In searching for truth, three proof methods are available to us. We should use all of them.

THREE METHODS FOR DETERMINING TRUTH

‘Truth’ means actual reality; the way it REALLY IS, not just the way we think it is or would like it to be. Often we don’t have enough information, or our perceptions and abilities are lacking, so that we believe something to be true when in fact it’s not true, or vice versa.

Because very few things can be known with 100% certainty, some degree of faith is always necessary. But faith should not be blind. It should come from a reasoned assessment of all available evidence.

There are three tests available for examining evidence in order to discover truth, as summarized in the next column.

No one proof method can be applied to all kinds of evidence. For example, we can’t use either the scientific method or the empirical method to prove that Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States. For that, we can use only the historical method.

Because of failure to use the right proof method, some people will reject a story in the Bible because they know only scientifically (but not historically) that miracles never happen. And some people will refuse to listen for the inner voice of God because they know only historically (not empirically) that they’ve never heard him before.

As we seek to determine truth about God, we should test our evidence by all three proof methods, used properly.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD

The scientific method is the most objective method for determining truth. By this method, a hypothesis is formulated and then repeatedly tested. When results always confirm the hypothesis, we know the hypothesis is true. However, the scientific method can be used only in proving repeatable physical events. It’s not appropriate for determining truth about occasional or non-physical events.

HISTORICAL METHOD

Since most events can’t be repeated in a controlled environment, we must rely on the historical proof method for most of our knowledge. We can’t establish absolute truth by this method, but by it we can usually establish that something is true beyond reasonable doubt. We do this by gathering testimony (what others tell us) and then by determining what are the most probable explanations for the evidence we find.

EMPIRICAL METHOD

Some things we know only from personal observation or experience. For example, this is how a person knows he’s in love. He knows what he sees and hears, and how he feels, and no amount of outside theory from others can overcome that inner experience. For an individual, this is usually the most convincing method of proof.

This resource uses all three proof methods. For example:

  • SCIENTIFIC (Topics 20 and 26)
  • HISTORICAL (Topics 21-25)
  • EMPIRICAL (Topic 7)

WHAT PEOPLE HAVE FOUND IN THEIR SEARCH FOR TRUTH

Topics 11-15 give an overview of what people around the world have found in their search for truth regarding the meaning and purpose of life.

Unfortunately, most people haven’t searched very carefully. In fact, most people are too busy to give it much real thought at all. Even religious people typically get their faith more from culture and tradition than from investigation.

A third of the people of the world have come to believe that, somehow, Jesus Christ and the Bible are keys to understanding the meaning and purpose of life. However, most of them don’t understand how it all ties together or what they need to do.

The calculations here, from census and survey data, reveal that only a small percentage of the world’s population – probably only about 5% – are really Christians in the true sense of the word (defined and described from the Bible in the remaining Topics in this website).

Most people have never heard the full information presented in this handbook. Those who have discovered it are the most privileged people in the world. They understand what God is doing and have put their life in harmony with him. With love for people, they hope that others, too, will search for truth and find the same wonderful fulfillment.

QUESTION:

Approximately what percent of the world’s population has discovered that God offers new life through personal faith in Jesus Christ?

ANSWER:

Only God knows for sure, but apparently only about 5%.

It’s not that 95% have rejected... most have not yet heard, or have never really understood, the good news in the Bible! Properly understood, everyone wants the new life that God offers.

CALCULATION NOTES:

Children under age six have been grouped in a separate category because generally they don’t yet possess enough understanding to make an informed individual spiritual decision (as distinguished from family decision).

‘Christian religion’ includes all people age six and above who respond in census inquiry that they regard their religion as Christian. ‘Practicing Christians’ are those who say they’re affiliated and involved in some way in the life of a church.

In numerous surveys throughout the world, on average about 40% of Practicing Christians say they’ve had an unmistakable personal encounter with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The 40% has been arbitrarily reduced here by one-third – to 27% – because it seems that a sizeable proportion of people confuse a particular emotional experience with real life-change.

Those who have experienced real life-change use different words and expressions to describe it (including saved, born-again, accepting Jesus, converted, redeemed, etc.) They say their spiritual experience is accompanied by forgiveness of sin, peace with God, new spiritual understanding, and intimate communication with God – spiritually speaking, a whole new life. For lack of a better term, these people are identified above simply as ‘Christians (biblical, new life).’

Data on this page was compiled from WORLD CHRISTIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA.

David B. Barrett, Editor, Oxford University Press, London, update 1992.

WHAT PEOPLE HAVE FOUND IN THEIR SEARCH FOR TRUTH

Topics 11-15 give an overview of what people around the world have found in their search for truth regarding the meaning and purpose of life.

