Return to: Understanding Cults and New Religions Home Page

Nurelweb Home Page or the Christian Travelers Guide Home Page

6. the yogic and abramic traditions

In addition to primal experiences and the new mythology, new religions have incorporated doctrines from world religions to give intellectual content to their beliefs. At first glance it might appear that there are hundreds if not thousands of religious traditions in the world. But upon closer examination, we see that all of the world's religions fall into the categories of two major traditions. We call these traditions Yogic and Abramic. The best-known religions of the Yogic tradition are Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Those of the Abramic are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We use the term "Yogic" because the practice of yoga represents the strand of this complex tradition that most influences new religions in the West. The term Abramic has been used to describe Judaism, Christianity, and Islam because these religions trace their origins to Abraham. The discussion of Yogic and Abramic beliefs that follows is aimed at producing a typology for understanding new religions in Western societies. It is not meant to be a description of "pure" or historic versions of world religions. We are simply presenting some aspects of religious belief that are commonly found in new religions.

yogic religions

The Yogic tradition originated in India. Themes of quest and pilgrimage are key features of its pointedly transcendental emphasis. Philosophically, Yogic religions assume this world to be a veil of sorrow that must be endured and escaped. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (henceforth called Prabhupada), the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, sums up the negativity of the Yogic tradition when he says of the world that "this place is not meant for happiness....It is a place of miseries temporary." (1) Similarly, Edward Conze writes that "the Buddhist point of view will appeal only to those peole who are completely disillusioned with the world as it is, and with themselves, who are extremely sensitive to pain, suffering, and any kind of turmoil, who have an extreme desire for happiness, and a considerable capacity for renunciation....The Buddhist seeks for a total happiness beyond this world." (2) As we have noted, these perspectives are common among those who join new religions ...

the abramic tradition

Abramic religions trace their ancestry to the person of Abraham whose story is recorded in the Hebrew scriptures. The major religions of this tradition are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which have a common understanding of God as Creator. They also share such related concepts as creation, fall, redemption, and revelation. The meanings of these doctrines differ somewhat from one religion to the next. Because we wish to understand new religions in Western society, we will concentrate on the Christian interpretation of the Abramic tradition, because today's new Abramic religions principally draw their ideas from Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity. (15)

There are new religious movements among Jews and Muslims, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but they are for the most part revitalization movements that essentially remain faithful to the tradition from which they arose. The Protestant equivalent of these new types of orthodox religions is Christian fundamentalism rather than groups like the Moonies, The Way, or the Children of God. We will not be focussing on fundamentalism or any of the new religions that affirm a traditional form of religious orthodoxy ...

the importance of faith

Christians believe that the way humans reenter a living relationship with God is through faith. Faith is an act of trust based upon knowledge of God and his deeds. It is not a blind leap into the unknown but a confident step into enlightenment about the nature and love of God. Faith is the opposite of doubt and magical power. Faith is to redemption what magic and doubt are to the fall. It frees us of anxiety because it entails our accepting our identity as creatures made in God's image.

The inspiration for the distinctively Christian understanding of faith is found in the story of Abraham, who left the security of Ur of the Chaldees to become a wanderer and nomad in response to God's call (see Gen. 12-24 and Heb. 11:8-19). Theistic faith is an expression of trust. It leads to a new way of life based on a living relationship with God.

The longest exposition in the Bible of the meaning of faith is found in the book of Romans. It starts with Paul's observation that people have renounced truth and served "the creature more than the Creator." The essence of Paul's argument is that human beings, having lost the ability to trust God, made gods out of created things. In so doing, they lost the ability to trust each other, with disastrous results. But faith restores not only our relationship with God but also our relationship with our neighbors.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to have faith. Many people choose to be satisfied with the sort of apparent reconciliation to God and neighbors that can be achieved by observing rigid codes, ritual actions, and prescribed ways of living. They look to laws rather than faith for instruction concerning how all people must live. These laws appear to restore human relationships and create communion with God, but in fact they produce a new kind of servitude. Paul calls this servitude "legalism" and discusses it at length in Galatians ...