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Compare and Contrast Hinduism and Christianity Essay

A. Christian and Hindu

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of the world. Its followers are called Hindus. Its largest following is found in India. Hinduism traces its roots to the Indus Valley civilization about 5000 years ago. It is an intermingling of the    religion of the nomadic Aryans (indo –European tribes) called Vedism and the more sophisticated indigenous Indian native beliefs and practices, often referred to as “Indus valley culture”(Famighetti, 1996, 654). It has no single founder or creed but drew on many traditions as it evolved. In spite of the fact that it was subject to many influences (a little Islam practices are incorporated into it) it stayed flexible enough to be the dominant faith of most people of India (Hammer 1982).

After the Aryans, Hinduism went through many developments and in 1200 AD the religion was officially named “Hinduism” by the Muslim invaders. There is a minimal organization in Hinduism and an absence of creed particularly because Hinduism operates more as culture than a religion. The religion is so diverse in scope that it does not fit well into the western concept of religion but rather it leans more to a commitment to or respect for an ideal way of life, known as Dharma: eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty (Hammer 1982).

In a much later time, a new kind of religious movement, Christianity, was founded around AD 30. Christianity is based upon the teachings of Jesus, a Jewish carpenter who resides in the Roman province of Palestine. He was a popular figure in that part of the world because he was known to perform many miracles of healing. His life and his teachings are found in the Bible– the first four gospels of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These gospels were written by diverse authors (excluding Jesus).

Jesus Christ is believed to fulfill the prophecy of Messiah (a redeemer of the world) in the Old Testament. In fact, the main teaching of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross to reconcile sinners back to God. He offers unconditional love and forgiveness to those who accepts him as Lord and Savior. He gained many followers especially after his “resurrection” and before long, amidst persecutions; Christianity became the official religion of the many provinces of the most powerful Empire in that era, Rome. At present, Christianity is embraced by many countries of the world (Crofton, 1991, 312-313).

B.  Two characteristics of each religion

The Christians believed in a Triune God; God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit. Although they are three, they are also considered as one (monotheistic). The Christian concept of Trinity is that God is one but manifested himself   in three ways, each with separate function. As God the father, he expresses himself as the Supreme Creator of everything, whether seen or unseen, as God the Son he expresses himself as God born as man (incarnation) with a mission to reconcile man back to God by dying in the cross as a sacrifice for sin, and as God the Holy Spirit he expresses himself as a spiritual Being who indwells Christian believers to impart to them the power and strength to overcome the trials and temptations while living on earth(Boettner , 1976 , 80-81 ).

The Hindus, on the other hand believed in a supreme being (Brahman) who is thought to be present in all creatures and that, at the same time, creatures are also considered as part of him. They believed in many different gods and goddesses, but all are considered to be symbols and expressions of Brahman. Each deity can appear in many forms or incarnations. Their most important expressions or manifestations of Brahman are Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver (Crofton, 1994, 304).

Although the west may consider the Hindu faith as polytheistic, Hinduism can be viewed as Trinitarian, one God in three major manifestations: Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva. However, Hindus can be accurately described as henotheistic; they adhere to the belief that gods and goddesses are facets, forms, manifestations, or aspects of the one supreme God (Perry, 1988, 230).

The Christians also believed that man lived only once on this earth and after he dies he is destined to two places, Heaven or hell. Heaven is for those who lived a godly life on earth, who ask for forgiveness of their sins and acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Together with God and his heavenly beings the “saints” will live a life of bliss forever.  Hell is the destiny of those who persisted in transgressing God’s established Law, revealed to man through the Bible, and to those who did not acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

They will be with the Devil forever and be tormented without end. Wherever he may end up, death eternally liberates man from a life on earth (Crofton, 1994, 312-313). The Hindus, on the other hand, believed that after a man die he would be reincarnated into another life depending on Karma. Karma can be understood most simply as the accumulated good and bad acts of man’s previous lives, which consequently determines his type of birth, length of life and kinds of experiences in the next life. Hindu concept of reincarnation is the continuous transfer of one’s soul from body to body.

Hindus believed that good Karma assures a person of being reborn into a better life. A person with bad Karma may not be reborn in a human body, but perhaps as an animal or insect. In Hinduism, the goal is liberation from an endless cycle of rebirth (Perry, 1988, 230).

B. Similarities and Differences between Each Religion’s Concepts of each of the two characteristics,

Both religions are similar in their belief of a Triune God (although in Hinduism it cannot be accurately stated that they believe in Trinity because there are other lesser gods and goddesses that vie for worship).  In the two religions the first and second and third persons of the Trinity are similar; as God the creator, God the preserver and God as the destroyer.  However there are obvious and important differences in their characters or functions.  Brahma is considered a very impersonal God because he should not be disturbed by man in fulfilling his duties and obligations as a creator (Cory, 1986, 10).

God the Father on the other hand longed to have a personal relationship with man and in fact many verses in the Bible expressed his desire to be man’s provider, sustainer and protector.  He even promised man that whenever man calls him, he would answer him (Thompson, 1983, 812). In the case of Vishnu he is so different from God the Son because of the fact that whenever dharma on earth is threatened Vishnu travels to earth in ten incarnations including as fish and tortoise (Crofton, 1994, 304). God the Son for his part traveled to earth only once to settle the issue of sin (which threatens whatever is good on earth) and to accomplish this mission he was born incarnate as full God and full human in the person of Jesus Christ only.

Unlike Vishnu (who lived in milky waters of Vaikunth surrounded by thousands of hooded serpent) he lived a truly human life subject to all of its trials and temptations (McDowell, 1991, 271-276). Lastly, Hindus knew Shiva as a destroyer in a positive way; he destroys imperfections, illusions, desires, attachments, impurities and ignorance for the welfare of the world and those who inhabit it (Perry, 1988, 304). Although God the Holy Spirit can be an agent to dispense judgment on errors like Shiva, he is different from Shiva in the sense that his primary function is to empower men to live a godly life by indwelling in them so that they themselves will overcome whatever is negative in this earth (Thompson, 1983, 1112).

Unlike the Brahman who can manifest himself in various forms and in innumerable gods and goddesses, the Christian God does not manifest himself aside from the three mentioned above (Thompson, 1983, 76). Also, while in Hinduism it is believed that all things are part of Brahman, in Christianity God is distinct from his creation. He does not in anyway appear as a fish or tortoise but may use his creation to advance his purposes through the exhibition of his power (Thompson, 1983, 646).

With the case of the doctrine of the afterlife, both religions believed that there is life after death and this next life is made possible because of the existence of the immortal human soul. Both religions also believed that whatever man’s state will be in the afterlife is determined by the actions he had while living on earth. However, similarity ends here for both religions because surrounding this doctrine are many obvious differences. In Christianity, there are only two destinations, the good to heaven, and the bad to hell.

The human soul is transported to these places and will permanently live there forever. There is no way that his eternal condition can ever be reversed or change. Also his death is the final liberation of human existence, there is no way that he will ever be born again either as man or in any other form. Moreover, his destination will determine whether he will be finally liberated from any human suffering or continue to live with it in eternity. If he ends up in heaven, then he will be liberated from suffering but if he ends up in hell, suffering will be his lot (Crofton, 1994, 312).

In Hinduism, however, after the physical death, man is going to be reborn either to a better life or to a worse one depending on karma. Good karma enables him to be reborn to a better life, perhaps from a peasant to a king, or for a bad karma to a worse one from a peasant to an insect. Departed soul search and find out a body, where it can continue doing what ever it left off in the last life. The Hindus believed that as long as the ‘soul’ engages in egoistic and desire ridden actions, considering himself to be the doer of his actions, he will be forever subject to the cycles of birth and deaths and the laws of nature.

The only way to be liberated from this endless cycle is to perform selfless desireless actions for humanity and to offer to God detached devotion and sacrifices, acknowledging him as the doer of all (Hammer 1986). This Hindu belief expresses the idea that a person can make up for whatever wrong he did while alive on earth and eventually end up liberated, unlike Christianity where a person can never undo what was done while his was on earth and the consequences of his actions in the afterlife can never be changed.

D. Origin and Contemporary Expression of Each Characteristic.

Tertullian was the first one to use the word Trinity in 215 AD when the early Christian church was facing a lot of doctrinal errors concerning the existence of God, as various heresies circulated (Cairns, 1967, 122). Although the word Trinity is not stated directly in the Bible nor explained thoroughly nevertheless it was amply implied. Trinity in fact was subject to controversy as it was humanly impossible to understand a “one God in three persons”. Early Christian scholars were forced to give this doctrine a careful thought and consideration through studying of the Biblical truths.

The doctrine of the Trinity is widely accepted by the Christians of today, in fact, it is considered to be central to the Christian faith (Ryrie, 1972, 29).Today Christians make a statement of faith in Trinity through reciting the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Celebrating the Trinity takes place the first Sunday after Pentecost. Christians expressed their faith in the Trinity by making the sign of the cross “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (“cross”, 2007, 1). But it must be remembered that the Christian concept of God is a monotheistic one.

In Hinduism, the vague concept of Trinity is expressed in the Vedanta, a section of the Vedas (foundational scriptures of the Hindus). Vedas is believed to be revelations of God and its teaching are handed down from generation to generation through the gurus. Written Vedas were made around 500 years ago. But generally, the Hindu religion as a polytheistic one derived its concept of many gods also from the Vedas. Contemporary Hindus today visits Hindu temples to worship major Gods and local shrines to worship their local gods and goddesses (Perry, 1988, 230).

The origin of the Christian doctrine of life after death, in Hell and Heaven is taken from the Bible. The writings, which eventually were gathered together and came to be known as “The Holy Bible”, were written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 different authors living on 3 different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe). The first book of the Bible were believed to be written by Moses around 1450-1400 BC (Crofton, 1991, 312). The Christians today, just like those who had gone before them, do not expect their loved ones to live again after death except in the final bodily resurrection when Christ returns for the second time. They knew that the physical separation was final. They bury their dead (usually enclosed in a coffin) in a cemetery and visits regularly to pay their respect to the dead (Crofton, 1991, 311).

The endless cycle of rebirth is known as Samsâra by the Hindus. The precise origin of the Indic belief in Samsâra is uncertain. However, it is a fact that the ancient culture of India celebrated cycles of nature and human –earthly fertility rhythms. The concept of rebirth may be derived from this. Nevertheless, no matter how samsara originated, the doctrine of rebirth became popular in India in the sixth century B.C. The contemporary expression of their belief in reincarnation can be seen in the cremation of their dead. It is believed that as the skull of the dead cracked upon burning in a funeral pyre, the soul of the dead is released for its rebirth in the next life. The ashes of the dead are cast upon the sacred waters of the Ganges River. Also, the Hindus never set a monument for the dead for the person continues life onwards; it is not shackled to the past (Perry, 1988, 231).

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