Most of the six billion plus individuals on this planet practice some form of religion. In a variety of ways, they are attempting to live harmoniously with the power or powers they believe are controlling the world. Religions provide social structure, ethical guidelines and mystical experiences to escape the harsh realities of life.
These religions can take a variety of forms:
a. Monotheistic religions that believe in one personal Supreme Being. The great monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
b. Pantheistic religions that believe in an impersonal god or force. Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism are categorized here.
c. Polytheistic religions that believe in many gods. Hundreds of cultures worship thousands of gods according to their specific tradition.
In spite of the great diversity among religions, it is common to think of them as fundamentally the same and only different in outward form. After all, aren’t all religions diverse attempts to understand ultimate Reality and come to terms with the uncertainties of life? Actually, the reverse is true. All religions are fundamentally different and similar only in some external forms. When we compare religions based on their core beliefs, we find them diametrically opposed to one another. Sound logic dictates that not all of them can be true. They may all be wrong, but they can’t all be right.
Certainly, the outward forms of various religions are similar. Most religious people pray and have religious practices/rituals. They hold to specific ethical standards, with most emphasizing an ethic of love and charity. They all try to explain the afterlife. Despite these similarities, world religions can be poles apart. For instance, the philosophical rift between monotheism (belief in one god) and pantheism (everything that exists is God) cannot be bridged. If everything is God, then there can be no such thing as an individual. Although Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monotheistic, and all three treat Abraham and Moses as important figures, the differences between them are so profound that their adherents often resort to violence and bigotry against one another.
This total lack of agreement among major religions ought to dispel the modern myth that spiritual quests are like climbing a mountain: there are many paths to the top and they all get to the same place as long as they are sincere. Reality makes it much more likely that people are climbing entirely different mountains. Sincerity cannot overcome the brute facts of logic. When religions hold opposing ideas, both cannot be true at the same time and in the same manner. Even sincere people can be sincerely wrong.
In the book of Romans, Paul categorized pagan religions as sinful, truth-suppressing substitutes of reality. They all face God’s wrath. However, even Judaism was under God’s wrath for rejecting the gift of righteousness by faith in Jesus. Paul gave us God’s perspective on religions when he said to the Thessalonians: …you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (I Thessalonians 1:9-10)