The Oversimplification of Religions Around The World: Similarities and Differences Between World Religions

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2216 |

Page: 1|

12 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Words: 2216|Page: 1|12 min read

Published: Jan 15, 2019

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Ethical dimensions of World Religions: Similarities
  3. Ethical dimensions of World Religions: Differences
  4. Conclusion


Through life as we hear about different world religions and what they believe or hold to be true, it becomes easy to begin to build presuppositions about these religions. It can also be found that some or most of these presuppositions turn out to not be as we had regarded them before. One point in which this can be seen is through the assumption that, “All religions are basically alike,” or that they, “Are all just different paths to the same goal.” These statements are not very frequently heard from religious people themselves, but rather from those examining from an outsider perspective. As one might begin a religious study examining the different religions, it can become easy to see how this statement is not the case. All religions may have commonalities in precepts or ideas of their end goals, however they are not all different paths to the same actual goal, nor are they fundamentally alike. According to Ninian Smart, there are six dimensions of religion, and by examining a few of these, it can be seen how one might come to the conclusion that was previously stated, but also can be understood how this conclusion is not wholly true.

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Ethical dimensions of World Religions: Similarities

The ethical dimension of religion is where the majority of similarities can be seen between the most prominent religions in the world, which causes the oversimplification as discussed previously. As Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman suggest in their article titled, “Exploring Religious Ethics in Daily Life,” all religious ethics can be broken down into four main virtues. These virtues include: The Golden Rule, compassion, humility, and hope (Gellman and Hartman). Each virtue displays key similarities and differences within the ethical dimension of all religions. These similarities are found within religions all around the world, but some of the most prominent ones are seen within the religions of the Middle East.

While religions spread and become more prominent in other regions, the three religions that originated from the Middle East are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These religions share some highly distinctive similarities including being the three largest monotheistic religions in the world. Especially those between Christianity and Judaism since Christianity knowingly comes directly from the historical foundation of Judaism. Islam, while not being directly tied to Judaism in the same way Christianity is, holds conservative, ethical beliefs that are incredibly similar to those of the other Middle Eastern religions. These three faiths have similarities within specific ethical standards, but on a broader basis it is easy to examine their virtues and how they are comparable.

Beginning with Christianity and Judaism, it is understood that the Christian church includes all of the Torah and the Old Testament in its Bible, meaning that all the same ethical precepts written in those texts are shared. One being The Golden Rule of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Judaism this is stated in the Torah as, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (King James Version, Lev. 19:18). This same principle is also stated during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament of the Christian Bible which states, “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (King James Version, Matt. 7:12). Lastly, this rule is stated within the Hadith of Islamic tradition which says, “Not one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself” (Hadith 40:13, Nawawi).

The Middle Eastern religions also share the same idea of compassion for others as God shows compassion for his followers. This connects directly back to The Golden Rule and how followers are taught to treat one another. There is also the virtue of humility that can be seen through any monotheistic religion, but especially can be seen in all three of the religions of the Middle East. Humility is displayed in the monotheistic religions as reverence to an all power and all knowing god. Lastly, these religions share the virtue of hope. While the virtue of hope can be seen through many world religions, it is displayed within the Middle Eastern religions through a couple different ways. The first way is that believers are to put faith and hope in God because He knows all. Second, is how believers are instructed to have hope to eliminate fear of what might be to come in the future. Similarities within virtues and ethical standards are not exclusive to the Middle Eastern religions, these can also be found within the religions of Asia.

Through the Asia region, some of the largest religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Confucianism. All of these religions share distinct similarities, but even more so for Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Sikhism and Buddhism both historically stem from Hinduism in their own right. These three faiths are known for having their doctrinal similarities, but it is even seen that they have similarities within their ethical standards as well. Confucianism also holds ethical standards and rules that are similar to the other religions within Asia. The virtues that can be examined are The Golden Rule, compassion, and hope.

Beginning with The Golden Rule, Hinduism states, “Wound not others, do no one injury by thought or deed, utter no word to pain thy fellow creatures,” which takes a more physical approach to the Golden Rule compared to the Middle Eastern religions (The Law of Manu). Buddhism also states, “Having made oneself the example, one should neither slay nor cause to slay. . . . As I am, so are other beings; thus let one not strike another, nor get another struck. That is the meaning” (Dhammapada, 10:29). This implies nearly the same message as that of Hindu beliefs. Confucianism and Sikhism both have Golden Rules that are more similar to those of the Middle Eastern religions. In Confucianism it states, “If you do not wish to be mistreated by others, do not mistreat anyone yourself” (The Analects 12:2, Confucius and Waley). Sikhism’s Golden Rule goes along with the same premise which says, “We obtain salvation by loving our fellow man and God” (Granth Japji 21, Sahib).

These religions also share similarities within the ethical virtues of compassion and hope. In Buddhism, followers use the idea of karuna to guide them. This idea of karuna means in a general sense to understand the suffering of other living things in the universe (Gellman and Hartman). Part of this idea of karuna is in understanding others suffering, when being reincarnated followers can come back to help those in need, which exemplifies the virtue of compassion. Compassion is pivotal within the beliefs of Hinduism considering that it is one of the three main virtues “along with charity and self control” (Gellman and Hartman). The virtue of hope is displayed within Sikhism, Hinduism, and Buddhism through the idea of enlightenment. Hope is something held by believers to continue striving after enlightenment. Though the term enlightenment is more known for being part of Buddhism and Sikhism, Hinduism has its own form called Moksha.

