Why Be Interested in Other Religions?
1-7. What are some manifestations of the world’s various religions?
REGARDLESS of where you live, you have no doubt seen for yourself how religion affects the lives of millions of people, maybe yours too. In countries where Hinduism is practiced, you will often see people doing puja—a ceremony that may include making offerings to their gods, in the form of coconut, flowers, and apples. A priest will apply a spot of red or yellow pigment, the tilak, to the foreheads of the believers. Millions also flock each year to the river Ganges to be purified by its waters.
2 In Catholic countries, you will see people praying in churches and cathedrals while holding a crucifix or a rosary. The beads of the rosary are used for counting prayers offered in devotion to Mary. And it is not difficult to identify nuns and priests, distinctive in their black garb.
3 In Protestant lands, chapels and churches abound, and on Sunday parishioners usually put on their best clothes and congregate to sing hymns and hear sermons. Often their clergy wear a black suit and a distinguishing clerical collar.
4 In Islāmic countries, you can hear the voices of the muezzins, the Muslim criers who make the call from minarets five times a day, summoning the faithful to the ṣalāt, or ritual prayer. They view the Holy Qurʼān as the Islāmic book of scripture. According to Islāmic belief, it was revealed by God and was given to the prophet Muḥammad by the angel Gabriel in the seventh century C.E.
5 On the streets of many Buddhist lands, the monks of Buddhism, usually in saffron, black, or red robes, are seen as a sign of piety. Ancient temples with the serene Buddha on display are evidence of the antiquity of the Buddhist faith.
6 Practiced mainly in Japan, Shinto enters into daily life with family shrines and offerings to ancestors. The Japanese feel free to pray for the most mundane things, even success in school examinations.
7 Another religious activity known the world over is that of people going from house to house and standing on the streets with Bibles and Bible literature. With the Watchtower and Awake! magazines in evidence, nearly everyone recognizes these people as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
8. What does the history of religious devotion indicate?
8 What does this great worldwide variety of religious devotion indicate? That for thousands of years mankind has had a spiritual need and yearning. Man has lived with his trials and burdens, his doubts and questions, including the enigma of death. Religious feelings have been expressed in many different ways as people have turned to God or their gods, seeking blessings and solace. Religion also tries to address the great questions: Why are we here? How should we live? What does the future hold for mankind?
9. In what way do most people have some form of religious devotion in their lives?
9 On the other hand, there are millions of people who profess no religion nor any belief in a god. They are atheists. Others, agnostics, believe that God is unknown and probably unknowable. However, that obviously does not mean that they are people without principles or ethics, any more than professing a religion means that one does have them. However, if one accepts religion as being “devotion to some principle; strict fidelity or faithfulness; conscientiousness; pious affection or attachment,” then most people, including atheists and agnostics, do have some form of religious devotion in their lives.—The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
10. Does religion make an impact on the modern world? Illustrate.
10 With so many religions in a world that gets smaller and smaller by virtue of ever faster travel and communication, the impact of various faiths is felt worldwide, whether we like it or not. The outrage that broke out in 1989 over the book The Satanic Verses, written by what some people termed ‘an apostate Muslim,’ is clear evidence of how religious sentiment can manifest itself on a global scale. There were calls from Islāmic leaders for the book to be banned and even for the author to be put to death. What makes people react so vehemently in matters of religion?
11. Why is it not wrong to examine other faiths?
11 To answer that, we need to know something about the background of the world’s religions. As Geoffrey Parrinder states in World Religions—From Ancient History to the Present: “To study different religions need not imply infidelity to one’s own faith, but rather it may be enlarged by seeing how other people have sought for reality and have been enriched by their search.” Knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding to tolerance of people with a different viewpoint.
12. What factors usually determine a person’s religion?
12 Have you ever thought or said, ‘I have my own religion. It is a very personal matter. I do not discuss it with others’? True, religion is very personal—virtually from birth religious or ethical ideas are implanted in our mind by our parents and relatives. As a consequence, we usually follow the religious ideals of our parents and grandparents. Religion has become almost a matter of family tradition. What is the result of that process? That in many cases others have chosen our religion for us. It has simply been a matter of where we were born and when. Or, as historian Arnold Toynbee indicated, an individual’s adherence to a certain faith is often determined by “the geographical accident of the locality of his birth-place.”
13, 14. Why is it not reasonable to assume that the religion of one’s birth is automatically approved by God?
13 Is it reasonable to assume that the religion imposed at one’s birth is necessarily the whole truth? If you were born in Italy or South America, then, without any choice, you were probably raised a Catholic. If you were born in India, then likely you automatically became a Hindu or, if from the Punjab, perhaps a Sikh. If your parents were from Pakistan, then you would obviously be a Muslim. And if you were born in a Socialist country over the last few decades, you might have had no choice but to be raised an atheist.—Galatians 1:13, 14; Acts 23:6.
