The Institute of Bible Doctrine
A Look at the Emergence of Major Religions in Asia
by Tim McLachlan
Today in Asia, aside from Christianity, Catholicism and Islam, also exist a number of distinctly Asian religions i.e. those religions, or philosophies, which originated in Asia and have had great influence in the individual minds and collective cultures of Asian nations throughout the centuries. The most commonly practiced in some form or another today are Buddhism (found predominantly in the south-east Asian nations of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam), Confucianism (China, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore), Hinduism (India, Nepal and the Indonesian island of Bali), Jainism (India), Shinto (Japan) and Taoism (China, Japan).
R. B. Thieme, Jr. often defined religion as "Man seeking the approbation of God (or gods) through a system of human works, apart from the grace of God." This definition certainly fits the bill in regards to all the above religions – for though the purists of Buddhism and Confucianism tend to argue that their belief systems are humanistic, not deistic, in nature, it cannot be denied that the large majority of those that claim to be Buddhist do make merit to gain favor of a higher, yet quite nebulous deity (and/or try to outweigh their sins under the law of karma, a ‘cosmic force’ of no particular identity); and followers of Confucianism have made ancestor-worship a central part of their ideology. It is probably no coincidence that many of those whom confess to being Buddhist or Confucian, being devoid of absolute principles which are associated with an absolute God, are also attracted to other forms of what the Bible would consider 'demonic' activity, e.g. putting themselves under occultist influences of idol worship, astrology, fortune telling, and fengshui to name but a few activities prohibited in Scripture. Aside from these major belief systems all fitting the description of religion as given above, the other common factor is quite fascinating: with the exception of Hinduism, (which on a scholarly level appears to have no specific origin), they all have their historical origins in the 6th century B.C. (All dates following are circa.):
- Buddhism’s central figure is Siddharta Gautama (a.k.a. ‘the Buddha’), born as a prince in what is now known as Nepal. He was born 563 B.C. and was said to achieve ‘enlightenment’ at the age of 35. Legend has it that a serpent (Naga) protected him during at least one of his meditations.
- Confucianism was developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucious, who lived from 551–479 B.C.
- Jainism’s founder is known as Mahavira, “The Great Hero". He was born in 550 B.C. and died in 467 B.C. by fasting to death.
- Shinto, as Hinduism, has indeterminate origins. However, a defining moment is the beginning of the imperial dynasty of Japan. Jimmu, the first emperor is believed to be a descendant of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun-goddess. Jimmu died in 585 B.C., yet the original dynasty continues in Japan today, and the emperors continue to be recognized by followers of Shinto as divine beings.
-Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.) – ‘Founder’ of Taoism (also known as ‘Daoism’, meaning ‘the way’). Scholars suggest that Lao Tzu perpetuated an already established philosophy, though in a more organized fashion.
- Zoroastrianism should also get a mention here. While it is a relatively minor religion today, it was, until the rise of Islam, the major religion in Persia, often serving as the official state religion. It gets it name from Zoroaster (628-521B.C.), a Persian religious philosopher who reassembled the previously existing pantheon of gods under one god, Ahura Mazda.
I believe it is no coincidence that these religions all began about the same time. Doctrine also teaches us that Satan is the mastermind behind religion, establishing and perpetuating religions through demonic activity which must include angelic appearances and demon possession*. It appears that all the founders of deistic religions had some kind of experience with angelic beings, i.e. Zoroaster received direct revelation from Ahura Mazda who appeared to him in visible form; the Buddha had an experience with the Naga (a serpent type 'spirit'); and Mahavira, having an angel giving witness to others that Mahavira was indeed a god. Six centuries after the birth of Christ an angel by the name of "Gibriel" (i.e. taking the name "Gabriel" of the Old and New Testaments), appears to Mohammad claiming he has come to bring a new revelation from God (Allah), and in doing so contradicts almost every historical fact and theological concept recorded in the Old and New Testaments. Similar scenarios of angels claiming to be sent from God (in the guise of angels or even Jesus Himself) occur at the inception of Mormonism, the Unification Church (the ‘Moonies’) and the Self Realization Fellowship, among other religious cults.
But why the sudden explosion of organized religion in Asia in the 6th century B.C.?** Perhaps because before then the Jews had confined themselves predominantly to the Levant. We can be sure that the integrity of God allows for those who are positive to His word to have every opportunity to hear it, regardless of their geographical locale. But in terms of believing Jews going out and evangelizing the world, it seems the majority had the same attitude as Jonah and were quite unwilling to go any distance to spread the Good News, that God would provide eternal salvation through one born from the line of Abraham / the Jewish race (Gen. 12:3; 15:6 cf. Gal. 3:6-9). After all, the only Biblical evidence we have for an evangelical mission to the Gentiles outside of the Levant is of Jonah’s reluctant mission to the Assyrians. So when they came under the fifth cycle of discipline and were taken to Babylon in chains under Nebuchadnezzar (the first stages of exile beginning circa 605 B.C), Satan found himself having to counter the potential threat of having the Word of God spreading further a field. Pagan religions with their rituals and sacrifices were as prolific as they had been since the time of Cain, yet it seems that now Satan desired for more organized systems of religion, with centralized figures to emulate and worship, scriptural evidence to adhere to, and moral codes which seemed more in line with the Mosaic Law - if not in terms of content, at least in terms of organization. Some religions, or parts of them, were inspired by Satan to obfuscate God’s word through imitation (Zoroastrianism speaks of a monotheistic, sovereign God-creator and concepts akin to the angelic appeal trial, a future savior, judgment of mankind and the destruction and recreation of a new heaven and earth), while other religions directly negate even the most fundamental Biblical concepts, for example both Gautama (the Buddha) and Confucius taught that to seek for God was futile, and any search for him only increased human suffering. It seems that Lucifer’s strategy is to project a broad spectrum of ideas to appeal to as many individual personalities and sin nature trends as possible, even knowing that this destroys any sense of the religious unity he requires in order to achieve world domination. Self-defeating, to say the least, but that does sum up his whole modus operandi, and even his destiny – he has used his free-will to rebel against His creator in every way and so he continues to pile judgment upon himself. Ultimately, during the time of the Tribulation, he (Satan) will come closest to his goal of being 'like the Most High' (Isaiah 14:14) when he uses deceit and the super-natural power of his demon armies to bring about a totalitarian one world religion and government (Rev. 13 et. al.) with which he also attempts to destroy every living Jew upon the earth. This campaign of evil ends only with the return of Christ, whereby Satan and his minions are incarcerated in the Abyss and so begins the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ upon the earth.
What is the application here? We are currently witnessing the dramatic decline of a client nation first hand, bought about by an almost universal rebellion against Truth - from among the political leadership, in society at large and even among the teachers and congregations of local Christian churches. The above synopsis, while partly theoretical, is based upon historical truth and does fit within a doctrinal framework, and should provide further insight into how much power Satan has in designing and disseminating his ideas. The current zeitgeist follows more humanistic trends than perhaps that of 5th century B.C. – evolution, environmentalism, humanism, socialism, political correctness and all out warfare on the divine institutions is the order of this age. However, just like the world’s religions, these ideologies have not arisen from a void, pressing the point that this is indeed the devil’s world.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:11-12 NASB)
*Even though these activities may have been decreed illegal under the rules of engagement for the Angelic Appeal Trial, it certainly does not mean the demon angels will obey the rules, even if it does mean facing incarceration for the remainder of the trial.
**Also worthy of note is that the emergence of these Asian religions was contemporaneous with the onset of Greek philosophy taking place on the western side of the Jewish Exile and subsequent Diaspora.