A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
OF THE MAJOR WORLD RELIGIONS
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
by Ernest Valea
The goal of this site is to investigate whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prove that world religions are complementary, according to the model inspired by an old Indian tale - that of the blind men who tried to describe an elephant. It is said that once upon a time a king gathered a few men who were born blind. They were asked to describe an elephant, but each one was presented with only a certain part of it. To one was presented the head of the elephant, to another the trunk, to another its ears, to another the leg, the body, the tail, tuft of the tail, etc. The one who was presented with the head said: "The elephant is like a pot!" The one who was presented the trunk answered, "The elephant is like a hose." The one who touched only the ears thought that the elephant was a fan, the others said that it was a pillar, a wall, a rope, a brush, etc. Then they quarreled among themselves, each thinking that he was the only one right and the others were wrong. The obvious truth is that the elephant is a unity of many parts, a unity that they could not grasp in their ignorance.
According to the pattern suggested by this tale, it is often said that world religions form a unity, and only this unity provides the right perspective on ultimate truth. A similar pluralistic trend is encouraged by the suggestion to consider the various world religions as alternative paths to the same transcendental finality or, using a known illustration, many paths to the same mountain peak. Although this vision is arousing a lot of enthusiasm in many people today, it is important to know that it is not the only one, as Christianity and Islam each claim to be the only right path to God. Therefore the other option is that world religions are not pieces of the same puzzle (parts of the same spiritual "elephant") or alternative paths to the same goal.
Theoretically, both possibilities exist. Therefore, a proper evaluation of such opposite views must be done before we decide on a course of action. If the first is true (all religions lead us to the same finality), and we choose the second (only one of them is right), we have not lost anything. Despite our ignorance, we will arrive at the same happy end as the other travelers who have chosen other spiritual paths. A less happy situation would be given by the second possibility, that a single spiritual path is valid and we have chosen the wrong one. In this case religious pluralism misleads travelers to spiritual disaster, so they at least should be warned. A third possibility, that all spiritual paths are wrong, is denied by the nature of our spiritual quest itself, which demands a real fulfillment. Otherwise, our hunger for ultimate truth could not be justified and all religions would be nothing but human fantasy.
The following articles are not meant merely to generate a conflict of rational proofs for justifying one or another alternative. No matter how complex and logical the rational proofs on behalf of one or the other cause might be, it is possible to find counterpoints of the same nature, so that at a rational level, the dispute could fill many books with no benefit to anyone. Nobody can be persuaded or converted to one or another religious perspective only through rational proofs. This may be possible in science, but not in religion. However, rational proofs have to be considered because we are rational beings. Reason should not be rejected and experience proclaimed the only way of knowing truth. No divorce between reason and experience should be accepted, because they are complementary and work together, so that neither can exclude the other. As a result, we do not have to reject a priori the proofs of reason in our spiritual quest in order to abandon ourselves to the arms of mystical experiences, whatever their nature might be.
Rather than generating sterile debates, the information presented here should help you clarify your own stand toward comparative religion and develop a critical ability to analyze today's spiritual market. Suggestions, comments and critiques are strongly encouraged, with the hope that they will improve the content of this site. Please make them as specific and clear as possible.
The comparative analysis presented here is focused on Christianity and the major Eastern religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, because they play a major role in defining today's world spirituality. This is an obvious phenomenon on the Internet too, where a lot of spiritual movements indebted to classic Eastern doctrines and practices can be found. Some may believe that a comparative analysis of the major world religions like this may fuel religious hatred and intolerance, but this is wrong. Religious tolerance and freedom cannot be built on ignorance but rather on the understanding of commonalities and differences. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of teaching love for one's neighbor despite religious differences (see The Parable of the Good Samaritan). Unfortunately, some of his followers have done the opposite. Loving the person is possible even if one rejects his or her religious convictions.
The Christian approach will be grounded on The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as statement of faith, which is common to all three branches of Christianity - Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The Holy Bible (NIV ecumenical translation) is acknowledged as the first doctrinal authority, and second the doctrinal commentaries of the Church Fathers of the first centuries AD, as far as they are accepted by each of the three branches of Christianity.
The analysis will survey and compare the following defining aspects of all world religions:
1. God or the Ultimate Reality, and creation
2. The human condition
3. Salvation and eternal destiny
4. The nature of evil
Special articles refer to more specific issues that have emerged in this debate and need particular attention:
1. Reincarnation. Its meaning and consequences. Reincarnation and Christianity
2. Possible difficulties in pantheism
3. Possible difficulties in the dualistic Samkhya-Yoga metaphysics
4. Possible difficulties in Yoga as a spiritual path towards transcendence
5. Possible difficulties in the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita
6. Possible difficulties in Buddhism
7. The divine incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity; Jesus Christ and other Saviors and religious founders
8. Alleged Eastern equivalent sayings of Jesus Christ
9. The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Buddhism and Christianity
10. Revelation and knowledge in Christianity
11. How can those who have never heard about Christ be saved?
The quotes used for describing each religious perspective belong to scriptures considered to be firsthand authority by its followers. Some useful links will be suggested for in-depth study and clarification. A thoroughly comparative study of Christianity and Islam has not been pursued, as there is enough literature available online on this topic.
Since the domain of comparative religion is so vast, the present analysis is far from being exhaustive. It had to be limited to a brief account, sacrificing many details and secondary aspects, but with the hope that global relevance will not be affected. The question is: Can such a comparative analysis of world religions be unbiased? Unfortunately, it cannot. Nobody can judge religious issues independently of his or her own religious convictions. This is why the title says "... from a Christian perspective". Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc, may see these things differently, they can even reach opposite conclusions. But this doesn't mean that such an analysis is useless. All one needs to do is to look for more information, to try to understand the other perspectives and reach his or her own conclusions. This is neither the first nor the last attempt to discuss the complementary and divergent thought among world religions. The discussions, arguments and debates in comparative religion did not start recently and will certainly not stop until the end of the world, the time when Truth will reveal itself in fullness.