Religions: Aren’t They All The Same
I’d like to ask you a few questions as we begin our time together today… They are real easy questions to answer. OKAY – here we go.
• Is every soft drink the same?
• Is every french fry the same?
• Is all music the same?
• Is all fried chicken the same?
• Is all make up the same
• Is every ice cream the same?
• Is every donut the same?
• Is every restaurant the same?
• Is every; car, house, college football team, mattress, hotel, shampoo, soap, razor, tooth paste, chicken sandwich, church, teacher……the same?
LISTEN – we all know that those things are not the same… And why is that BECAUSE – they look different, feel different, taste different, have different stuff in them
Today’s conversation is entitled – “Relgions Aren’t They All The Same?”
QUESTION – have you ever encountered anyone who thinks that way? (I have) Do you think there is a large and vocal part of our culture, who wants us to think that way? (you better believe there is, it’s called PC – and that doesn’t mean ‘personal computers’ it means ‘politically correct.’
And since 911 and the war on terror it is getting worse all of the time…
GUYS – the topic we are going to try to tackle this morning is huge, - I went to my Thesaurus to find a few more words to describe the topic before us today; here are a few; Our topic today IS: immense, enormous, gigantic, titanic, colossal, sizeable, monumental, massive, extensive, galactic, cosmic, monstrous, mammoth – in other words, our topic today, is really – really big!!!
I MEAN - Colleges have entire courses on this – there are tons of book and web sites about this subject. FRIENDS – my challenge this week as I sat before my computer… as I; read books, surfed the net and scribbled stuff down on paper was – HOW could I, in the brief time that we have this morning give you some practical stuff, some good stuff (that will enable you to answer questions and give the reasons for the hope that you have) - without completely overwhelming you – and causing you to scream, “STOP STEVE – my head hurts!”
WELL – all I can say is that was my goal… AND – the condition of your head when we are through we tell me if I met it…. BUT – if you listen up I will give some good stuff, some basic stuff, some summary statements that will help you see that the statement, “All Religions Are The Same” is not true…
The Compact Guide To World Religions – Dean Halverson, General Editor
But Don’t All Relgions Lead To God? – Michael Green
World Relions made Simple – Mark Water
Jesus Among Other God’s – Ravi Zacharias
NOW – there are a lot of different religions we could look at this morning BUT I have limited our discussion to just 4… Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity… AND – the reason is because they represent over 76% of the world’s population…
CHECKOUT – the chart in your outline….
World-Wide (% of population) United States (growth rate from
1990 - 2001)
Christianity – 2 billion 33% 159 million 5%
Islam - 1.3 billion 22% 1.1 million 109%
Hinduism – 900 million 15% .766 million 237%
Non religious – 850 million 14% 27.5 million 110%
Buddhism – 360 million 6% 1.08 million 170%
Other - 600 million 10%
THE FIRST – point in your notes is:
I. Two Popular BUT False Statements
“It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe As Long As You Are Sincere”
QUESTION - have you ever heard anyone say that? Have you ever said that? Why would people make such a statement? I think for several reasons…
SOME people make it simply because they don’t want to get into an argument about religion. HEY – you believe what you want and I will believe what I want… and we’ll just join hands and sing Kumbaya.
OTHERS – make this statement because they never really stop to think…They never stop to think how illogical that statement really is…
UNDERSTAND – sincerity does not make something right or true. Have you ever been sincere about an answer on a test – but find out you were sincerely wrong.
LISTEN – you can sincerely believe with all your heart that 2 + 2 = 5, BUT – it will not change the reality that 2 + 2 = 4. (For centuries people sincerely believed that the sun revolved around the earth – but Galileo following Copernicus showed that this was not true… You could sincerely believed that eating lots of fatty & sugary foods, being 100 pounds overweight, never exercising and getting only 2 hours of sleep a night --- is the best way to live a healthy and long life – (and if you do – I suggest you make sure that your life insurance premiums are up to date)…
AND – a couple weeks back when Duke University put a new heart and lungs in a teenage girl they sincerely believed that had done everything right – BUT they didn’t change the horrible outcome of their mistake…
A third reason people why people make such a statement especially in the USA is because we are a very practical people… We are not very famous for our philosophical thinking – INSTEAD – we think HEY if it works for someone – helps them feel fulfilled, keeps things moving – THEN why mess with it…
AND – a 4th reason why people make such a statement, I think goes a little bit deeper… YOU SEE – religion is about some very fundamental & important issues – issues people don’t really want to look very close at because it makes them uncomfortable. LISTEN – many people would rather live for the here and now and shut our eyes to complex issues like life and death, heaven or hell.
