Reality, Morality, and the Afterlife: A Comparison of Christian and Bhuddist Thought

Authors Avatar


David Thatcher (# 4095075)

Vernon Martin


23 May 2010

Reality, Morality, and the Afterlife:

A Comparison of Christian and Buddhist Thought

Do we go to heaven or hell after death, or do we come back as another human being or even an animal? Such a question reminds us of one of the major differences between Christianity and Buddhism—the concept of the afterlife. Another major difference lies in the origin of these two religions. Buddhism developed from the teachings of one Siddhartha Gautama in the sixth century BCE, while Christianity came from a man named Jesus in Roman Palestine who claimed to be God (Toropov and Buckles 200, 71).  This paper will explore how the Buddhist and Christian concepts of reality affect their view of the present world and the afterlife, resulting in different approaches to truth and morality.

The Christian Concept of Reality

The Christian concept of true reality is rooted in divine revelation. In John 17:17, Christ speaking to God the Father says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (The Harper Collins Study Bible). Christ further promised to send a Holy Spirit to guide them into truth: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (The Harper Collins Study Bible, John 16.13). In II Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul says that the Scripture is useful for teaching and “instruction in righteousness” (The Harper Collins Study Bible). The importance of the Bible in the Christian faith goes far beyond simply being a guide or record. In Isaiah 8:20, we are told those who do not speak according to the testimony of Scripture have no real enlightenment (Blue Letter Bible). The Christian, then, has no warrant to question Biblical teachings: “Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, ‘So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging’” (The Harper Collins Study Bible , Romans 3.4b). Even Paul claimed that his writings were not his own, but came from Christ: “for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (The Harper Collins Study Bible , Galatians 1.12). It is clear then, that Christianity is a revealed religion, and this revelation plays an essential part in regulating Christian faith and practice. No other outside influence is to be allowed or believed if it comes into conflict with the Scriptures.

Witness the great striving in modern times between creationism and evolution. To the non-Christian outsider, the debate seems silly. Hasn’t modern science firmly established evolution through carbon dating and fossil evidence? To conservative Christianity, however, it is a battle over the very life and death of the faith! This is because these creationists understand Scripture as the very Word of God, and evolution is seen as irreconcilable with the Biblical accounts of creation and the first humans. If you disprove that account of Scripture, who is to say that the rest is actually true, and then what would the Christian have to base his faith on? In the next section it will be shown that, for the Christian, even the material reality around us must come into conformity with the Scriptures.

Christian Anti-Naturalism

The Christian faith, as a divinely revealed religion, sets revelation as its authority, not sensory perception. To go back to the evolution debate, some would say that Christians refuse to look at the evidence. However, these believers are convinced that the only evidence that matters is what has been revealed. If natural phenomena seem to contradict that, then they need to be reinterpreted in light of the Scripture. This anti-naturalistic thinking is quite foreign to today’s society. In Proverbs 3:5, we are told to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (The Harper Collins Study Bible). The Apostle Paul warned about “the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” (The Harper Collins Study Bible, I Timothy 6.20).

This anti-naturalistic bent in Paul’s writings seems directed at Epicureanism. Not only did Paul dispute with the Epicureans in Acts 17, Tomlin shows that some of the error in the Christian church at Corinth was Epicurean-influenced.  Epicurus held to Democretic atomism, which denied a spiritual dimension and the idea of an immortal soul. Epicureanism was naturalistic to the core (Mastros). If it is true that Epicureanism was Paul’s main philosophical opponent, we can understand how basic and profound the conflict is between Christianity and naturalism. Indeed, Christianity persecuted and all but wiped out the Epicureans around the fourth century CE (Mulder). Not until well into the Renaissance would pure naturalism be taken seriously again.

Join now!

Perhaps the strongest New Testament scripture against naturalism is Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (The Harper Collins Study Bible). Christians are not to look to the interactions of matter, the reasons of philosophy, or the teachings of human tradition. Rather, the Christian’s worldview should be captive to that which is according the revelation of Christ.

The Buddhist Concept of Reality

The Buddhist concept of reality is best understood through the three Buddhist ...

This is a preview of the whole essay