Ethical dimensions of World Religions: Differences

Now while there are many similarities between these religions and their respective virtues, there are also key differences within the ethical dimension of these religions. We can tell by comparing the virtues that some can be very different from others. For example, not all religions require a level of humility in reverence to a god. Confucianism teaches humility through societal structures, and not through reverence to a higher being. Also, countless specific ethical standards on marriage, sexual relations, roles within society, and modesty can provide discrepencies between religions. The Middle Eastern religions can be more known for holding these standards, but some of these can even be attributed to Confucianism and Hinduism. Though the differences can become glaringly obvious when closely examining specific ethical standards, with all the similarities that these virtues bring within the ethical dimension of religion, it can be seen very easily how one might assume that religion in general is all the same.

Religions have the majority of their discrepancies within their doctrinal and ritual dimensions. Though they have societal ethical similarities, they are much more different in practice and end goals. To completely define these differences it is important to examine two areas: deities and the afterlife.

In the realm of religious deities, several of the world’s most practiced religions are monotheistic. These include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism. These monotheistic deities are the same in the sense that they are all powerful, all knowing beings that created all of the universe. One pivotal way in which they differ is in the ways each deity requires their followers to worship. This can be seen through the requirement of different prayer styles and worship services. Another way they differ is ways that followers revere their deities and the doctrinal traditions surrounding them. These traditions include the Trinity within Christian tradition. Some religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have more than one deity. In Hinduism there is constant confusion on an actual number of deities in the religion altogether, but all of them have different purposes and interact differently and are considered as gods. In Buddhism it is much the same, however all deities live within 27 different heavens that are completely separate from the human realm, but accept none as a god. Lastly, in Confucianism there are no deities. Confucianism instead attributes supernatural powers to the Tao within the universe. Followers believe that this force flows within every living thing and helps them work on bettering themselves within society.

Considering the afterlife within the doctrinal and ritual dimensions of religion, Hinduism and Buddhism both accept the idea of karma and how it can affect your spirit in the afterlife. The afterlife for a Hindu and a Buddhist can differ, but are indeed still very similar. Hindu beliefs are based upon the idea of reincarnation and that a person’s karma can lead to a better or worse reincarnation. Hindus believe that the cycle of reincarnation cannot be broken until one achieves Nirvana. Buddhists believe much the same, but instead believe the only way to break the cycle is by fully realizing that all of life is suffering which in the end turns the follower’s heart away from all carnal things and prepares them to leave the carnal world. Buddha also pushed for his followers to gain enlightenment through meditation, which is different from Hindu beliefs. Sikhism beliefs are similar but believe in reincarnation in nature if their karma is in line with the Waheguru. While this is the case, Sikhism focuses less on the afterlife as other religions. Confucianism also hardly acknowledges an afterlife, but instead stresses the importance of bettering oneself and society, which in a way brings one back to the idea of leaving the world a better place than you found it as. These beliefs are the easiest way to see the clear differences in doctrinal traditions, which separates religions from being the same or leading to the same goal.

The Middle Eastern religions are much different than those of Asia in regards to the afterlife. All of the religions of the Middle East believe in an afterlife in Heaven or Hell. Judaism believes that you must live in upstanding life and believe wholeheartedly in God to achieve Heaven and if you do not then you are destined to Hell. This is determined through judgment by God Himself. Judaism does have different branches though that do not accept the idea of an afterlife, however the more conservative and traditional branches believe in an afterlife. Christianity believes very similarly, except they see Jesus as the Son of God, and the savior for all mankind, and that He died on the cross as payment for the sins of the world to give all the opportunity to be saved through Him. Their afterlife is also either Heaven or Hell, but the only way to attain Heaven is to accept Jesus and through most Christian denominations, to also be baptized in the name of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (the Trinity). Islam is much like Judaism where believers can only make it to Heaven by living a holy life and asking Allah for forgiveness for their shortcomings. Muslims also have a different idea of what Heaven will be like compared to the ideas of those in Christian and Jewish beliefs. Though these religions have similarities in their idea of the afterlife, it is easy to see stark differences in methods of getting there.

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Through examination of the world’s largest religions, the similarities and differences begin to become evident. Religions of the Middle East have monotheistic beliefs but have different ideas of what the end goal is and how they attain it. Religions of Asia such as Confucianism and Sikhism do not stress the afterlife as much whatsoever, but do stress betterment of oneself and society. Hinduism and Buddhism believe in a cycle of reincarnation until acceptance of the beliefs within each religion respectively. After looking through all these beliefs it becomes clear that religions are only “all alike” in the general sense of morality leading to betterment of ourselves and an ultimate reward, whatever that might be. While some might still believe that religions just have the same goal, it is undeniable that the differences in religions lead to completely different outcomes.

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What is the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism. (2022, December 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from
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