NOTES ON OTHER RELIGIONS, by John Oakes
NOTES ON OTHER RELIGIONS
Some helpful definitions:
Polytheism: a religious system which includes worship of many gods.
Pantheism: a theological perspective that sees God as being synonymous with
the universe or with nature?kind of like ?the Force? of Star Wars.
Animism: belief that many animals plants, and even objects contain individual
Asceticism: a belief that enlightenment, or a close relationship with deity
is obtained by an extreme denial of worldly pleasures and possessions. Associated with
monasteries, monks, nuns, and the like.
Mysticism: a belief which has been incorporated in all world religions which
sees enlightenment and spiritual powers coming through contemplation/meditation.
Founder: Zoroaster (Zarathustra)
Although his character has been highly mythologized, Zoroaster is almost certainly
an historical figure who lived somewhere around 600 BC in Persia.
Region of the world: Zoroastrianism was formerly the dominant religion in Persia. Sin
ce the conquest of the Arabs, it has become a minor religion, mainly in Ira
The Avesta and the Zand. Sayings of Zoroaster. Most are now lost.
The Gathas. Sayings of Zoroaster which were not lost.
Later writings: The Bindahish?mythology and history. The Dinkard?commentary, doctrines, history,
traditions. Written hundreds of years after Zarathustra.
Zoroaster did not claim deity or to work miracles. Semi-monotheistic worship of Ahura
Mazda in fire temples. Ahura Mazda is in a sense a fire god.
Other gods: Mithra, Anahita
Strong emphasis on the battle between good and evil. The now defunct Manichean religion,
which was important during the time of the early church, was similar to Zoroastrianism.
Founder: no one individual is responsible for founding this religion.
Hinduism is the national religion of India. Certain parts of the
world which have come under strong political influence by the Indian culture
contain elements of Hinduism in their religion. Early on, Hinduism was quite animistic. Late
r, it evolved into more of a pantheistic religion It has always been polytheistic. It is very difficult
to separate the caste system in Indiafrom the religious system of Hinduism because
of its relationship to the reincarnation doctrine. Nevertheless, many ?gurus? have attempted
to transplant a westernized form of Hinduism in the western world (Transcendental
Meditation, Hare Krishnas, guru Maharaj Ji, etc?.) There is a strong tendency toward
mysticism in most sects of Hinduism.
Four Vedas. Poems from around 1500-1200 BC. Originally transmitted orally. Written
?down around 500 BC. Oldest surviving manuscript 1300 AD. Very strong element of
animism and polytheism. Thirty-three main gods. Gods of places and things. Nature worship. Here is found
the teaching that the earth is supported on four elephants on the back of a
turtle swimming in a huge bowl of milk.
Brahmanas. 1000-500 BC. These introduced the priestly system and the caste system.
Upanishads. 800-500 BC. Philosophical treatises. More emphasis on meditation. Brahman has evolved
into a pantheistic ?god.? rather than an individual. Brahman the spiritual reality behind the
unreal physical world. The world we observe is maya?an illusion. The soul is Atman, and Atma
n is part of Brahman. Therefore, we are in a sense deity. The concept of karma is develope
d, related to the concept of sin. Karma is a works salvation concept. Reincarnation became
part of Hinduism. Note: none of this was in the Vedas.
Baghavad Gita, Ramayana, etc., Epic poems from 200BC ? 200 AD. At this point,
two main gods, in addition to Brahman emerge in Hinduism. These are Vishnu and Shiva. A st
rong sensual element emerges. Vishnu and Shiva have undergone various incarnations. This is what
the epics are about. Vishnu was incarnated as Rama and as Krishna. The stories are
strongly mythological in tone, containing such things as monkey-people, gods
intervening in wars (as in Greek mythology) and the like.
Sutras. Rules, doctrines, rituals, commentaries on the Vedas. Attempting to bring
together the various aspects of Hinduism.
