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The World's Four Major Religions Are Not Alike

The central assumption of many in the interfaith dialogue business has been that at their core, all religious people—Hindus and Buddhists, Muslims and Jews, Christians and Animists—are striving for the same thing, and are just using different words and concepts to get there ….. But how true is that assumption?

Let's take a closer look at the four world religions that represent about three-quarters of the global population …. And let's start with the most basic belief in each religion: the idea of God. Within the various streams of Hindu thought alone, there are multiple answers to the question, "Who or what is god?" Hindus can believe that there is one god, 330 million gods, or no god at all. The Vedas, the most ancient of Hindu scriptures, which are accepted by most Hindus as normative, teach that atman is Brahman, or "the soul is god," meaning that god is in each of us and each of us is part of god. The common greeting, Namaste, which means, roughly, "The god within me recognizes and greets the god within you," reflects this belief.

In his apologetic for the Buddhist faith, Ven S. Dhammika, the author of several popular books on Buddhism, writes, "Do Buddhists believe in god? No, we do not. There are several reasons for this. The Buddha, like modern sociologists and psychologists, believed that religious ideas and especially the god idea have their origin in fear. The Buddha says, 'Gripped by fear, men go to the sacred mountains, sacred groves, sacred trees and shrines.' " So, for most orthodox Buddhists (in the Theravada tradition), the concept of a personal supreme being is at best unimportant, at worst an oppressive superstition.

What about Islam? In the Qur'an, sura 112 ayat 1-4, we read, "Say: He is Allah, the One and Only. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute. He begets not, nor is he begotten. And there is none like unto him." This passage in a primer for Muslim children puts it simply: "Allah is absolute, and free from all defects and has no partner. He exists from eternity and shall remain eternal. All are dependent on him, but he is independent of all. He is father to none, nor has he any son."

In contrast, Christians believe that there is one God who is creator of the world. He is a personal God, a conscious, free, and righteous being. And he is not only a personal God but a God of providence who is involved in the day-to-day affairs of creation. He is a righteous God who expects ethical behavior from each of us. He expects his followers to live out their belief by loving him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and by loving their neighbors as themselves. God, while one in essence, also reveals himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So according to the four largest world religions, God is one with creation and takes on millions of forms, God may or may not exist, God is one and absolute, and God is one but exists in three persons.

If we cannot agree on even the basic definition of God or his character, how can we say that all the major religions are on the same path toward the truth about God?

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