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That is a very blunt title, isn’t it? I do not mean to sound polemic or didactic in this post, but the subject has been on my mind, mostly because a younger relative is struggling to understand why Christianity is not like Hinduism or shamanism or Buddhism. Why is it different? Why do Christians insist on their religion being true?
Many of the faith traditions of the world are ways of explaining how the world works. In other words, they are philosophical systems, meant to help the follower understand relationships between humanity and nature, between the past and the present, and to justify a particular ethic. Most religions with pantheons fall into this category. Different aspects of the world are under the influence of the different gods. The gods have undertaken actions, and the world came into being, is sustained, and changes. The cultural structure will often reflect this worldview in societies where there is stratification, that is, some have more privileges than others.
Hinduism is chief among these religions. it is complex, somewhat local in practice, and widespread. It justifies the caste system. It explains why some events happen, and how the universe cam into being. Some of the old European faiths are the same, including the Greco-Roman pantheon. Buddhism is a refinement of Hinduism.
Do people really believe (or believed) that these gods existed, and that the stories about them were true? Most likely, many did not and do not today, but faith in its accuracy is not important. Allowing the faith system to influence one’s life is more important. As long as one did what was expected, all would be well with the gods and with one’s neighbours.
So we can call one religious system “philosophical”: It is about wisdom and right practice.
Shamanism is mystical. It proposes that a spiritual world overlays the material world, and that beings can cross from one to the other. Events happen and certain objects exist because of the spiritual world. Humans are often at the mercy of these whimsical spiritual beings, and actions have to be taken to placate and reward the spirits that could harm or help. There seems to be an endless supply of these spiritual beings, some more powerful than others, some universal and some very local, as attached to a certain tree, rock, or body of water. But these spirits can be demanding and dangerous, and the shaman’s position is to determine what the spirits demand so that no harm comes to the humans, or so that help is attained. The shaman has ways of entering the spirit world, just as the spirits sometimes invade the material world.
Christianity (and its predecessor Judaism) is historical. While there are ehtical and spiritual elements to our faith, we believe it principally because we see God not just setting the universe in motion, or answering prayers, but breaking into the world and directing history. Our scripture is mostly history, and the historic truth is very important to Christians. We believe in a real, actual, effective God, a personal God. Our God is not a figment, or a projection, or an anthropomorphic force.
Christians believe in a real God, who acted in the past. We believe in a God of salvation, who truly saves His people from the death of the soul. We believe in an all-powerful, universal God, a singularity – none other can exist. It is not enough for a Christian to go through the motions of the faith and expect favour. It is not enough for a Christian to try to placate God through offerings, for God has no need to receive what is already His. A Christian must believe, must turn his or her heart to God, and accept the historic truth of Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Saviour. We follow a demanding faith, but one that calls for truth.