The Recognition of an Especially Sacred Community
The two most individualistic religions, Jainism and Buddhism, have organized their holy ascetics into a monkish order, Sangha or congregation; but women are regarded as inherently inferior.
Hinduism teaches that its whole hereditary caste system is a sacred institution as compared with the rest of the world, and that as compared among themselves the upper castes are successively the more holy.
Judaism – The synagogue is the place where people of equal standing meet together to pray without any need for an intermediary.
Christianity – The infallibility of the Pope, is a part of Roman Catholic doctrine.
Islam cuts clean across the common ideas of hereditary status, of social superiorities, and even of international exclusiveness by its insistence upon absolute submission before the one omnipotent world potentate, Allah, and upon active joining in his cause.
The Hope of a Universal Religion
The idea of becoming universal does not occur in the sacred scriptures of Sikhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shinto and Taoism; and never to have arisen in their whole history.
In the case of Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism, the hope of becoming universal has been definitely dropped in their history.
In the case of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, the plan of becoming universal stands clearly commanded in their sacred scriptures, and was acted upon by the founder himself, and has been followed up actively in their later history, so that they have actually become international through missionary effort.
The Hopes and Fears of a Future Life
Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the present life is not worth continuing; although the future life is thus for most people a dread necessity, yet by various proper processes a person’s evanescent miserable individuality may finally be extirpated altogether.
Jainism teaches that immortality is inherently unavoidable, with ultimate residence in either heaven or in hell.
All four of the religions which originated in India teach the doctrine of transmigration, that by power of the law of Karma, a person’s soul becomes reincarnate after death in some other earthly body, according to his conduct in this present life.
Confucianism regards religion as consisting chiefly of proper ethical conduct, yet offers for the future only a ghostly kind of existence, without hope of heaven, without fear of hell, without consequences of any kind resulting from a person’s present manner of living.
Zoroastrianism and Islam teach an inescapable judgment scene, with rewards and punishments. A paradise with delights for the pious, and a hell with perpetual agonies of physical torments for the unsubmissive unbeliever. Zoroastrianism reduces the sensual features of heaven and hell to a minimum, and finally manages to eliminate all evil, but by means of an apocalyptic ceremonial.
Christianity contains a considerable variety of eschatological belief within the Bible, and also in its subsequent history. However, Christianity has taught uniformly that there will be a sure and just judgment for all mankind, when the good people will enter into the joy of closer fellowship with God, and when the wicked will suffer the terrible consequences of the seperation from God.
The Claim of a Supernatural Origin of the Founder
Buddha, in some later scriptures which abound in the marvellous is represented as a pre-existent heavenly being who, in connection with a prophetic dream of a queen, became her first-born child when she was forty-five years old.
Lao Tzu in documents dating a thousand years after his day is represented as having been born a fully matured Wise Old Boy or Philosopher, with white hair, who had been carried in his mother’s womb for seventy-two years, or for eighty-one years, according to different traditions.
Mahavira in a Jain document is represented as a pre-existent being who, in fulfilment of fourteen prophetic dreams, was supernaturally placed in his royal mother’s womb.
A virgin birth seems to be intimated in the case of Zoroaster. His mother was supernaturally glorified when she was an unmarried young woman of fifteen. Three future saviors in Zoroastrianism are predicted to be born of a mother who, similarly, is to be a virgin fifteen years old.
In the canonical New Testament of Christianity there are varying data concerning a divine origin of Jesus. Jesus represented himself as having come from God, whon he called father.
The Claim of Divine Revelation
The following may be specified as outstanding revelations of truth:
Hinduism - The immanence of the divine in the world; human society, a divinely ordained structure; union with the divine, the goal of existence.
Jainism – Self-renunciation, the condition of salvation; the ideal of a liberation of the spirit with subjugation of the flesh.
Buddhism – Selfishness as the root of misery; salvation through inner purity and self-discipline.
Confucianism – The essential goodness of human nature, as divinely implanted; religion as exercised in proper social relationships.
Taoism – Religion as exercised in humbly following the divine Way.
Zoroastrianism – Religion as involving active co-operation with a cosmic power of goodness in a struggle against evil.
