By Winfried Corduan

One of the distinctives of biblical religion is that it does not readily accommodate elements from other religions.  Easter religions, on the other hand have more flexible boundaries.  For the five religions below, we will give a brief summary and a response from a biblical perspective.

1.  Jainism is a popular Indian religion, similar to Hinduism and Buddhism.  It was founded by a man named Mahavira in the sixth century B.C. (roughly a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel in the Bible).  Mahavira taught that human beings need to escape from reincarnation and that they can do so by living a rigorous life of self-deprivation.  The highest obligation is never to harm any living being, whether it be animal, insect, or plant.  Someone who observes this duty faithfully will attain a higher state of life and, ultimately, release from reincarnation.  Jains venerate Mahavira and his mythological predecessors, the Tirthankaras.

Response: The Bible teaches that humanity’s main problem is not reincarnation but separation from God due to sin.  Salvation cannot be earned by an ascetic life; it can only be received by faith through God’s work of redemption in Christ.  Christians agree with Jains that all life deserves respect, but they do so because life was created by God, not because it is inherently divine.

2.  Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak in India around A.D. 1500, contemporary with the Protestant Reformation in Europe.  Nanak sought to establish harmony between Hindus and Muslims by teaching that God is beyond any human name or attribute and that true devotion to God will bring about union with Him.  There were nine successive gurus after Nanak, but the last of the line declared that the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, would henceforth be the true guru.  It has been the focus of veneration among Sikhs ever since.

Response: Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God can appreciate the Sikh’s devotion to the Adi Granth.  But whereas for Sikhism their holy book itself is a sacred object, for Christians the Bible is the revelation of God’s message.  The Bible offers to Sikhs (and anyone else) a hope for the future and an assurance of salvation that is absent from Nanak’s message.

3. Daoism (formerly spelled Taoism) is part of popular Chinese religion, originally based on some fairly esoteric philosophical writings.  Its founder, the legendary Laozi (roughly sixth century B.C. again), taught that the true “Way” (the Dao) of life could be found by allowing the opposing forces of the universe—yin and yang—to find their balance.  This philosophy eventually metamorphosed into a religion devoted to the service of many gods and spirits, presided over by the Jade Emperor in heaven.  Religious Daoism emphasizes devotion to one’s ancestors.

Response: In contrast to philosophical Daoism, the Bible asserts that good and evil are genuine realities, not just matters of cosmic imbalance.  The Bible condemns all worship of creatures, including nature spirits, ancestors, or images of deities.  The Christian gospel offers release from the bondage to the spirit world in which religious Daoists usually live.

4.  Confucianism is the philosophy of life taught by Confucius, another sixth century B.C. figure in China.  It is primarily a code of conduct for individuals and the society they comprise rather than a set of doctrines about gods or worship practices.  The fundamental premise of Confucianism is that there is a proper way in which all persons should act, depending on their station in life and the specific relationship of the moment.  Thus a prince lives under a different set of expectations than a common worker.  The obligation of setting the right example lies with the prince; if he will set the proper example, his subject will follow him in proper behavior, and a perfect society will result.  The highest Confucian virtue is filial piety, the unconditional obedience of children to their parents.  Even though many Confucian ideals are outdated, the attitude of filial pity persists prominently among traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people today.

Response: Christians can resonate with the Confucian commitment to a life of virtue, though they will take exception to the way it puts forms ahead of sacrificial love.  Even more importantly, the Bible teaches that perfection is unattainable for human beings, who need inward reconciliation with God before outward changes in actions are possible.

5.  Shinto is the national religion of Japan, worshiping spirits and deities.  The Kojiki, the Shinto sacred writing, claims the emperor of Japan is a direct descendant of the sun goddess and therefore divine—a claim now officially renounced.  Shinto shrines, marked by the traditional torii gate, are colorful ceremonial centers.

Response: Shinto illustrates two problems commonly addressed by the Bible: ritualism and escape into myth.  By contrast, the Bible offers salvation grounded in the historical Christ, whom we can receive by faith.

 

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