Puranas. The Bible of the common people of India. Various myths, fables and
legends concerning local gods and the like. Totally unbelievable. You will not find Hindus in
the Western world using these.
Clearly, Hinduism can be a confusing religion. The chief aspects to be aware of in
Western world are reincarnation, pantheism, meditation and mysticism.
Hindu scriptures are not defendable as ?inspired? in the same sense as the Bible.
They contain much of what is clearly myth, fable etc.
One will find a significant amount of self-contradiction in Hindu faith as the
religion has evolved extremely over time.
Although they may sound very pious, the essence of Hinduism is self-centered,
as Hindus believe they are deity. There is a strong emphasis on self-realization.
The New Age movement is essentially an offshoot of Hindu religion.
Founders: Parshva, about 750 BC, and Mahavira, 599-527 BC.
Mahavira was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha in India(Buddha 567-487 BC). He was
?the last of a line of gurus, beginning with Parshva.
Location: Several million followers, mostly in India.
Purva. Fourteen texts. Teachings of Mahaviria. All lost
Angas. Twelve sets of teachings. All originals lost. Reconstitute around 600-900 AD from
Many other scriptures.
Much of the content of these are obviously mythical.
These scriptures teach:
The earth is the center of the universe. Two suns and two moons.
The earth has existed forever.
Pantheistic. Everything has soul?even water has soul.
A very strongly philosophical tendency.
A five-fold path to righteousness. Nonviolence Truthfulness Non-stealing Chastity
Jaina clearly has roots in Hinduism, but it rejected the priestly class in lieu
of a personal righteousness.
The heart of Jaina is asceticism?achieving enlightenment through denying the
physical self. The ultimate good is to starve yourself to death.
Karma/works salvation. Reincarnation,
Devoted Jainas breathe through a cloth to avoid killing bugs.
Founder: Gautama Buddha or Siddhartha. Northern India, 567-487 BC.
Location: Mainly Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asiaand Ba
li. Very few in India!
Buddhism is divided into many main sects with extremely varying teachings. The two chief
Hinayana?lesser vehicle. Asceticism more common. The most pious saints reach nirvana. Closer to
the original teachings of Buddha. Ceylon, Burma, Thailand. Less polytheistic.
Mahayana?greater vehicle. Mysticism stressed. Many Boddhisatvas (incarnations of Buddha). Many gods.
Idolatry common. China, Tibet, Koreaand Japan. This form bears little resemblance
to the teachings of Buddha.
Scriptures: No one scripture is accepted by all Buddhists. There are a broad variety
of ?scriptures,? in many languages. In general the writings of Buddhists include:
Sayings of Buddha.
Doctrines, interpretations of the sayings of Buddha.
Philosophical discussions, ethics.
Apocryphal stories of previous Buddhas. These are clearly mythological, containing
lots of miracles etc.
Buddha: Born of a wealthy family. He left home and his inheritance to pursue an ascetic
life. He later claimed to have a vision, because of which he rejected asceticism. His movemen
t was a negative response, both to asceticism (Jaina) and to priestism/ritualism
(Hinduism). He proposed a middle path of righteous living called the eight fold path,
much of which we might find ourselves agreeing with. He did not claim to be God
or to work miracles, but to have a wise path to living a spiritual life.
The eight-fold path to righteous living. Hold the right views, Have the right
aspirations, Use the right speech, Show the right conduct, Pursue the right
livelihood, Expend the right effort, Maintain the right attitude, Practice the
Through this, one can overcome one?s karma, and achieve enlightenment. Essentially works
Pantheistic. God is in nature and he is in us. Virtually agnostic.
Modern Buddhism?as opposed to Buddha?s teaching?has many gods, myths, etc.
Founder: Confucius 551-478 BC in China.
Location: primarily in China, although some Confucian influence can be found
in Koreaand Viet Nam.
The five great books.
I-Ching 1000 BC. Book of divination, magic.
Shu-Ching. History, ancient documents, speeches.