14 Therefore, is the religion of one’s birth automatically the true one, approved by God? If that had been the concept followed over the millenniums, many among mankind would still be practicing primitive shamanism and ancient fertility cults, on the premise that ‘what was good enough for my ancestors is good enough for me.’
15, 16. What benefits are there in examining other religions?
15 With the wide diversity of religious expression that has developed around the world over the past 6,000 years, it is at least educational and mind broadening to understand what others believe and how their beliefs originated. And it might also open up vistas of a more concrete hope for your future.
16 In many countries now, owing to immigration and population movement, people of different religions share the same neighborhood. Therefore, understanding one another’s viewpoint can lead to more meaningful communication and conversation between people of different faiths. Perhaps, too, it may dissipate some of the hatred in the world that is based on religious differences. True, people may strongly disagree about their religious beliefs, but there is no basis for hating a person just because he or she holds a different viewpoint.—1 Peter 3:15; 1 John 4:20, 21; Revelation 2:6.
17. Why should we not hate those whose religious thinking differs from ours?
17 The ancient Jewish law stated: “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD [Jehovah].” (Leviticus 19:17, 18, Ta) The Founder of Christianity stated: “But I say to you who are listening, Continue to love your enemies, to do good to those hating you, . . . and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind toward the unthankful and wicked.” (Luke 6:27, 35) Under the heading “She That Is To Be Examined,” the Qurʼān states a similar principle (surah 60:7, MMP): “It may be that Allāh will bring about friendship between you and those of them whom you hold as enemies. And Allāh is Powerful; and Allāh is Forgiving, Merciful.”
18. How does what one believes make a difference?
18 However, while tolerance and understanding are needed, that does not imply that it makes no difference what one believes. As historian Geoffrey Parrinder stated: “It is sometimes said that all religions have the same goal, or are equal ways to the truth, or even that all teach the same doctrines . . . Yet the ancient Aztecs, who held up the beating hearts of their victims to the sun, surely did not have as good a religion as that of the peaceful Buddha.” Furthermore, when it comes to worship, is it not God himself who should determine what is and is not acceptable?—Micah 6:8.
How Should Religion Be Measured?
19. How should religion affect a person’s conduct?
19 While most religions have a body of beliefs or doctrines, these can often form a very complicated theology, beyond the understanding of the average layperson. Yet the principle of cause and effect applies in every case. The teachings of a religion should influence the personality and the daily conduct of each believer. Thus, each person’s conduct will normally be a reflection, to a greater or lesser degree, of that one’s religious background. What effect does your religion have on you? Does your religion produce a kinder person? More generous, honest, humble, tolerant, and compassionate? These are reasonable questions, for as one great religious teacher, Jesus Christ, stated: “Every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit; a good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. Every tree not producing fine fruit gets cut down and thrown into the fire. Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.”—Matthew 7:17-20.
20. What questions arise regarding religion and history?
20 Certainly world history must give us pause and make us wonder what role religion has played in the many wars that have devastated mankind and caused untold suffering. Why have so many people killed and been killed in the name of religion? The Crusades, the Inquisition, the conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the slaughter between Iraq and Iran (1980-88), the Hindu-Sikh clashes in India—all these events certainly make thinking people raise questions about religious beliefs and ethics.—See box below.
21. What are some examples of Christendom’s fruitage?
21 The realm of Christendom has been noteworthy for its hypocrisy in this field. In two world wars, Catholic has killed Catholic and Protestant has killed Protestant at the behest of their “Christian” political leaders. Yet the Bible clearly contrasts the works of the flesh and the fruitage of the spirit. Regarding the works of the flesh, it states: “They are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these. As to these things I am forewarning you, the same way as I did forewarn you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” Yet so-called Christians have practiced these things for centuries, and their conduct has often been condoned by their clergy.—Galatians 5:19-21.
22, 23. In contrast, what fruitage should true religion bear?
22 In contrast, the positive fruitage of the spirit is described as: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” All religions ought to be producing this kind of peaceable fruitage. But do they? Does yours?—Galatians 5:22, 23.
23 Therefore, this book’s examination of mankind’s search for God through the world’s religions should serve to answer some of our questions. But by what criteria should a religion be judged? By whose standard?
‘My Religion Is Good Enough for Me’
24, 25. What challenge is presented to each person regarding his religion?
24 Many people dismiss religious discussion by saying, ‘My religion is good enough for me. I don’t do any harm to anyone else, and I help when I can.’ But does that go far enough? Are our personal criteria on religion sufficient?
25 If religion is “the expression of man’s belief in and reverence for a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe,” as one dictionary states, then surely the question should be, Is my religion good enough for the creator and governor of the universe? Also, in that case, the Creator would have the right to establish what is acceptable conduct, worship, and doctrine and what is not. To do that, he must reveal his will to mankind, and that revelation must be easily available and accessible to all. Furthermore, his revelations, even though provided centuries apart, should always be harmonious and consistent. This presents a challenge to each person—to examine the evidence and prove for oneself what the acceptable will of God is.
