We are surrounded by different opinions and beliefs. Everyday it seems that someone has a different view, a different perspective. It can be hard to piece apart all the conflicting information, all the confusion, and come to the realisation of what is actually true.
Religion is not excluded from this ... there are thousands of religions in the world, all with differing beliefs, different Gods and different theologies. But one thing that all religions have in common is that they try to explain two questions:
1. Why are we here?
2. What happens after we die?
Even athiests, people who do not believe that there is a God, have answers to these questions, showing how these questions span past religion, race, culture and speak right to the heart of humanity itself.
Why are we here? And what happens after we die?
So if these questions are universal, and each religion aims to explain them, how can we know what religion is true? How can we know what religion is the correct one? Is there even a correct religion, or are we all deluding ourselves to think that there is anything beyond what we can see for ourselves?
Let's see what some of the different religions provide in terms of explanations...
Why are we here?
Hinduism explains that we are here in an endless cycle of death and resurrection, something known as the Samsara. This cycle continues until we reach moksha, or salvation, which ends this cycle of reincarnation. The way to reach moksha is by striving for 'dharma', living by good conduct and morals. There are multiple gods in Hinduism, which each serve a different purpose. For example, there is the god Shiva of destruction, the god Ganesha of new beginnings. After salvation, our soul becomes part of the absolute Soul, one soul entity.
In contrast, Buddhism says that human life is one of suffering and that meditation and labour are the ways to achieve enlightenment, or nirvana.There is no god in Buddhism. Instead, Buddha was the person who created this religion and lifestyle, who is now idolised through statues. Suffering is believed to come from desire. Buddhism also believes in reincarnation, and that our current life circumstances are based on our actions in our past lives. This is similar to the 'karma' theology that Hinduism holds.
Christianity believes we are here because we have been created by a loving god who wants relationship with us. Our purpose in life is to love him through our actions and words, both towards him and towards everyone else he has created. He gives us resources to help us to accomplish this goal, through his Holy Bible as well as his Holy Spirit, which speaks to us and nudges us in the right direction when we might be otherwise pulled away into selfishness and sin.
Muslims believe in the god Allah, who they believe is the only god, and Muhammad was his messenger. It is through Muhammad's verbal dictation of the Qur'an (now many years later in written form) that people learnt of Allah. Similar to Christianity, Muslims believe that they must live a life of faithfulness towards Allah, demonstrated by praying, living a morally good life and fasting regularly. However, they believe Allah is not a god of relationship, but instead one we should be submissive towards. Allah will reveal his will, but not himself.
What happens after we die?
Hinduism: Depending on our life and how well we have followed moral conduct and values, we will either be reincarnated into a caste (lower caste for those who did not follow moral conduct and higher caste for those who did) or we will have achieved Moksha and become part of the absolute Soul. Our quality of life is due to our past actions, a punishment for not living according to dharma.
Buddhism: Buddists believe that if you have not achieved enlightenment, or Nirvana, that we reincarnate and are given another chance. Once Nirvana is reached, you will no longer be reborn, however it doesn't state what happens after Nirvana is reached.
Islam: On the day of Judgement, every human being will be judged for the good and evil in their life. They will be punished for the evil and rewarded for the good. There will be no forgiveness of sins in our life, as this is not fair towards those who have not sinned.
Christianity: If we have a lived a life of love for God and others, and recognise that Jesus came so that we can have personal relationship with God, then we go to Heaven. God will forgive anyone who comes to him and commits their life to him before they die, regardless of how long they have lived in sin or how short after this point before they die. If we have not lived a life of love for God and others, instead living for ourselves and turning a blind eye to his attempts at connection and relationship, then we go to Hell, because sin cannot physically exist in God's presence in Heaven.
So which one is right?
Our moral code
There are lots of similarities and differences between religions. Even just focussing on these few it can be seen how there is overlap and common themes that run within them. The idea of living a morally right life, for example, is something that is common across all four of these religions. What some of them fail to explain, however, is how we can all have a moral sense of right and wrong. Christianity is able to explain this
Context: the Law is God's 10 Commandments; written rules about how to live a morally good life. It includes things like "do not murder", "do not steal", "do not covet [long for things that are not yours]". Before Jesus, the Jews were the race and nation that believed in God and followed him. The Gentiles, were non-believers.
Romans 2:14-15 NLT, "Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right."
The moral code of the Law is written on the hearts of all man kind. We do not need it written down to know that murdering someone is bad. It is in our DNA, because we are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27).
Speaking to God
Out of all religions, the Christian/ Jewish God is the only god in which we can have a personal relationship with. All other gods are external to us, we cannot speak to them, cannot hear from them, cannot see them. There is a big disconnect from these other gods, and we are left feeling like they are watching over us judging our every move, ready to send us into reincarnation or punish us at any moment.
Even Allah never spoke directly to anyone but Muhammad, which means there is only one source of information on Allah and what he wants. All other believers must base their judgement of right and wrong and relationship with God through the experience of another 'chosen' person. Compare this to the Bible, where God spoke to over 40 authors as well as continuously to Christians around the world today.
In Christianity, everyone is chosen. Everyone can have a relationship with God. The Christian God is the only God who consistently speaks fresh words to us, who we can have conversation with, and who can guide us on specific things in our lives. This is why he is also referred to as the Living God, because he did not just speak once never to be heard from again. He is alive and speaking, both through revelation we receive when we read the Bible and through prayer. This is a key point, as it proves that this God, compared to the other gods, is different. All other gods are idols made by human hands, and therefore cannot speak into our lives.
You would be forgiven for being confused about the differences between Judaism and Christianity. After all, don't we believe in the same God? The difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Christians believe Jesus dying for us frees us from the need to live under the Law as the path to righteousness. Christians do not throw away the Law, but where we struggled to live holy, loving, unselfish lives before, now the knowledge of and living example of Jesus demonstrating the Law, dying in place of our sins, coupled with our continuous access to the Holy Spirit (God's spirit) means that we now have constant cleansing of our sins and increased intimacy and relationship. We now have the ability to live fully free of sin, as well as the grace to be completely cleansed and forgiven when we don't.
Romans 8:2-4 ESV " The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit."
At the end of the day, it is your decision whether you believe in God or not. No one can force you to believe, and no amount of theology or logical reasoning will be able to convice you of something that needs to be felt in your heart. The very fact you're on this page reading this though shows there is some part of you that is curious, some part that is looking for answers, and I know that if you seek with an open heart and mind, you will find the truth. It might take some time, and it will definitely take some boldness and courage. Some things we will never have all the answers for, there will always remain the unknowns that we can't explain. And that, my friends, is where faith fills the gap. So when you're ready, God will be there with open arms, waiting.