Soteriology

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Soteriology (Greek: σωτηρία sōtēria "salvation" from σωτήρ sōtēr "savior, preserver" + λόγος logos "study" or "word"[1]) is the study of religious doctrines of salvation. Salvation theory occupies a place of special significance and importance in many religions.

In the academic field of religious studies, soteriology is understood by scholars as representing a key theme in a number of different religions and is often studied in a comparative context; that is, comparing various ideas about what salvation is and how it is obtained.

Buddhism[edit]

Buddhism is devoted primarily to liberation from suffering, ignorance, and rebirth. The purpose of one's life is to break free from the Wheel of Life to be able to achieve moksha (release) from the cycle of birth-and-pain-and-death and achieve nirvana. All types of Buddhism, Hinayana or Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana or Tantric, tend to emphasize an individual's meditation and liberation, which is to become enlightened.

In Theravada Buddhism the apparent 'individual' takes this spiritual journey alone. Along this journey, they discover in experience that they are empty of being an individual, they are selfless. Mahayana Buddhism is the spiritual journey of helping others. People who make the pledge to help others before they help themselves are called Bodhisattva. Vajrayana Buddhism is the spiritual journey of transformation, where awareness is transformed into a deity. In all of the three forms of Buddhism, one gradually moves towards liberation, and away from suffering, and as a result the natural state of Enlightenment becomes the dominant experience in that individual's life.

Buddhist philosophies vary on the subject of the afterlife, but they tend to emphasize an individual's meditation and appeal to the Buddha's teachings, often through an intermediary monk, priest, or teacher who is seen as a "link" (through the direct contacting of an enlightened being) or "helper" in their attaining of 'nirvana'. Amongst other things, Nirvana is an ultimate realization that the afterlife is not important, and because of this all fear ends.

All schools of Buddhism teach dependent origination, which points out that the individual is not a separate and isolated entity. This can be directly found using a process of meditation which is the focusing of one's awareness on an object of concentration (samma samadhi). All the different forms of Buddhism have different ways to realize that the individual is part of a false set of truth-clouding constructs, obscuring 'what is'. The truth of 'what is', is beyond language and must therefore be experienced directly.

"Thus, the fundamental reason that the precise identification of these two kinds of clinging to an identity – personal and phenomenal – is considered so important is again soteriological. Through first uncovering our clinging and then working on it, we become able to finally let go of this sole cause for all our afflictions and suffering."[2][3]

Christianity[edit]

Mainstream Christian soteriology is the study of how God reconciles the separation between man and God due to sin. [4] Many Christians believe they receive the forgiveness of sins,[5] life,[6] and salvation[7] obtained by Jesus through his incarnation, life, innocent suffering, death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension.[8] Christian soteriology examines how an individual is miraculously saved by divine grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and reconciled to God.[9]

The different soteriologies found within the Christian tradition can be grouped into distinct schools:

Falun Dafa[edit]

In Falun Dafa, salvation refers to cultivation practice, or xiu lian, a process of giving up human attachments and assimilating to the Buddha Fa ( Fǒ, Fǎ), or the fundamental characteristic of the universe, Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance ( zhen, shan, ren).

Hinduism[edit]

In Vedic religion (Hinduism), individual salvation is not, as is often incorrectly alleged, pursued to the neglect of collective well-being. "The principle on which the Vedic religion is founded," observes the Sage of Kanchi, "is that a man must not live for himself alone but serve all mankind." Varna dharma in its true form is a system according to which the collective welfare of society is ensured. Hinduism, which teaches that we are caught in a cycle of death and rebirth called saṃsāra, contains a slightly different sort of soteriology, as noted above, devoted to the attainment of transcendent moksha (liberation). For some, this liberation is also seen as a state of closeness to Brahman.

Westerners coined the name "Hinduism" itself as a convenience to encompass a constellation of different paths to moksha, based upon the Vedas, India's original religious texts. [10] “In India,” wrote Mircea Eliade, “metaphysical knowledge always has a soteriological purpose.” [11]

Islam[edit]

