by Rit Nosotro
in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity
Compare and contrast the concept of hell in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. How have these beliefs influenced history?
What happens after death? Is there a hell? The world's major religion's warn against such a place. Some religions offer a way of escape, or at least a decrease in the suffering.
Each religion has a different name for their hell-state. Hindus believe in a place of judgment called Naraka. Buddhists state you become either a being in Hell, or a Hungry Ghost. Both Islam and Christianity call their place of punishment simply, hell, which means a hole or cavern, and comes from the Anglo-Saxon word behelian, “to hide.” In addition, each hell-state also has its own ruling deity, who presides over the underworld. For the Hindus, Yama, the Lord of Justice, rules Naraka. Dharma-Raja is the Buddhist’s Lord of Death. Christianity states that Satan is the ruler of the world, and will one day be thrown into Hell. Muslims believe Allah (God) judges the world, but demons rule hell.
All four religions believe in a form of judgment day. For Hindus and Buddhists, it takes place immediately after death. Muslims and most Christians believe in immediate judgment, but also await a second, “final” judgment, occurring when this present world comes to an end. Hinduism teaches that immediately after death, the soul enters the land of the dead, where one’s karma constitutes his judgment. Both Buddhists and Muslims believe in a balanced scale, which measures the “goodness” of each and every man. The Buddhist scale holds black and white pebbles; black representing evil deeds and white pebbles good deeds. If found guilty, the soul is conducted to the hell-world by devils. The Muslim scale is held up by the angel Gabriel, half covered in paradise and half in Hell. Christians believe that once the physical body is separated from the soul, it is judged either guilty or innocent. Condemned souls await the Last Judgment, but the righteous may enter paradise. II Thessalonians 1:7-9 states, "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." Similarly, the Muslim religion states that all will one day walk over the razor thin Bridge of Sirat, spanning the distance from earth to paradise and passing directly over hell. Those who are faithful will find it broad, but the wicked will lose their balance and topple into eternal damnation.
Now who are the wicked who will be judged as such? All four religions agree that the “evildoers” of the world will be present. However, according to the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Roman Catholics, most people, even the “good” must undergo some purgation. Sins such as murder, theft, and deceit are impurities that must be removed before reincarnation or entrance to heaven. Muslims sent to hell must purify themselves before entering paradise. In contrast, Christians who reject the Apocrypha as being outside the canon of scripture, believe only those rejecting the gospel will be condemned. "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (II Thess. 1:8.) Christ alone offers assurance of salvation from hell.
All religions share one common belief- hell is a place of darkness. 2 Peter 2:4 says, "He cast them down to hell. They are locked up in chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment." In addition, both the Buddhist stage of hell known as the Hungry Ghosts, and the Christian hell are characterized by great longing. As a Hungry Ghost, the craving is physical; they cannot enjoy food or drink. Those in the Christian hell experience a spiritual yearning for God. Islam’s Koran also speaks of a thirst, which will not be satisfied. "Surely, We have prepared for the evildoers a fire, whose pavilion encompasses them. If they call for help, they will be helped with water like molten copper which will scald their faces. How dreadful a drink and how evil a resting place!" (Sura 18:29). Buddhist and Christian hell similarly consist of either fiery heat or intense cold. All four hell states contain methods of torture. Hindu punishments include being boiled in oil, pecked at by birds, encircled by snakes, and worse. Buddhist teachings state the “hell body” resurrects itself, that the soul might be killed over and over again until Nirvana is achieved. According to the Hindu book, The Mahabharata, Vrihaspati's account of "the frightful regions of Yama", hell is indeed a terrible place. "In those regions, O king, there are places that are fraught with every merit and that are worthy on that account of being the abodes of the very deities. There are, again, places in those regions that are worse than those which are inhabited by animals and birds…"
Knowing the horrors of damnation, adherents ask, “Can any escape?” According to the Hindu and Buddhist, hope still exists for the condemned. They believe time is cyclical and every being will eventually reincarnate. Muslims who entered hell as a means of purification will ultimately cross the threshold of heaven. Although there are a few Christian cults that believe the living can purchase the dead unbelievers from purgatory to heaven through money (indulgences), prayers, or good works, of being baptized for the dead, true Christians follow the Bible rather than the traditions of men. Salvation must take place before a person dies "for God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). For those that try to enter heaven by a name other than Jesus, there is "everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth". "For there is one name given among men whereby we must be saved, that name of Jesus Christ" ( ). Hell is a type of conscious everlasting death. Revelation 14:11 states, “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever."
If this is true, how can one achieve salvation from hell? Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Christians discount teachings that suggest good works, however earnest, will save a man from hell. Christians teach that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23) and that Christ paid this penalty with his death on the cross so all who believe might achieve everlasting salvation. Romans 10:9-11 instructs, “Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes and so is justified and with the mouth he confesses and confirms salvation.” To Christians, salvation is a gift given freely, and cannot be earned through Buddha's eightfold path, the five pillars of Islam, or Hindu's repetitive cycle of reincarnation. Ironically, it is the simplicity of the Christian position that causes many to seek some other way in order to participate in their salvation. Yet the Biblical teaching is clear. Some count over 160 references in the New Testament alone, which warn of hell; 70 of these references were spoken by Jesus Christ.
Religious convictions concerning the afterlife influenced individual cultures, and in turn history itself. In the case of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims, belief of personal sacrifice influencing one’s state in hell, caused followers to restrict their sinful natures and perform “good works”. Many temples were built, monuments erected, and poetry written to gain favor of the gods. Muslims, for example, believe they can achieve Allah's favor by following the five pillars of Islam such as giving alms, praying toward Mecca, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Although a Muslim can never be assured of the avoidance of hell (unless dying in Jihad - thus the appeal to suicide bombers), the performance of such ritual has been a strong influence on the culture. Hindus come by the millions to their sacred river Ganges. Pilgrimages have built up the tourist trade in surrounding cities, thus causing new influencing the geopolitical development of a civilization which has been particularly strong concerning Mecca.
Some of the less obvious consequences of believing in hell include the advancement of transportation which adherents of religions have encouraged in order to spread their message. The Christian Crusaders were promised by the pope that they would obtain paradise, and thus avoid hell, if they went on Crusade. Travel to see relics, which were said to have the power to make prayer more effective towards, e.g., obtaining early release from purgatory, also impacted history. Roads created by the vast number of pilgrims produced improved transportation, increasing trade and interaction between cultures. Prince Henry the Navigator ordered his sailors to spread the Christian faith. Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Columbus to spread the Christian faith. The trains and steamships of the industrial revolution were partly financed by christians hoping to spread the Christian faith. It was a faith that taught of God's love toward sinners to save them from the penalty of sin: Hell.
1. Who is the ruler of the Hindu hell-state?
2. What is a common description of all of the reviewed hell states?
a. bright and cheerful
3. Which religion believes that only unbelievers will be condemned to hell?
4. Which of these has the most in common?
a. Islam and Hinduism
b. Hinduism and Christianity
c. Buddhism and Naraka
d. Islam and Christianity
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