer 5x per day 3. Almsgiving to the poor 4. Ramadan fast 5. Hajj Pilgrimage
It is believed that by doing these, a person can redeem themselves from their past sins. Islam also teaches that a human is born neutral. Neither evil nor good.
Contrast this with the bible’s teaching that our flesh makes us naturally predisposed to evil. Also, no matter how many good works we do the bible teaches we cannot ‘undo’ the sins of our past. Only Christ’s death on the cross can redeem us. As opposed to teaching a need to do good works to pay back past sins, the bible teaches that only repentance is necessary for salvation and Christ will pay all past sins. The thief on the cross that died with Jesus was saved because he repented and confessed belief in Christ, even though he did not have time to do any good works. Even if you are on your deathbed if you sincerely repent with your whole heart, you can be saved.
Christianity and Judaism
Christianity has unfortunately had a troubled history with the Jews and far too often did not at all treat them with the kindness Christ taught. In fact the opposite occurred as the Jews were always the first to be blamed by Christian nations anytime they suffered plague or economic woes.
In Judaism the focus is on collective rather than personal salvation. Salvation is believed to be referring to the nation of Israel being restored from captivity in foreign nations. There is a large disagreement in Judaism on whether there is even a resurrection from the dead, or whether death is the final end for the soul. The bible mentions this argument between the Pharisees who believed and Sadducees who did not believe in life after death. Among those who believe, the idea is that living life according to the Torah law, fasting, celebrating certain holidays, and circumcision will keep a person saved. This is the opposite of what Christianity teaches. Most of apostle Paul’s writings were against these practices. He had to constantly remind Christians that they were saved by trusting in and following Christ, receiving his free gift of salvation, and that the “works of the law” (Torah) would do nothing to save a person.
Besides Paul, Christ himself taught that good works cannot save a person:
Luke 18:9-14, Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The publicans were the most despised of all people. “Publican” means a politician/tax-collector (possible origin of the Re-publican party name?). They were closer to their masters the Romans than their fellow Jews and sees as traitors of sorts. Yet despite his sin, this one is repenting with his whole heart and knows he needs God’s power to turn his life around. He is trying to do better but it is hard with all the corruption involved in his line of work. God sees his heart and commitment to do what is right and forgives him, even before he is able to really turn his life around properly. This would be abhorrent in Judaism with the idea that you are judged based only on your life and works and not on your heart. People can have a great-seeming external life but their inside is full of pride, hatred, unforgiveness, and envy. Christ teaches we must repent of what is on our inside, not just the exterior. For instance, he taught to be angry with your brother makes you a murderer of him. Just avoiding the physical crime is not enough.
So having looked at all of these religions, we can see that their core teachings are vastly different than each other. There is no common unifying theme of how to achieve redemption and be saved. Therefore, you must pick which faith you will go with as you cannot believe them all when they contradict each other. Jesus, Buddha and Allah are not the same true God. Only one is true and the others are liars or make-belief. For me my experience has led me to choose Pentecostal Christianity, as it is the religion with the most power and actual experience of the supernatural. Besides this, many of Christ’s teachings we take for granted in our culture. Hospitals, Orphanages, Mass-education, and welfare for the poor were all Christian reforms brought into the world based on Christ’s teachings. We would be in a much darker place without Christianity in our world. There were some terrible historical things done by the Roman Catholic church in the name of Christ, by kings and popes, but this was opposite to what Christ taught. Even within the umbrella of Christianity not all paths lead to God. There are many false religions and denominations. Be careful and good luck in your searching. Never lose the desire for truth. If you keep your heart humble with a pure desire to obey the truth, pray to God and he will guide you into all truth. Be blessed.