All religions accept that God is One who has created the Earth, Heaven and everything that is seen and unseen in the universe. Even the polytheistic religions like Hinduism, believe that all Gods are the manifestation of the same Ultimate Reality of Bhagawan. Yet it is also a fact that people have always fought in the name of religion. Even in the modern world, religion continues to be the cause of conflict in many parts of the world.
Even though, God has been perceived and represented differently in different religions, yet all religions agree that God is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, the origin and cause of all things, just, compassionate and the source of all goodness in the world. However, on the ground level, most people are extremely suspicious of the gods of other religions. They believe that only their god is the True God while the God of other religion is either False or inferior.
Why such a misconception in understanding God? Is it deliberate or natural? The answer to this question is necessary for the mankind, as God is still the most important reality in the life of most people in the world. Religion still gives meaning to most of the people in the world and most people are tied to their religion and spend their life in the religion they are born.
God: The Essence of Religion
It is difficult to define religion as no unanimity exists on the concept of religion. As per one definition provided in Wikipedia,
“A religion is a set of beliefs and practices often organized around supernatural and moral claims, and often codified as prayer, ritual, and religious law.”
Thus the concept of God is not necessary in religion but the external codes of the religion like prayer, ritual and a sacred book or scripture are necessary in all religions. Yet the faith and believes of all religions revolves around the central theme of God but the concept of God is different in all religions. Hence all religions are same to the extent that they all deals with God (the supernatural power), but different to the extend that they represent the different concept of God. God may be a single word, but its meaning is different in all religions and indeed for every one.
The Trinity of God
In order to understand the different representations of God, it would be useful to understand the concept of Trinity in Christianity. The concept of Trinity of God means that God has three manifestations i.e. the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Father God refers to the concept of God that is beyond the perception of human mind and senses as the Father God is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscience while human mind has limited capability to learn and understand. Father God is known by different names in different religions like Yahwah (Judaism), Allah (Islam) , Brahman (Hinduism) or Absolute. However the Absolute God is incomprehensible to the common people as it is beyond the grasp of the senses and the mind. This God is better understood by the philosophers who spend their life in understanding the God intellectually and rationally.
Therefore, the God we know is the God who takes the form of man and communicates to us in the language and symbols of the man. The Son God is thus the human representation of God in the world. Christianity refers this form of God as “Son” or Jesus Christ, or the Son of God. In other religions, the human representation of God has been referred as Avatars (Incarnation) or Prophets. The Prophets or Avatars are the human beings who have acquired the highest state of “spiritual” awakening which has made them closest to the divinity. Thus man acquires divinity by the power of the Spirit.
The third manifestation of God is therefore, the Holy Spirit or simply called the Spirit. Spirit of God is believed to be present in all the living beings. Every person has the presence of God in him or her due to the omnipresence of spirit in this world. It is due to the presence of spirit that we are capable of knowing God through self-realization or meditation. Thus some religions like Buddhism or Sikhism are essentiality spiritual religions, who do not believe in the God as Absolute or God as human being but treats God as Spirit that is present in all living beings. Upanishads and Gita also call this representation of God as Paramatma (Universal Soul) whose spark i.e. Atman (Soul) is present in every being.
The Mystery of Revealed Truth of Religion
Even though all human beings are the son (or daughter) of God, yet we fail to understand God due to our engagement in the external world or the world of the senses. The human mind is capable of seeing outside world from the eyes of the senses or seeing inside Self through the eyes of intuition and achieve self-realization. Yet few people realize the need for self-realization as they prefer to understand the Truth from the people who have achieved self-realization.
Since every person is both a body and a soul, he is not only a part of the material world but also a part of the spiritual world. He has to integrate himself with this world for the survival of the body and also required to integrate with the spirit or the unknown world to receive happiness and peace in life that emanates from the soul. He needs to earn his livelihood to keep the body in living condition. Thus the knowledge of the world is absolutely necessary without which no person can play any useful role in the society and fulfill his material necessities of the body.
However, every person is also a Soul hence part of the Universal Soul or the Spirit. Since his soul is deeply connected with the Universal Soul, hence by self-realization alone a person can hope to achieve the true knowledge of the religion or the world or get answer of the deeper quest of life. However, self-realization is a difficult task which can be achieved only when a person focuses all his attention away from the material world and search the truth within. In some ways man has to himself become Spirit (devoid of physical passion and material desire) to reach extremely close to the divinity in order to understand the thoughts of God. It is only when the man attains the nature of spirit; the Truth is revealed to him by God.
Yet, even after realization of the Ultimate Truth, it is difficult to explain this Truth to the common man who are still attached to the material world. If the Truth is explained to them as revealed, it would be incompressible to the common man. A common man can not understand the spiritual truths as they can only see from the eyes of the senses rather then seeing from the eyes of the spirit. The prophets, thus face unique dilemma. They can either limit the Ultimate Truth to a selected few that can be understood by few people who are in the higher stage of spiritual evolution, or covert the Ultimate Truth in the language of the senses and mind for the understanding of the common man.
Rituals: The Body of the Religion
Religion, therefore, like any other creation of the world has both the body and the soul. While the soul of all religions emanates from the same God, the bodies of the religions are different for each culture and society.
In some ways, we can perhaps compare the differences in the religions with the differences in the physical appearance of the people of different race and ethnicity. If it is true that all human beings are offspring of God, then why they all look different from each other? While some differences between individuals are unpredictable, yet other differences surely have explanations. For example when a soul takes the form of a body, the physical characteristics of the body does bear a close resemblance to the body of the parents. Therefore, if the soul takes human form in black parents, the body of the son shall also be black and if the parents are white so shall be the offspring.
Thus when the spirit is converted into body, its physical outlook develops a close resemblance with the parent. In the same way, when God take incarnation in this world, his revelation in the language of the world are different for each religion.
When Symbols are Confused with Reality
The body of the religion is created when the “Revealed Truth” is expressed in the form of words or symbol by the prophets. While people can listen to the words and see the symbols, they can’t know the spirit of the religion except by self-realization. However, most of the people do not have the time and inclination for self-realization. The result is that they confuse the body of the religion as the religion itself. Thus instead of using the words and the symbols as a means to realize the Self or God of the religion, the words and symbols become the end in itself.
All the conflicts within a religion or between different religions arise only because the followers of the religion confuse the symbols of divinity with the divinity. Instead of using the symbols as the means to understand the divinity, they believe the symbol itself as divine. Since symbols are external, they are different in reach religion. The methods of prayers and the words that are uttered in the prayers are always different in each religion since the language is the creation of the man. In the same way even the name and description of God in every religion is different as every society has different languages and symbols to express the thoughts and ideas.
Stop Fighting in The Name of God
Religion, in the modern society is considered to be a matter of person choice. Therefore, governments all over the world are doing little to create a harmony between religions which are essentially the reflections of the same God. The scientific knowledge of the Truth is based on the body i.e. the material reality. Hence, scientific thinking can only reveal the differences in religions, rather then the common truth of the religion, which can come only from the intuition and self-realization. However, in the world of materialism, it is extremely difficult for the people to focus their mind inwards when all the material realities lie outside. The result is that people understand religion only from the symbols and fight with each other. As soon as the complete Truth of God and Religion is realized by self-realization, the conflicts in the name of religion has to come to an end.