Unfortunately, most people haven’t searched very carefully. In fact, most people are too busy to give it much real thought at all. Even religious people typically get their faith more from culture and tradition than from investigation.

A third of the people of the world have come to believe that, somehow, Jesus Christ and the Bible are keys to understanding the meaning and purpose of life. However, most of them don’t understand how it all ties together or what they need to do.

The calculations here, from census and survey data, reveal that only a small percentage of the world’s population – probably only about 5% – are really Christians in the true sense of the word (defined and described from the Bible in the remaining Topics in this website).

Most people have never heard the full information presented in this handbook. Those who have discovered it are the most privileged people in the world. They understand what God is doing and have put their life in harmony with him. With love for people, they hope that others, too, will search for truth and find the same wonderful fulfillment. (See Topic 90.)

QUESTION:

Approximately what percent of the world’s population has discovered that God offers new life through personal faith in Jesus Christ?

ANSWER:

Only God knows for sure, but apparently only about 5%.

It’s not that 95% have rejected... most have not yet heard, or have never really understood, the good news in the Bible! Properly understood, everyone wants the new life that God offers.

All belief – and all disbelief – is by faith. Faith should be rooted in evidence.

EVERYONE IS LIVING BY FAITH IN SOMETHING

The word ‘faith’ arouses a great deal of skepticism, even derision, among many people in today’s secular world. They think faith is for the weak and mindless.

The fact of the matter (as shown in Topics 11-15) is that everyone lives by faith in something... in Allah, in hope for a better life in the next reincarnation, in secular humanism, in Christ, or even faith in good luck.

No one can say he’s acting without faith. And this faith – whatever it is – is the underlying assumption for the most important decisions in a person’s life. Everyone – without exception – is betting his life on his faith.

FAITH BY ITSELF IS NEITHER GOOD NOR BAD

Many people regard faith as a thing or a quality. They see it as a religious exercise or a resolute disposition. But that’s not faith.

Faith is really very simple and easy to practice. It’s simply believing with good reason. Just as we see something and know we have sight, so we believe something and know we have faith. Both sight and faith come naturally, without striving, as a consequence of the knowledge we have.

Faith alone is not a virtue. There’s nothing either good or bad about believing or not believing some- thing. True faith comes from evidence revealed, which is a rational matter, not a moral one. Faith is nothing apart from its object. What’s good or bad is not the faith, but who or what we have faith in. An intelligent person should believe something because of the weight of evidence for it, not merely because he feels like believing it or because someone tells him to believe it.

BELIEF IN GOD IS THE MOST REASONABLE FAITH

Faith is an important part of everyday life. On the highway, we have faith in the on-coming driver. At the office, we have faith in the accountant. At the restaurant, we have faith in the cook. Without faith, relationships could not function.

But faith is not blind. It rests upon a sense of probabilities resulting from observation, personal experience and information from others.

Because we cannot always get all the facts we want, we’re sometimes forced to make a ‘leap of faith.’ But a sensible person will keep that leap as short as possible by trying to gather and study all pertinent evidence.

The great majority of people who think deeply about the origin, design and purpose of our existence come to the conclusion that there’s a God behind it all. Consequently, most people have faith in God. The questions then become, what kind of God is he, and what does he expect of us? (See Topics 9-13.)

The remaining Discoveries in this handbook answer those questions. These Discoveries are summaries of a step-by-step investigation and thought process that’s based on evidence, not on emotion or tradition. (However, the findings are confirmed with great and wonderful emotion when a person meets God personally!)

It’s unreasonable for a person to say he has faith in God and yet goes through life without inquiring whether or not he can personally know God and without inquiring about all the personal benefits available from God. This handbook summarizes the spiritual inquiry, and findings, of a vast number of people (see INTRO-8) who have moved from a general faith in God to a personal relationship with him.

DOUBT CAN HELP DEVELOP FAITH

Doubt can be a healthy step in the development of faith. There’s usually nothing bad about doubt.

In nearly all aspects of life, here’s the normal pattern for good decision-making process:

  • We’re confronted with new information.
  • We think about it and question it.
  • Often, we have some doubt about the completeness or accuracy of what we hear.
  • We determine what additional information is needed before we can solidify our belief, and then we set about to get that additional information.
  • With good data and careful assessment, we develop faith that something or someone will act in a certain way.
  • Then, relying on this faith, we make our decisions.

The greater the quantity and accuracy of our information, and the more rigorous our doubt and questioning, the stronger will be our faith.

In this respect, development of spiritual faith is like development of faith in other areas of life. It grows out of an inner processing of information, with doubt being the catalyst in the process.

