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Comparing World Religions

Central Institute of Theological Studies

Religious Experiences

             Looking at the various religions or religious experiences through certain spiritual grids can be a very confusing to the uniformed or uneducated individual. Some people are raised in sheltered environments that rarely ever expose them to any religions or belief systems at all. Others are indoctrinated to the “faith of their fathers“ from the moment of birth. Still others seem to wander aimlessly either dabbling occasionally with some sort of religious experience, but they never really grasp what it is they are looking for or are expecting to experience by such encounters. Some people know what they are looking for in a religious experience and never seem to find it.

            There are some people who are driven to correct, refine or reform a particular religious order or movement, and may even do so to the point of martyrdom. Others are creative enough to set up a new belief system or religious practice that generally wraps around their own life experiences, goals, desires or interpretations of sacred writings.

            With these religious experiences there always seems to be a constant competitive force within various religious groups to invite or proselytize others outside of their faith or belief system to join them. This competitive force has caused major political problems, and even full scale wars and military actions to break out in the name of their particular faith. Every religious movement seems to think they are perfect, or at least closer to perfection than their competitive religious neighbors. In Proverbs 21:2 it reads “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (King James Version of the Holy Bible) This truly sums up the basic motivation for the existence of almost all religious movements and sects.


Basic Terminology

             Before we go to far into a comparison and examination of the five major religions, it is necessary to define some of the mentalities people have in general towards their spirituality and their belief systems. These terms are rendered in a very condensed definition and are not exhaustive of the various mentalities that are or can be experienced in various diverse groups of religions.

             In the western mindset of North America we tend to automatically associate “God” with religion or spirituality. However, looking at religions from a more global perspective, we will find that “God” or even “gods” are not relevant to the practice of certain religions or spiritual experiences. For the sake of our own benefit and trying to focus on what is more familiar to our society and culture, we will only examine the five major religions that operate amongst us. The following are a few of the primary theories involved in defining how various religions operate and maintain their existence.  


Monotheism = There is only one supreme being. No other gods or deities exist.

Polytheism = there are multiple gods / deities to be encountered or reckoned with.

Atheism = There are no gods or deities to be encountered or reckoned with.

Agnosticism = There may be a supreme being or beings but personally knowledge of, or experience with such a being is not possible.

Gnosticism = There is a supreme being or beings (deities / gods), and the more knowledge one can gain about such a being the more personal intimacy and experiential value is possible to obtain.


Please Note: Atheism and Gnosticism by definition and practice, are often considered to be actual “religious” movements in their own right. 


Religious World Views

             Every organized faith or belief system presents what we will refer to as a “Religious World View”. More times than not, this world view is blatantly obvious. However, in some cases this world view is shrouded in mystery, ritual or procedural practice. In those cases, it is only after one has penetrated deep into a particular belief system that they truly discover what the actual world view is. A world view answers four major questions about life in general. They are as follows.


1). Where did we come from? (Origin)

  • Were we created?
  • Did we evolve from a lower life form?
  • Were we “dropped off” by beings from another planet?
  • Did we magically appear?       


2). Why are we here? (Purpose)

  • Are we being punished?
  • To do good things and help others?
  • To appease a “God” or “gods”?
  • To train for another existence?


3). How should we live? (Morality & Ethics)

  • For our own pleasure and/or personal wealth?
  • As humble servants to all of mankind?
  • As dominating masters ruling over as many as possible?
  • To glorify or promote a “God” or “gods” of a religious movement?


4). Where are we going? (Mortal Death)

  • Fatalism states that there is no existence after this life
  • Reincarnation is when we are reborn into another life form
  • Re-inhabitation declares that the body can be used again in whole or in part. 
  • Afterlife says that there is another life to experience in a different realm than the present. 


            When these four questions are answered to some extent by a religion or religious movement, a particular belief system can be established. It is in this established structure that people attempt to place their faith to some extent.


The Five Major Religions



            The largest religious movement in the world is Christianity. Christianity is somewhat unique in that it traces its roots back through the history of Judaism. This can also be said of Islam to some extent. However Islam does not adhere to as much of the historical, ecclesiastical and liturgical content as does Christianity. Christianity sees their position as one of the fulfillment of Judaism’s prophetic longing for messianic redemption. This is directed solely at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (circa 4BC – 30 AD).    