“All Religions Are The Same”
THINK ABOUT – that statement for a minute – all religions are the same… NOW – I think I know why people would make such a statement… BECAUSE – it is the tolerant and the nice thing to do.
YOU SEE – we all want to get along, AND today our world (with all the modern technology) is so much smaller we are exposed to so much - and today even in our country there is a good chance that we will occasionally rub shoulders with people who believe in a different religion. AND – do you know what; they are good people, they are nice people – they may even life next to us, they may be the kind of people who would cut our grass and pick up our mail when we are out of town…
AND LISTEN – in the cultural climate of our day the last thing we want to do is to tell them that what they believe is wrong, is not true… HEY – it’s much simpler and it is definitely politically correct – and it will get you 2 thumbs up from Phil & Oprah - to think they we are all pursuing the same God – we’re just taking different paths up to the mountain top…
BUT LISTEN - all religions can’t be true. Why? because – they all teach things that contradict, things that our opposite from each other.
I MEAN – how can a religion that says Jesus Christ is God and a religion that says he was just a great man both be true?
How can a religion that claims that God is just an impersonal force and one that says God is an up close and compassionate father – both be true?
THEY CAN’T! NOW – all religions could be wrong, BUT all religions can’t be true…
AND LISTEN – even though for the most part, only Christianity gets nailed and criticized for it - every religion at its core is exclusive – says that it is the only right way… One writer I read said the following, “It is the academics sitting in their studies who write books saying that all religions are the same: the practitioners on the ground think differently…”
FOR EXAMPLE – Islam is an exclusive religion, AND to prove that point let me read just a few passages from the Koran;
“The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam.” Koran 3:19
“He that chooses a religion over Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the world to come he will be one of the lost.” Koran 3:86
“As for unbelievers, it is the same whether or not you forewarn them; they will not have faith. God has set a seal upon their hearts and ears; their sight is dimmed and grievous punishment awaits them.” Koran 2:2-6
QUESTION - if Christianity is a stumbling block because Jesus said he's the only way, then why don't people reject Hinduism for the same reasons. Or Buddhism, or Islam? (I believe it is because Christianity IS true and they are false and the evil one has blinded them to the truth)
LISTEN - since the claim of being the only way isn't unique to Christianity. AND - because there's so much difference between each of the other world religions, it's obvious they can't all be true.
YES – on the surface all religions may seem the same – BECAUSE they may have some similarities (which should not surprise us) – BUT just like with all soda, cars, ice cream and chicken sandwiches, A closer look (which we are about to do) reveals that the religions of the world are all made up of a lot of a lot of different stuff, different teachings…
QUESTION – what are the statements that are false?
1. It does Matter what you Believe as long as you are Sincere
2. All religions are the same
II. Where Did These Religions Came From?
AGAIN – we only have time for brief summaries…
The founder of Islam is Mohammed who was born in 570 AD to a Arabian tribe in Mecca. At the time he was born Mecca was the Center of trade and religious activity (and note the religion was polytheistic – many gods). Muhammad was a camel driver until the age of 25, when he met and married a wealthy lady who was 15 years older than him. For the next 15 years Mohammed ran the family fruit business.
NOW – at the time, it was the practice of those who were religious to go out once a year to some caves outside of Mecca to pray and mediate. WELL - on one such occasion when Mohammed was about 40 years old, (according to Mohammed)… the angel Gabriel appeared to him with the first of many messages. Islam claims that Gabriel came to Mohammed because the true religion of God had become corrupted.
BASICALLY - Mohammed claimed to be the true biological heir of Abraham through Ishmael. THEREFORE - he considered himself to be in direct succession with the Old and New Testament prophets (including Jesus) with he, Mohammed, being the final and last prophet of the God of the bible.
BECAUSE OF THIS – Mohammed first went to the both the Christians and the Jews to try to get them to follow him, calling on them to pray towards Jerusalem. When they refused – Mohammed started his own way, the way of Islam, which in Arabic means submission…calling on them to pray towards Mecca.