What’s dangerous, however, is when a person cares so little about spiritual matters that he doesn’t think about them enough to even struggle with doubt, or when he remains in a position of static doubt for a long time without getting more information.

Failure to process and resolve doubt is not a good way to make decisions. In fact, it’s the worst possible way because it’s decision-making by ignorance and default.

ACCURATE INFORMATION IS ESSENTIAL

It’s true that everyone is living by some kind or degree of faith (belief or disbelief) in God, but the tragedy is that most people lack information and thus are living with either:

Misinformed Belief

OR

Uninformed Disbelief

They may be sincere, but by betting their life on the wrong information, or on insufficient information, most people are missing the gift of new life which God offers.

God doesn’t expect perfection from us, but he does expect us to exercise reasonable diligence in investigating the package of information (Bible) he’s given to us.

Here's a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Hebrews 11:1
Faith is assurance of what lies ahead

Romans 10:14-17
Can’t have faith in something unknown

Romans 1:17
Person who finds new life discovers it through faith

For help, see Topic 29.

Atheists and agnostics do not believe in God.

ATHEISM AND AGNOSTICISM HAVE MANY FORMS

Everyone, even if he doesn’t believe in God, attempts to make sense of the reality around him. If he doesn’t attribute the world’s existence to God, he forms an alternative naturalistic explanation for the world.

An atheist is one who believes he has positive evidence that there’s no God at all. He explains all of existence in natural rather than supernatural terms. He sees nothing in the universe except blind and unconscious force.

An agnostic is one who believes there’s insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the existence of God. There are two types of agnostics: One type says there’s insufficient evidence now but leaves open the possibility of obtaining sufficient evidence later. The other type says its impossible for anyone to ever know with certainty whether or not there’s a God, and therefore he doesn’t even look for evidence.

The dominant form of atheism and agnosticism today is ‘secular humanism,’ a philosophy which interprets the being of man solely within the confines of the human sciences and which makes man himself the subject, source and primary object of values. It makes no room for God or religion.

A more subtle form is ‘practical atheism,’ which means ignoring or neglecting any relationship to God – living as if God doesn’t exist – and orienting life exclusively toward attainment of temporal goals.

COMMON REASONS FOR DISBELIEF IN GOD

Some of most common reasons why people say they’re atheists or agnostics are:

  • The existence of evil (wars, injustices, natural disasters, sickness, death, etc.) negates the possibility of a good and omnipotent God.
  • Denial of God is necessary to guarantee the absolute character of man’s freedom and ability to choose his own happiness.
  • It’s wrong to believe anything upon incomplete evidence.
  • Religion is emotional, not rational.
  • The Bible is full of incredulities and contradictions.
  • Christians are often hypocrites.

EVERY POSITION IS A MATTER OF FAITH

Atheists and agnostics usually pose as intellectuals. They say their views come by reason, not by faith. They often scorn the simple faith of those who believe in God.

The fact is, however, that any position – theist, atheist or agnostic – IS BY FAITH. Atheists and agnostics say that no one can ‘prove’ (as in a court of law) that there’s a God. The converse is also true: atheists and agnostics can’t ‘prove’ there is no God. Therefore, even the atheist and agnostic positions come by faith.

most faith graphic

ATHEISTS GIVE THEIR ARGUMENTS

Most atheists don’t view themselves as anti-theists but simply as non-theists. They prefer a positive positioning of their view, which they may call humanism, materialism, naturalism or positivism. There are many kinds of atheists, from those who are absolutely convinced that there’s no God to those who think there’s low probability. Some are silent, some are vocal.

Most often, atheists don’t attempt to disprove God but rather they refute the grounds upon which others believe. Here are some classical arguments against God often voiced by atheists:

ARGUMENT. If everything needs a cause, then so does God, in which case he wouldn’t be God. If God doesn’t need a cause, then neither does the world. If the world doesn’t need a cause, then the existence of the world proves that God is either nonexistent or unnecessary.

ARGUMENT. In order for God to cause himself to exist, he would have to exist prior to his existing, which is impossible.

ARGUMENT. An all-powerful God could, and an all-good God would, destroy evil. Since there’s evil in the world, either there’s no God or else he’s weak and/or malevolent and not worthy of worship.

ARGUMENT. If God is absolute, he’s free, and free to do evil. If he’s good, he can’t do evil. God can’t be absolute and good because it’s impossible to be both free and not free to do evil.

ARGUMENT. If God were all-powerful, he could make a stone so heavy that he couldn’t lift it. But if there’s something he can’t lift, then he’s not all-powerful.

