Throughout history, religion has been the driving force in many communities and cultures. It is important to study religions to learn about human nature, overcome ignorance, and to understand who people are and the world around us. Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Confucianism have many similarities and differences when comparing the teachings and lived experiences of these ancient traditions.
While studying religions, it is important to see their impact on the population. There are over 4,000 known religions being practiced in the world today. Buddhism is one of the oldest religions and was founded in India with 534 million people who subscribe to it. Judaism originated in the Middle East and has 2% of the world who practice it. From Judaism came Christianty which was also founded in the Middle East. Christians dominate all world religions by having the most followers that make up 30% of the world’s population, 2.2 billion people. Confucianism is another major religion that was founded in China with over 6 million followers today (Maoz et al.). These four major religions all play a large part in the culture of the world and each religion has different, complex teachings that play a part in their followers lives.
One teaching that is very prominent in religions is Divinity. Representations of divinity and transcendence within religions are varied and complex. There are divine ideas that connect some religions but differentiate others. Judaism and Christianity are both monotheistic religions that believe God is all knowing and immanent divine in all things. Although they are both monotheistic, Christianity does differ from Judaism because it defines God in three aspects of divinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” (Nicene Creed, Britannica). Nicene Creed is sacred writing which is widely accepted that states the belief of trinity in Christianity.
Different from Christinaity and Judaism, both Confucianism and Buddhism are not monotheistic. Buddhism acknowledges the existence of divine beings but they are not helpful in bringing an end to suffering or reaching enlightenment. The best way to describe Buddhism is considered to be the term “Transtheistic”. Similar to Buddhism, Confucianism does not believe in one god. Confuciast did not see himself as divine, “To be sure, this religiosity does not express itself in faith in a personal God and the need for salvation through divine grace.” (Invitation to World Religions 264) . Confucianism does not include the need to reach salvation through gods. Instead, they focus on transformative actions from potential to actual goodness. Unlike Abrahamic traditions, the clear distinction between human and the divine is not applicable. These religions all have complex beliefs in divinity which reveals how comparable and diverse each religion is.
All of the major religions have differing versions of something called Ultimate reality. Ultimate reality can be described as something that is supreme like a god or a spirit, final and fundamental power in the universe. In Buddhism, Dharma refers to Ultimate Reality. Buddhists believe everything is interrelated. “According to the doctrine of Interdependent Origination, reality is a web of interrelated and interdependent phenomena in which nothing comes into existence independently of other things” (Invitation to World Religions 188). The origination of all things does not come from one thing, the existence of all things depends on all other things. All things are constituted of elements of other things where nothing exists alone, not without others.
Unlike Buddhism, Christianity believes that one God created a perfect world as an expression of divine love, but the world has fallen to human sin. “The Supreme Revelation of the divine nature is found in Jesus Christ, who is the very incarnation of God” (Invitation to World Religions 473). God is divine and created all out of his divine love. Like Christiannity, Judaism believes that God wants to be known in and by Creation, and especially by humanity. Judaism also believes that one God is understood to be not only be the source of all created things but also is the highest and most complete form of reality imaginable. Contrastly, Confucianism does not believe in one God or almighty power. Instead, Tian is referred to their Ultimate Reality, who is the procreation of the universe and has special relationships with humans and communicates with specific people. The communication Tian has with humans is not a dramatic event like the encounters that occur in Abrahamic religions between Gods and humans.
Another belief that differentiates many religions from others is their beliefs on the afterlife. Once one’s material life ends, there are many different ideas of what happens. For example, Buddhists believe that after death, one is either reborn or enters Nirvana. Nirvana is the ultimate goal in Buddhism, which is the liberation from suffering. They believe in reincarnation or if one is enlightened they enter Nirvana. Christianity and Judaism also believe in another place after this life. Although Judaism does believe that after death the soul passes into a different underworld where they will remain forever, but what that is is still unknown. Judaism still has many questions about the afterlife, unlike Buddhism. Christianity also believes that the soul enters another place. “Christians believe that human existence extends beyond this life” (Invitation to World Religions 436). Where one goes depends on the choices of people made during their life in relation to God and God’s grace. Traditionally, Christians believe in heaven or hell and some believe in an intermediate state which is purgatory. All three of these religions believe in the after life at some level.
Differently from Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, Confucianists do not necessarily believe in the afterlife. “All humans have a physical body, the physical manifestation of the interplay between yin and yang. But all humans also have an immaterial aspect subdivided into hun and po” (Invitation to World Religions 256). Confucianism believes that once one dies, hun (yang) departs from the body into the sky and po (yin) settles into the Earth where they eventually dissipate. If one has lived a long, fulfilled life, they become Shen, a spirit that is benevolent power that protects and helps the living. If one’s death is sudden and tragic or they did not receive the proper burial, they will become Gui. Gui is a vengeful ghost that haunts the living and brings bad fortune. The religions belief on death and afterlife impact how their followers go about their everyday lives, they all similarly have some aspects of how they live their lives in the material world that impacts their afterlife.
