How does belief in existence equal salvation?

In reading the various religious debates in GD, I note that much of the debate focusses on the existence of God. There seems to be a link between whether or not I believe in this existence and what happens to “me” after I die.

I’m posting this into GQ, not GD because my question is factual: Which religions demand literal belief without proof in its teachings to achieve the stated goals of that religion (salvation, enlightenment, etc.), and which religions offer their teachings as allegorical? (I know it’s a fine line, so if this is moved to GD I understand)

To illustrate (with no disrepect intended for these over-simplifications nor any unintended errors)…

Christianity seems to demand one acknowledge the existence of a spiritual being who named of Jehovah, aka Jesus Christ, aka Holy Spirit.

Buddhism seems to be centered on the high-minded teachings of a mortal named Buddha (and even this mortal may not have been a historical person). These teachings require “faith” in that they are a certain way of looking at the world. But any teaching that appears to make a literal statement is only to be taken as a metaphor.

Hinduism seems to be composed of a panoply of Gods with colourful stories, but these are all taken as allegorical - i.e. no self respecting Hindu would say, “You must believe that Vishnu is a living being or be damned for eternity.”

Islamism seems to demand acknowledgement of the existence of Allah,

If these over-simplifications are correct, then these four religions are categorized thusly:

Literal belief

Allegorical belief

(These are high-level groups. Maybe some Christian denominations do not demand literal belief and rightly should be listed under allegorical belief)

(oops, then I posted to GD… oh well)

I consider myself to be a Christian but I must admit it has always puzzled me.

Is God really so insecure that he has to have me believe in him? And if I don’t believe is he really going to inflict the most horrific punishment imaginable on me (ie eternity roasting in the inferno of hell)?

I suspect that some parts of the bible have been corrupted over time. For example inflicting the vengeful punishment of eternal hell seem more like the behaviour human beings rather than that of a loving God.

But I could be mistaken…

There are any number of variants of Christian doctrine regarding salvation, but ‘mainstream’ Protestant doctrine goes something like this:

[li]Adam sinned, breaking the state of perfect communion between man and God, suffering ‘spiritual death’ in the process[/li][li]Descendants of Adam (that is, everyone) inherited this property of spiritual death and are incapable of reaching God, no matter how hard they try; no matter how perfectly they manage to live.[/li][li]Jesus, being born of divine conception (rather than having a human father) did not inherit the property of spiritual death and so was able to reach God[/li][li]Jesus also did not commit any sin[/li][li]By being made a blood sacrifice, Jesus took upon himself the blame for the personal sin of all mankind, but also created a method by which all may be restored to the state of being ‘spritually alive’ (and in communion with God)[/li][li]Anyone who comes to Jesus may accept the gift of life he is offering, however, in order to ‘come to’ him, it is logically necessary for him to be a real person, so the action requires belief on the part of the actor.[/li][/ul]
So (according to Christian doctrine) it isn’t the belief itself that does the saving, but the belief is logically mandatory in order for the believer to find Jesus and accept the salvation he’s offering.

Good description. Do you know where this particular doctrine originated from? Was it primarily Martin Luther?

No; sorry, I don’t know where it originated; it’s always just been presented to me as being simply self-evident in the New Testament.

I don’t think it originated with Luther, but the idea that people are incapable of reaching God through their own merits was key to him. He posited that people are not even capable of *desiring * to reach God on their own. If you’d like a really heavy theological slog, read his *Bondage of the Will * for a full treatment.

This is interesting. I started typing this thread into GD. I had in my mind a debate/exploration of the “terms of Christian salvation.” I changed my tack several times and ended up with the OP. I had intended to switch over to GQ to post this but forgot where I was by the time I hit submit. (I also forgot to change the title).

And now the discussion is centering on an exploration of Christian salvation. Cool.

Mangetout: So (according to Christian doctrine) it isn’t the belief itself that does the saving, but the belief is logically mandatory in order for the believer to find Jesus and accept the salvation he’s offering.

True, the final act is the “accepting of Jesus” but one cannot do that without first adopting the literal belief in the whole story. Contrast this to, say, Buddhism where one achieves “enlightenment” by achieving an understanding of a certain way to view the universe - sans literalism.

And here’s a question that’s been bugging me for a while: What exactly does it mean to “invite Jesus into your heart” or words to that effect? i.e. What exactly have I done to become saved? What is different compared to a millisecond before this invitation?

