The pantheon of religious beliefs offers us a mosaic of world religions to choose from. There are literally thousands of belief systems about a transcendent supernatural realm of higher power. Throughout history, people have become compelled by one belief system and aligned themselves with its cause. But what convinces man that what he believes is actually true? Can something be true merely because we believe it? Certainly not, unless we like the hypocrisy of circular reasoning. Is something true because it works? Is it true because it makes us feel good? Or is it true because it is based on facts and evidence? There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when we could pose such questions.
Can the truth about God be the total sum of the various parts of world religions? At first glance, this seems a practical argument. It is fair to assume, without digging deeper into the facts, that we simply have a panoply of different views of basically the same supernatural higher power; that the differences among religions are superficial. Thus, we see a growing trend of people who identify themselves with two and three different religions. All the religions are considered part of the greater reality of the supernatural power and all religions are largely said to lead to the same destination for those who are "good" and those who are "bad" respectively.
All religions make truth claims, and their credibility is determined by the veracity of those claims. Many claims are not directly testable, but their philosophy can be assessed in light of the reality we experience. We can measure the claims that are testable and if they fail to provide us with a reasonable expectation of truthfulness then we can reject them.
By using what we know of the reality of the universe and our world, we can start putting the pieces together, trying to figure out the differences in all the claims from what is possible and probable to what is improbable and impossible. In so doing, we can also see if the distinctions between the major religions are possible to reconcile. We can start at the core – with the foundational positions and teachings of a random set of major worldviews.
|Christianity||Secular Naturalism||Islam||Eastern Religions|
|Where did we come from?||Created by God||Arose out of soup and are the result of time and chance||Created by God||Reincarnated; life's an endless cycle with no lasting meaning|
|Why do sin and suffering exist?||The Fall; human responsibility||Oppression of society; chains of culture||No sense of original sin – simply obey Allah||Fail to achieve the right karma; desires cause suffering|
|Is there a way out?||Redemption; death on cross; atonement of sins – heaven||No, death is final. Aim is man-made heaven on Earth - utopia||No sense of grace; good works and faith in Allah||Attain through meditation a higher state of consciousness|
|What's my purpose?||Restoring fallen society and doing God's will||Eat, drink and be merry; self-fulfillment; no lasting purpose||Obedience and submission of the world to Allah||Accept your punishment if you've been bad. Chance at a new life to do better.|
Christians believe that the universe was created by God and had a beginning. Hindus and Buddhists believe that the universe had no beginning and has no end. Either the universe had a beginning and will have an end or it is eternal. They cannot both be true. The scientific perspective on the subject is in agreement with Christianity. We absolutely must admit that in no circumstances can Christianity and Hinduism/Buddhism all be right on this particular issue.
What else does Buddhism claim? It is skeptical about reality. It is skeptical about personhood. It teaches that the self is an illusion. It teaches that everything is an illusion. In Buddhism, concepts such as forgiveness and redemption are entirely meaningless. Everything is in a stateless obscurity. There is no consciousness after death. There's no real purpose to life. There is no distinction between good and evil. There is no God who is involved with the dealings of mankind. It stresses the virtue of goodness without actually being able to define it for us in and of itself. It claims that desire is the root of suffering, so it suggests that the way to avoid suffering is to simply not desire anything. Thus it aims to cut out all desire as a means of achieving a state of painless existence. It is an ongoing cycle of reincarnation, which is said to culminate when one achieves nirvana, the highest state of consciousness, at which point the illusion that is the self will be joined to the oneness of the cosmic consciousness of the universe.
In stark contrast, Christians assert that the reality we know is truly the reality there is; that there is a personal God, who not only looks after human events, but has also revealed Himself through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christianity is clear that life is full of purposes, and chief among them are trusting in God, restoring fallen society with love and grace and doing God's will.
