Islam is the second largest religion and the fastest growing religion (by fertility, not by conversions) on earth. For 1400 years it has been in an existential struggle against all others for earthly power. 

By Mark D. Harris

The Middle East in AD 600.

The Middle East in the late 6th century AD bristled with thorns. The Byzantines and Persians crossed swords time and time again. Christendom rent itself over theological disputes, with arguments sometimes ending in blood. The Jews, having lost their homeland to the Romans over 400 years before, got on as best they could as minorities in societies very different from them. Justinian’s Plague, an outbreak of yersinia pestis, killed at least 15 million people from 541-549, depopulating farms and cities alike. A volcanic eruption in 535 covered the earth’s atmosphere with ash, darkening the sun and causing a year-old cold spell that caused a mass famine in the northern hemisphere.

In Arabia, Bedouin tribes and their livestock moved from pastureland to pastureland as they had done since the days of Abraham and Ishmael. In accordance with tradition, they raided, looted, burned, and murdered each other. Townsmen, who lived in settlements built near the rare oases in the desert, made a living from making and trading goods and services. Traditional Arab pagans worshipped many gods of whom Allah was only one. Mecca was a site of pilgrimage, and the Kaaba in Mecca housed the holy black stone. Christianity, Judaism, and paganism shaped the thinking of men.

Continue reading “Islam”

Religions of the World

Religions of the World, Kabba in Mecca surrounded by Muslim pilgrims

The world is a pluralistic place, with thousands of religions and other belief systems (secular humanism, socialism, communism, “woke”) competing for the heart and mind of each person. These religions of the world impact us every day, whether we realize it of not. This class compares the fundamental tenets, history, and impact of the major religions and philosophies in the world today.

By Mark D. Harris


  1. To compare Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, smaller faiths (Sikh, Jain, Jewish, animism, Chinese religions, and paganism), and major secular belief systems with each other and with Christianity.
  2. To interest participants in religions of the world and other cultures.
  3. To help participants share the story of Christ with people in other cultures.

Duration – 4 weeks

Instructor – Mark D. Harris, PhD in World Religions, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS)


  1. Required – Religion and Art, Shaping the World for Christ
  2. Optional – Echoes of War: Religious Militancy in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, OnlinePrint

Reasons to compare religions

  1. Allows people to rapidly understand differences and similarities between faith groups.
  2. Useful to understand cultures and actions of peoples throughout the world.

Objections to comparing religions

  1. Religions can be highly different between regions, localities, and even individual practitioners. It is difficult if not impossible to account for such differences.
  2. Assuming that each adherent believes the same thing and will do the same (or even similar) things is dangerous.
  3. Modern comparative religious study came out of colonial Europe and was used as a way to prove the superiority of Christianity. Therefore, it should not be used.

Approach in this class

  1. Rather than looking at how each individual practices his or her faith, we will characterize each faith as it is taught in its original, authoritative documents.
  2. Buddhism – Tipitaka (Sutta Pitaka, Angutara Pitaka, Nikaya Pitaka), a mention of some key sutras
  3. Hindu – Vedas, Ten Principal Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita
  4. Islam – Quran, Sahih al Bukhari
  5. Other (Sikh, Jain, and Jew) – Scriptures, Talmud


  1. Authorial intent – The meaning of a text is what the author meant to say. The reader’s task is to decipher it.
  2. Reader response – The meaning of a text is whatever the reading community believes it to say. The author’s intent has no relevance.
  3. This class uses a hermeneutic of authorial intent.
  4. Some think that “authorial intent” means “literal.” This is false. In Revelation 1:13-16, the author clearly intends the reader to understand his description of Jesus figuratively. That is how we should interpret it.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And after turning I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and wrapped around the chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze when it has been heated to a glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.  

Four key questions for each religion

  1. What do you picture when you think about each religion?
  2. What are the basic tenets of each religion?
  3. What is the historical record for each religion?
  4. What is the impact of each religion? Numbers, geographic scope, historical importance, modern issues

Metanarratives are stories that attempt to explain reality. They are overarching explanations for existence, sin, redemption, meaning, and all the great questions in life. Every religion and philosophy promotes its own metanarrative, and rejects all others.

