The link above takes you to a study of world religions and cults, which some people call “alternative” faiths or other paths to God. Our stand will be on the truth of Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is this view narrow-minded and outdated, as some suggest? Quite the contrary. The words Christ speaks are “spirit” and “life” (John 6:63). To disregard them is perilous. Yet many do.
There are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, 820 million Hindus, 400 million Buddhists, 13 million Mormons, 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, and millions more engaged in other false religions, or no religion at all. By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth and believe they have found it. How can so many people be wrong? This study answers that question — and many others regarding people’s quest for ultimate truth.
Through this study, we will look at many belief systems, from Islam to Scientology. In each case, we’ll examine the background of the “alternative” faith and compare its beliefs to what the Bible says. We also will discuss effective means of witnessing to people who embrace these false religions.
Our purpose is not to condemn anyone or to assume God’s role as sovereign judge of the universe; rather, it is to compare the teachings of the world’s major religions and cults with biblical, historical Christianity so that we might be more effective in praying for and witnessing to the lost, and wiser in our ability to discern false doctrines. Every person, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, is precious in the eyes of God and is someone for whom Christ died. Our attitude as we study these false religious systems should be one of humility, love, and grace.
The words of the apostle Paul are clear: Those who are not grounded in the Word of God are subject to deceptive teachings about “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel.” Every world religion and every cult that we study professes belief in Jesus and has an exalted place for Him in its theology. But without exception, each of these belief systems fails to correctly answer the key question Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” They also have false views of the Holy Spirit and without exception embrace a works-based doctrine of salvation.
Paul warned Christians in Acts 20:29-31: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert …” Our prayer is that this study will help protect you, your family and your church from false teachers who proclaim “another Jesus … a different spirit … and a different gospel.”
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
The Church of Scientology draws from Eastern philosophy, modern psychology, occult practices and science fiction. Founder L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) defined Scientology as “the Western anglicized continuance of many earlier forms of wisdom” including the Vedas, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Gnosticism, early Greek civilization and the teachings of Jesus, Nietzsche and Freud. According to Hubbard, “Scientology has accomplished the goal of religion expressed in all Man’s written history, the freeing of the soul by wisdom.”
According to the organization’s official Web site (Scientology.org), “The word Scientology literally means ‘the study of truth.’ It comes from the Latin word ‘scio’ meaning ‘knowing in the fullest sense of the word’ and the Greek word ‘logos’ meaning ‘study of.’ Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life.”
Scientology proclaims certain fundamental truths. Among them: “Man is an immortal, spiritual being. His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime. His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized – and those capabilities can be realized. He is able to not only solve his own problems, accomplish his goals and gain lasting happiness, but also achieve new, higher states of awareness and ability” (Scientology.org).
Scientology does not claim to be a Christian organization, so it doesn’t fit into our definition of a cult (a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity). Still, Scientologists would say their religion is compatible with Christianity. The church has no clear definition of the nature or person of God. Scientology literature rarely refers to a supreme being but occasionally uses the terms “Eighth Dynamic” or “infinity” and vaguely embraces pantheism (God is all; all is God).
Scientology seeks to release human potential, free the soul and restore people to their original state as pure, immortal spirits. Within every human being is a thetan, an eternal spirit in bondage to matter. Through Scientology, thetans may be freed, returning to the glorious spiritual beings they once were.
Source of authority
L. Ron Hubbard is the founder of Scientology. A prolific writer, he described his beliefs in more than 5,000 writings, including dozens of books and roughly 3,000 recorded lectures. The organization officially dubs his writings “scripture” and claims they are the only source for solving mankind’s problems. Among his best-known works are Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health; Dianetics Today; and The Church of Scientology.
How Scientology works
Scientology claims that its counseling procedure, called “auditing,” offers the only ultimate solution to mankind’s problems. Auditing locates and solves engrams, or past traumatic experiences that inhibit true spiritual enlightenment. Scientology claims it can eventually free the human spirit from its bondage to the material world. Scientology stresses the development of psychic powers, out-of-body experiences and other occult practices.
Practice and teachings
Scientology uses “auditing” to unleash human potential. Auditing is an extensive examination of a follower’s present life as well as past lives. Experiences of extreme shock, pain or unconsciousness cause engrams, or sensory impressions, to be recorded in the unconscious mind. These mental pictures produce physical and emotional problems today and can be dislodged only through Scientology’s procedures. Scientology teaches that people are three-part beings: thetan (spirit), mind (analytical/conscious and reactive/subconscious), and body.
While engrams are recorded in the brain, they lay dormant until a similar incident stimulates them once again, causing conditioned behavior that is counterproductive to the person’s well being. For example, if a boy falls off his red bicycle while learning to ride, he may fear all red bikes, or even all things red. In this way, claims Scientology, all people essentially are conditioned machines responding to the reactive/subconscious part of their minds. The church claims that through Dianetics or Scientology therapy we may expose our engrams and erase them, thus becoming “clear” and in control of our behavior.
“Dianetics could be said to be what the soul is doing to the body,” says Scientology.org. “It provides answers to the fundamental riddles of the mind with a thoroughly validated method that increases sanity, intelligence, confidence and well-being. It gets rid of the unwanted sensations, unpleasant emotions and psychosomatic ills that block one’s life and happiness.”
