The good old pluralistic dictum, “God has 99 names,” is to demonstrate and of course presupposes that God is worshipped in different names and manifests himself in different religions ad cultures.
This dictum is both misleading and violates proper reason. That “God has 99 names,” is obscured from its true intended meaning. For instance, it is true that God of the Bible has different names such as, Lord, Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim etc, but the “the 99 names of God,” as religion pluralists presumes, simply means that, His name is to be understood that transcends the Christian Scripture. Hence, the great Jehovah of the Bible is also Buddha in what one perceives within Buddhist literature and vice versa.
In addition, the “99 names of God,” in a pluralist mind means that Krishna, Allah, Brahman, Vishnu, Jesus etc., are all one and the same God who manifests in different religions. So, in other words this means that Jehovah is God for the Jews, while Brahman is the God of Hindus, and Allah is the God of the Muslims, and though, understood in different names and worship in different cultures, yet, this God is one and the same which manifests Himself in different names. But upon closer examination, this is not the case that God has 99 different names manifested in other set of beliefs. My aim in this article is simply to dismiss the myth of this old adage that is currently engraved in the minds of both religious and irreligious mass.
There are hundreds if not thousands of religions that exists in our present time. Among these religions are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity etc.,
The main differences between Hinduism and Christianity are typical of the differences between Eastern and Western religions in general. Here are some examples: Hinduism is pantheistic (all are God) as opposed to monotheistic (Only One God Exist). Buddhism does not have any particular deity or deities (godless). Among the three monotheistic faith are: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The pantheistic faith are: Hinduism. For our purposes in this exposition, I will limit myself only with the religions mentioned above. It is quite evident that the main purpose of the “God has 99 names,” campaign coming from religious pluralist in Sweden, is to prevent intolerance and racism and accept religious diversity.
Intolerance and any kind of racism or bigotry is wrong and should be met with contempt. Moses wrote that we are all created in God’s image says (Gen. 1:27).
This we hopefully agree. Also, I do not have any problem with religious diversity in our pluralistic society today. Though, I must admit that religious diversity is nothing new per se, but diversity among religions within one culture or society were common before and after the time of Jesus and it continues until this very day. But, does this mean that just because religious are diverse should we then conclude that these religions are the same and count them as equally true? Is Brahman, Allah, or Ahura Mazda is also the God of the Christian Holy Scripture? Jesus of Nazareth and Paul the apostle did not believed or even embrace all religion leading to the same God so why should we?
As far as the Christian Scripture and the proper reason goes pluralism in religion is wrong!
(II) One God of Israel
Firstly, the concept of the Judeo-Christian God is exclusively monotheistic in nature, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29), and in Isaiah 45:5-6 says, “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.” As you can see, the Old Testament prophets writers confirms and believes that Jehovah is one and that there no other God beside Him. This strict monotheistic belief is also confirmed in the New Testament.
In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. ” (cf. Luke 16:13; 18:19; John 8:41; Rom. 3:30; 1Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6). In the Judeo-Christian mind and as it shows in the Bible, God is holy both in the sense of being unique, alone worthy of being worshipped, and of being morally pure and righteous.
(III) The Concept of The Judeo-Christian God
From a secular point of view, Christianity originally developed as a part of Judaism (which is true). The main leader and perhaps the founder of Christianity was a simple carpenter and an itinerant Jew, in which he was known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived during 3 B.C. and 30 A.D. For some odd reasons, Christianity separated from the main body of Judaism. Probably because, the Jews could not simply accept the idea of God becoming a human. Jews are patriotic in their belief that God covenant exclusively with them, and part of this old covenant was the Law, a set of religious, and ethical rules and principles. Most Christians came to regard both this Covenant and Law as in some sense superseded by Jesus’ teaching and the community that he established. On the night he died on the cross, Jesus spoke about establishing a “new covenant” based upon his own death on the cross and his bodily resurrection.