Religious adherents worldwide

  1. Christianity – 2.4 billion
  2. Islam – 1.9 billion (fastest growing, due to birth rates)
  3. Hindus – 1.2 billion
  4. Buddhists – 490 million
  5. Sikhs – 30 million
  6. Jews – 16 million
  7. Mormons – 16 million
  8. Jehovah’s Witnesses – 8 million
  9. Jains – 5 million


  • Founding
  • Life of Mohammad (AD 570-632)
  • Hijra – Muslim’s flight to Medina (AD 522)
  • Holy book – Quran
  • Hadith – Sahih al Bukhari, Sahih al Islam, both are highly regarded sources of truth
  • Biography
  1. Five pillars
      Shahada – One God Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, Salah – prayers (Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha), Zakat – taxes, alms, Sawm – fasting (Ramadan), Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca)
  2. Unified secular and religious governance – The Caliph is the military and religious leader. All sources of temporal power belong to him.
  3. Umma – The community of Muslims
  4. Dhimmi – Any non-Muslim in a Muslim-dominated society
  5. Jizya – Taxes paid by non-Muslims to their Muslim government.
  6. Leaders – Rashidun (“rightly guided” caliphs) – Abu Bakr (AD 573-634)Umar (AD 582-644) Uthman (AD 573-656)Ali (AD 600 – 661)
  7. Jihad (quitab) – physical fighting and war
  8. History
  9. Present day


  1. Founding
  2. Holy books
      Vedas (1500 BC) – brahman rituals (transactional, Agni, Indra), Upanishads (300 BC) – philosophic, Bhagavat Gita (100 BC) – Bhakti (personal devotion)
  3. Polytheism – as many gods as you want (cf. Acts 17)
  4. The caste system
      Brahmin (priests, scholars), Kshatriya (warriors, administrators), Vaisha (farmers, merchants), Sudra (slaves, manual labor), Dalit (outside of system)
  5. Dharma – truth and duty
  6. Karma
  7. Samsara and moksha
  8. Monks
  9. Laity
  10. Daily practices
  11. Idols
  12. History
  13. Present day


  1. Founding
  2. Holy books (Tipitaka, Sutras in the Mahayana tradition)
  3. Four noble truths
      Dukkha (Suffering) – Life is full of suffering, sickness, unhappiness, and death.  Samudaya (Cause of Suffering) – People suffering for one simple reason: they desire things (physical items, people, and even personal existence. Nirodha (End of Suffering) – To extinguish desire. Magga (The Path) – The way to extinguish desire.
  4. Noble eightfold path
      Right understanding (Samma ditthi), Right thought (Samma sankappa), Right speech (Samma vaca), Right action (Samma kammanta), Right livelihood (Samma ajiva), Right effort (Samma vayama), Right mindfulness (Samma sati), Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
  5. Five precepts – don’t injure living, don’t steal, no sexual immorality, don’t lie, no intoxicants
  6. Triple refuge – Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha
  7. Three cardinal virtues – non-attachment, benevolence, understanding
  8. Three poisons – ignorance, hatred, delusion
  9. Four heavenly abodes – compassion, kindness, joy, peace
  10. Dhamma – truth, duty
  11. Karma – what you reap, you shall sow (primarily in subsequent lives)
  12. Samsara – the cycle of lives over the eons, including suffering (dukkha) and illusion (maya)
  13. Moksha – release from the cycle of samsara occasioned by good works.
  14. Sangha (monks (male – bhikkhu, female – bhikkhuni) – abstinence from sex, intoxicants, collects alms from lay Buddhists).
  15. Laity daily practices – vegetarian, no intoxicants, support monks, usually must be reborn as a bhikkhu before earning moksha.
  16. History
  17. Present day


  1. Founding – Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1538) lived in Punjab. He was dissatisfied with Hinduism and Islam and combined elements of both in his teachings. A series of Sikh gurus followed him until the Sikh holy book, Adi Granth, became the final, permanent guru (1708).
  2. Holy books – Guru Granth Sahib compiled by Gobind Singh (1666-1708), Adi Granth,
  3. True Name (Karta Purukh) – One eternal, self-existent God.
  4. Beliefs
      God has two nature, personal (saguna) and impersonal (Nirguna). Mankind is intrinsically good, with each person possessing a spark of divine light. Men and women are fully equal. Five principal vices – worldly attachment (moh), pride (ahankar), anger (krodh), lust (kam), and greed (lobh).
  5. Process of liberation
      Penetrating the wall of falsehood. Praising God and developing compassion through meditation. One’s soul being absorbed into the divine essence (sach khand)
  6. Distinctive beliefs
      Sikh army (Khalsa) – uncut hair (kesh), wooden comb (kangha), steel bracelet (kara), short sword (kirpan), and shorts (kachha). Men are given the surname Singh and women the surname Kaur. Khalsa initiation ritual Temple worship (gurdwara) – singing hymns (kirtan), meditation, readings from Granth Sahib. Dwali – festival of lights (like Hindu). Daily prayers (Nitnem). Five seats of authority (takhts). Battle of Muktsar (1705) – memory of 40 Sikhs killed when fighting Mughal Empire.
  7. History
  8. Present Day


  1. Founding – Abraham (c 1800 BC)
  2. Holy books
      Torah – first five books of the Bible, which were given in written and oral form by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Tanach – all written Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah (law), Nevim (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). It is known as Bible to Jews and Old Testament to Christians. Mishnah – written record of oral law which expanded into the Talmud. Talmud – A commentary on the Mishnah. A record of rabbinic debates on the Torah from the destruction of the Temple (AD 70) and of Judea (AD 135) to the fifth century.
  3. Divisions of Judaism – orthodox, conservative, reformed
  4. God – YHWH is one, personal, eternal, self-existent God.
  5. Salvation
      Original sin is denied in Reformed and Conservative traditions. Individual atonement comes from repenting, praying, and doing good works. Simply being Jewish guarantees that each Jew goes to heaven in the next life. The sufferings of all Jews justify each individual Jew.
  6. Common thread – the desire to maintain Jewish identity to keep the Jewish race alive.
  7. Distinctive beliefs
      Halaka – civil laws. Circumcision. Bar and Bat Mitvah. Star of David. Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism. The Holocaust – a defining period for modern Judaism. Zionism – the belief that Jews must have a homeland, and it must be in Palestine.
  8. Afterlife – heaven, reincarnation, torment, annihilation.
  9. History
  10. Present Day


  1. Founding – Jains claim that Jainism was founded 8.4 million years ago. Vardhamana (Mahavira, 599-527 BC) was a prince who left his palace at age 30 to begin 12 years of rigorous asceticism. He achieved perfect enlightenment, attracted many followers, and starved himself to death at age 72.
  2. Holy books (45 in six groupings) – Angas, Upangas, Pakinnakas, Chedas, Mulasutras, and Sutras
  3. Polytheism or atheism
  4. Beliefs
      All sentient beings are gods but are in spiritual bondage. Right perception, right knowledge, right conduct. Nonliving objects – space (akasa), time (kaal), matter (pudgala), motion (dharmastikay), and rest (adharmastikay). Three fundamental aspects of every entity in existence – origination (utpada), destruction (vyaya), permanence (dhrauvya). Cycle of time (kalchakra) – time has no beginning or end. Five kinds of benevolent beings (panch parameshthi) – supreme humans (arihantas), perfect souls (siddhas), master teachers (acharyas), scholarly monks (upadhyayas), ascetics (sadhus). Beliefs may be mistaken (anekantvada).
  5. Two main groups – Svetambara (white clad), digambara (sky clad, naked)
  6. Nature of existence
      Supreme abode – dwelling place of liberated souls. Upper world – abode of heavenly beings. Middle world – earth and visible universe. Nether world – seven hells. Nigoda – abode of the lowest forms of life. Universe space – clouds that envelop the upper world. Space beyond – an immeasurable realm without properties.
  7. Lifestyle
      Abandon all material possessions. Strictly vegetarian Non-violent (even insects)Daily prayer (namaskar mantra) with nine elements – to Arihantas, Siddhas, acharyas, upadhyayas, holy men, five obeisance, eradicate defilements, happiness, praise. Some ancient rulers in India became Jains to escape their lower castes and take power.
  8. Afterlife – the person is never again trapped in a physical body.
  9. History
  10. Present Day