Shin-Ching 800-600 BC. Poetry used extensively by Confucius. Customs concerning courtship,
marriage, war, agriculture, feasts, sacrifices, etc..
Li Chi. Book of ceremonial etiquite. 200 BC ? 200 AD.
Ch?un Chiu. History of one Chinese province. Collected by Confucius?
The four great books.
Lun Yu. Written down 400 BC. The sayings of Confucius, especially on ethics and
Ta Hsueh. Unknown author around 350 BC. Philosophy of the self-made man.
Chung-Yund Written by Tfu Su, grandson of Confucius. Harmonious development of human
Meng Tzu. Written by Shu Mencius, 372-287 BC. Mencius helped to make Confucius? teachings
a national philosophy in China.
Confucius: A government bureaucrat who became known in his own time as a great
teacher. Confucius never made claims of deity or to work miracles. He was just a ?good teacher.?
Not a religious leader?he accepted the religious superstition of his day as
Agnostic??Keep aloof from spiritual matters, but perform the ceremony correctly.?
Utilitarian, conservative philosophy. Each person should accept his position in society
for righteousness and stability. Strong emphasis on proper government, training for holding
Ancestor worship stressed.
Later Confucian philosophy involved emphasis on ying and yang?the competing
balance between good vs. evil, physical vs. spiritual, hate vs. love.
Note: historically, there were three major competing philosophical systems
in China: Taoism, Moism and Confucianism. Confucianism won out eventually as more practical.
Founder: Lao Tzu?a contemporary of Confucius. Lao Tzu has a somewhat obscure background.
Location: Principally in China.
Scripture: The Tao Te Ching. Tao = way Te = power Ching = teaching
Basic doctrine: Through non-involvement and withdrawal, we come to know god/deity. Emphasis on
Commonly said of Taoists: ?He would not pluck so much as a hair out of his head for
the benefit of his fellow man.?
Pantheistic: God found through contemplating nature. ?Sitting in forgetfulness.?
A strong emphasis on mysticism and magic.
Modern Taoism: gods, genii, immortals. Lao Tzu declared a god in 666AD. Deities of the
kitchen, city, fire, disease, etc. Taoism has evolved into animism in China.
The national religion of Japan.
Origin: obscure. Like Hinduism, Shinto was not founded, but evolved from animistic
beginnings. Shinto is the naturalistic/animistic religion of ancient Japan. Its teaching
s are based on mythology. Many Japanese are at the same time Buddhist and Shinto without
seeing any real contradiction. Many worship at the temple (Buddhism) at certain religious
festivals, but maintain shrines (Shinto) in their homes. Shinto is a religion of
ritual and tradition.
Scripture? Possibly the Warongo. Written 1669 by Sawada Gennai. Oracles of the gods. The ?God
of Heaven? is a nebulous super-god. Pantheistic.
An excerpt from a Shinto ?scripture.?:
Some time later the brother of Ameratsu, named his Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male-Augustness
did a number of things which caused grave offense and fright to the sun goddess. F
or example, he caused damage to be done to the rice fields, and he also flayed
backward a ?heavenly piebald horse? and flung it through the roof of the hall
where Aneratsu was weaving garments for the gods?.
Japanese emperors are literally descended from the gods.
Worship at simple shrines with priests and idols.
ISLAM (literally, submit the will in Arabic)
Founder: Muhammad. About 570 ? 632 AD, in Mecca, in modern Saudi Arabia.
Location: Northern Africa, almost the entire Middle East, Pakistan Afghanistan,
Bangaladesh, India, Albania, Indonesia and the Phillipines, with scatterings
At the age of 40, Muhammad claims to have received a vision in which
he was called by the angel Gabriel to be a prophet. He had very little success
for several years, converting only a small group of disciples primarily from
his own clan. Expelled from Meccafor his religious beliefs in 622 AD, he went to M
edina. This trip, known as the Hegira, is very important to Muslims. After acceptance at
Medina, he began to make a number of conversions. He massacred many Jews in Medina. H
e sponsored piratical raids on caravans from Meccaout of a spirit of revenge,
and to finance his government. Eventually he conquered Meccaand established it as his
religious capital. Eventually, as his wealth increased, Muhammad had nine wives. He died
in 632 AD, having conquered much of the Arabian peninsula.
The Arab people were involved in pagan religion, worshiping many
idols. In Meccathere were four main pagan gods: Allah, Allat, al Uzza and Manat. Allah was
worshiped as an idol at a black meteorite in what is known as the Ka?bah. Mohamma
d raised Allah to be the chief, and eventually the only god. Muslims still worship
the idol/black rock in the Ka?bah in their famous pilgrimages. Despite public claims to
the contrary, Islam has its roots in idolatry.
Scriptures: The Qur?an (Koran) Written all or in part by Muhammad. The original has been
edited extensively over the years. Nevertheless, there is a strong link back to the
original writings of Muhammad.
? the length of the New Testament
Written in 114 ?suras? treatises arranged in order from longest to shortest.
No clear order to the suras in terms of chronological order or teaching.
Very repetitious. Apparently, when Muhammad wrote, he did not have in mind to create a
single compiled book.
Three apparent periods for the writing of the Koran which are reflected in the
content and philosophy of the writings.
Early Meccan period. Arguments for there being only one god?for Allah being that one
Mecca/Medina period. Muhammad had more exposure to Judaism. Seeks to make Allah equivalent
to the God of the Old Testament. Stories about Abraham, Moses, Noah, etc.
Later Medinaperiod. Muhammad has massacred many Jews. Islam is now a religion to
stand on its own. Muhammad wants a book uniquely for the Arabs which would be equivalent
to the Bible. Abraham called a Muslim. Hints that eventually Islam would be the enemy,
not the friend of ?peoples of the book.? (Jews or Christians). Ex: Surah 5:63 God turns
some Jews into apes and pigs.
Surah 21:33. The sun orbits the earth.
Surah 12 mentions 11 planets.
Surah 34:9, Surah 52:44 A piece of the sky falls and kills someone.
Surah 34:11 King David makes an iron coat of mail.
Praying toward the Ka?bah five times a day. Originally, Muslims prayed toward
Jerusalem, but later Muhammad changed that. All good Muslims must make a pilgrimage
to Meccaat some time in their life. Observance of Ramadan, a month of fasting, in
which they eat no food from sunrise to sunset.
Monotheism very strongly emphasized.
No priests, no idols, no alcohol, pork.
Predestination. Allah leads astray who he will. No free will.
Judgement, heaven and hell, somewhat similar to the New Testament, except heaven
is a very sensuous place with men waited on by beautiful virgins, eating food
like a banquet, etc.
The prophets never sinned. Muslims refuse to accept that Noah got drunk. (Genesis
Jesus was a prophet, similar to Mohammad, but definitely not a savior. He was not ki
lled on a cross.
Muhammad is the fulfillment of John 14:16,17, the comforter who God was to send.
Muhammad the greatest and final prophet.
Works ?salvation.? We are saved by our own righteous life. Allah primarily a god of justice,
not of love.
The doctrine of jihad, or holy war for Allah. Death in jihad is a sure means to going
In fairness, some of the worst aspects of modern Islam are not in the Qur?an?
for example horrendous treatment of women.
Sunni. The orthodox sect. Most Moslems are Sunni. Followed the caliphs, not the family
line of Muhammad.
Shia. Only Muhammad?s direct descendents can lead the true Muslims. They are waiting
for a sort of second return of Muhammad?s descendents to earth: the Mahdi?sort
of like a Messiah concept. Iran, Lebanon, scatterings in other Moslem countries.
These two groups are surprisingly similar in doctrine, and even in practice. Islam is
much more united than ?Christianity.?
Sufis. Moslem mystics and ascetics.
Founder: Nanak 1469-1538 AD, in Punjabprovince in India.
