Are all gods the same?

Several major religions make exclusive claims about how to please God or the gods, to be saved, to be one with deity, united with ultimate reality, or achieve spiritual fulfillment or enlightenment. If any of these claims is universally true, the claims of the other religions must be false. They cannot all be correct.

Nevertheless, a number of religions teach that all religions are basically the same, or to put it another way, that all gods are fundamentally the same. But each of these so-called “tolerant” religions teaches things about the other religions that followers of those other religions insist contradict the essentials of their own religions. In addition, these various “tolerant” religions do not agree about what the basics are. So while all cultures, at least until recently, have believed that one or more deities exist, they have never agreed about what God or the gods are like. (see also does God exist?)

The various cultures and religions around the world offer a great variety of teachings about God or the gods and their relationships to human beings.

Here are brief descriptions of some of the world’s major religions:

Animism: There are many gods, closely identified with various aspects of nature. Our problem is that we often anger the gods, and the solution is to appease them through ritual and sacrifice. Various forms of Animism are found in many cultures around the world, including folk versions of most other major religions and Shinto in Japan.

: Theravada Buddhism, predominating in parts of South East Asia, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia, believes that God is an impersonal Oneness that includes everything. Our problem is suffering which comes from our desiring and which prevents us from understanding that our individuality is an illusion. The solution is that through enlightenment we stop desiring and realize the non-existence of self, that our essence is the same as the Oneness. Mahayama Buddhism, predominating in East Asia, including China, Japan, and Vietnam, is similar, but believes also in a Buddha essence. The Mahayama solution is that we become aware of the Buddha nature within us.

: There is one, personal Creator God, a complex unity—one in essence, three in Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God is above and distinct from the material universe. Our problem is a broken relationship with God caused by our sin. The solution is our being made right with God by faith based on God’s saving work. Christianity predominates in the Western Hemisphere, Australia, and much of Africa, and in parts of Europe. (see also what is God like?, who is Jesus?, what is sin?, and can I know God personally?)

: There is an impersonal Oneness that is beyond all distinctions, including good and evil. Most Hindus see the universe as continuous with and extended from Brahman, the ultimate Reality. Our problem is that we are ignorant of our divine nature, that our individuality is an illusion, and that we are extensions from Brahman. We are trapped on the wheel of life, death, and rebirth. We receive a type of body—human, animal, or insect—on the basis of our deeds in the life we led in our previous reincarnation. The solution is for us, through enlightenment, to be liberated from the wheel and to realize that our self is the same as that of Brahman. Hinduism predominates in India and Nepal.

: There is one god Allah, the Creator. He is a singular unity, with no partners. Allah is above and distinct from the material universe. Our problem is that we fail to seek Allah’s guidance. The solution is that we seek Allah’s guidance so that our good deeds outweigh our bad ones. Islam predominates in most of North Africa and the Middle East, and much of South and Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.

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