Now – the message that Gabriel gave Mohammed was that their was only one God… BUT – the religion in Arabia was one of many gods. SO - Mohammed decided, that he would select, from among the gods known to the Arabs of his day, Allah to be the only God (Allah at the time was known as the moon God). Muhammad said that the chief duty of man is to submit to the will of Allah.
It was partly by conquest and partly by influence and persuasion that Mohammed gained both political and religious supremacy throughout Arabia. He died in 632 AD.
Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (who is known as the Buddha, which means enlightened one) who was born in 563 BC to a wealthy Hindu family. NOW – Siddhartha, was the typical spoiled rich kid – his dad gave him everything he wanted – at the age of 16, he was married to the most beautiful girls available… He lived a ‘sheltered’ life of pleasure and luxury…
THEN – in his 29th year a pivotal event happened in his life. For the first time he left his sheltered life and stepped into the real world. AND – on that day he became aware of the tragedy of the human condition as for the first time in his life; a sick person, a frail old man, a corpse, and a person living in poverty.
THIS – had a major impact on his life – it caused him to renounce his royal life, declaring that family, friends, riches, power, and honor are meaningless.
SO – Siddhartha left everything, and lived the life of a wandering seeker for six years. During that time he tried all kinds of things in an effort to figure out life. For a long time he tried asceticism (which is basically punishing and denying the body things) – he lived by eating seeds, grass, animal dung, laying on thorns, holding his breathe, not shaving – he did this to such a degree that he almost died.
Siddhartha was majorly discouraged – he did not know what to do – neither indulging himself in luxury OR denying himself seemed to have the meaning to life. SO – he admitted to himself that he was a defeated man. He some food and then sat under a bo tree near a rivers edge and vowed not to get up again until he figured things out – and then he went into deep meditation. AND - in this moment, he later claimed, there came to him an illumination concerning both the cause and the cure for the misery of existence. This illumination was what later caused him to be called the Buddha, "the enlightened one."
AFTER this he would devoted himself to teaching others, what he called the 4 noble truths, so that they too might find deliverance from human suffering.
Four Noble Truths;
1. Life is suffering
2. Suffering is caused by desire
3. If you get rid of desire you get rid of suffering
4. Desire can be overcome by following the middle way (between indulging & denying) -
5. Thru 8 fold path
The Eightfold Path;
1. Step One – Right understanding (understanding Buddha’s teaching especially the 4 noble truths)
2. Step Two – Right thinking (having the correct attitude toward the middle path)
3. Step Three – Right speaking (don’t lie, slander, boast about yourself or use any offensive speech)
4. Step Four – Right acting (behave in moral ways overcome evil with good)
5. Step Five – Right lifestyle (refusing any work that involves selling alcohol, causng bloodshed or slave trading)
6. Step Six – Right effort (concentrating on things that are good and tranquail)
7. Step Seven – Right awareness (think before they speak)
8. Step Eight – Right mediatation (this will liead to enlightenment)
NOW - Hinduism has no founder and there is no single event that we can say here is where it started. The origins of Hinduism can be traced back to around 1500 BC in what is now India. It began as a polytheistic and ritualistic religion. The rituals were at first simple enough to be performed by the head of the household. BUT – as the centuries passed, they become more complex – and as a result a priestly class had to be created to make sure things were done right. These priests become the only way people could approach their gods AND the priests therefore gain great control over the people… In about 600 BC the people got tired of it and they revolted. AND – the form of Hinduism that emerged emphasized internal meditation over external ritual.
NOW - Hinduism to you may seem like an alien religion of people on the other side of the world, but UNDERSTAND - Hinduism has infiltrated our culture in all sorts of ways. You're probably familiar with most of the basic Hindu concepts without even realizing it. Have you seen the Star Wars movies? They are full of Hindu ideas. Ever watch Dharma and Greg on TV? "Dharma" is an important Hindu term for moral duty.
30% of Americans believe in reincarnation, which is a Hindu concept. Transcendental Meditation is thinly disguised Hinduism. X Beatle, George Harrison's song "My Sweet Lord" invokes a chant to a Hindu God called Krishna. New Age philosophy is Hinduism wrapped in Western garb.