26. Which holy book should serve as a measuring rod for true worship? And why?
26 One of the most ancient books claiming inspiration by God is the Bible. It is also the most widely circulated and translated book in all history. Nearly two thousand years ago, one of its writers stated: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) What would be the source of such proof? The same writer stated: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” Therefore, the inspired Bible should serve as a reliable measuring rod for true and acceptable worship.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
27. (a) What are the holy writings of some world religions? (b) How should their teachings compare with those of the Bible?
27 The oldest portion of the Bible predates all of the world’s other religious writings. The Torah, or first five books of the Bible, the Law written under inspiration by Moses, dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries B.C.E. By comparison, the Hindu writings of the Rig-Veda (a collection of hymns) were completed about 900 B.C.E. and do not claim divine inspiration. The Buddhist “Canon of the Three Baskets” dates back to the fifth century B.C.E. The Qurʼān, claimed to have been transmitted from God through the angel Gabriel, is a product of the seventh century C.E. The Book of Mormon, reportedly given to Joseph Smith in the United States by an angel called Moroni, is a product of the 19th century. If some of these works are divinely inspired as some assert, then what they offer in terms of religious guidance should not contradict the teachings of the Bible, which is the original inspired source. They should also answer some of mankind’s most intriguing questions.
Questions That Require an Answer
28. What are some of the questions that require an answer?
28 (1) Does the Bible teach what the majority of religions teach and what many people believe, namely, that humans have an immortal soul and that at death it moves on to another realm, the “hereafter,” heaven, hell, or purgatory, or that it returns in a reincarnation?
(2) Does the Bible teach that the Sovereign Lord of the universe is nameless? Does it teach that he is one God? or three persons in one God? or many gods?
(3) What does the Bible say was God’s original purpose in creating mankind for life on earth?
(4) Does the Bible teach that the earth will be destroyed? Or does it point only to an end, or conclusion, for the corrupt world system?
(5) How can inner peace and salvation really be achieved?
29. (a) What is the basic principle that should guide our search for truth? (b) What answers does the Bible supply to our questions?
29 Each religion has different answers, but in our search for the “pure religion,” we should eventually reach the conclusions that God wants us to reach. (James 1:27; AS; KJ) Why can we say that? Because our basic principle will be: “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, even as it is written: ‘That you might be proved righteous in your words and might win when you are being judged.’”—Romans 3:4.*
30. What are some of the questions to be considered in the next chapter?
30 Now that we have a basis for examining the world’s religions, let us turn to mankind’s early quest for spirituality. What do we know about how religion began? What patterns of worship were established among the ancient and perhaps primitive peoples?
If you are interested in an immediate Bible answer to these questions, we recommend that you check the following texts: (1) Genesis 1:26; 2:7; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Leviticus 24:17, 18; Matthew 10:28; (2) Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; (3) Genesis 1:27, 28; Revelation 21:1-4; (4) Ecclesiastes 1:4; Matthew 24:3, 7, 8; (5) John 3:16; 17:3; Philippians 2:5-11; 4:6, 7; Hebrews 5:9.
[Blurb on page 16]
All religions ought to produce peaceable fruitage. But do they?
[Box on page 14]
Religion, Love, and Hatred
▪ “Religious wars tend to be extra furious. When people fight over territory for economic advantage, they reach the point where the battle isn’t worth the cost and so compromise. When the cause is religious, compromise and conciliation seem to be evil.”—Roger Shinn, professor of social ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York.
▪ “Men will wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, die for it; anything but live for it . . . Where true religion has prevented one crime, false religions have afforded a pretext for a thousand.”—Charles Caleb Colton (1825).
▪ “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”—Jonathan Swift (1667-1745).
▪ “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”—Blaise Pascal (1623-62).
▪ “The true purpose of a higher religion is to radiate the spiritual counsels and truths that are its essence into as many souls as it can reach, in order that each of these souls may be enabled thereby to fulfil the true end of Man. Man’s true end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.”—Arnold Toynbee, historian.
[Pictures on page 4]
Hindus revere the river Ganges—called Ganga Ma, or Mother Ganga
Sincere Catholics turn to Mary in their use of the rosary
In some Buddhist countries, most males serve some time as saffron-robed monks
Faithful Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once
[Picture on page 6]
Jehovah’s Witnesses, known worldwide for their preaching activity, in a Japanese city
[Picture on page 9]
A baby being baptized in one of Christendom’s churches. Is the religion of one’s birth necessarily the true one?
[Picture on page 11]
Aztec human sacrifice—are all religions really “equal ways to the truth”?
[Picture on page 13]
In the name of religion, millions have killed and been killed