Some believe that ‘Oneness’ of God is an essential basis of belief because none can share his uniqueness (Monotheism). therefore creation is only a product and a reflection of His omnipotence (Dualism – of the creator and his creation being distinct). Others believe that divinity is manifested as many (Polytheism). Yet others believe that divinity is ubiquitous, the divine force being everywhere in the smallest atom and the largest cosmic construct(Pantheism) – It is within us as our soul, our innermost essence (Monism). For them the creator and his creation are not separate but one unity ( Non-Dualism).

These are interesting distinctions over which wars can and have been fought through history and people have been put to the sword or bullet or crucified. What do these views have in common? Whether ones faith consists in bowing to an external entity or to an internal essence, essentially the nature of the prayer remains the same – a process of purification, communion and spiritual experience.

Then there are beliefs in a  Day of Judgement or in  rebirth and transmigration of the soul. In the one case, after death the soul remains in a kind of limbo till the end of time and the arrival of all souls before the throne of the Almighty for judgement, when rewards and punishments will be meted out – heaven, Hell or Purgatory. In the other, there is the dynamics of Karma, automatically taking care of this process, with reaction precisely matching your actions from life-time to life-time – Heaven and Hell and all in between, are meted out in the incarnations you earn. For the latter, the bliss of the ultimate Heaven consists in the disappearance of Ego and merger with the true Essence of the Almighty at the termination of the illusion of being.

Again, Angels and Archangels are also common, though they may assume different cultural forms. Angels with wings or without. In the one, he may be Gabriel, whispering the words of God. In the other a monkey-faced ‘Hanuman’, the devoted worshiper of his Lord Rama the divine incarnation. He too is there to guide and protect one from evil, like Gabriel.

There is the conception of ‘Avatar’ or divine incarnation when the Almighty suffers descent into the material world, incarnating as a human and subject to all the laws of material existence from birth to death, pleasures and pains and all the ‘pairs of opposites’, for a purpose – to stand out as an example when evil and anarchy have crossed certain limits. On the other hand, there is the concept of prophet. Now if you were a theologian, you could split hair about conceptual differences but if you wish to recognize how similar the purport of the messages are, you would say there is hardly much difference between the concept of the supreme spirit reincarnating or being born to man through an immaculate conception as son of the supreme spirit.

The point is that the hereafter or spiritual concepts are nothing really to fight about. You may look at the truth from many angles and it still remains the truth, much like the same thing said in a foreign tongue may sound different. The same thing that is being said is that we are more than our physical selves, that we have responsibility for our actions and will reap the consequences. All faiths speak of the importance of overcoming our egos and our selfish preoccupations, in order to expand our consciousness into something larger and nobler than merely catering to our desires. 

The Ego is tested in tolerance. Claims to great spirituality and faith are hollow or imperfect when the faith is dogmatic and worse when one is bigoted  When one feels impelled to kill in the service of faith, the providence in whose name we perpetuate such atrocity, doubtless must shudder, much like one would if one’s son were to return home with bloodied hands and say ”father, I have just killed to protect your honour”. 

No one should have the arrogance to claim that his faith is the only divinely ordained one and imagine that he alone is therefore God’s chosen one. To feel superior with the beliefs one holds over the beliefs of others and to hold others in contempt as inferior, to scorn and belittle others and mock them, is the true sign of an inferior. On the other hand to listen and appreciate and seek out the gold in the belief of others with the awe and wonder of an explorer of diverse horizons, is the mark of a superior spirituality.

Religions are great ideologies that civilize, that teach us humility and restraint. From religions arise morality, law, art and ideals.

Religions are different, not because some got it right while others have not. They are different because the circumstances of peoples and cultures differ and their needs for corrective action differ.  Different faiths serve the needs and circumstances of different peoples and cultures in the regions they inhabit and at the level of spirituality best suited to them with which they are comforted and feel comfortable. They all serve the same divine purpose of giving solace to man in the trials and tribulations of physical life. They all try to help him become more civilized and less egotistical. If one wishes to move from one faith to another that is his right provided there is no coercion or compulsion. 

Finally let us not insult spirituality by pitting religious beliefs, one against another. Let us believe that God himself created the difference for a reason – roses here, chrysanthemums there and just green leaves and grass over there. Let us respect spiritual diversity even as in the natural order. Remember, no two faces were created alike, no two fingerprints.