It’s no secret that religions, doctrines, and dogmas from the Eastern world are making a substantive impact in the contemporary West. This is almost certainly due to online cross border/culture communication, via television, and a host of other modern technologies that have shrunk the globe and turned the world into a global village. The New Age religion, an amalgamation of Eastern religious practices and doctrines, is one peak in this influential movement that captures the minds of many younger people who enjoy the mysteries of spiritualism and that of the divine. The massive growth is also due to those who wish to extend beyond the confines of traditional religion, which in the West happens to be Christianity, in search for something diverse, mysterious, cultural, expressive, and foreign. As a result it is no longer surprising to see books, or sacred texts, dedicated to these religions in our Western bookstores, for instance one should, with minimal effort, come across the Vedas of Hinduism, the Pali Canon of Buddhism, and the Yi-Ching of Confucianism. More Eastern religions would also include Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, and others.
However, in this brief blog article I wish to illustrate several differences between that of the Eastern religions and Christianity. This would help to give readers a better understanding of these mysterious Eastern faith systems that we may hear very little about in the West if one does not actively seek it. This blog article is surely by no means exhaustive. I shall add future additions in blog posts.
1) The concept of God:
In an Eastern worldview, Hinduism for instance, God is an impersonal force or principle that does not transcend nature, in other words the Hindus, and many other Easterners, are pantheists who believe that God is part of the natural world. This is entirely antithetical to Christian theism in the way that the Christian God totally transcends his creation. The Christian God is also personal as he is manifest in his creation, in our rationality, in our moral compass, and perhaps most notably in the historical person of Jesus. The Christian concept of God is an eternal, living, spirit being (John 4:24), who is the creator and sustainer of his universe (Acts 17:24; Colossians 1:16-17), and not part of it, as Hindus believe.
2) God vs. gods:
Orthodox Christianity also affirms monotheism, the view that there is just one God in the form of three distinct persons (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), whereas the majority of Hindus are pantheistic and for the most part are polytheistic (belief in many gods).
Being polytheistic Hinduism has a pantheon of over 300 million of these gods, the most popular of these are Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu of all who have come to earth in various incarnations to the aid of human beings or avatars.
3) Oneness with God:
Furthermore, an Eastern worldview is also diametrically opposed to Christian theism in the way that he ultimate goal of humanity is to become one with nature because nature is God. Proponents such as Deepak Chopra believe that all humans are divine and they just don’t realise it, and that they must attain ultimate oneness with this divine being. In Christianity man is made in God’s image and this is distinct from both nature and God. The Eastern thought of man being divine sounds very similar to the very temptation by Satan in Eden: “The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”” (Genesis 3:4, italics mine)
4) A View of the universe:
Christianity and Hinduism also differ greatly in their conception of the universe, or its beginning. In another blog article I noted that the Hindu sacred texts hold to a problematic view of the universe by denying Big Bang cosmology in favour of the oscillating model. In The Bible (Genesis 1:1) “God created the heavens and the earth,” which sounds very much like the current scientific consensus of the Big Bang event. As the physicist Victor Weisskopf succinctly puts it: “The Judeo-Christian tradition describes the beginning of the world in a way that is surprisingly similar to the scientific model.” (Weisskopf, Victor F. Quoted in: ‘The World of Physics’)
5) Jesus’ radical self-concept and uniqueness:
Buddhism is quite different to some other Eastern religions, and is based off a belief system espoused by Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama). Buddha was considered as enlightened, and his teachings encourage followers to rid suffering by understanding the Four Noble Truths. Altogether this is different to that of Jesus who not only proclaimed the one true Kingdom of God, but also claimed to be the only way to God (John 14:6), be the same as God (John 10:30), and tells us that we will suffer in this world (1 Peter 4:13; Matthew 10:22). Jesus claimed to be one with God on various occasions, and this we see in his favourite self-designation as the “Son of Man” which is described in length in Daniel 7 of the Old Testament, and of which Jesus applies to himself. This is unlike Buddha, and Krishna (Muhammad, Smith, and others) who never claimed such a thing, and thus Jesus stands in a class of his own. We are also told that Jesus is close to us in a personal way, in fact closer than any brother (Proverbs 18:24), but in Buddhism we have no personal relationship with Buddha.
6) As a matter of history:
In some of the forms of Buddhism the historical reality of Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha, is irrelevant, or insignificant, in the way one can be a committed Buddhist without even acknowledging Buddha’s one time existence. That is impossible for Christianity as the entire belief system hinges upon Jesus, and his resurrection. On the other hand Hinduism has no known founder, prophet, or king that know of, nor does Confucianism have historical verification to support and establish it as a divine system. The teaching of Confucius basically was neither religious nor philosophical, but merely social.
The Hindu Vedas are also not historical documents in the way that the Old and New Testaments are, of which detail many peoples, cultures, cities, nations etc. Many narratives in the Vedas are praises to many gods while other narratives seem to be that of mythical stories and events. From this it is difficult to discern whether the narratives are actually intended to be taken as history or symbolical. These details significantly separate the Christian religion from other Eastern faiths, and this has lead E.F. Harrison to wrote that:
“Some religions, both ancient and modern, require no historical basis, for they depend upon ideas rather than events. Christianity is not one of these.” (Harrison, E.P. ‘A Short Life of Christ’, 1968)
7) Reincarnation vs. Sin:
Eastern religion does not see man as one who has been separated from God, as opposed to Christian theism that clearly illustrates that all men have fallen short of the glory of God through sin (Romans 3:23), and thus are separated from God (Isaiah 59:2), even though we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27). Subsequently, in Hinduism the soul has always existed and will continue to exist until via a process of rebirths it has merged with the ultimate reality Brahman. The process of enlightenment and the journey to the ultimate reality is undergirded by the doctrine of karma – this means that everything from joy, sadness, wealth, health and affliction is the result of karma that is a debt paid off over lives, and in our present lives. This debt accumulates as a result bad choices and deeds one does in his life, and thus karma is simply seen as neither good nor bad, just reality.
Such is again antithetical to Christian theism in the way that mans is his own saviour, he via decisions and choices will determine his future, as one commentator, David Bentley, adds: “It is an evolutionary process to be achieved by one’s own effort.” Whereas in Christianity Jesus is the only redeemer and the way to salvation. We cannot save ourselves, hence why God sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus is the one who bridged chasm between humankind and God.
8) The notion of eternity:
Much of Buddhism and Hinduism seems to be about escape. One must pay off their karmic debt to achieve oneness with an ultimate reality, for the Buddhist he longs for Nirvana, the transcendent state in which there is no more suffering, desire, sense of self, and the where the person is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.
Whereas on Christianity there is a place called Heaven in which believers will go to be with God for eternity. In that place there will be fellowship with God(John 14:3, Revelation 21:3), it will be a place of reward (Matthew 5:12), and where believers will inherit new bodies that shall not decay (Philippians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:42). In a nutshell, Heaven will be the place where humans were meant to be.
Quite to the contrary of some proponents of pluralism in our age that propound the notion that all religions or belief systems are the same, or that they are just different avenues to God, I think falls short of actuality. We clearly have seen that these differences above, of which are by no means exhaustive, illustrate this. These differences are significant, and significant to the extent that the various doctrines of each religion are antithetical to one other, hence irreconcilable. Of course the differences between each of the religions, and their correspondence to reality, must be further explored.