Teaching the Differences between Christianity and Hinduism

As a part of my greater series on differences between Christianity and other major world religions, this blog outlines the religion of Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religions. While it is made up of many sects, there are more than one billion people in the world who practice this religion. 

Roughly four thousand years ago, a group of people from northern India, called the Aryans, brought the teachings of Hinduism to the rest of the subcontinent. Originally, the teachings of Hinduism were passed orally, that is, spoken from teacher to student. Eventually, the fundamental teachings were recorded in what are called Vedas

The Differences in View of Higher Power 

1. Atman

It is challenging to understand the nature of a higher power in Hinduism without first grasping the relationship between the god of Hinduism and creation. The basic teaching undergirding the religion is that in each human being, beyond body and soul, is a divine essence or spark of god. This spark is in the soul. This divine spark, called the atman, is present in every human being, and in fact, in every part of nature—everything we can see around us. Compare this to Christianity, which teaches that God lived in eternity before He created the world. Help students to understand that, while God created human beings in His image, people do not have a piece of God inside of them. Furthermore, at the fall in the Garden of Eden, human beings became blind, dead, enemies of God. The image of God is restored only after the Holy Spirit brings the sinner to faith through the means of grace—God’s Word and Baptism. Regarding nature, while we can see the splendor of God’s divine creativity in nature, He is separate and distinct from nature which He created.

2. Brahman

The basic name for god in Hinduism is Brahman. However, it must be understood from the outset that in a real sense, the atman (each individual soul) and Brahman (the universal soul or the combination of all souls) are one and the same. So Brahman is the conglomeration of the atman. This means that the god of Hinduism is present in all people and in all of creation. Hindu deities number in the thousands, each a manifestation of different parts of Brahman’s nature. Significant manifestations or deities include Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. It is not surprising that Hindus also worship portions of creation. The Ganges River in India, for example, is considered sacred. Hindus from all over the world make pilgrimage to the river, where they wash to cleanse themselves spiritually. The reference to the Ganges River might cause us to wonder if it is similar to Holy Baptism in Christianity. Washing in the Ganges River is in no way like Holy Baptism. Rivers have no special powers. What is more, Baptism combines water with the Word of God. While water is necessary for Baptism, the power resides in the Word of God. Someone may argue that Christians travel to the Holy Land and are baptized in the Jordan River; isn’t this just like washing in the Ganges? Make clear to students that while the Jordan River is biblically significant, the water from the river is no more special than tap water. The Word of God with the water is the power of Baptism.

3. Confused yet?

The implications are interesting. The relationship between the atman and Brahman means that god is inside each person and this divine spark binds all people and creation together. If you are at all familiar with Star Wars, you will see the similarity between the relationship of the atman and Brahman of Hinduism and the “force” in Star Wars lore. In the Star Wars movies, the force is portrayed as an energy field that penetrates all things, binds them together, and creates life. Does this sound familiar? It would not be surprising to learn that George Lucas drew on Hinduism in crafting the beloved space epic. The connection to Star Wars is an excellent opportunity to encourage students to be mindful of what they watch, read, and listen to. Star Wars is wonderful science fiction, but Christians need to take care against adopting the teaching of this movie simply because it is fun to watch.

The Differences in Basic Beliefs

Hinduism is challenging to understand in part because it is less dogmatic than Christianity. That is, Hinduism has far fewer absolute truths, teachings, or rules. Nevertheless, below is a listing of the basic beliefs of Hinduism as compared to Christianity. As you read through them, notice that, just like Islam, which we studied last month, Hinduism boils down to works righteousness.

1. Oneness of God

Hinduism considers god to be one only in the sense that Brahman, the basic name for god, is the entirety of the atman, the divine essence found in all human beings and creation. Otherwise, the deities of Hinduism are merely manifestations of Brahman. In truth, a group of Hindus can and do focus on a particular manifestation of Brahman and establish a sect around it. In this way, Hinduism is quite individualistic. This is no doubt part of what makes the religion at the same time both undefinable and attractive. Christianity teaches that the Creator is one God in three persons, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Helps students to understand that while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are persons of the same one God, they are not manifestations of god, as Hindus believe. What is more, the one true God of Christianity is eternal and immutable, that is, unchangeable. Christians cannot take God and make Him be whatever they wish or worship only the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit. God is one.