The idea of liberation and salvation in religion also plays a huge role in the lives of subscribers. Reaching salvation is the goal of religions around the world and guides followers lives in the path that their religion says to reach enlightenment. For Buddhsts, their goal is to reach Nirvana. To reach Nirvana, one must break the cycle of Samsara, which is the death and rebirth of Buddhists. To break Samsara, one’s life has to have gained enough good karma in the material world. Similarly to Buddhism, Christians and Jews reach liberation by doing good in their earthly lives. They live with faith to follow the grace of God to be liberated by sin. Christians live life following to obey God’s wishes, found in sacred texts like the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Liberation in Confucianism also mandates the subscribers to improve the human condition and perfect it. “For Confucians, the right way to live is to live ethically, in accordance with the moral dictates of Tian” (Invitations to World Religions 297). By rigorously trying to live the way of Tian, Confucianists will find salvation. All of the religions are able to relate to one another because although the paths of liberation is different, they all seek salvation and do so by putting effort to live by the guidelines of their religion.
In religion, women’s status is widely different. The role women play in religion generally has not been very accepted into major religions, specifically leadership or positions in power which also has an effect on their status culturally. Confucianism is a great example of women being oppressed in religion which in turn made them oppressed in their Chinese culture. It is often criticized for its dismissive and negative attitude towards women. “One most notable way to describe how the religions views women is the quote ‘Women and the petty men are alike, in that they are both hard to deal with’ (Analects 17:23)” (Invitation to World Religions 267) Confucianism since the twentieth century has been seen as sexist and patriarchal which is responsible for the oppression women face in China today. Sexist cultural traditions that were designed to oppress women came from Confucianism, including foot binding, widow suicide and concubinage.
Unlike Confucianism, Buddhism is much more accepting of women. Buddhism recognizes women to have important roles in religions and most places. Although similarly to Confuciansim, places where Buddhism is practiced women are not as socially equal to men. Women are allowed to gain enlightenment, teach and play huge roles. For example, the Therigatha which is also known as “Poems of Female Elders” shows that even in Buddhism’s early years, the tradition acknowledge and preserved great compositions of women saints (Invitation to World Religions 182).
Similar to Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity also acknowledge women in religion but they generally do not have many women placed in positions of power. In Judaism, women are respected but less powerful members of the community. For centuries, Jewish women have lived in a male dominated culture. Although religious leadership has historically belonged to men, two books in the Hebrew Bible are named after women, the Book of Ruth and the Book of Esther (Invitation to World Religions 395). In Christianity, women have been able to distinguish themselves as saints, members of religious orders, founders of many different service organizations and more but they were excluded from positions of leadership and power. In recent years, the feminist movement has begun to effect both religions. Movements like the “American Reform Movement” was felt around the world in Judaism that basically eradicating the idea that women could not be religious leaders. Women as pastors in Christianity is becoming increasingly common in Protestant denominations. Although Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are still opposed to ordain women clergy, women have been leading the churches in the academic world. Scholars specializing in biblical studies, ethics, and theology. The modern day is rapidly changing and evolving, which is taking religion onto more progressive paths.
In recent years, all religions around the world has felt the effects of modernization. Some of these religions have been able to benefit from progressive movements but many have faced challenges. Buddhism has been able to benefit greatly from modern advancements in technology. Media and internet has been able to dominate the way Buddhism teaches. Some apps have been used to allow their practices to prosper like meditation apps. American television shows have shown old Buddhist zen lectures with their characters commentary in the background and even in China plastic pocket sized replicas of Buddhist icons can be found in vending machines. The modern era has allowed for Buddhism to expand. “Books written by American Buddhists have been translated in Japanese and used to teach youth in uddhist schools. Historic buddhist temples in China have rebounded after decades of suppression and have been made into tourist sites, while prominent Sri Lankan monks have taken up political office” (McMahan 4). People around the world are becoming involved in the ever expanding religion. The modernization and technology of this new era has allowed for Buddhism to expand and explore different ways of promoting the religion.
Different from Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Confucianism has been faced struggles in the modern day. Throughout the past few decades, Judaism has been met with harsh struggles. Follwing the Holocaust or the “Shoah” there has been a sharp reduction of the Jewish population. Judaism has also faced the fear of cultural extinction that inspired a “reexamination of their most basic philosophical assumptions and institutional behaviors (Invitation to World Religions 394). Their basic conceptions and behaviors leave some Jews questioning the survival of their religion which caused some to reconsider their beliefs. Christians are also at risk of cultural changes within their religion. Some challenges they have faced is with dramatic social change, scientific and political ideologies that have forced the church to respond to the constantly changing world.
Like Christianity and Judaism, social movements arose that target Confucianism which has led them to a sharp decline of followers. Confucianism was blamed for China’s social, economic and political struggles. The “New Culture Movement” began in the beginning of the twentieth century, which also was accompanied by the communist revolution movement which has also tried to eradicate Confucianism from China. (Invitation to World Religions 280) Although through all these struggles Confucianism is still thriving in contemporary China, much like how Judaism and Christianity is also prevailing through their own struggles. In today’s society, around the world religions are beginning to become more modern and socially evolved.
Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Confucianism all have teachings and experiences that connect each one to another yet also shows how complex and different they are. In this class I have learned the importance of religions in many cultures and am able to now understand the world around me more. During this class, I have recognized how closely related many religions are, which inspires me to think about how similar and connected many cultures are to one another. Before taking this course, I was not confident in my understanding of religions and wanted to learn more. Now that we are nearing the end of the class, I have a broader understanding and have a new perspective on religion.