NOW – I am not going to spend much time with this BECAUSE – I’m pretty confident that just about everyone here – has an idea of where Christianity came from…
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:1-3
LISTEN – Christianity does NOT have it’s origins in man seeking after God, BUT in God seeking after man. YOU SEE – Christianity recognizes the obvious truth that God is too great and man is too small and sinful, to be able to know God, UNLESS God chooses to revel himself. AND – God has through both the prophets and His Son…
III. What Writings Guide These Religions?
‘Koran’ - which means ‘the recitation’ it is believed to be God’s final message to mankind. It contains the words that Gabriel spoke to Mohammed over a 23 year period. The Koran is the about the same length of the New Testament and has 114 chapters. The contents of the Koran are not arranged according to subject matter and they are not in chronological order. Rather they are arranged according to length. Shortest at the end – longest at the beginning.
For 600 hundreds the teachings of Buddha were passed down by word of mouth – it was not until the 1st century AD that they were finally written down – it what is called the Pali canon.
The chief writings of Hinduism are called ‘Vedas’ a word that means ‘knowledge’.
The teachings of Christianity are found in the bible – That unique, accurate and supernatural book that we talked about a few weeks back.
IV. Why These Religions Are Not The Same
What I want to do here is to briefly share with you what the 4 major religions that represent 76% of the words population teach about God - Salvation and the after life.
AND – as we do this you will see that these 4 religions are not the same BECAUSE; they make different claims; FIRST
They Make Different Claims About God
Buddha, contrary to popular belief, never claimed to be god. In fact, he was agnostic about the existence of God. If God existed, the Buddha taught, he could not help an individual achieve enlightenment. Each person must work this out for him or herself. Therefore – even if there was a God he was pretty irrelevant – Buddhism is a religion without God…
NOW - Hinduism is tremendously diverse. It encompasses those who believe in one reality (which they call ‘Brahman’), as well as those who believe in many gods--as many as 330 million! Most Hindus believe that the universe & the physical world is just an illusion, or maya.
The Hindu god - whether he is one, three, ten or 330 million is just an impersonal force. REMEMBER - In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke that everything--the tree, the rock, etc.--is all part of "The Force." This is monism: the belief that all is one. Nothing is distinct and separate from anything else.
YOU SEE – in Hinduism. All is one, all is god--and that means that we are god. In her book and movie "Out on a Limb," Shirley McLane relates a time when she stood on a beach, embracing this concept and declaring, "I am god! I am god!" It's a very Hindu concept. UNDERSTAND – according to Hinduism man’s primary problem, is that he has forgotten that he is divine.
In Islam we have a God much closer to the Christian concept of God. Islam God is separate from his creation, sovereign, all powerful, has spoken to man through prophets, knows the thoughts of man, he is one (but not God the Father, Son & Spirit)… NOW - there are some who want to say that Allah is the same as the God of the bible - But when we take a close look at the Muslim concept of god, we see that this is not true….
In the Koran;
Allah is a distant, unknowable, impossible to approach or comprehend…
YOU SEE - Allah is not a god that you can know personally. Islam teaches that god is too highly exalted to enter into any kind of relationship with man. UNDERSTAND - revelation in Islamic theology does not mean God disclosing himself… It is a revelation from God, not revelation of God… Man can only know only Allah’s laws and commands – he cannot know Allah. And the only proper response to Allah’s will is islam (which we said earlier means, submission).
Allah is not presented in the Koran, as a god of grace – therefore when a Muslim prays he always pray for mercy.
One writer I read – said that the chief lack in the Islamic doctrine of God – is that of love. He writes; “The orthodox Muslim cannot say that God is love.
Also - in the Koran we read that Allah “loves not the prodigals (6:172; 7:31) and that “Allah loves not those who do wrong” (3:140) AND that “Allah desires to afflict them for their sins” (5:49).
LISTEN – the God of Christianity is not a irrelevant like the Buddhist god
He is not just an impersonal force like the Hindu God
He is not an unknowable, graceless, desiring to punish sinners, inaccessible god - who does not reveal himself to us OR desire to have a personal relationship with us like the god of Islam.
The God of Christianity is a compassionate father, who loves us, guides and desires to be with us…
He is a God who loved us when we were his enemies, a god who longs for prodigals to come home and runs to embrace them when they do.
He is Holy, Mighty, Gracious, Merciful, Kind, forgiving, just, good, He is the alpha and the omega - the beginning and the end, He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and he is near as close as the air we breathe…
OKAY - what's our conclusion from this observation about God? Friends, these world religions cannot all be correct or pointing in the same direction. BECAUSE - they hold contradictory positions about who God is.
