# How do Christians explain commonalities between their religion, other major faiths and obscure isolated tribal belief systems?

Many belief systems share common themes; an afterlife, rebirth, bodily mutilation and sacrifice.

To me this suggests a shared origin either in history or storytelling (Abrahamic faiths) or that they were all "made up" to appease basic human fears or death and to cope with grief.

Taking these similarities into account how do Christians dismiss other beliefs and accept their own as the one true religion?

• I'm not sure the point of "which is normally decided by their parents' faith, or the country and culture they are born in to" phrase... Is that really relevant to your question? It sounds a tad argumentative... – Flimzy Oct 8 '11 at 1:39
• Maybe they share a common ground: the truth known to all man in the beginning. Satan had the different believe systems deviate from the truth in various magnitudes, so some share more, others less. – Ralph M. Rickenbach Oct 8 '11 at 7:18
• This looks like a 'gotcha' question. – DJClayworth Aug 23 '12 at 14:32

Occam's Razor states that the simplest solution is likely to be the correct one, and such commonalities are generally explained by Christians by appealing to the simplest solution: when two separate entities share several common traits, it's generally because they derive from a shared origin.

The Old Testament gives a few tantalizing glimpses of things that make a lot more sense in the context of Christianity, especially in the account of events that predate the Law of Moses, but the record is rather sketchy, and mostly limited in scope to the people of Israel and their predecessors. But from extrabliblical historical and religious works of similar antiquity we get a picture of the rest of the world, and of striking similarities in the details of their worship customs, and the further back you go, the more things converge.

To give just one example, we typically think of ancient Greece as the birthplace of Western thought, but religiously they were anything but! If you were to mention to an ancient Israelite the notion of a God of thunder and lightning and fertility, who is the leader of the pantheon and lives on top of a mystical mountain, he would immediately recognize the concept: you're talking about Baal, the chief god of the Caananites! (And in fact Zeus's consort's name is only one syllable different from Baal's Asherah.)

Now the name Baal is a Hebraicized version of the Babylonian Bel, and Babylon was built at the site of Babel, where humanity was once gathered together before dispersing from that point. (There's been some very interesting research into ancient Babylonian history that identifies the legendary Tower of Babel with the Ziggurat of Babylon, for example.) And one of the high points of Baal's legend was a resurrection tale involving him being murdered by his enemies and coming back to life a few days later, imagery that should be immediately familiar to any Christian. Where did this notion come from? From when a good portion (all?) of humanity, including true worshipers of the Lord, lived in and around the land of Babel, of course.

These sorts of convergences show up all over the place when you start looking at the details of ancient religious systems, and they only really make sense if you assume a common origin.

• Baal's father was 'El, who may have been the God worshipped by Abraham, as 'El was times used to refer to YWHW and Elohim (army of 'El) is also used to refer to God. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_(deity) – James Black Oct 8 '11 at 1:52
• @James: Yeah, when you know what you're looking at, it's not difficult to recognize 'El and Baal as corrupted versions of the Father and the Son. Part of the reason Baal-worship was so seductive to the Israelites throughout the Old Testament was because it had such a similar religious narrative, but was accompanied by a looser moral code. – Mason Wheeler Oct 8 '11 at 1:59
• St. Justin Martyr referred to this phenomenon as the spermatichos Logos, or Word in seed form. – Robert Haraway Oct 9 '11 at 3:24

Dismissing other religions is a bit harsh, I believe.

First, there are common beliefs, which makes sense if there was an event that actually happened, for example, if you look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_Eden and read about Sumer you will see that there is another story with parallels to the Garden of Eden. If you look at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flood-myths.html#Sumerian you will see a story about the Great Flood, similar to Noah's Ark.

So, it helps show that Genesis may not just be stories to help people cope with loss or fear, but actual events.

But, as people moved, cultures change, new gods are encountered, stories are re-interpreted to fit the new culture.

Now, we come to Jesus, where there is more non-Christian evidence close to that period about him than about Julius Caesar being in Ireland.

So, all but one of the original Apostles were martyred, so they either believed what they shared or were hiding a lie. It is unlikely all of them would have held to a lie.

If you look at how the early church dealt with other religions, it wasn't dimissive, but trying to show common ground, for examples Acts 17:16-34.

Paul understood their beliefs, then used that to help explain about God and Jesus (Acts 17:22-23 (NIV))

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23> For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

If you are dismissive then that will just harden hearts, as people become defensive, so look for common ground. I think the best example was the woman at the well (John 4:1-30), where Jesus was not dismissive of her beliefs, but found a common ground (she and He drink water) and through that found a way to share with her.

We hold our beliefs to be true, the hope is that God will help us understand how to share that with others, so that they can see the hope we have due to the Gospel of Christ, so we are sowers of seeds, we can till the soil, remove some stones, but ultimately only God can make the seed that is planted grow.

So, dismissing beliefs would be adding more stones to rocky soil and taking away any shade, to ensure that any seed planted will not grow.

• James, I disagree. Paul talking in Athens is using an opportunity to launch his Gospel talk. He's not condoning their gods - he's saying that the "unknown" God is the one that counts, and that their ignorance of this God was previously overlooked but will be no longer. Paul says in Galations 1:8: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! – Screamer Oct 10 '11 at 21:01
• @Screamer - When you are in a minority, then you can't threaten, and Paul was in that boat. So, he took time to understand the Athenian beliefs in order to find an opening that he can use to help reach out to others. – James Black Oct 11 '11 at 0:37

Good question, but it's not about how do we justify our being right and everyone else being wrong. It all comes down to absolute truth. There may be common threads between various religions but they cannot all be true. For example:

• Is there one God or many? Christians, Jews and Muslims all say 1, Hindus say many. Both parties cannot be right - either there is one God or many (or none, for the atheists)
• Did Jesus exist? Either He did definitely exist or He didn't, but there is evidence from non-Christian sources (like the Jewish historian Josephus) that Jesus did exist.
• Did Jesus die on a cross? Christians say Yes, Muslims say No. We cannot both be right. What's important is to know that it's not about believing whatever you like as long as you're sincere. You can believe a lie with all sincerity, but it is still a lie.

