What You Need to Know About World Religions

What You Need to Know About World Religions

Billions of people on this planet don't share your Christian faith.
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It used to take weeks of travel by boat to see the world. Then came the invention of the plane, cutting those trips down to hours. These days, it might only take a walk around the block. In many neighborhoods, it's not unlikely to run into people from another country at the supermarket or find them living next door. In the Uptown area of Chicago alone, there are 50 different languages spoken.

The world is here.

As a Christian, you might feel a little intimidated and confused by beliefs that seem so different from your own. We'd like to help calm your fears and clear up the confusion with this special section on non-Christian religions.

This article looks at Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. We hope you'll learn more about these religions and see what makes Christianity unique. And we hope you'll build friendships with people of other faiths, if you haven't already. As you do, you'll have many opportunities to show your friends—through your words and your actions—what being a Christian is all about.


What's the main idea?

"Hinduism" is a Western term (meaning "religion of the Indians") for a religious culture that includes almost as many beliefs as gods. And some Hindu groups claim to have 330 million gods! What unites Hindus is a common adherence to the caste system—an arrangement that determines a person's social status—and devotion to any number of deities and scriptures. Probably the most significant gods (who are often viewed as three parts of one whole) are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver of that creation; and Shiva, known mainly as the destroyer. The important texts in Hinduism include the Vedas (the earliest writings) and the Bhagavad Gita (an epic poem).

The overriding concept in Hinduism is the unity of all life. In Hinduism there is really only one divine essence or soul which encompasses the entire universe—people, gods, nature and so on. A Hindu is trapped at a certain level in the caste system in an endless process of life, death and rebirth (reincarnation) called samsara. The sum of that person's good and bad deeds is known as karma. The goal of life is to accumulate enough good karma to climb the rungs of the caste system, escape samsara, and be absorbed into the divine essence. This is a long process, typically taking several lifetimes of good living. If a person has enough good karma at the end of his life, he may be reincarnated in a higher caste level. And if someone's life is marked by bad deeds, he may be reincarnated in a lower caste, or even as an animal.

Any common ground?

Hindus claim Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are three gods sharing the same substance. This three-in-one idea isn't a foreign one to Christians, since we understand God in terms of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And like Hindus, Christians believe practicing goodness is vital.

What sets us apart?

Hindus and Christians differ on many points. As Christians, we believe in only one God—not 330 million. We see this earthly life as a prelude to a heavenly existence, rather than one life in a cycle of many others. While Hindus think each person is a part of one great soul or deity, Christians affirm the identity of an individual soul in each person. Though Hindus tend to see deity and the natural world as one and the same (pantheism), Christians make a strong distinction between God and his creation. Finally, Christians view good works as a result of salvation, not a karma-like road to salvation.

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