Scientology also teaches that through reincarnation people have been accumulating engrams for trillions of years. Each time a body dies, for example, the thetan must enter another body, but in so doing brings with him trillions of years of accumulated engrams. Thetans, therefore, are no longer free; they are in bondage to the material universe. In order to resolve this problem, people must be whisked back mentally to experience again the damaging events of their past lives.
As Scientologists explain it, trillions of years ago thetans became bored, so they emanated mental universes in which to play. Soon they became so entranced by their own creation and were so conditioned by the manifestations of their thought processes that they lost all awareness of their true identity. In other words, thetans became trapped in MEST (matter, energy, space and time). To make matters worse, thetans accumulated countless engrams throughout trillions of years of existence. The final result was materially enslaved entities existing as mere stimulus-response machines. Scientology claims that it seeks to restore thetans to their original state as rulers of the heavens.
The aims of Scientology, according to the church, are a “civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and the honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights” (Scientology.org). L. Ron Hubbard beckons: “We welcome you to Scientology … the most vital movement on Earth today…. Man suspects all offers of help. He has often been betrayed, his confidence shattered. Too frequently he has given his trust and been betrayed. We may err, for we build a world with broken straws. But we will never betray your faith in us so long as you are one of us. The sun never sets on Scientology.” The sun did set on Hubbard, however; he died in 1986.
Auditing – Scientology’s counseling method used to locate and erase engrams, or harmful impressions from the past, including former lives.
Clear – The state of a person who has completed auditing, liberated from all engrams.
Dianetics – L. Ron Hubbard’s method of erasing engrams and their negative effects on the mind.
E-Meter – An instrument developed by Hubbard and used in auditing sessions.
Engram – Unconscious mental image that has a negative effect on a person’s life.
MEST – Acronym for matter, energy, space and time, all of which make up the physical universe and hold the thetan captive.
Thetan – The immortal soul or spiritual being; the true identity of a person.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Hinduism is the world’s oldest living organized religion. With an estimated 850 million followers, it is the third largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Founded in India beginning as early as 2500 B.C., Hinduism is most prevalent in that country, where an estimated 785 million people engage in Hindu practices. Hindus also are found in significant numbers in Bangladesh, Nepal (where it is the state religion), Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other countries. There are an estimated 1.5 million Hindus in North America.
According to some sources, the word “Hinduism” comes from the Indus River, which flows through modern-day Pakistan. Hinduism has no single founder. It began as a polytheistic and ritualistic religion with simple rituals. Over time, the rituals became more complex so that it was necessary to create a priestly class. During this time, the Vedas were written to give the priests instructions for performing the rituals; eventually the priests became mediators with the gods, which gave them control over people’s lives. Around 600 B.C., the people revolted. The form of Hinduism that resulted emphasized internal meditation as opposed to external rituals. Between 800 B.C. and 300 B.C. the Upanishads – also called the Vedanta, or the end of the Vedas – was written. Roughly the Hindu equivalent of the Christian New Testament, the Upanishads teaches that behind the many gods stands one Reality known as Brahman, an impersonal force. Later, Hinduism developed the concept of a personified Brahman known as Ishvara. According to Hindu tradition, Ishvara became known to humanity through the three manifestations of Brahman: Brahma (the Creator); Vishnu (the Preserver), and Siva (the Destroyer). Ishvara became even more personified through 10 mythical incarnations of Vishnu called avatars, who took on the form of animals or persons.
Beyond the principal deities and the avatars it is estimated that there are 330 million other gods in Hinduism. Besides Hinduism’s different concepts of God, the religion also may be divided along the lines of whether the physical universe is real or illusory. The nondualists (advaita) see Brahman alone as real and the world as an illusion. “Qualified nondualists” say the universe is extended from the Being of Brahman. And dualists (dvaita) see Brahman and the universe as distinct realities. Throughout history, Hinduism has spawned three other religious movements: Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Although Hinduism is complex and diverse, most Hindus hold these beliefs in common:
- The impersonal nature of Brahman. Hindus see ultimate reality, Brahman, as an impersonal oneness that is beyond all distinctions, including personal and moral distinctions.
- The unity of Brahman and Atman. Most followers believe that their true selves (atman) are extended from and are one with Brahman. “Just as the air inside an open jar is identical to the air surrounding that jar, so our essence is identical to that of the essence of Brahman” (The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, p. 88).
The law of karma. This is the moral equivalent of the natural law of cause and effect. The effects of our actions follow us throughout the present lifetime and into the next lifetime. Humanity’s main problem is that we are ignorant of our divine nature. We have forgotten that we are extended from Brahman and so we have mistakenly attached ourselves to the desires of our separate selves, or egos, and thereby to the consequences of our actions.
- Reincarnation (samsara). This is the seemingly endless cycle of life, death and rebirth. We reap in this lifetime the consequences of the deeds of previous lifetimes. A person’s karma determines the kind of body he or she will receive in the next life, whether human, animal or insect.