The concept of Judeo-Christian God has existed since the very conception of time, matter, and space continuum. God created the universe literally from nothing (Gen. 1:1). The misconception that God created the cosmos from preexistent matter is not biblical. God is the creator everything in the universe. This alone confirms that material (and even space), physical universe exist nor is God part of His creation. However, since the physical universe is created and have a beginning, this is not so with Jehovah who is inanimate and not created, therefore, God is transcended (not part of the created material). Yet, God is also immanent (“to be within” or “near” in relation to God’s creation). Jesus Christ as Christians understands him is both wholly God and wholly human, the second person of the triune God (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost).
He was given birth through virginal conception and thus, wasn’t corrupted by the sinful nature of his parents, Joseph and Mary. Jesus lived and preached forgiveness and the God’s coming kingdom. Jesus also thought that the only way to salvation was through him and by him whereby we are saved. Jesus Christ also exhorted that he is resurrection and the life and that those who put their faith in him will not die (John. 11:25-26). Jesus was crucified, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate. After three days, he was brought back to life, appeared again to his disciples, and after a couple of days he ascended back to heaven. Most liberal denies the literal concept of the Judeo-Christian God. The early Church fathers, however, avowedly accepted the teaching of Jesus and the apostles as biblical and historical. In addition, the Christian God is not just inscrutable but immanent so, and this has been demonstrated in the person of Christ — God Incarnate (Gk. God becoming flesh).
(IV) The Eastern Gods and Cosmology
By this, I do not see how the monotheistic God of Israel can be reconciled with other gods such as the god of Eastern religions. For example, most Hindus worship one Being of ultimate oneness (Brahman) through infinite representations of gods and goddesses. There are literally about hundreds if not thousands of gods within the Hindu religion alone. The concept of creation in Hinduism is radically different idea from the narrative creation of the Christian Scripture. Brahman who created everything that exists cannot escape the fact that he is the product of creation too. The cosmos is not so much a creation, but more an emanation from him. The abstraction of a being creating himself is quite impossible and illogical. This is so because, in order for one to create one must first and foremost exist. Self creation is therefore logically inconceivable if not illogical.
Also, as I noted earlier, Hinduism is pantheistic religion, which teaches that ‘all is God and God is all’. But if God is all, God is also both good and evil. But then there is no absolute morality, no divine law, no divine will discriminating good and evil. This is not true with the God of the Christian Scripture. Yahweh, is not both good and evil but only good and holy. The Christian God is all-good and the very absolute of morality.
For the Christian mind and practice, God is the source of morality and its originator.
In its original form, Buddhism did not teach of the existence of transcendent, immanent, or any other type of God, Gods, Goddess, and/or Goddesses. However, many Buddhists — particularly in Japan — do believe in a pantheon of deities. The concept of a personal God does not fit into the Buddhist system of religion. Therefore, the idea of creation within Buddhism is not altogether easy to explain.
Buddhist postulates that God is totally absent and impersonal if not non-existent. Many view God as an impersonal force which is made up of all living things and holds the universe together. This is the same as the Hindu concept of Pantheism that the force is united with all living and non living thing in creation. “If God after making the world puts Himself outside it, He is no longer God. If He separates Himself from the world or wants to separate Himself, He is not God. The world is not the world when it is separated from God. God must be in the world and the world in God.” [D. T. Suzuki, The Field of Zen p. 16.].
Put it in another way, Buddhism is not an overtly metaphysical (the study or question about reality) religion. It is more oriented toward phenomenology (what presents itself to us in conscious experience) rather than metaphysics, which has contributed to some questions as to whether Buddhism should be regarded as a religion at all (which it is). For a Buddhist, reality is not real and so the physical universe is nothing but an illusion. This propound idea totally contradicts with the concept of God creating the physical universe and obviously real. The experience that we all share pain, suffering, death, loss and so forth is undoubtedly real also. And so is the rest of the universe. Moreover, if all is nothing but illusion then so is our understanding of morality, evil, free will, and so is the teaching of sin.