THEISTS RESPOND TO THE ARGUMENTS

Theists – those who believe in God – respond to the atheists’ arguments:

CAUSE. If every dependent thing needs a cause – even to the point of infinite regress – it follows that there must be some infinite, necessary and independent cause, something that causes itself. That independent cause IS God. It’s untenable to say that something comes from nothing.

EVIL. Atheists actually assume God in their attempt to disprove him. For example, in attempting to disprove him via evil, they assume an ultimate standard of good and justice beyond the world. The existence of evil does not mean that God is powerless to eliminate evil, but rather that he hasn’t chosen to eliminate it yet.

LIMITATIONS. The fact that God can’t do all things doesn’t disprove his existence. Even though he can’t make a stone heavier than he can lift, he could vaporize it out of existence, thus demonstrating his power over it. Some things God can’t do because they are impossible by definition (like the stone) or because they would violate his character (like sinning). Limitations define his existence but don’t negate it.

Humanist Manifesto:

‘Humanism is faith in the supreme value and self- perfectibility of human personality.’

Buddhists have a religion without God.

BUDDHISM WAS STARTED BY SIDDHARTHA GAUTAMA

The Buddhist religion began with Siddhartha Gautama, who was born son of a king in northeastern India in bc 563. Reared in a beautiful palace, and trained as a prince, his father tried to protect him from the sorrows of the world by surrounding him with wealth and pleasures.

He married a beautiful princess, who bore him a son. One day when his son was still an infant, he informed his father that he wanted to see what life was like outside the palace. This excursion changed him forever because he saw ‘the four passing sights:’

  • He saw a decrepit old man and was told that everyone will become physically weak.
  • He saw a sick man afflicted by disease and was told that everyone will suffer pain.
  • He saw a funeral procession with a corpse on its way to cremation and was told that everyone will die.
  • He saw a shaven-headed religious beggar, clad in a simple yellow robe, but radiating peace and joy in the midst of all the sorrow around The tranquil look on the beggar’s face convinced Gautama that, paradoxically, this is really the highest level of living.

Immediately he left the palace and his family in search of enlightenment, and that became known as ‘the Great Renunciation.’ The former prince, now a beggar, wandered from place to place seeking wisdom to overcome life’s miseries. One day, deep in meditation under a fig tree, he reached what he claimed to be the highest degree of consciousness. After seven days under the tree – revered now as the ‘bodhi’ (tree of wisdom) – the ‘truths’ he learned there he would later impart to the world not as Siddhartha Gautama, but as the Buddha (‘the enlightened one’).

He soon gathered around him a band of 60 people – the beginning of the Buddhist order of monks – and he taught them his views. Then, they traveled around together proclaiming and expanding these ‘truths’ and making disciples.

THERE’S NO GOD, ONLY NATURAL ORDER AND REASON

Buddhism has no God in the Christian, Muslim or Hindu sense. Buddhists believe the universe evolved by itself and that it operates by natural power and law, not by divine command. There’s no such thing as sin against a supreme being. Sin is only a social matter.

The Buddha never claimed to be divine. He claimed only to be an enlightened teacher. Actually, according to Buddhist doctrine as it has evolved, he is but one in a great line of Buddhas. There have been four principal Buddhas, of whom Gautama was the latest. The fifth and final Buddha, Maitreya, is yet to come; some Buddhists have made attempts to identify Jesus as the final Buddha. Also, some Buddhists have deified Gautama.

The Buddha taught that there’s nothing within us that’s metaphysically real. There’s no ‘self’ or ‘soul’ or ‘spirit.’ Everything can be understood in natural terms. He taught that it’s the duty of every parent to have his children educated in science and literature and that no one should believe what is spoken by anyone, written in any book, or affirmed by any tradition unless it’s in accord with reason.

After physical death, there’s rebirth to another existence. The merits and demerits of a person’s past existences determine his condition in the present one. Everyone has prepared the causes and effects of the life which he now experiences.

Buddha taught that ignorance produces desire... and unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth... and rebirth is the cause of sorrow. Therefore, to end sorrow, we need to end the cycle or rebirths. To end the cycle, we must let go of our desires. It’s our ignorance, he said, that causes desire. Ignorance can be overcome by showing tolerance and brotherly love to all men, by showing kindness to the animal kingdom, by repressing cravings for selfish and sensual pleasures, and by developing intelligence.

GOAL IS TO END REBIRTHS AND ACHIEVE NIRVANA

The Buddha said our present existence arises out of our actions in previous existences, by the law of cause and effect (karma), in a complex chain of causes during a great number of lifetimes. A bad life may accrue demerits which will lengthen the cycle. The important question is how to end the wearisome rebirths and all the misery they bring. (One Buddhist manuscript claims that the Buddha had already lived 550 previous lives.)