Islamic soteriology focuses on how humans can repent of and atone for their sins so as not to occupy a state of loss. In Islam, it is believed that everyone is responsible for his own action. So even though Muslims believe that their father of humanity, Adam, committed a sin by eating from the forbidden tree and thus disobeying his Lord, they believe that humankind is not responsible for such an action. They believe that God is fair and just and thus they should not be held responsible or punished for a sin that they did not commit. In Az-Zumar (The Groups) chapter, in verse 7, in the Quran, God said "No bearer of Burdens shall bear the burden of another" [39:7]. So repentance in Islam is to be forgiven from the sins that were committed by one's own hand. In Islam, for one to repent, s/he has to admit to their Lord that they have sinned, feel regret for the sin, be willing not to do the same sin again and finally to ask for repentance. S/he does not need to go to speak to someone to deserve the repentance, simply during the prayer or anytime, s/he speaks to her/his God (prays) asking his forgiveness. God said in the Quran "O you who believe! Turn to Allah (God) with sincere repentance! It may be that your Lord will expiate from you your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow (Paradise)" [al-Tahreem 66:8]. Muslims believe that God is merciful and thus believers are expected to continuously repent so that their sins may be forgiven. "Say: O my slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah (God), verily, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”al-Zumar 39:53 and also "And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but afterwards seeks Allaah’s forgiveness, he will find Allaah Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful" al-Nisaa 4:110.

Muslims believe that they, as well as everyone else, are vulnerable to making mistakes and thus they need to seek repentance repeatedly at all times. Muhammad said "By Allah (God), I seek the forgiveness of Allaah and I turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times each day." (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 6307)

Not only that God wants His servants to repent and forgives them, he rejoices over it, as Muhammad said "When a person repents, Allaah rejoices more than one of you who found his camel after he lost it in the desert." (Agreed upon. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, no. 6309)

Jainism[edit]

Mokṣa in Jainism means liberation, salvation or emancipation of soul. It is a blissful state of existence of a soul, completely free from the karmic bondage, free from saṃsāra, the cycle of birth and death. A liberated soul is said to have attained its true and pristine nature of infinite bliss, infinite knowledge and infinite perception. Such a soul is called siddha or paramatman and considered as supreme soul or God. In Jainism, it is the highest and the noblest objective that a soul should strive to achieve. In fact, it is the only objective that a person should have; other objectives are contrary to the true nature of soul.

Mystery religions[edit]

In the mystery religions, salvation was less worldly and communal, and more a mystical belief concerned with the continued survival of the individual soul after death.[12] Some savior gods associated with this theme are dying and regenerating gods, often associated with the seasonal cycle, such as Osiris, Tammus, Adonis, and Dionysos. A complex of soteriological beliefs was also a feature of the cult of Cybele and Attis.[13]

The similarity of themes and archetypes to religions found in antiquity to later Christianity has been pointed out by many authors, including the fathers of the early Christian church. One view is that early Christianity borrowed these myths and motifs from contemporary Hellenistic mystery religions, which possessed ideas such as life-death-rebirth deities and sexual relations between gods and human beings. While Christ myth theory is not accepted by mainstream historians, proponents attempt to establish causal connections to the cults of Mithras, Dionysus, and Osiris among others.[14] (see also Zeitgeist: The Movie)

Sikhism[edit]

Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God, meant to bring one into union with God. But a person's state of mind has to be detached from this world, with the understanding that this world is a temporary abode and their soul has to remain untouched by pain, pleasure, greed, emotional attachment, praise, slander and above all, egotistical pride. Thus their thoughts and deeds become "Nirmal" or pure and they merge with God or attain "Union with God", just as a drop of water falling from the skies merges with the ocean.

Other religions[edit]

Shinto and Tenrikyo similarly emphasize working for a good life by cultivating virtue or virtuous behavior. The major Jewish denominations emphasize prayer and morality in this life over concern with the afterlife.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • John McIntyre, The shape of soteriology: studies in the doctrine of the death of Christ (T&T Clark, 1992)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "soteriology", definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary which erroneously gives neuter nominative of the corresponding adjective, σωτήριον, as the base.
  2. ^ Karl Brunnholzl page 131 of his book "The Center of the Sunlet Sky, Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition"
  3. ^ http://www.vipassana.com/resources/8fp7.php
  4. ^ Rom. 5:10-11
  5. ^ I John 1:9 and Acts 2:38
  6. ^ Rom. 8:11 and Gal. 2:20
  7. ^ Rom. 5:9-10 and 1 Thess. 5:9
  8. ^ Romans 6:3-5
  9. ^ Eph. 2:8-10
  10. ^ David S. Noss. A History of the World's Religions. 
  11. ^ Mircea Eliade. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. 
  12. ^ Pagan Theologies: Soteriology
  13. ^ Giulia Sfameni Gasparro. Soteriology and mystic aspects in the cult of Cybele and Attis. 
  14. ^ Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth