WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?

There are three major monotheistic belief systems in this world of 7.4 billion people: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Together, they comprise over half the world’s population. All base their beliefs on the Old Testament of the Holy Bible. The three part company with the birth of Jesus Christ. Who was he?

Jesus, called Isho in his native Aramaic language, is the son of God, a Jew born of the Virgin Mary and part of the Holy Trinity called God, according to Christian tradition. Jesus’ followers believe he was crucified then rose from the dead to join his Father in Heaven. This series of events, called Christ’s Passion, represented Jesus’ sacrifice for all mankind; he died to atone for all human sin (including original sin, into which we are all born) so his believers might be forgiven their sins and go to Heaven. Christians further believe no prophets were born after Jesus.

Judaism referred to Jesus initially by his Aramaic name, then later in Hebrew as Yeshua (Joshua). Jewish tradition does not accept Jesus as the son of God, and the concept of a divine trinity is considered polytheistic. Judaism also rejects belief in original sin and the idea of a savior dying in our stead to redeem the sins of man. A Messianic Age lies in our future, according to Judaism; it is believed this age will bring a series of changes in our thinking and in our world, including a return of Israel to Jewish people. This age will be led by a messiah, a great human leader. It is thought many false messiahs will present themselves throughout history; Jesus was among these.

Islam refers to Jesus by his Arabic name Isa. He is believed to be a prophet, but not the son of God. Muslims do however believe in Jesus’ virgin birth. According to Islamic tradition, God’s divine guidance was revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, over the course of 23 years, until Muhammad’s death in 632AD. The Qur’an documents these purported final revelations to humanity; Muhammad is thus believed to be the last (The Seal) of the prophets.

The divergence of these three monotheistic traditions has been important among the causes of endless savage controversy in our world. Yet all have a common origin, a unifying set of beliefs based on the Holy Bible’s Old Testament. It is important therefore to understand those beliefs, beliefs that begin with God as Creator of our universe. Who is God in the Old Testament (OT)?

The OT recounts God’s creation of the universe over the course of six days; the seventh was a day of rest. On the sixth day, God created man (Adam) in His image, from whom He took a rib to create woman (Eve). God gave them the gift of free will while admonishing them to obey His commands. They chose to disobey and God punished them, casting them from their home, the Garden of Eden.

Throughout the OT, God is said to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, pure love. Yet also throughout the OT God is anthropomorphized- described as having human traits. He is said to be wrathful and vengeful, expecting us to worship and fear Him. He gave us ten commandments we must honor during our earthly lives, threatening us with eternal hell and damnation if we disobey.

I personally believe the two sets of descriptions of God completely contradict one another. In my opinion an omniscient god knew we would “sin,” while a loving god would not have set us up for failure in such a way. I think the contradictions reveal the hand of man as authors of the OT.

Most who believe in the OT view of God consider the human authors to have been divinely inspired, yet perhaps the authors’ humanness couldn’t help but creep into their writings. Some questions come to mind. Did the OT authors believe God has human traits like anger and a desire for our adoration, or were the authors simply incapable of conceptualizing God’s perfection? Could they have been writing to an audience they believed was too unsophisticated to understand their ideas and divine revelations? Did the authors believe instilling fear in the reader was necessary to accomplish compliance with God’s commandments? Or is it possible some had self-serving motives for their own enhanced esteem?

Such questions are thought provoking, yet the question which troubles me most is this: why do over half the people in the world believe the portion of the OT description of God which so resembles that of a cruel tyrannical dictator? There seems no room left for the perfection, the divine, the holiness in such a depiction.  Perhaps we need to be enlightened.

. . . which is the goal of what scholars call Hinduism, the third largest belief system in the world. The one billion adherents to Hinduism believe “the divine exists in all beings and all humans can achieve union with this ‘innate divinity;’ seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony.” {Swami Vivikananda} Through Dharma, the “right way of living,” we can personally experience a oneness with the universe, which is called enlightenment. Hinduism does not have a specific creed and allows for diverse beliefs. It predates monotheistic religions (originating ca. 1200 BC) yet the Dharma includes ideas of how to live one’s life which are suggestive of those described in the ten commandments.

Despite the differences in our belief systems and in our personal beliefs, one thread connects them all: our love for mankind. I share the sentiments of Mahatma Gandhi, who saw religion as a uniting rather than a divisive force, and in his statement:

“ I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.” (1936)

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