The Buddha taught that a liberating purification is effected by following, with sincerity and continual meditation, ‘the noble Eightfold Path,’ which he described as: (1) right way of seeing things, (2) right aspirations, (3) right speech, (4) right conduct, (5) right way of making a livelihood, (6) right endeavors, (7) right awareness, and (8) right meditation.

Doing these right things with intense consciousness will ultimately (perhaps over thousands of years) bring a person to the final goal, ‘nirvana’ (which literally means ‘blowing out’ the flame of desire). Nirvana ends rebirths and sufferings and is eternal formless bliss. Nirvana is the one thing not caused by anything else. Nirvana is not a place and not annihilation; it’s a state of being that surpasses anything experienced in this world of conventional understanding.

THERE ARE MANY BUDDHIST SECTS AND SCRIPTURES

Siddhartha Gautama died at age 80. His body was cremated by his disciples, and his ashes were divided between eight clan groups. Each built an elaborate sacred ‘stupa’ to house the ashes, and these ornate little buildings became the focus of devotion and became early prototypes of the pagodas which today enshrine Buddhist relics.

There are now many sects of Buddhism, each with its own groups of sacred writings. The extreme bulk of Buddhist scriptures – over 5,000 volumes – makes it almost impossible for the average Buddhist to understand and practice the often contradictory teachings found in them.

So many forms of organization, cults and beliefs have developed within Buddhism – even in the fundamentals of the faith – that, like Hinduism, it has become a family of religions rather than a single religion.

In actual practice, Buddhism is often intertwined with local folk religion, including spiritism and ancestor worship, and with other religions such as Confucianism and Taoism. In these religious systems, there’s a tightly drawn hierarchy of family and social relationships and the belief that we should strive to achieve perfection through duty, learning, hard work and virtue.

summary graphic

Siddhartha Gautama

(from the Dhammadada):

‘By meditation and perseverance, by tireless energy, the wise attain to nirvana, the supreme beatitude.’

‘When the wise man in his vigilance puts away heedlessness and ascends the tower of wisdom, he looks down, being free from sorrow, upon the sorrow-laden race of mankind. As from a mountain-top, the wise man looks down upon the foolish men in the valley.’

Hindus believe in many gods, but only one universal spirit (Brahman).

HINDU RELIGION IS FLUID AND EVOLVING

The Hindu religion developed in India gradually over thousands of years. It doesn’t have any single person (like Jesus or Muhammad) or any single book (like the Bible or the Qur’an) to serve as a source of its doctrines.

Throughout the ancient world, it was common for the head of the family to offer animal sacrifices to please God. As Abraham (see Topic 12) was offering animal sacrifices in Arabia, Aryan priests were burning sacrifices on altars in India. As part of their sacrifice rituals, they chanted hymns referring to God by various names such as The Sun, The Heavenly One, The Storm, etc. Originally, the names merely represented different facets of a single Almighty God, but over the centuries the names of God became increasingly personified, and by bc 1000 the ‘Eastern’ religions had become polytheistic.

Then, as the next step, Hindus began saying that these gods are not different from things in the universe, but rather that God is everything, and everything is God.

Hindus are often syncretic (picking and choosing from many schools of religious thought to formulate uniquely personal beliefs and compromises). For example, the famous Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, said that he was a Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Jew – all at the same time, despite the obvious contradictions. It’s the essence of Hinduism to believe that there are many different ways of looking at something, none of which will give the whole view, but each of which is entirely valid in its own right.

KEY HINDU BELIEF: MAN IS PART OF GOD

Atman = Brahman (the soul of man is God) is the famous Hindu equation. This is regarded as the succinct formulation of the profound and ultimate truth about man and the universe. Man is not outside, but part of Brahman. Hindus rebel against the Jewish, Christian and Muslim view that God is external to the world.

The Hindu scriptures, written between bc 1400 and ad 500, are so voluminous that no one can know and comprehend them all. They include vedas (books of wisdom), upanishads (speculative treatises), puranas (stories illustrating desirable virtues), and the Ramayana and Mahabharata (epic tales of India). They’re a mixture of prayers, hymns, poems, rituals, philosophy, social law, and stories involving Hindu gods and goddesses. Hindus believe they contain sacred religious truth.

The best known and most read Hindu book is the Bhagavad Gita, a poetic narrative added to the Mahabharata in the first century AD. It’s a dialogue between Sri Krishna (the great God-spirit Vishnu on his 8th visit to earth, in bodily form as a chariot driver) and the warrior Arjuna. Hindus apply the concepts Sri Krishna told Arjuna to their own situations, thoughts and actions today.