(V) The Cosmological Character of Islam
If we are to take a closer look the cosmological inference within these religions, Judeo-Christian or otherwise, will show in the surface with their inherent contradictions. The Law of thought does not allow this type of thinking to occur, but if one is willing to sacrifice his rational mind for irrationality, then the fault is no longer in the hands of those who propose otherwise. What I mean to say is that these religions may have a common traits, yet this does not say or even presuppose identity. Jehovah and Brahman might look similar in the surface, but the deeper you examine these two deities, the more you understand how deep is the chasm between these two religious character. Brahman is the creator and created in the same time in the same sense. He is the manifestation of the material universe; the Ultimate reality. The Judeo-Christian God, is the Creator and Sustainer of the material cosmos, but totally apart from it. He is not the cosmos but the creator of the cosmos.
Allah as Muslims call Him is totally derived from the true understanding or concept of the God of Israel. We read about Allah in the Qur’an the holy book of Muslims. Christians and Muslims have a major common point of agreement; the love and veneration of the Jewess Marium (Mary) the mother of Isa (Jesus). She is not given similar respect by those of her own race – most of whom are ethnic jews and not people of faith. However, these two major world religions, though may have a common traits, nevertheless, contradicts major aspects in their doctrinal statements and principles such as creation, human redemption, and so forth.
When it comes to cosmology in the Islamic tradition, we find a different version in contrasting to Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. The Islamic scripture tells us that, “the heavens and the earth were joined together as one unit, before We clove them asunder” (21:30). Following this big explosion, Allah “turned to the sky, and it had been (as) smoke. He said to it and to the earth: ‘Come together, willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We come (together) in willing obedience’” (41:11). Does this sound familiar to you? Islamic cosmology is pretty much the same as the contemporary Big Bang cosmology. In addition, according to the Qur’an, the elements and what was to become the planets and stars began to cool, come together, and form into shape, following the natural laws that Allah established in the universe. The creation of the Islamic tradition is not similar to the Creation of the Bible. Qur’an’s cosmological concept is more similar to the cosmological concept of Plato and to the theory of evolution. The Qur’an states that “Allah created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, in six days” (7:54). While on the surface this might seem similar to the account related in the Bible, there are some important distinctions.
The verses that mention “six days” use the Arabic word “youm” (day). This word appears several other times in the Qur’an, each denoting a different measurement of time. In one case, the measure of a day is equated with 50,000 years (70:4), whereas another verse states that “a day in the sight of your Lord is like 1,000 years of your reckoning” (22:47). The word “youm” is thus understood, within the Qur’an, to be a long period of time – an era or eon. Therefore, Muslims interpret the description of a “six day” creation as six distinct periods or eons. The length of these periods is not precisely defined, nor are the specific developments that took place during each period. While the universe and the earth we inhabit looks old, it is actually quite young not more than ten thousand years old. In the book of Genesis the Hebrew word for the “day” (Heb. yom) means a 24-hour period. The universe where created, according to the understanding of the word “day” of Genesis took only one week in literal sense not billions of years.
Thus, when it comes to the beginning of the universe, Qur’an and the Bible are not in total agreement how God created the universe and how long it took for him to initiate the creation. The closer look upon the cosmological inferences within these religions as shown above demonstrates their incompatibility and incoherence. God who supposedly shares 99 names who manifests within each of these religions can no longer be justified as true since we are talking about different accounts of creations. Surely, the God who initiated the act of creating the material universe are not the same creator of the Hindu tradition nor is he to be identified with the God who formed the cosmos with a preexistent material. The methodological of these different religious traditions are staggering to the mind, and therefore, we should not just simply arrive at the illogical conclusions of them being one and the same. Now, that we have examined cosmological inference, let us take a closer look upon the soteriological methodologies of these faiths. I bet they are different too don’t you think?
(VI) The Character of Redeeming Mankind in Eastern Religions
Soteriology is a study or doctrine of the means of man’s salvation or deliverance if you preferred. Mankind’s salvation hinges upon God or Gods or men (secular humanism) depending what religion he or she adheres to. Again, the God who have 99 names who manifests himself in different set of beliefs is one and the same God whether one worships him in Hinduistic, Buddhistic, Shintoistic, and Islamic tradition; this God is the same, according to a pluralistic mind. This is false. Not only that these competitive religions teaches different account of creation they also teaches and awfully contradicts each other when it comes to soteriology. Let us begin with our soteriological study within the faith of Buddhism.