Relating to the OP:

  • Are the summaries of those four religions I mentioned accurate? How 'bout the categories into which I placed them?

  • Are there any Christian denominations or derivatives that believe, as a article of faith, that the Bible is 100% allegorical?

  • Are any of us knowledgeable enough to place the remaining world’s religions into their proper category?

Nothing that can be objectively demonstrated to third parties, I’m sure, but in the case of the theology I’ve outlined above, what’s alleged to be occurring is that God gains access (by your permission, presumably he’s too polite to force entry) to your inner person and restores the property of spiritual ‘life’.

According to Christian belief as I understand it, Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for the sins of all mankind.
John 3:16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus was without sin and so he was able to be the perfect sacrifice. By doing this he conquered death and made it possble for all those who had faith in him to conquer death as well. Inviteing Jesus into your heart is a way of acknowledging his sacrifice for you and when you confess him with your mouth then you accept the gift of salvation.
Rom 10: 8But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Thats the basics. Beliefs on the Holy Spirit vary.
Inviting Jesus into your heart is also a way of inviting the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and guide your path. The spirit will help give you strength to resist temptation and guide you into living a more Christ like life.

This is where I find a common connection and a point of confusion. I believe in the Holy Spirit as that mysterious whatever that connects us all together. Christ described it as the Counselor {NIV} or Comforter {KJV} and said it would lead us to all truth. Many passages in the Bible about this guideing spirit. Communion with this inner spirit is voluntary on our part and we choose how much we listen and in what areas of our lives we seek guidance or enlightenment. I think people can have a real experience with this inner spirit and get sidetracked in a number of ways. If you have an encounter with the Holy Spriit in a certain church then you might be drawn to that particular denomination. Each person is influenced by culture and the people around them. Jesus spoke of needing to forsake those influences and placing our highest priority on communing with and following the guidance of this inner spirit. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” Easy to write. Hard to do.

“Believe” can mean 2 different things. For instance, I am sure that the majority of the democrats on the board “believe” in President Bush (acknowledge that he exists and is currently living in the White House), but most of them don’t believe in President Bush (think that Bush is a good President and will effectivly lead the U.S.)

It seems to me that God wants the second kind of belief (which includes the first kind automatically). There are some Christians (I include anyone who calls themselves a Christian in this) who believe that just achnoledgment is enough, but some of us do not agree with that.

James 2:19
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

So if you have the second form of belief, doing the things that God wants comes naturally. Since you believe that He is good, and wise, and has your best interst at heart. Since you are doing what God wants, that takes care of what happens to you after you die.

Hope this made sense.

Islam is different when it deals with beliefs. Islam has five pillars, listed below, in the order of importance. Though I may be mistaken about two and three, they may be inverted.
(Before I proceed, allow me to note that I am not a Muslim, but I’ve studies these things in school)

First, the Shahada/Shahadatayn (the testimonials): There is no god but God, and Muhammed is the Messenger of God. Anyone converting to Islam has to make this statement before a sheikh nowadays. But, in terms of doctrine, it suffices to say this, even to yourself, to be a Muslim. If you are to say this before another Muslim he/she has a duty to treat you as one of the brethren.
Second, the five daily prayers. A Muslim is supposed to perform five prayers a day. The duration of each is between four to ten minutes. If one misses a prayer, one may compensate during the next.
Third, fasting the holy month of Ramadan. A Muslim is expected not to have any food or drink from dawn to dusk, for the duration of the month. Traditionally, this is a month to purify the body and sympathise with the less priviliged. Muhammad broke his fast with water, dates (the fruit you pervs), and yogurt/milk. A cook may taste the food being prepared for iftar (the meal at dusk to break the fast). Children age seven and over are trained to fast slowly, first fasting till noon, then progressing until they can last the entire day with no food or water.
Fourth, Zakat, or almsgiving. A Muslim is supposed to contribute a certain amount of his/her income to charities or directly to the poor. The calculation of the actual amount is rather complicated, and differs by denomination.
Fifth, Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, for those who have the means to perform it. It is not mandatory if you, for reasons of health, finance, or some other valid reason, cannot visit Mecca. Though that visit will absolve you of your sins and allow you to start anew with God. NOT comparable to born again Christians.