Hindus have many deities, and every person can choose the ones he wants to worship. Even though deities appear in separate forms, most Hindus believe they’re part of one universal spirit called Brahman, the eternal Trimutri (three-in-one) God consisting of Brahma (creator of the universe), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). These three sub-deities have hundreds of their own sub-deities, which are regarded as different expressions of the same High God or Ultimate Reality. Gods and goddesses are represented by sculptured images, and most Hindus believe that the deities actually dwell in the idols. Hindus worship as individuals, not as congregations.

LIFE IS CYCLE OF BIRTHS, DEATHS AND REBIRTHS

Hindus believe that the soul never dies. When a person’s body dies, his soul is reborn into another body. Every action in this lifetime influences how his soul will be reborn in his next reincarnation.

If a person performs honorable deeds and lives a good life, his soul will be reborn into a higher state, as into the body of a person of noble standing. But if a person performs evil deeds, and leads a bad life, his soul will be reborn into a lower state, as into the body of a worm., and then he will have to work his way up again.

CHIEF AIM IS TO END REINCARNATIONS

To the Hindu way of thinking, whatever is IS – it’s ‘karma’ (fate) based on the actions of previous lifetimes, and there’s nothing we can do but to accept it and strive to live a little better for the next lifetime.

For a Hindu, the chief aim of existence is to be freed from the relentless cycle of births, deaths and rebirths. A person’s reincarnations will continue until he achieves spiritual perfection in one of three ways: (1) the way of works (carrying out prescribed ceremonies, duties and religious rites in order to add favorable karma to his credit), (2) the way of knowledge (concentrating with much discipline and meditation on the thought that he is part of the ultimate Brahman and not a separate entity), and (3) the way of devotion (loving and worshiping a deity, in public and in private, and extending this love to human relationships).

When this perfection occurs, in any of these three ways, his soul is freed from the chain of rebirths. He then enters a new level of existence, called ‘moksha,’ which is eternal, blissful, unconscious rest in Brahman.

‘NEW AGE’ IS MODERN HINDUISM

The ‘New Age movement’ is a popular modern version of Hindu thought. It’s an umbrella term which refers to a wide variety of ideas, practices and groups. It’s not an organized religion but a growing cultural trend in spiritual and social change which seeks to throw off traditional monotheism (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and secular humanism (rationalism, atheism, and skepticism) and usher in a New Age of self- realization.

In New Age thought, ‘God’ is everything. He’s not a personal being (see Topic 9). Instead, he’s an ‘it,’ like a principle, energy or force. We’re all (part of) God.

New Agers believe we’re moving into an exciting new era of spiritual discovery – called the Aquarian Age in astrology – which will be a quantum leap in evolutionary consciousness.

New Agers seek supernatural experience through yoga, martial arts, transcendental meditation, channeling (talking to spirits of the dead), extra sensory perception, telepathy, clairvoyance, remembrance of supposed past lives (reincarnation), psychic healing, out-of-body experiences, divination, and use of crystals. The result of these experiences, they say, is a feeling of oneness with everything, and the realization of one’s own divinity, sometimes called the ‘Higher Self.’ When we get to this high level of enlightenment, we’re no longer fettered by an external and objective reality, but rather we create our own reality.

There’s no standard, and thus no sin. Acts of wrongdoing are not done against any God but are done against ourselves as a result of our own ignorance.

Like traditional Hindus, New Agers believe that after death, the soul moves to a new body.

Bhagavad Gita 2:55-71:

(Sri Krishna speaking) They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart.

Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad...

Use all your power to free the sense from attachment and aversion alike, and live in the full wisdom of the Self. Such a sage awakes to light in the night of all creatures. That which the world calls day is the night of ignorance to the wise...

They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’ to be united with the Lord. This is the supreme state.

Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality.

Muslims believe in a single all-powerful God (Allah).

ABRAHAM WAS FATHER OF JEWS, CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS

The monotheists of the world – those who believe in one God, not many gods – are Jews, Christians and Muslims. They all have a common father, Abraham, who lived about bc 2,000. The Bible tells a lot about him (Genesis 11-25). Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael.

Ishmael became the father of the Arabs, and thus progenitor of the Muslims.

Isaac’s son, Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) became father of the Jews (thus the Bible name ‘Children of Israel’ and ‘Israelites,’ and today simply the nation of ‘Israel’).

Christians, Jews and Muslims agree that this is the correct skeletal genealogy of our ancestors.

ISLAM RELIGION WAS FOUNDED BY MUHAMMAD

The Prophet Muhammad was born about ad 571 in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He was an orphan raised by a succession of relatives. A rich uncle sent him on trading excursions to the north, where he met Christians. At age 25, he married a wealthy 40-year-old widow, who bore him three daughters.