Buddhism is similar to Hinduistic soteriology which means that A monk or practitioner of Buddhism (prevalent in countries such as China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other parts of Southeast Asia) will meditate and become more ascetic in an attempt to escape the sufferings inherent in the wheel of dharma.
Moksha to them means “release,” or in other words they remove the mental shackles of attachment, aversion and ignorance and achieve Nirvana (Nirvana in this sense is not heaven, but the cessation of suffering) and are not condemned to further rebirth in samsara (means “to flow together,” to go or pass through states, to wander). In other words for a Buddhist salvation is reaching Nirvana. Nirvana is a transcendental, blissful, spiritual state of nothingness–you become a Buddha. To reach Nirvana you must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.
By performing the Noble Eightfold Path is really salvation by works (depending upon your own achievements) which is contrary to the teaching and doctrines of Christian soteriology. More about Christian soteriology later on.
Islam on the other hand teaches that man must do some specific rituals (Five articles of faith) in order for Allah to let him in to paradise (or the celestial heaven for Muslims). Your good deeds are weighed against your bad deeds. If you have done enough good deeds when compared to your bad deeds, you will eventually get to paradise, after spending some time burning in the fires of hell.
It is plain to see that in Islam, salvation is a result of your works. Sikhism for instance advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. This meditation is meant to bring a person into union with God.
Jainism emphasizes penance and asceticism, which lead to liberation and ascendance of the soul. Shintoism similarly emphasize working for a good life by cultivating virtue or virtuous behavior. Though not, the religions of these abominable sects such as Scientology, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonism are Eastern in their origin, yet these too teaches salvation by works. According to this sects, man has to work his way to heaven in a clear sense. But, this is not what true Christianity teaches. Christianity opposes salvation by works because salvation is a free gift from God. The Bible teaches that salvation is a free gift no need to purchase much less to work for it. It is all up to you as a responsible person to accept it or turn your back away from it.
(VII) Soteriology Of Orthodox Christianity
God who owns 99 names and manifests himself in every religion, as propagated by religious pluralists, cannot be the same God since these set of beliefs contradicts each other. Either there are multiple Gods and therefore multiple doctrines of salvation (which is impossible) or there is only one and true God (which is highly probable) who is the only way to heaven. Christians believe that God is not the God of confusion (1 Cr. 14:33) and who do not lie (Num. 23:19). If God who is not confusion and obviously do not tell a lie cannot set up different religions that brings much confusion within the hearts and minds of men. A God who systematically lies to different people to different nations about what is right and true religion is not worthy of worship nor worthy of praise. The only god capable of such lies and confusion is Satan himself who is the god of this world (2 Cr. 4:4) and father of lie (Jn. 8:44). Surely, God who is worshipped by Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Daniel is not the God of confusion and lie but righteous and true.
The Judeo-Christian God far surpasses the Muslim God, Eastern gods and the god (s) of sects. No God within the history or religions that God who offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. God entered within time and space to save us from our moral depraved nature. Why? It is documented in the Bible that humans are sinful and continually do evil (Eccl. 7:20). And that God justice demands death to all of us, and this is exactly what we deserve. Since God is holy, God therefore cannot live side by side with sinners. And “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This verse tells us that sin results in death and after we die we will face God’s wrath or judgment (Heb. 9:27; Psa. 9:17). Hence, Eastern religions appears to be more attractive towards the ears of westerners because the concept of the “God of wrath” has become out mode or out of taste for those who disagrees the idea of God’s justice. No matter, how we may feel about God’s wrath towards sinners, does not, defuse his justice nor extinguish the fire of hell. The fact still remains that we are going to face God and his justice one way or the other.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus Christ (the second person of the Trinity) shed his precious blood and died as an offering for our sins. Thus, no need for us to even lift one finger or do awkward rituals just to retain this gift. Besides, no work or deeds from our side will help us from sin, and from the wrath of God. We cannot be saved, by keeping the Ten Commandments, giving charities, going to church every Sunday, or of reading the Scripture daily would be sufficient for our salvation. No. Salvation is a free gift from God, however, it is totally up to you to reject the free gift of salvation from God or freely receive it. The choice is mainly yours. God won’t force you in any way to receive and maintain the free gift of salvation. It is quite clear that the soteriology of the Christian faith is in stark contrast with Eastern religion where man works to obtain salvation while the Scripture teaches God has done the working of salvation for men who wants to reach out his hand just to receive the gift of eternal life, and relationship with God. The God of the Bible is not the pluralistic religious God as commonly assumed in the God has 99 names.
I have demonstrated and written earlier about the one God of Israel is not the God of Islam nor the God of Judaism for that matter. The doctrine of creation in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism contradicts the narrative creation of the Bible (creation from nothing). The soteriology of these world religions also contradicts with each other for instance, biblical Christianity emphasizes faith alone in Christ and not by works that we are saved. In contrast, Eastern religions emphasizes deeds in order to maintain or reach Nirvana. Islam is notorious among salvation by good deeds, and so are the cults of Christianity.
(VIII) Logic and The Pragmatist God of Pluralism
Within the pragmatist mind of religious pluralists God seems to work in every religion, and in ever culture no matter how absurd it is. God of Islam works for most Muslims, and so is Brahman for most of the Hindu practitioners. Likewise, Yahweh works for Judaism, and so is Jesus Christ works for Christianity. This God is supposedly one corporate reality only with different names, titles, and functions. But, this is utterly foolish! Pragmatism as a moral philosophy doesn’t work in practice. What works for a person isn’t always good or desirable in moral terms. For example, John might find cheating morally good because it works but this does not follow that cheating in itself is good just because it works. But, is pragmatism sufficient in theology? Again, I do not think so. Let me give you my reasons why this isn’t so. Firstly, just because Zoroastrianism works for those who believe and practice this religion does not in anyway concludes that this religion is desirable in itself.
Also, just because Hinduism (as one of the oldest religion) is practiced sincerely and obviously is expedient by both Hindus and Europeans does not follow that Hinduism is right. The Aztecs saw that human sacrifice was expedient in their worship but does this tells us that human sacrifice is right and even desirable just because it works? Again, I do not think so. The whole Aztec enterprise is repugnant, merciless, and barbaric to say the least.
To believe and even propose that God has 99 names and is manifested in every religion (no matter what religion it is) is irrational and defies the laws of logic. Namely, A cannot be non A at the same time in the same respect. This is the first Law of non-contradiction. If Jesus is God for all then he cannot be non God in the same time in the same sense. This is contradiction. For instance, Jesus is the Savior of the world, and He is not the Savior of the world is an example of self-contradiction.
The other laws of thought is the Law of Identity. For example, statement such as Jesus is the Savior of the world cannot be equated that he is not the Savior of the world. Either Jesus is Savior or he is not Savior, not both. The disciples of Jesus identifies Him as Lord and Savior and so does genuine, biblical historical Christianity. Likewise, There is the third law of thought namely the Law of Excluded Middle. The statement that Jesus is Lord, and He is not does not allow the possibility of truth value falling somewhere in the middle between true and false. Either Jesus is Lord or he is not, there is no in between (neutrality). If the statement, Jesus is Lord is true then it is true. If it is false then it is false not both! It is either-or.
The attempt to obscure Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection, Christianity and its real message to mankind by the pluralist mind that God has different 99 names but manifests in all has been systematically debunked here. It is irrational to believe that the God of Israel is also manifested in Brahma or Allah. As I have demonstrated above this cannot be true. The myth that God has 99 names is historically impossible, theologically improbable, and irrational logically speaking. – Amen
So What’s The Difference?, Fritz Ridenour; Regal Publisher
Religion [Cambridge Illustrated History], Edited By John Bowker; Cambridge
AMG’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, Cults and the Occult; Compiled By Mark Walter; AMG Publisher