Now, stories of the saying and deeds of the prophet (Hadeeth and Sunna, respectively), shed some more light on the matter. In one story, Muhammad is reported to have visited the deathbed of a relative that has nonetheless been a long time enemy of the Muslims. The man asks to be forgiven, and whether or not he will go to heaven or hell. The prophet is said to have asked him to repeat the Shahada (testimonials), thus permitting his entrance to heaven. Accordingly, one concludes that it suffices to firmly believe in God at your deathbed and ye shall be forgiven. God is referred to, at the start of every verse in the Qu’ran, as the Merciful, the Compassionate. He’s supposed to have 99 names, each describing one of his attributes.

However, Islam also emphasises deeds. In another story, two men visit Muhammad, to tell him of a third that was so pious as to spend his days fasting and his nights praying. Muhammad asks, ‘who brings him his food?’. ‘We do’ came the reply from the men. ‘Then your reward with God is greater than his’. This is used to demonstrate that a good Muslim works and performs his/her functions in society, not just worships God. Hence the absence of a monastic tradition in mainstream Islam, though Sufis are a different matter worthy of deeper discussion. I do not know enough about the subject and any help is appreciated.

So, in Islam, belief is critical. You must believe that God is one, and that Muhammad is His Messenger. But, some tradition has it that Muslims may still go to hell, and that belief on its own does not suffice. Though no Muslim will be doomed to eternal hell. Actions are as important as what you profess to believe, but are judged according to intent not consequences.

As I said, I am not a Muslim, and my memory may be a bit rusty. Corrections are welcome.

Buddhism doesn’t have a concept of salvation, or at least none like the Western religions do. Heck, many Buddhists don’t even believe in the existence of a god or gods.

Isn’t it more just a universal intelligance thing rather than a personal god?

This question is probably better left to the actual Buddhists around here, but largely yes. But in the context I meant, whether or not god exists isn’t important to their spiritual quest. With Christianity, to be saved I have to accept Christ as my personal savior. Otherwise I don’t go to heaven. Buddhism has no equivalent.

As posted, this is perfectly consistent with the teachings of Augustine of Hippo, roughly 1100 years earlier than Luther. Of course, Luther was an Augustinian monk, a member of the order founded (a bit less than 850 years after Augustine’s death) for the purpose of following the theoretical guidelines he had outlined for a religious order while studying his theology, explicitly, so there is no surprise in finding a strong sense of Augustine in Luther’s theology.

Knowing God is the direction toward which the spirit must be directed, in order to move beyond the limits of the physical world. All that exists of us in the world will be destroyed, because that is the nature of the physical world. Within us is the spark, the seed of immortality. When we bring that to God, and give ourselves over to His divine love, that part of us which is “in His image” is able to grow. Immortality is His nature, not ours.

The nature of man is also to distrust what cannot be understood. And so we distrust God, in His infinite nature. God then came to us in the Nature of Jesus, and lived as a man, that we might know God in a way that is accessible to us. The sin of man is that which denies the love of God. The wages of sin is death, because it is not in our nature alone to survive death. To think of it as punishment is a human view. It is the consequence of our own limits.

Theology is the intellectual process by which some people give themselves permission to take the leap of faith. Those for whom faith is very difficult must create very involved theologies to reach the point where the simple words are acceptable. “Love God. Love your fellow man as you love yourself.”

Lots of people try to turn all this into something judgmental, cruel, or some sort of exclusive approval of themselves. Those things are not love. They will not serve you. The sins of others are of this world, they have no bearing on your immortality. Yes, love the sinners. But the sins you need to hate are your own sins, for it is those which will drag you down from Heaven.


I think immortality is our nature. It is who we truly are but we have to learn to see it and live accordingly. To let go of the of the tempoary and stop placeing value on those things that will fade away.

I like the analogy of our illusions being like the layers of an onion. We believe certain things that are not true. Some are subconcious beliefs. We peel away those false beliefs one layer at a time to reveal our true selves. If we are unwilling to face our illusions, recognize them and then let them go, we remain apart from God.

Jesus gave us a very simple rule. Look at your actions. You can tell what spirit moves you by them. Buddhism also has some simple guidelines.

I think the spiritual quest has always and will always be perverted by evil men seeking to control others and have some perverted need to judge others. It’s probably because they’re afraid to honestly judge themselves.