They Make Different Claims About The After Life
In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is Nirvana, or the extinction of desire. NOW UNDERSTAND – Nirvana is not heaven, it is a state of extinction, where one’s essence – which does not actually exist in the first place is extinguished like a candle flame, marking the end of desire and thus the end of suffering. THEREFORE - the goal of Buddhism - is non-existence.
In Hinduism, the ultimate goal is Moksha, which means, ‘release or liberation,’ from the wheel of birth-death and rebirth. REMEMBER – as we said earlier that according to Hindu teaching mankind’s main problem is that he has forgotten that he is divine – WELL when you reach Moksha, you remember that you are divine - and then you get absorbed by the into Brahman, the ultimate reality… This experience is likened to the return of a drop of water to the ocean. In Hinduism there is no heaven – only losing one’s identity in the universal oneness…
In Islam heaven is thought of as a paradise of wine, women and song (you can see why this is a popular religion with men). AND – paradise is achieved by living a life in which, ironically, one abstains from the things, which he or she will be rewarded with in paradise. AND – even in paradise Islam teaches that people will not really know Allah as he really is – they will still not really have a personal relationship with him.
What does Christianity teach about the after-life. It teaches that those who is this life receive Jesus Christ – will have a pretty awesome eternity…
They are not stuffed out like a candle or absorbed into nothingness – like a drop of water returning to the ocean. They will not live in a sensual paradise with wine and woman.
RATHER - the bible teaches that Christians – after this life… Will be at home with the Lord, they will get a new body. And God will live with them in a heaven – a place without sorrow, tears, pain, sin, death or disease… a place where will live in unhindered fellowship with God and with each other….
LISTEN – all religions cannot be the same because they all teach something different about the after life…
The Make Different Claims About Salvation
NOW - Hinduism is based upon the belief that how you live this life will determine how you get to live your next life. If you live well in this life, you'll be reincarnated in your next life to a higher level. If you live in this life poorly, you'll be reincarnated in the next life in a lower level. Maybe someday you'll reach Mohsha, or liberation, which ultimately releases you from the rebirth process in instant awareness of bliss.
Very few people, if any, ever expect to receive this. They don't even know how to go about doing that, except to continue trying to live as good a life as possible, so they can continue moving up the rungs of the ladder.
Buddhism's goal is to see the suffering of life extinguished through the elimination of desires,
that lead to Nirvana, or salvation. This is obtained through the eight-fold noble path. This path consists of; right: understanding, thought, speech, action, lifestyle, effort, meditation and awareness. UNDERSTAND - from first to last, Buddhism asks you to work hard, very hard, and hopefully you'll attain Nirvana, but maybe not. You can't be sure. It all depends on how much work you invest.
Islam is very similar – in connecting our salvation to our works. If you keep the five pillars of Islam, the five simple duties; of prayer five times a day, alms giving, fasting during Ramadan, making a pilgrimage AND drinking at the well of the Koran, IF your good deeds outweigh your bad then you'll hopefully make it some day.
HEY – do you see the common thread in these 4 religions it is all about what you do…UNDERSTAND IF – you were to ask a Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim, the question, "Will you achieve Nirvana, Moksha or paradise when you die?" Very few if any would say, "Yes, that will definitely occur," INSTEAD – most will say that they are uncertain and in some cases they may even say, “No, my life is bad. I probably won't make it. There is no way I will ever achieve it."
In Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam salvation is completely and entirely upon your shoulders, and if you can perform well enough, you'll make it.
Christianity turns that entirely on its head. God recognizes that we can never do enough. Our lives are so broken and so fractured that there's no way we will ever perform up to snuff. Instead of making us pursue an endless list of frustrating "do's," God said, "I'm going to send my son to live a perfect life so that everything is already done."
Every world religion is "do." But following Christ is done. This is what Jesus calls us to. It's totally unique. This is why it's called good news.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Eph 2:8,9
Do you remember the passages that I read at the beginning of this message. About God’s love – about him doing immeasurably more – about how no one could has ever thought up of the gospel – of God dying for us…
LISTEN – in Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam we see the things that man thinks up… AND whenever man thinks up religion it always becomes an individual struggle to find God. And God seems to always be out of reach… (I doubt that you or I would have done any better on our own).
LISTEN – all religions are not the same… AND there is one that stands above them all..
It’s about a God who loved us even when we were his enemies
It’s about a God who loved us so much he became one of us
It’s about a God who loved us so much that he died just to be with us