             Christianity, in its core beliefs proclaims Jesus Christ to be God incarnate, and that He willingly gave His perfect life as the necessary sacrifice for the redemption of all mankind, thus removing the curse of sin. Most Christians believe that the bodily resurrection of Jesus not only conquered our mortal enemy - death, but it also gives them hope for an eternal existence in the presence of a perfect and holy God. The vast majority of Christians believe in a Trinitarian existence of God in complete and perfect compound unity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The vast majority of Christians also adhere themselves in one way or another to the teachings of the Holy Bible, which includes the 39 sacred texts of the Old Testament (which is also the Hebrew Bible of Judaism) and the 27 sacred texts of the New Testament. This Bible as we have it today was formally canonized in the fourth century AD.

           Almost all Christians have two general rituals. One is called baptism. It can be accomplished in several different modes, the most common is referred to as immersion, where the baptismal candidate is submersed into the water symbolizing their obedient following of Jesus Christ from death into new life. The other ritual is commonly referred to as the Lord’s Supper, communion meal or as the Eucharist. This is a symbolic meal in which the participants partake of a small piece of bread and a small amount of wine or juice. This act memorializes the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ during His redemptive death.           

            A typical world view for most of Christendom is that God created the earth and everything that exists, and that Christians exist to worship God and do His will. Christians also believe that they are to live morally upright lives and value life by serving others. Christians believe in the afterlife and that there is a place called heaven, where the full presence of God can be experienced in eternal joy and bliss. They also believe that there is a place referred to as hell where those who choose not to accept the redemptive act of Jesus Christ will be banished from the presence of God for eternity.    

           Aside from the core beliefs, Christianity is not a united religious movement. There are several major divisions operating in the world today. Roman Catholicism retains its capital at Vatican City inside of Rome in Italy. It is structured in various governmental layers, recognizing the Pope (the Bishop of Rome) as the very vicar of Christ on earth. It is a general consideration that the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic church rest in the authority of the existing church itself. There are several holy orders and/or divisions within the Roman Catholic church.    

            Protestant Christianity started in the early 16th century by Martin Luther. Luther truly desired to reform the Roman church, but ultimately ended up dividing it and separating from it because of doctrinal differences. There are literally thousands of protestant denominations, including those who claim to be non-denominational in their governmental structure. The major differences protestants hold to are these. The authority that is trusted is the written Word of God – The Holy Bible. No one person is the head of the protestant church representing Christ on earth. Salvation can only be obtained through faith in what Jesus Christ has accomplished through His redemptive death and resurrection. No other deeds or rituals other than the extension and expression of faith, must be accomplished for one to receive salvation and forgiveness from sins.      

            Other groups considered to be Christians would include the Greek and other Eastern orthodox churches. There are also many other various blends of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism that make a very colorful spectrum of options for those who are uncertain where they might fit into the faith.



             Judaism, or the Jewish religion, is the primal foundation of the Christian faith and has historical genealogical roots to Islam. The God of the Jewish faith is the same God of Christianity. Its earthly founder is considered to be Abraham, who lived an obedient life to God calling for him was the father of two children. Ishmael who was born of one of Abraham’s slaves, left the tribe with his mother and his descendents are the Arab nations that live in the middle east practicing what later became known as Islam or the Muslim faith. Abraham’s other son was Isaac who was born of Abraham’s wife Sarah. The Jewish (Hebrew) nation and religion descended from that lineage.

             Some four centuries later another Jewish leader named Moses led the enslaved Jewish nation out of Egypt where they encountered God in their wilderness journeys. It was in the wilderness that God established the moral and ethical laws with the Jews that we now recognize as the Ten Commandments. At that time the foundational practices of sacrifice and worship were established, which in some form or manner are still observed today.            

              Judaism is divided into three major groups. The stricter “Orthodox” division represents approximately 40% of the Jewish religion. The more moderate “Conservatives” represent some 35% of the Jewish community. And the more liberal and politically based group commonly called the “Reformed” branch of Judaism, make up the balance.    

               A typical world view for Judaism on the whole is that God created the earth and everything that exists, and that life should be based on the values and commandments of the Torah (The Old Testament portion of the Christian Bible). Jews also believe that they are to live morally upright lives and value, especially holding to the traditions of their own people. They typically perceive themselves as God’s specially chosen people. Jewish beliefs in an afterlife will vary greatly. Most do not believe in a place called hell as described by the Christian faith.

               Jews of all three divisions who worship regularly, traditionally gather in synagogues and are led in their worship experience by leaders called Rabbis. They are very self supportive and protective of each other.         