Secular Humanism

  1. Founding – Early 20th century under the influence of the Enlightenment philosophers, Nietzsche, etc.
  2. Holy books – technically none, though the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital are influential.
  3. God – atheistic or agnostic
  4. Salvation – no eternal life but rather annihilation. The only meaning in life is what each individual puts into it on this earth.
  5. Beliefs
      Free inquiry – individuals can pursue and promote anything they wish without resistance. Separation of Church and State – religious ideas (and often people) can have no part in governance. Ideal of freedom – democratic decision making, rights of minorities, rule of law. Ethics without resort to religion. Moral education without religion. Religious skepticism, since truth can only be known by scientific inquiry of the physical world. Reason – rational modes of inquiry include only logic, evidence, and empirical testing. Science and technology alone explore the world and lead to progress. Evolution. Education – free and compulsory. Rejects all metanarratives. There is no meaning in creation or life and no afterlife. Only the physical exists.
  6. Creation – none. The universe is self-existent, or an infinite number (multiverse) exist.
  7. Humanity – developed by chance with no external meaning. Cultural pluralism is objectively good. The belief in an afterlife is detrimental to achieving good in this life.
  8. The quest for social justice is foremost.
  9. Wokeism
      Opposed to free inquiry, democracy, reason, and science since these are legacies of the white, European, and American oppressors. Generally atheistic. Replaces Marxist class conflict with race conflict. The powerful are morally evil and oppress all others. There is no repentance since oppressing is the unpardonable sin. The powerful should never be believed. The weak are morally good and are oppressed. There is no need for repentance since being oppressed is the ultimate virtue. The oppressed should never be doubted.
  10. History
  11. Present Day


Reaching non-Christians with the message of Christ

  1. Interpersonal relationships
  2. Know your own faith very, very well.
  3. Live like Jesus
  4. None of these beliefs espouse a sinful nature in mankind. In every one, man is good albeit flawed. Therefore, no one is really in need of a savior. Christianity alone deals with the awful truth that every part of man is morally corrupt. He is dead in his sins, not sick, and needs a savior.
  5. Because man is hopeless in himself, he will never escape his brokenness. God alone, through Christ, can heal the broken. The worst news precedes the best.
  6. Focus on the gospel. The earthly work of Jesus is our greatest power. It is the ultimate good news.
  7. People are generally loved, not argued, into heaven. However, actions alone are insufficient. We must use words.
  8. Don’t get stuck on politics or on minutiae. Focus on what matters, which is Jesus Christ.
  9. Abraham religions emphasize holy texts while Indian religions emphasize experience.
  10. Be joyful. Cranky Christians are not convincing. They are also not obedient, and God promises us joy.  


What must I do to be saved?

The Bible leads people to salvation, but sometimes is unclear about what is required. What are the core beliefs that one must have to be a Christian? When the apostles tell us to follow the fundamental truths of the Faith, what do they mean? What can followers of Christ disagree on without breaking fellowship? What differences in theology are so serious that Christians must separate themselves from people who hold wrong views ? What must people do to be saved?

By Mark D. Harris

Our Sunday School class has been working through the letters of John for the past several weeks. In them, the Apostle repeatedly calls for his readers to know the truth. Most people, even those who deny objective moral truth, believe in some kind of truth. Religions, and non-religious philosophies, claim to contain and convey truth, and ask their adherents to accept it.

The word “saved” differs from one religion and/or philosophy to another. To a Christian, one is saved from separation from God. To a Buddhist, one is saved from false beliefs. To a Marxist, one is saved from economic oppression. To a Muslim, one is saved from hell. Keeping in mind that “salvation” differs by context, we will investigate how to achieve it.

How to be “saved” in major non-Christian religions

Every religion requires adherence to a set of beliefs and actions by those who wish to be part of that faith. For example, Islam expects its followers to do the five pillars:[1]

  1. Shahada – testify that “there is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is His prophet.”
  2. Zakat – pay tithes.
  3. Salah – pray towards Mecca five times per day.
  4. Sawm – fast during Ramadan.
  5. Hajj – make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Muslims are likewise required to perform good works, having just dealings with others, and may be called to fight in a holy war (jihad). Islam has dietary requirements, such as prohibitions on alcohol and pork, and rules for the social order. If one believes and does these things, he or she can justly consider him or herself to be a Muslim and will be considered so by others.[2] After death, if a Muslim’s good deeds outweigh the bad, or if he is killed in a jihad, he or she will enjoy paradise.

Continue reading “What must I do to be saved?”


A compendium of book reviews on common texts in Judaism. 

By Mark D. Harris

A group of Orthodox Jews walked by while I was waiting for my children to get off a roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2013. The men wore beards and yarmulkes, and the women wore modest skirts and head coverings. Dozens of children flitted around, excited and energetic despite the heat of the day. One man sat wearily down just a few feet away on the short rock wall where I was perched. After waiting several minutes, we began talking. A few minutes later we were discussing the Old Testament (Tanakh). It was a good opportunity to learn about him, and to put in a good word for Yeshua.

Continue reading “Judaism”