- Liberation (moksha). The goal of Hinduism is to be free of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. This liberation is attained by realizing that the concept of self is an illusion and that only the undifferentiated oneness with Brahman is real. Hinduism offers at least three paths to enlightenment: karma marga (the way of action and ritual); jnana marga (the way of knowledge and meditation); and bhakti marga (the way of devotion). When enlightenment is reached, the individual self loses its separate identity and is merged into the universal self, or Brahman.
Hinduism generally is viewed by the West as a polytheistic religion – one that worships multiple deities – but this is not necessarily accurate. Others view Hinduism as monotheistic because it recognizes one supreme God, Brahman. Still others see the religion as Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized as one god with three persons: Brahma (the Creator who continues to create new realities); Vishnu, or Krishna (the Preserver who sustains these new creations); and Shiva (the Destroyer). Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, meaning they recognize a single deity and see other gods and goddesses as manifestations of Brahman.
The Hindu Scriptures
The earliest of the Hindu scriptures are the Vedas (Veda means “knowledge”): Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the Mantras, or basic verses or hymns sung during the rituals; the Brahmanas, or the explanation of the verses; the Aran-yakas, which are reflections on their meaning; and the Upanishads, or mystical interpretations of the verses. Besides these primary scriptures are secondary ones known as smriti, or “remembered.” Included in these are the Ramayana (Rama’s way) and Mahabhrata (the great story), which includes the most popular of all Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad-Gita, the main character of which is Krishna. Other smriti scriptures include the Vedangas, or codes of law; the Puranas, the genealogies and legends of the gods; the Darshanas, philosophical writings; the Sutras, rules of ritual and social conduct; and the Tantras, writings on attaining occult power).
Hinduism has no single creed and recognizes no final truth. The extensive collection of scriptures allow a diverse belief system. Simply put, Hinduism has a pagan background in which the forces of nature and human heroes are personified as gods and goddesses who are worshiped with prayers and offerings. Hindu worship is varied and features color symbolism, offerings, fasting and dance. Most Hindus worship an image of their chosen deity, with chants (mantras), flowers and incense. Worship tends to be individualistic rather than congregational. Hinduism may be dived into Popular Hinduism, characterized by the worship of gods through offerings, rituals and prayers; and Philosophical Hinduism, the complex belief system that requires the study of ancient texts, meditation and yoga.
Paths to Moksha
The goal of Hinduism is to liberate oneself from samsara, the seemingly endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, and be reunited with Brahma. This “salvation” is known as moksha and there are three paths that may be pursued to attain it:
- Dharma, or the path of works. A person has a set of specific social and religious obligations that must be fulfilled. For example, he must follow his caste occupation, marry within his caste, eat or not eat certain foods, and produce and raise a son who can make a sacrifice to his ancestors as well as perform other duties. By fulfilling these responsibilities, the person on the path of works may obtain a better reincarnation in the next life and, perhaps, after thousand of reincarnations, achieve moksha.
- Inana, the path of knowledge. This is a more difficult path and involves self-renunciation and meditation. This aesthetic path is open to men only in the higher castes. It most often includes the practice of yoga, an attempt to control one’s consciousness through posture, breath control and concentration.
- Bhakti, the path of passionate devotion. This is the most popular way to achieve moksha. A devotee may choose any of the 330 million gods, goddesses or demigods in the Hindu pantheon and passionately worship that god. In practice, almost all Hindus who follow this path worship Vishnu or Shiva. The most popular god is Vishnu, who has appeared as avatars (saviors, the incarnation of deity) in the form of a giant turtle, as Gautama Buddha and as Rama and Krishna, two important Hindu heroes. Shiva is popular as well. Rituals performed by his devotees are similar to the worship of the Canaanites, whom God commanded the Israelites to destroy.
The Caste System
Around 500 B.C. a social hierarchy known as the caste system was established. One Hindu hymn tells how four castes of people came from the head, arms, thighs and feet of Brahma, the creator god. The four castes were the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors and nobles); Vaisyas (merchants and artisans); and Shudras (slaves). Each caste was then subdivided into hundreds of subcastes. Only the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas were allowed to take full advantage of the Hindu religion, but the Shudras were forbidden from hearing the Vedas or using them to find salvation. Even lower in status were the Untouchables who, until the 20th century, were considered outside the caste system and were treated as subhuman. They did the dirtiest work, drank polluted water, wore tattered clothing and were denied property, education and dignity. When India became a nation in 1947, the government officially outlawed discrimination against Untouchables. Today, the caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas but remains virtually unchanged in some rural parts of the country.
The Mark on the Forehead
The colored dot often seen on the forehead of Hindus is called by a number of names, including bindi. It is a sign of piety and symbolizes the third eye – the one focused inward toward God. Both men and women wear the bindi, although the practice among men is going out of style. Today, many women wear dots that match the color of their saris.
The Sacred Cow
The cow is considered sacred in Hinduism. She is symbolic of abundance, the sanctity of all life, and the earth that gives much while asking nothing in return. The cow is respected as a matriarchal figure for her gentle qualities and for providing milk and related products to people who consume a mostly vegetarian diet. The reverence for cows may be found throughout Hinduism’s major texts.