After marriage, he began to show mystical traits and frequently withdrew to the hills for contemplation. At age 40, he received what he believed was a revelation from God calling him to denounce the paganism and polytheism of Mecca and preach the existence of the one God, Allah. He then founded the Islam religion, incorporating many concepts from Judaism and Christianity.

Those who believe in one God and accept Muhammad as his messenger are called Muslims (meaning ‘those who submit to God’). Muslims believe that God has spoken through numerous prophets down through the centuries, the greatest being Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

QUR’AN IS MUSLIMS’ WORD OF GOD

Muhammad claimed to receive visions from God over a period of 22 years, and these visions have been recorded in a holy book called the Qur’an (‘recitation’). The Qur’an (Koran) is the Word of God in Islam, the holy scriptures to supercede the Old and New Testaments which Muslims believe have been corrupted by Jews and Christians.

Of the 28 prophets mentioned in the Qur’an, 18 are Jewish, four are Arabian, and three are Christian. Since Muhammad is the most recent, Muslims say he’s the greatest. In their view, Jesus was a great prophet, but not divine. Only Allah is divine.

The Qur’an teaches the absolute unity and power of God, the creator and controller of the universe. It forbids lying, stealing, adultery and murder, and teaches patience, kindness, courage and generosity. The main doctrines – called the five pillars of Islam – are:

  • CONFESSION OF FAITH (shahada). ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of ’ One becomes a Muslim by publicly reciting this creed.
  • PRAYER (salat). Facing Mecca, Muslims should say ritual prayers at prescribed times five times daily, alone, in company, or in the mosque (equivalent to Christian church or Jewish synagogue). The congregational prayer at noon on Fridays, which usually includes a sermon, is particularly important for adult males.
  • FASTING (Ramadan). During Ramadan (ninth month of the lunar calendar), Muslims must not eat or drink, smoke or have sexual relations between dawn and sunset.
  • ALMSGIVING (zakat). Muslims must give 2 1/2% of their income and certain kinds of property to charity.
  • PILGRIMAGE (hajj). If he can afford it, every Muslim is required once in his lifetime to worship at the Ka’aba, Islam’s most holy shrine in Mecca.

ALLAH CANNOT BE KNOWN PERSONALLY

Muslims believe Allah’s transcendence is so great that he’s not personally knowable.

He’s capricious because both good and evil come from him. Whatever Allah decrees is right, and this makes any standard of righteousness difficult to discern. Even though Allah is said to be loving, this attribute is almost ignored, and his stern justice is overriding.

Salvation is never certain since it’s based on a works system and on complete surrender to the will of Allah. At the day of resurrection and judgment, those who have obeyed Allah and Muhammad will go to an Islamic heaven, called Paradise, a place of sensual pleasure. Those who have not obeyed will be tormented in hell.

MUSLIMS MISUNDERSTAND CHRISTIANS

Muslims are forbidden to investigate Christianity, and this causes many social and political tensions.

Due largely to a misunderstanding of the trinity, most Muslims think Christians have three Gods: a father, a son and a spirit. (And some think a fourth, the virgin Mary.) This idea is very repugnant to Muslims, who have unyielding belief in ONE GOD and who fight (even ‘Jihad,’ holy war) against polytheistic ‘infidels’ in order to protect Allah’s honor.

SIMILARITIES:

The Apostles’ Creed, a traditional statement of Christian faith, illustrates how the beliefs of Christians and Muslims are in essential agreement on many major points. Muslims reject those affirmations which are crossed out and accept the rest:

‘I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth: and in Jesus Christ, His  only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered  under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and  was buried.

‘He descended to hell; on the third day rose  again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father

almighty, thence will come to judge the living  and the dead.

‘I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian  church, the communion of saints,

the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.’

Qur’an I 1:

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Creation, the Compassionate, the Merciful, King of Judgment-day. You alone we worship, and to You alone we pray for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored, not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.

Qur’an IV 135:

O believers, believe in God and His Messenger and the Book He has sent down on His Messenger and the Book which He sent down before. Whoso disbelieves in God and His angels and His Books, and His Messengers, and the Last Day, has surely gone astray into far error.

There’s a big difference between ‘biblical’ Christianity and ‘cultural’ Christianity.

USE OF THE WORD ‘CHRISTIAN’ REQUIRES DEFINITION

core graphicThe word ‘Christian’ means different things to different people. This causes communication problems because the word evokes stereotypes and emotions which distort the message. The difficulty is compounded because there are no synonyms and because repeated definition is cumbersome and impractical.

The result is that there are two primary definitions of Christianity in common usage today, often blurred together, referred to here as ‘cultural’ Christianity and ‘biblical’ Christianity.

‘Cultural’ refers to the meaning given by society. It focuses on what church members do, or at least what they should do. It emphasizes clean living, honesty, generosity and good works. ‘Biblical’ refers to the meaning given by the Bible. It focuses on who we are, not on what we do. It emphasizes the problem of sin, our own inadequacy to overcome it, and why we need God (Jesus Christ) to save us from our predicament.

Cultural Christianity and biblical Christianity are quite different from each other, as shown on the diagram at left and chart below.

cultural christianity chart

STATISTICS OVERSTATE THE NUMBER OF REAL CHRISTIANS

All that goes by the name Christian is not in fact Christian! What most people know and observe is cultural Christianity. But this is NOT real Christianity. It’s only an outer shell, largely hiding the real thing. At the core of Christianity is God, not our theologians, rituals and good works.

In this resource, Christianity always means biblical Christianity – the core of it, the real thing, in its pure and simple form – as stated by God in the Bible, not necessarily as portrayed or practiced by church or society.

Statistics on the Christian population generally refer to the broad spectrum of Christianity – cultural and biblical – and therefore greatly overstate the number of real Christians. In fact, as calculated in Topic 17, it appears that only about 5% of the world’s population is Christian by God’s definition. Topics 53-70 – and particularly Topics 62 – define ‘real’ Christianity.

christians in the us chart

Here's a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 15:8-9
Jesus: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

Acts 11:26
Disciples first called Christians at Antioch (Turkey)

For help, see Topic 29.

Data on this page was compiled from WORLD CHRISTIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA.

David B. Barrett, Editor, Oxford University Press, London, 1992.

We can learn from the spiritual experiences of others.

THE WORLD HAS SIX BLOCKS OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

There are nearly six billion people alive in the world today and nearly everyone thinks about God in one way or another.

The world is comprised of six major blocks of people:

  • Christian 34%
  • Muslim 17%
  • Hindu 13%
  • Buddhist 6%
  • Other religion 9%
  • No religion 21%

To have a solid theology and intellectual integrity, we need to be open-minded to the beliefs of others. The teachings of the major religions of the world are summarized in Topics 11-15:

Statistics on world religions give evidence of the universal and timeless need of man to try to satisfy his spiritual hunger. This is veritable proof of the spirit nature God created within every person. (See Topics 7-9.)

EVERY RELIGION HAS SINCERE BELIEVERS

Most people don’t have an intelligent faith resulting from their own objective search. Usually, they have only a conditioned faith passed on from family or culture.

In all religions, most adherents give lip-service and perform rituals without much depth of understanding or commitment, but we shouldn't let inconsistencies in their lives blind us from trying to understand the core tenets of the religion. Within all religions there are also wise and sincere men and women who are very thoughtful about what they believe and who give their lives to God/gods in the way they think is right. It's only fair and honest that we listen to their points of view and experiences.

LEARN KEY POINTS OF THE MAJOR RELIGIONS

We can never know everything about all religious thought, but we can know the key points. The conclusions of the great theologians of the ages have shaped, and are incorporated into, the main teachings of today's major religions.

To be certain not to miss any important theological perspective, and to put the development of our own belief into world-view context, we should objectively consider the basic beliefs that have emerged from other people throughout the world who have also sought to know God.

Within each of the major religions, there are hundreds of sects. Man's inventiveness in creating things to worship – and ways to worship – is boundless. The result is thousands of rules and thousands of deities. Because of the irreconcilable conflict among religions, and even within religions, it follows that most religion is a cruel hoax, perpetuated by ignorance and fear, requiring sacrifice and giving only false hope.

CHRISTIANITY IS GROWING RAPIDLY

The number of people who claim to be Christians has quadrupled since the beginning of this century. Not all of them really are Christians by God's definition, but they believe they are, or at least they want to identify in some way with Christ. (See Topics 11 and 17.)

Christianity is likely to experience a growth surge in the early part of the 21st century as the message of the Bible takes root in former communist countries where religion had been outlawed or tightly controlled.

Increasingly, more people are becoming urban dwellers, which intensifies spiritual hunger. And, people are becoming more educated and more inclined to think for themselves. Also, people now are talking more openly about spiritual needs and solutions. These conditions will further accelerate the Christian growth trend.

Data on this page was compiled from WORLD CHRISTIAN ENCYCLOPEDIA.

David B. Barrett, Editor, Oxford University Press, London, update 1992.

Year 2000 is Barrett's projections based on current trends.