Hinduism claims that the reason there are pain and suffering in the world is because we have failed to achieve the right karma. Christianity asserts that there are pain and suffering in the world because of the fallen nature of man caused by man's pride, conceit and disobedience to God, and the use of man's own free will to cause harm.
Judaism sees Jesus as a fraud who tried to deceive Israel and draw followers after Himself. The Jewish writings, also known as the Christian Old Testament, written hundred of years before Jesus, include prophesies of a Messiah. Jews deny that Jesus was this foretold Messiah, while Christians point to dozens of specific prophecies within those writings and assert that Jesus fits the description and fulfills those prophesies with extreme exactitude. Islam thinks of Jesus as a prophet but it denies him as God. It claims that Jesus was not even crucified and did not die on the cross, while Christians assert that Jesus did in fact die on the cross, and was also raised from the dead on the third day. All credible historians agree that Jesus was in fact crucified and did die on the cross, and medical science agrees based on the depictions of the events.
Christians believe that God is spirit. Mormons, however, believe, under the proclamation of their founder, Joseph Smith, that God was once as we are now and is just an exalted man. Mormonism holds to a plurality of gods and contends that men can become gods as well. Mormonism claims that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer (Satan) and is our elder brother, since He was supposedly an emanation from the procreation of a mother god and a father god. In Mormonism, humans are said to have existed for eternity and only now have taken on human flesh. The Book of Mormon is held as the most correct of any book. Salvation is said to be gained by doing good works to gain God's favor. Mormonism holds to three levels of heaven, with the final level being the deification of man as he becomes a god himself. Mormonism is often referred to as just another sect of Christianity, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Mormonism and Christianity are distinct in many senses.
All these belief systems are mutually exclusive. The irreconcilable differences between the various belief systems are clearly evident. The possibilities we have then are these: either only one is right or they are all wrong. There simply is no way for them all to be right.
Without the core beliefs that each one espouses, they would all be deemed heretical to themselves. Can we ask a Buddhist to believe all else about his religion but sacrifice his pantheistic perspective? Can we ask a Hindu to believe as he may wish but throw away his notion of reincarnation? Can we ask a Christian to be a Christian without stressing the deity of Jesus Christ? To try to unify these belief systems into one that encompasses all would mean the rejection of the core beliefs of each. Asking such an amputation of their key doctrines from each religion undermines the very foundations of them all. In other words, we are asking for the major belief systems to reject their core beliefs simply for the sake of an ideal cohesion for all of humanity – a radical mashing up of teachings simply for the sake of unifying the vast array of beliefs. This is simply impossible to do without undermining all the composing parts.
Should we be free to mash up beliefs in this manner simply because we choose to reject the notion that one belief system can give us the truth about God? Doesn't that give us a combination of a horribly crippled set of ideas with which we think we are building the truth? Before we start molding the truth to the impulses of our own hearts, it would be much more profitable to look not for a reconciliation of the different beliefs, but for things which are false. This has to start at the emotional level. Emotions are infamous for being unreliable. Though one may feel wonderful by believing that unicorns are real, those feelings will not dictate that they must be real. Joy and desire do not spur concepts into reality.
We must be ready and willing to reject things that may be of nothing but an emotional nature. If we really want the truth we should be prepared to seek it. We must not be shy with exclusivity – the very nature of truth demands it. After all, 10 + 10 = 20, and though some answers will come closer to the truth than others (19 is closer to the truth than 5), in the end there is one and only one right answer. Every other answer is wrong. The answer is 20 and that is the end of it. But what if someone was insulted by the number 20 and preferred the number 5 instead? Should we change the answer or blur the question in order to cater to their emotional state of being?
So how can we test the reliability of religious claims? We can do so by examining some of their key teachings to see if they correspond with the reality we know; we can test to see if they are internally consistent with our moral infrastructure; and better still, we can test to see if their claims are consistent with the historical record.
Find out why an increasing number of scientists, philosophers and historians believe there is reasonable cause for belief in God: