Need help with discussion questions on World Religions.
DISCUSSION ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS
The student will post one thread of at least 400 words. There are two parts to each prompt, so approximately half of the 400 words should be dedicated to each part. For each thread, students must support their assertions with at least one scholarly citation for each prompt part. Be sure to avoid extended quotes. These citations must be in current Turabian format. Acceptable sources include the textbooks and the Bible.
Please choose for this discussion one of these four options (you may choose a specific branch of the option, but sufficient research must be done in order to demonstrate that you have addressed aspects specific to that option). If you chose one of these for your self-selected argument (the long paper), you must choose a different world religion.
This prompt is in two parts:
1. Critique or evaluate an aspect of the worldview of a world religion. This is not an apologetic argument for Christianity but rather a critique of some aspect of the self-selected world religion’s worldview. It does not need to be as extended as the critique(s) provided in the long paper in this course.
2. After critiquing the world religion, construct a short argument defending Christianity against an aspect of that world religion. You do not need to be comprehensive but your argument must be coherent. You may bring up additional arguments in replies to classmates. Be sure to use scripture and your textbooks as applicable, but you may need to do some research beyond what is provided in the textbook.
You must use a paragraph format and not a bullet point format for this discussion.
Counterfeit Gospels: World Religions
With more than 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion (behind Christianity and Islam) in the world today. It is also, given its diversity and lack of dogma, one of the most difficult to understand. As Winfried Corduan notes, the main criterion for a religious group to count as Hindu is to fit within the traditional culture of India, most importantly in accepting the caste system. Interestingly, Hinduism makes almost no restrictions on personal belief. As Prothero puts it, “Hinduism is what Hindus do and think, and what Hindus do and think is almost everything under the sun.”
Despite this diversity, there are broad practices and beliefs that are in common across the world of Hinduism. There are three major phases to Hinduism: Vedic Hinduism (beginning around 1500 BC), Advaita Vedanta Hinduism (beginning around 500 BC), and Bhakti Hinduism (beginning around 200 BC). Each new version of Hinduism builds on and exists (often in tension) with earlier versions. Common to all phases of Hinduism is the problem of samsara, which refers to the endless and unsatisfactory cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The solution is to achieve moksha, release from the endless cycle and spiritual liberation.
The caste system and the professional priesthood are products of the earliest phase of Hinduism. The Vedic religion takes its name from the Hindu holy books, the Vedas, a collection of prayerful hymns, mantras, chants, and incantations for priests to follow in carrying out their duties. The caste system, which has its roots in Vedic Scriptures, provides a blueprint—like Plato in The Republic—of the ideal society. The priestly class, the Brahmins, are at the top, followed by the soldier class (the Kshatriyas), the merchant class (the Vaishyas), and the servant class (the Shudras). Outside the caste system are the “outcastes” or “untouchables,” such as the Dalits, a persecuted and dejected people group existing on the fringe of Hindu society. While it is not possible to switch castes or marry someone from another caste, through reincarnation one can die and be reborn as another being at a higher (or lower) caste. Whether or not one reincarnates at a higher or lower caste depends on one’s karma: good actions produce good karma and reincarnation to higher levels of being, while bad actions produce bad karma and reincarnation to lower levels of being. Under Vedic Hinduism, release (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation can be achieved through obedience to all the ritual obligations and total submission to the priests.
figure 10.2 The Hindu Caste System
In the sixth century BC, a revolt against the Brahmins took place that sought to replace an empty ritualism with a belief system of mystical contemplation. The result is Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, captured in a group of writings called the Upanishads. Central to this intellectual Hinduism is the idea that “Atman is Brahman.” Atman, each individual soul, is identical to Brahman, the infinite and distinctionless soul of the world. The belief in distinctions (right and wrong, good and evil, body and soul, knower and thing known) are maya, illusion. Moksha, according to Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, is not achieved through external ritual but from within, by realizing and experiencing the Atman-Brahman identity.
The more philosophical Advaita Vedanta Hinduism appealed to the elites of India, but it offered little for the common person. Consequently, a second revolt against established Hinduism took place in the middle of the first millennium AD. This third phase of Hinduism focused on devotion to a particular god of one’s own choosing from the pantheon of gods. Much of contemporary Hinduism fits into this third phase, known as Bhakti, or “devotional,” Hinduism. Under Bhatki Hinduism, moksha is achieved not through ritual or knowledge, but through devotion to, and the mercy of, one’s chosen god.
Given the diversity of thought within Hinduism, it is important, when sharing the gospel with Hindus, to listen and discern what they actually believe. Of central importance will be your defense of the exclusivity of Christianity (see chapter 8). Jesus is not one more God that can be added to the pantheon of deities (Bhatki Hinduism) or one more illusion within the vast ocean of infinite being that exists without distinction (Advaita Vedanta Hinduism). According to Christianity, there are real distinctions in the world, the most fundamental of which is the distinction between the Creator and creature. Help them understand that truth, which obtains when one thing (a thought, belief, or statement) corresponds to another thing (reality, the world), is exclusive (see chapters 2 and 8). If Christianity is true, then Hinduism, in any of its phases, is false at those points where it contradicts Christianity.
Finally, Hindus already believe in a moral universe. They already believe that their actions matter—that they have eternal consequences for good or ill. Help them see that the truth behind the belief in karma is that there is a moral law, and this moral law gives us reason to think there is a moral law giver (see chapter 3). Lovingly point out to them that man’s fundamental problem is not that we are caught on an unending wheel of suffering, death, and rebirth, but rather that we are sinful creatures who fall short of the moral law and are in need of grace and forgiveness. In short, help them understand who Jesus is (see chapter 6) and to see the gospel as the only hope for finding genuine “release”—not from an unending cycle of suffering, but from the sin and guilt that hamper life and weigh us down.
Paul Gould, Travis Dickinson, and Keith Loftin, Stand Firm: Apologetics and the Brilliance of the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2018), 175–178.