Shinto – Nature to be recognized as a beautiful divine creation; religion as involving purity and also loyalty to the supreme authority.
Sikhism – Religion as discipleship of the One True God, with trust in His Name.
Christianity – The supreme power in the world is a perfect person; that He may best be conceived of and lived with as a Father-God; that He has been presented by His Son Jesus Christ; and that the supreme satisfaction of every human being consists in loving obedience to Him and in loving service to brother man.
Islam – Superlative satisfaction to be obtained through submission to an omnipotent God, who is not only a sovereign, but also a judge and rewarder.
The Claim of an Inspired Scripture
Living religions do possess definite sets of documents which are regarded unique divine truths which need to be known for salvation. For all of them claims have been made as pre-eminent above the rest of literature.
Hinduism – Vedas, book of knowledge.
Jainism – Angas, bodies of knowledge.
Buddhism – Tripitaka, three baskets of of teachings.
Sikhism – Granth.
Confucianism – The Five Classics and The Four Books.
Taoism – Tao-te-Ching, the canon of reason and virtue.
Shinto – Ko-ji-ki, the records of ancient matters and Nihon-gi, the chronicles of Japan.
Zoroastrianism – Avesta, the knowledge.
Judaism – The Old Testament.
Christianity – The New Testament.
Islam – Koran.
The religions of the world have some features in common.
- The belief in One Supreme Being,
- The claim of divine incarnation,
- The claim of a supernatural origin of the founder,
- The claim of divine revelation,
- The claim of an inspired scripture,
- The report of miracles wrought,
- The principle of the “golden rule”,
- The recognition of an especially sacred community,
- The hope of a universal religion,
- The hopes and fears of a future life.
The Belief in One Supreme Being
This idea was repudiated by original Jainism and by original Buddhism. But in the later developments of both systems the founder was worshipped.
Judaism believed in one supreme worshipful God, Jehovah. After the period of the Exile the Jews were consistently monotheistic.
Confucianism teaches the beliefin one Supreme Being, designated either personally as Supreme Ruler or impersonally as Heaven. But Confucianism has limited the worship of this Being to only one person in China, the emperor, and only once a year, on the night of the winter solstice, December 22. Popular Confucianism encourages the common people to worship many spirits, both nature spirits and the spirits of deceased ancestors.
Zoroastrianism sets forth one cosmic power, which is supremely worshipful, Ahura Mazda. But this being is not supremely powerful, because there has always existed an opposing cosmic power, Angra Mainyu, the spirit of evil. Furthermore, Zoroastrianism recognizes many other good spirits, subordinate to Ahura Mazda, yet deserving of worship.
Both Hinduism and Taoism believe in one supreme impersonal cosmic being, named Brahma and Tao, respectively, to be meditated upon, but not exactly to be worshipped. But in both religions the popular phases have been polytheistic, characterized by the actual worship of many deities.
A definite belief in and a worship of one supreme cosmic power by all people, can be found in only four religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. These four religions agree as to the oneness of God.
The Claim of Divine Incarnation
The idea that deity can become incarnate is found in several religions, but with various settings and applications.
In philosophic Hinduism, ever since the period of the Upanishads, every object may be regarded as a temporary manifestation or embodiment or impersonation of the impersonal, non-moral, eternal Brahma, though the high cast Brahman priests are especially venerated as such.
In popular Hinduism there are several deities, who are believed to have taken the form of men. For instance, the god Vishnu, is believed to have entered upon several incarnations; the list varies from nine to twenty-two, but always includes animals. None of these Hindu avatars are represented as morally perfect, nor are they represented as manifestations of one supreme personal cosmic deity.
In Buddhism, despite its explicitly non-theistic basis, Buddha came to be regarded as a kind of incarnation, yet even so only as one of some twenty-four incarnate Buddhas, with a twenty-fifth still to come.
In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the unique incarnation, the Word of God.
In Islam, despite its dominant doctrine of the absolute transcendence of Allah, Shi’ism broke away from Sunni’ism on the issue of imams, divine incarnations. Some subsects among the Shiites differ concerning the exact number of still other incarnations, seven or twelve, and concerning the identity of the last one.