2. Angels

Hindus do believe in angels. However, where the Bible teaches that angels are spiritual beings created by God and serve His purposes exclusively, Hinduism teaches that angels are part of Brahman. Another important difference is that Hindus worship angels as gods, whereas the Bible teaches that we are to have no gods other than the almighty God of the Trinity.

3. Prophets

Hinduism doesn’t have prophets as Christians understand them, that is, as servants of God who speak His Word. Prophets in the Bible convey God’s warnings and guidance, and they point to the Savior, Jesus Christ. The closest equivalent in Hinduism are the gurus. These are Hindus who have reached a state of goodness and purity so they are able to guide other Hindus in their spiritual progress.

4. Reincarnation

Hindus believe that all Brahman is in a constant state of renewal. This includes nature, space, the planets, everything. Human beings are also in a state of renewal, which is referred to as reincarnation. This is where the spiritual life of Hindus is connected to the concept of heaven and hell. For Hindus, when a person dies, he or she is reincarnated, that is, given another life to live on earth. The basic nature of this life is based on how the person lived in the previous life. For example, a wealthy man with a keen mind and strong body lives a life marked by selfishness and cruelty. Upon dying, he is reincarnated as a poor man with mental and physical disabilities. Reincarnation based on good works functions in the other direction as well. Thus, the goal of Hinduism is to live a good life in the hope that the next life will be even better. In the process, the Hindu learns more and purifies him or herself. But the Bible rejects reincarnation. In Hebrews 9:27, we read, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” The Bible teaches that after this life comes judgment, not a second and third chance to make ourselves better and work toward perfection.

5. Heaven and Hell

Hinduism teaches that when someone reaches the apex of life on earth, the person’s spirit translates into a more intimate experience with the Brahman. This is as close as Hindus come to “heaven.” Hindus understand hell as the lowest state of existence. In other words, the most miserable human existence possible. Some sects of Hinduism believe that particularly wicked human beings are reincarnated as animals or even insects. For this reason, Hindus regard all life as precious. 

The Bible teaches that Jesus will return on Judgment Day to raise all the dead who have ever lived and judge every person. Those who believed that Jesus is Gods Son, their Savior, will live with God forever in the new heavens and the new earth. Those who rejected Jesus will be punished, body and spirit, in hell forever.

The Differences in Worship

On one hand, Hindus are monotheistic, that is, they worship only one god, since believers understand Brahman as the supreme higher being. On the other hand, Hindus are polytheistic in that various sects worship different manifestations of Brahman. Remember, as indicated above, Hinduism is quite individualized. Worship can vary, even down to the person. It also depends on the location, language, and culture of those worshiping.

Hindus do have temples, where they bring gifts as thankofferings. Many Hindus also have small places of worship in their own homes. Worship practices include dance, poetry, rituals, and fostering a deep sense of love for the major deities in Hinduism or any other manifestation of Brahman. The purpose of worship is to gain guidance, favorable outcomes, inner peace, and spiritual growth. It should be kept in mind that the ultimate end of Hinduism is to lead a pure life in order to be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation and then translate into the larger Brahman.

Worship for Christians is fundamentally different. Christians do not worship God to earn His favor. We have favor with God for the sake of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. God brings us His gifts in worship: forgiveness of sins, His Word, and the true body and blood of Jesus, among others. An important concept to stress with students is that worship in Hinduism is self-focused because the end of the religion itself is self-focused. Hindus worship the deities of Brahman to obtain guidance on their journey of self-purification from one reincarnated life to another. Hindus reach what they would call “heaven” by their own good works. Christians are passively made righteous by the Holy Spirit through faith in the all-atoning work of Jesus Christ. God declares sinners righteous in Christ.


Hinduism is seductive largely for two reasons. One, there is so much freedom in the practice and worship of the religion. Second, it is a religion of works. Sinners are drawn to religions of works because they offer a false sense of control and feed our sense of vanity. Nevertheless, Hinduism is empty. In addition to what has been addressed above, help students to understand that Hinduism offers no real foundation of morality. There is only good and evil as it relates to being reincarnated in the right direction. Hindus do good works to promote themselves. Being justified in Christ, Christians are free to love God and serve their neighbors out of love and honor of God.

Scripture: ESV®.

142190A Simple Explanation of World Religions gives summaries of seven major religions or philosophies of the world.

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Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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