The religion Nanak founded has every appearance of being an attempt to forge
a philosophical/religious bridge between Islam and Hinduism. Nanak claims to have had
a vision, after which he declared ?There is no Hindu and no Muslim.? Nanak worked no
miracles. He did not claim deity, but to have a better way to God.
Location: Tens of millions, mostly in Northwest India, centered around Gujaratp
rovince and its capital in Amristar where the GoldenTempleis located.
The Adi Ganth, or the Ganth. Written down in 1604 AD by Arjun, the fifth of the great
gurus of the Sikh religion. The writings of Nanak, Arjun and other early Sikh gurus,
and even some by non-Sikhs. Hymns, doctrines and a prayer book.
The Ganth of the Tenth King. Writings of the last of the ?great gurus,? Guru Gobind
The Janamsakhis Legends. These are obviously mythical stories of supposed miracles
which Nanak worked. In fact, Nanak did not claim to be able to work miracles.
Opposed to religious formalism, priests, religious divisions.
The word Sikh literally means learner or disciple.
Strong opposition to idolatry.
Strong opposition to asceticism.
Baptism in sugar water holding a two-edged dagger.
Works salvation. ?Sin and sorrow are destroyed by hearkening.?
Several of the original gurus were martyred by the Hindus. Sikkhs have traditionally
been very militaristic. They can be thought of as the exact opposite of the Jains. Sikh militants
?killed Mohatma Gandhi and Indhira Gandhi.
Founder: Baha-ullah ?The Glory of God? (Mirza Husain Ali) (1817-1892) and
The Bab ?The Gate? (Sayyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi) (1819-1850)
Location: About 6 million in Iran, Iraq, small communities across the Middle
East, Europe, India, the US etc.
The Bab is more or less the John the Baptist of Bahai. He claimed to be the forerunner
of ?One greater than himself? who was to
come after him. He started a religious
movement in 1844 which spread rapidly in Iran, but which was extremely persecuted. Hi
s religious movement could be thought of as a reform movement within Islam.
He was martyred in 1850.
Baha-ullah was a Babi?a wealthy follower of the Bab. He was imprisoned, and in
1852 he claims to have received a vision, while in prison, of a divine woman
who declared him to be ?The Beauty of God amongst you.? Narrowly escaping execution,
he was exiled to Bagdadh, where, in 1863 he officially pronounced himself to
be the fulfillment of the Bab?s prophecy of one who would come after him. Baha
-ullah spent most of the rest of his life in prisons or in house arrest in
Adrianople, Istanbuland Acre.
The Kitab-I-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book). Written by Baha-ullah. A collection of teachings, laws
and principles to be obeyed by his followers, as well as instructions for organizing
the Bahai religion.
The Kitab-I-Iqan (Book of Certitude). The nature of religion and how the Bahai faith is
the fulfillment in present day of prophecies of other religions.
The SevenValleysand The FourValleys. Mystical treatises written while Baha-ullah
was influenced by Sufi mystics.
The Hidden Words. Aphorisms on spiritual and ethical themes.
etc? Baha-ullah wrote extensively.
Baha-ullah is the last in a line of prophets from Moses to Buddha, Jesus Christ
and Muhammad. (sound familiar?) The vision of Baha-ullah in prison is analogous to Moses at the
buring bush, Buddha under the Bodhi tree, Christ when the dove fell on him or
Mohammad when Gabriel appeared to him in the cave.
Baha-ullah did no miracles. He did not claim to be deity, but to be a prophet, spoken
of by other scriptures, including the New Testament.
The Bahai faith is the one which will unify all world religions, as it is the
culmination of all these faiths.
Strong emphasis on good works, taking care of the poor, education, the rights
of women, political justice.
A rejection of a priestly class, religious trappings in general.
Worship in shrines. Many are 9-sided as the symbol of the Bahai is the 9-sided star.
MORMONISM (The Churchof Jesus Christof the Latter Day Saints)