The following is an overview of the beliefs of the major non-Christian religions.

One of the world's oldest religions, Hinduism developed in India between 1800-1000 BC. Hinduism contains many sects. Hinduism is both a religion and a way of life. It is described in the Vedas—considered the world's most ancient scriptures, about 1000BC.—and the Bhagavad-Gita, an 18-chapter poem.

Hindus believe that all things are part of God, that souls are reincarnated at death, and that our lives are influenced by karma, i.e., good and bad actions in this life determine one's status in the next. The goal is nirvana, release from the cycle of reincarnation to become one with God.

Although the ancient Hindus numbered their gods at 330 million, the principal gods of modern Hinduism are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Destroyer, who is also the god of procreation. Notice, the Hindus have their trinity.

  1. Brahman is the "Absolute," present in everything.
  2. Individuals create their own destinies.
  3. Souls evolve through reincarnation.
  4. One's place is fixed in a caste or level of society.
  5. Nirvana can be achieved through meditation.
  6. A guru helps guide a person toward total realization of God.
  7. Personal discipline and observance of many rites and rituals are essential.
  8. New Hindus receive names that may change more than once in their lifetime as a result of spiritual events.
  9. All life is sacred.
  10. No particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others.

Buddhism arose in India about 500 BC. Siddartha Gautama found that his Hindu beliefs did not adequately explain the suffering and pain he observed in the world. Through religious contemplation, Gautama became Buddha, "the enlightened one," and taught others his discoveries.

Pure Buddhism is more philosophy than religion, a godless pietism. Other forms of Buddhism revere Buddha as a deity and speak of salvation through faith in him. Buddhism is a journey to an enlightened state of being. People do this by accepting the Four Noble Truths and following the Eightfold Path.

The founder, Siddartha Gautama (Buddha) lived from about 562-480 BC. Other major teachers include Nichiren AD 1222-1282 in Japan and the Dalai Lama, currently living in exile from Tibet in Dharmasala, India.

  1. Life is filled with misery and suffering.
  2. This misery and suffering is caused by our selfish desires.
  3. Misery and suffering can be eliminated by getting rid of selfish desires.
  4. These desires are eliminated by following the Eightfold Path.
  1. Right views
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right conduct
  5. Right vocation
  6. Right effort
  7. Right alertness
  8. Right meditation

Confucianism, the philosophical system founded on the teaching of Confucius (551-479 BC) dominated Chinese sociopolitical life for most of Chinese history and largely influenced the cultures of Korea, Japan and Indochina.

Confucius joined a growing class of impoverished descendants of aristocrats who made their careers by acquiring knowledge of feudal ritual and taking positions of influence serving the rulers of the fragmented states of ancient China. At age 30, however, when his short-lived official career floundered, he turned to teaching others. The book known as the Analects, which records all that Confucius said, was compiled by his students after his death. The Analects became the basis of the Chinese social lifestyle and the fundamental religious philosophical point of view of most traditionalist Chinese intellectuals throughout history. The collections reveals Confucius as a person dedicated to the preservation of traditional ritual practices with an almost spiritual delight in performing ritual for its own sake.

Confucianism combines a political theory and a theory of human nature to yield a tao—a prescriptive doctrine or way. According to the political theory, the legitimate ruler derives authority from heaven's command. The ruler bears responsibility for the well-being of the people and therefore for peace and order in the empire. Confucian philosophy presupposed a view of human nature in which humans are essentially social animals whose mode of social interaction is shaped by li (convention or ritual), which establishes value distinctions and prescribes activities in response to those distinctions. Education in li, or social rituals, is based on the natural behavioral propensity to imitate models. Sages, or superior people—those who have mastered the li—are the models of behavior from which the mass of people learn. Ideally, the ruler should himself be such a model and should appoint only those who are models of te (virtue) to positions of prominence. People are naturally inclined to emulate virtuous models; hence a hierarchy of merit results in widespread natural moral education.

Then with practice, all people can in principle be like the sages, by acting in accordance with li without conscious effort. At that point they have acquired jen (humanity), the highest level of moral development; their natural inclinations are all in harmony with tao (way). The world is at peace, order abounds, and the harmony between the natural and the social sphere results in material well-being for everyone. This is Confucius' utopian vision, which he regards as modeled on the practice of the ancient sage kings.

Shinto, the native religion of Japan, combines ancient religious practices with such influences as Buddhism and Confucianism. Shinto is primarily a form of nature worship. Mountains, rivers, heavenly bodies, and other things are worshipped and personified (for example, Amaterasu the sun spirit). Rules, rituals, and worship of kami (spirit) help to maximize agricultural harvests and bring blessings to social units or territories while preventing destruction and ill fortune.

Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body or religious law, and only a very loosely organized priesthood. Shinto is a nonexclusive religion, that is, people may practice Shinto along with a second or even third religion. Most Japanese practice Shinto and Buddhism.

Practitioners of Shinto use four affirmations ("things we agree are good") to describe their basic beliefs:

  1. Affirmation of the tradition and the family;
  2. Affirmation of the love of nature;
  3. Affirmation of physical cleanliness; and
  4. Affirmation of matsuri (festivals honoring the spirits).

Prayers and sacrifices to ancestors can be offered at family altars where ancestors are visibly present in tablets. For important decisions and important occasions of one's life, ancestors are consulted, that is, their graves are visited for reflection and meditation.

In AD 610, a businessman named Muhammad (570-632) of Mecca in Arabia, began to preach submission to the one God Allah. He attributes his religion to a vision of the angel Gabriel, who gave him the Qur'an, Islam's sacred scriptures. The angel Gabriel was first mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Today, Islam is the religion of about 20 percent of the world's population.

The central confession in Islam is the shahada, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." Muslim means "one who submits." Islam teaches submission to God in all things. It is a code of honor, a system or law, and a way of life based on the Qur'an. The level of devotion to this oral code determines one's salvation.

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is considered Allah's last and greatest prophet. Muslims also believe that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are great prophets. Jesus is not considered to be God's Son or the Messiah.

  1. Confession of faith—"there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet"
  2. Daily prayer—in the direction of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest city
  3. Charity—giving two percent of their annual income to the poor
  4. Fasting—at various prescribed times, especially during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim year
  5. Pilgrimage—A pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, and the birthplace of Muhammad, is expected of healthy and otherwise qualified Muslim's at least once in a lifetime

Judaism traces its roots back to Abraham in 2000 BC. God's promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and His covenant (Genesis 15:1-21) began the relationship of God with Abraham and his descendants the Jewish people.

God is a personal, all powerful, eternal, and compassionate God. His history with His people and His basic teachings are found in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Judaism also accepts the entire Old Testament, which is entitled Tanakh—the Holy Scripture. Actually Christians accepted Judaism's Holy Scripture and called it the Old Testament. The Talmud, a 2,700-page record of the teachings of ancient rabbis is also viewed by many in Judaism as inspired.

Judaism stresses obedience to the Law (the Ten Commandments). They acknowledge the necessity of God's mercy since no one can perfectly keep the Law. Atonement for sin is made through works of righteousness, prayer and repentance. Many Jews believe in a physical resurrection of the dead.