             Islam was founded in 622 AD by a devout man named Mohammad, who unlike many of the people living around him was monotheistic. Because of the nature of the Arabian tribes of that era, its historical roots were very militant in nature. As previously discussed they are also descendents of Abraham. They adhere to a god they refer to as Allah. Moslems claim that the god they worship is the same god as the Jews and Christians, even though most Jews and Christians will readily debate that.

            This faith is very strongly practiced in the Arab nations in the middle east. Though in recent decades, Islam has become a very fast growing religion in North America. They adhere to their sacred writings in the Quaran, practicing the “Five Pillars” of their religion. These pillars bring the Moslem to salvation through these aspects of prayer (five times a day), faith in Allah, giving alms to the poor, making pilgrimages to the holy sites and cities of Islam, and fasting. They generally gather to worship at very elaborate facilities called mosques and are led in their worship by the clerics.            

            There are two major divisions in Islam. 80% of the Moslem faith is made up of  the Sunnis. These people have grown to be the less aggressive community within this particular religion. The other 20% are referred to as the Shiites. This is the division that is more aggressive in proselytizing and in the militant endeavors that are inspired by the religious fervor of this religion.   

            The world view for Islam is that Allah created the earth and everything that exists, and that Moslems exist do the will of Allah which would include strong efforts in proselytizing and/or eliminating the religious infidels. Moslems believe that they are to live morally upright lives by adhering to very specific guidelines for dietary regulations, clothing and behavioral issues. They also believe in an afterlife and that there is a  heaven which they refer to as Paradise, and a hell, though descriptively and definitively neither Paradise or hell would match those of the Christian belief system.    



             Hinduism is another large religion in the global community. It is considered to be a polytheistic religion that adheres to several gods and/or deities centered on a supreme god called Brahman. Hindus teach a basic need to produce good “Karma”. Karma is a force in someone’s life, influenced by their actions, that helps determine their future. Hindus believe that we are all ignorant and need enlightenment. They are generally considered to be very passive people. The religion tends to lack in a high amount of structure or organization because of its wide spectrum of variables. They practice yoga, meditation, devotion to various gods, and making personal pilgrimages to various sites or cities considered to be holy or sacred. Most Hindus are very respectful of other religions.

             Hindus meet in Hindu Temples led by priests and/or monks and encompass a world view that varies in the beliefs on our origin and why we exist. They value such texts as the Vedas and the Upanishads. The beliefs centered around Karma would obviously influence how a Hindu should live life morally and ethically. They generally believe in reincarnation after they die.

              Hindus are divided into three major groups. The Vaishnavites, which make up 70% of the religion; The Shaivites which comprise another 25%; and the last group commonly referred to as the neo-Hindus accounting for the balance of the religious population.



               Buddhism was founded in 520 BC in India by Siddharta Gautama who was later recognized as the first Buddha. It can be a highly variable belief system just as is Hinduism. Buddha taught that nothing is permanent and that reality is based on perception. Some divisions of Buddhists are atheistic, while others practice a mild form of polytheism. They adhere to texts such as the Tripitaka (pali canon) and the Lotus Sutra.

              The world view for Buddhism can be very vague. Beliefs on human origin are not required and may vary extensively from temple to temple. A Buddhist exists to gain enlightenment, attempt to avoid or eliminate pain and suffering and break the cycle of rebirth or reincarnation. They attempt to live morally upright lives which are framed by the use of various mantras, meditations and devotions to perceived acceptable deities. Buddhists, for the most part believe in reincarnation occurs until they gain enlightenment.      


Some Conclusions

             When looking at religions, in a comparative sense, we must always keep in mind that the religions of the world are somewhat superficially similar, but fundamentally quite different. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are all superficially different but fundamentally the same. They are not. The fact that they are fundamentally different is extremely evident in the way they all disagree about things such as morality, personal value, history, salvation, forgiveness of sins, the very nature of “God” or their “gods”, or lack of "gods". This is why they continue to exist and “compete” with each other for the adherence of the world's population. All religions do not lead to “God”, because not all religions believe in or utilize a “god” or “gods” in their belief systems. All religions do not see reality through the same lens or world view, or else we would all basically just get along together. Repeating the passage In Proverbs 21:2 where it reads “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (King James Version of the Holy Bible) Now, we can obviously see why this truly sums up the basic motivation for the existence of almost all religious movements and sects.


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