If God exists, wants to be relationship with us and expects us to meet a standard of some sort, then what does it take to meet His standard? Does He expect perfection or is He OK with us obeying him some of the time only? If he wants perfect obedience, then what happens when we're not obedient and how do we come right with God? For me, Christianity answers these questions best.

But Christianity is NOT about "coping" and appeasing human fears. Does deciding to wait until marriage before having sex sound like a crutch? Does believing in spite of persecution (as many Christians do in China, Philippines, Nigeria, etc.) sound like they do it to cope? No, their lives would be easier if they were NOT Christians. They get additional fears (beatings, prison, death) but they also get God's help in enduring them because God is glorified by their continuing faith in spite of the circumstances.

• Many religions are persecuted, so when Muslims are persecuted, or Hindus are persecuted, they get help from their gods also. Your answer can apply to any religion, basically. – James Black Oct 8 '11 at 0:38
• Sort of. My point about the persecution is Christianity isn't a crutch. I've never heard of anyone accusing Hindu's and Muslim's of believing simply because they need to, to make it through the day. But if anyone did, then yes, persecution shows that the accusation is a silly one. – Screamer Oct 10 '11 at 20:48

Biblical History

First of all, Biblical history shows that God revealed Himself to Adam and Noah, among others. Noah was the line of Enoch, who "walked with God". Noah Himself "found grace in the eyes of the Lord."

After the flood, Noah and his family had the knowledge of the one true God. That knowledge would have remained common through to the time of Babel. At that point, the people were "scattered over the face of the whole earth", yet all of these people would have taken with them a general knowledge and understanding of God, who was known by Noah, their common ancestor.

So, all the cultures of the world would have begun with a common basic theology. To varying degrees, this theology would have been distorted by each culture.

In his book, Eternity in Their Hearts, Don Richardson details accounts of tribes which he calls "people of the lost book", who bemoaned the fact that their ancestors had lost the record of God, which may refer to the writings of Adam and Noah. Some hold these to be two of the authors of Genesis, of which Moses was not the author, but the compiler.

Chinese characters actually demonstrate a quite remarkable, even baffling correspondence to the stories in Genesis 1-11. This would fit quite well with the idea that the Chinese came from Babel just like everyone else.

So, all cultures trace their ancestry to Babel and to Noah. They all began with a common theology. Through time, that theology was distorted, but each retains, to varying degrees, shadows of the same root.

Eternity in their Hearts

Additionally, the Scriptures teach that the concept of General Revelation, that God has revealed Himself to them through nature and perhaps through our spirits.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20 ESV

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1 ESV

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV

So, God has revealed Himself in general revelation to all mankind, so that there will be common understandings among various cultures, since they all receive the same general revelation.

Thus, the commonalities between Christianity and other faiths is quite easily explained. All faiths trace their roots to Noah and His understanding of the One true God, and we all have the same general revelation.

The idea that the commonalities necessitate that all religions were made up is quite a stretch. It assumes there really is no God without ever giving evidence to that end. While someone can maintain that opinion, the Biblical accounts provides a solid logical answer to that.

Accepting Christianity as the one true religion

It is inaccurate to suggest that people are only Christians because they inherited this faith from their parents and were indoctrinated into it. In the past half century, Christianity's greatest growth has been in Korea, China, and Muslim countries. There may be as many as 100 million Christians in China today, and the number is growing. They are coming to Christ out of Buddhism and Atheism. Christianity is actually growing quite quickly in Iran now and many other places where people come to faith in Christ even though they risk abandonment from their families and even death in many cases.

That being said, it is really a separate question regarding why Christians believe Christianity is the One true religion. In brief, I would suggest the following "convincing proofs":

• The Resurrection of Jesus - Christianity rises and falls on this historical fact. People have suggested very bizarre alternatives to try to explain this away, but all explanation have failed miserably. Nothing else accounts for how a small band of unschooled, ordinary men from a rural area of a no-account country under bondage to the Roman empire turned the world upside down by a teaching they learned from a carpenter, in the face of brutal persecution and martyrdom.

• Fulfilled Prophecy - No other holy book dares to predict the future with such precision and accuracy as the Bible. The virgin birth, the year of the Messiah's death, the Deity of the Messiah, the birthplace of Jesus, the four world empires, and many other prophecies all came true.

• Miracles - Last, but not least, the dead are raised, the sick are healed, the blind receive sight, the deaf hear... not just in the time of Jesus, but in answer to prayer, people today experience miraculous healing.

• The Transformation of People's Lives - No other teaching has shown to transform the lives of so many people so radically. Countless drunkards, prostitutes, murderers, drug addicts, and many others have been delivered from the most destitute of lives to lives of honor and peace. As the song says, "A refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm, He brings peace to our madness and comfort in our sadness, a Father to the orphan, a Healer to the broken..." Only in the name of Jesus can such things occur.

In Romans 12:3 the Bible tells us that we have all been given a certain “measure of faith” by God. I believe that this is true for every human.

Spiritually, this measure drives us to seek the truth.

Because of cultural variances, what is ultimate truth to some will not be to others.

Since we are searching to understand what has been placed in us (that measure of faith) by God himself, it seems more likely than not that there would be many commonalities between Christians, other faiths, even to remote tribal cultures.

We are all truth seekers.