This section will introduce you briefly to the major world religions other than Christianity.
Hinduism—the religion of most of India—is highly complex and could be described as
a family of religions rather than a single one. It has given rise to a large number
of sects who worship different Hindu gods. Nirvana, reincarnation and the various
forms of Yoga are all expressions of basic Hinduism.
Hindus have a very large collection of holy writings, the oldest being the Vedas.
Others include the Upanishads, the Puranas and, most sacred of all, the Bhagavad
Reincarnation is basic to Hindu belief. A person's present state of existence is
determined by his performance in previous lifetimes. This is linked with the concept
of karma, which means 'action'. One's present actions have consequences that govern
one's state in any future existence, and the performing of righteous acts is the
key to eventual liberation from the cycle of rebirths into eternal bliss.
Hinduism is responsible for the Indian caste system which, though now outlawed by
the Indian government, continues to be an integral part of the social order. It is
responsible, too, for the revering of the sacred cow, which is allowed complete freedom
of movement and action.
To a Hindu, Christ is merely one of many great teachers. The supreme being is Brahman,
impersonal and indefinable—a philosophical concept rather than a personal being—and
man is a manifestation of Brahman, with no true individuality and no intrinsic worth.
Sin is simply the expression of ignorance, and salvation may be achieved in one of
three ways: the way of knowledge (knowing oneself to be a part of Brahman and not
a separate entity), the way of works (following ceremonial ritual), or the way of
devotion (obedience to a particular one of the many Hindu deities).
Yoga, Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation are all forms of Hinduism that in
recent times have become popularised in the Western world.
Islam (the word means 'submission') is the main religion of the Middle East, North
Africa and Western Asia.
It revolves around the figure of Mohammed, who was born around 570 AD in the town
of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Religion at the time was largely polytheistic
(many gods), but it is likely that contact with Jews and several varieties of Christians
inclined him towards montheism (one god). His one god was Allah.
At the age of 40 Mohammed had the first of many visions, which are recorded in Islam's
holy book, the Koran (or Qu'ran). The Koran is in Arabic, and translations are frowned
upon. He continued to receive revelations until his death in AD 632. In his capacity
as the receiver of these revelations, Muslims see him as the last and greatest of
Mohammed's wife became his first disciple, but general opposition led him to leave
Mecca for Medina. Later, he returned to Mecca in triumph and the new faith spread
rapidly among the Arab people, helped along by Mohammed's militant approach. Religion
and state became one, the new faith defining a way of life for individual, family
Islam is not united. Several sects maintain different emphases. The majority of Muslims
are Sunnis, the two other major groups being the Sufis, whose approach is more mystic
than mainstream Islam, and the Shi'ites (dominant in Iran), but there are also many
smaller sects. The practice of Islam is highly legalistic, based on the Koran and
the Shari'a (Islamic law).
Islam recognises Jesus as a prophet, but inferior to Mohammed. Where the New Testament
accounts differ from the Koran, the latter is to be believed. Muslims deny that Jesus
was the Son of God and that he rose from the dead. In fact many deny that he was
crucified, or maintain that, if he was, he did not die. Certainly he achieved no
Allah alone is God. He is a complete rigorist, lacking in love or grace, and is totally
transcendent. To call him 'Father' is considered blasphemous. He is the predestinator
of all things and therefore the author of both good and evil. The popular phrase,
'It is the will of Allah', expresses the fatalism of Islam.
Allah rules by inspiring fear, not by grace. Salvation is by adhering legalistically
to the requirements of Islam. Those who make the grade will, at the last day, enjoy
Paradise, while the rest will be tormented in hell.
Buddhism began around 500 BC as an offshoot of Hinduism. Its founder, born in India,
was Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, meaning 'enlightened one'.
From a wealthy background, he chose to forsake the good life for that of a beggar
and, having experienced nirvana (total God-consciousness) under a fig tree, he began
to pass on his teachings to a group of disciples. From this small beginning the movement
One variety of Buddhism—Mahayana Buddhism— found wide acceptance outside India, chiefly
in China and Japan, and it is with these countries that Buddhism today is chiefly
associated. It has a huge collection of sacred writings, with no clear limit to the
The aim of Buddhism is to achieve nirvana. This is a difficult term to define, but
it focuses on losing touch with all consciousness of the material world in order
to become lost in an awareness of the divine.
But it is chiefly monks and other serious devotees who pursue this goal with fervour.
The ordinary Buddhist aims to live by the five precepts: kill no living thing (including
insects); do not steal; do not commit adultery; tell no lies; and do not drink intoxicants
or take drugs.
In the last half-century a Japanese variety of Buddhism has gained popularity. This
is Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, and its surge in popularity can be traced back to the
founding in Japan in 1930 of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society). It has a much
more restricted canon, believing that only one work, the Lotus Sutra, contains the
true interpretation of the words of the Buddha. Worship centres around a small black
wooden box, the gohonzon, which is in effect a personal altar, a tiny replica of
a shrine at the base of Mount Fuji, Japan. This movement has been very missionary-minded.
The variety of Buddhism best known in the West, however, is Zen Buddhism. 'Zen' means
'meditation'. This is a form of the religion that recognises no particular sacred
writings but focuses instead on non-verbal activity, chiefly meditation techniques.
It requires rigorous self-discipline and emptying oneself of unhelpful interests.
Meditation is done in the classical seated position that has become the movement's
trademark, and is usually carried out under the supervision of a Master.
The aim is to experience enlightenment, known as satori. This is expected to come
suddenly and to be of brief duration, but it may be experienced repeatedly. Logical
thought and evaluation are considered hindrances to its achievement.
There is no personal god in Buddhism and therefore no divine person to sin against.
Jesus Christ has no status at all.
For further reference:
Concise Guide to Today's Religions by J. McDowell & D. Stewart (Scripture Press)
Truth Under Attack by E. Davies (Evangelical Press)
The Universe Next Door by J.W. Sire (IVP)
Understanding the New Age by R. Chandler (Word)
Much material is also available on the Internet
In Western society today intolerance is the worst sin. No-one, people believe, has
the right to claim exclusivity for their religion. Instead, everyone is free to choose
and practise their own faith—provided they don't try to press it on others.
While this view may at present be politically correct, it stands opposed to the teaching
of the Bible (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:5) and the command of Jesus to preach the gospel everywhere
(e.g Matthew 28:19-20).
How, then, should we go about witnessing to those of other faiths, and those in the
Treat them with respect. Regardless of race, culture and religious persuasion, every
human being is made in God's image and, as such, is worthy of our respect.
Ensure that your attitude is Christlike: caring, interested, humble and helpful.
Acquaint yourself with the basics of the other person's religion so that you can
show yourself familiar with it and so establish a rapport.
Mention some aspect of that religion which in general is socially helpful and which
you can comment on favourably.
Share your testimony of Christ's love and grace towards you, and your life in the
Holy Spirit. Speak warmly of the blessings of knowing Christ here and now, and of
the prospects awaiting you at his return.
Leave the person with one key verse from the Bible.
Don't try to convert the person on the spot. Rarely will this happen. Be content
to sow a few seeds and look for opportunities for further contact. Meanwhile, pray