What is humanity’s final state? An impersonal existence after being absorbed into an impersonal deity? Or an intimate, personal relationship with a super-personal God. The major religious worldview traditions of the East and West come to fundamentally different conclusions.1
Let’s briefly explore two dominant perspectives of the East (Hinduism) and West (historic Christianity) and compare what these worldviews reveal about God, humankind’s personal nature, and the final state for human beings. We’ll also consider which perspective offers a hopeful vision for humanity.
The Mystical Pantheistic East
A leading Eastern religion, philosophical Hinduism’s pantheistic monism asserts that all reality is an undifferentiated one (unity), and that unity is God or Ultimate Reality. This Eastern metaphysical theory may be summed up in the statement: “All is God and God is All.” Everything that is real—including the universe and the souls of human beings—is one in essence with this single all-encompassing Ultimate Divine Reality (called Brahman).
From this perspective, man is at one with the Cosmic All. Yet man regrettably suffers from a deceptive state of spiritual amnesia where he has forgotten his divine status. For him to truly reunite with God, he must overcome this amnesia, and the pursuit of mystical enlightenment through meditation makes that possible. When someone experiences release from the illusion of being separate from Ultimate Reality, then the wheel of reincarnation (rebirth) is broken and he experiences true spiritual liberation (oneness with Brahman).
According to this distinct form of Hinduism, such emancipation (called moksha) represents the end of man’s journey to be reunited with Brahman. In the pantheistic monism worldview, man’s mind, consciousness, and soul are completely absorbed into the impersonal, cosmic World Soul. Thus, the final end of the person is totally impersonal.
The Christian Theistic West
According to historic Christianity, God will sovereignly intervene to bring the world and all he created to an abrupt and final end. Christian eschatology asserts the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and a final resurrection and judgment for all human beings. Nonbelievers will suffer eternal conscious punishment in hell, while believers in Christ (the redeemed) will enjoy God’s eternal personal presence in heaven. The exalted Jesus Christ, the God-man, will reign in a kingdom with no end.
Thus, according to historic Christianity, redeemed human beings’ final state is personal, where they glorify God and enjoy the Triune God’s super-personal presence forever.
Two fundamental worldview questions come to bear on the competing perspectives and what they offer:
1. Explanatory Power: Does the worldview explain personal reality?
Pantheistic Monism: According to this worldview, Ultimate Reality is completely impersonal. God is beyond all rational and moral categories and is thus less or, other than, personal. In this concept of moksha, the soul ultimately loses its personal identity and is absorbed into the completely impersonal World Soul. (Imagine a single drop of water being placed into the ocean where the drop of water loses every trace of its individual characteristics and becomes indistinguishable from the whole.) Therefore the end of reincarnation’s journey leads to the loss of personal identity forever. Thus it is extremely difficult for this worldview to properly account for man’s personal state.
Christian Theism: According to this worldview, a super-personal God created human beings in his image and these creatures derive personal selfconsciousness from their Creator. Consequently, personal self-consciousness is an expected feature in Christian theism.
2. Existential Test: Does the worldview offer a hopeful vision for human beings?
Pantheistic Monism: A life filled with illusion and deception, where man’s ultimate purpose is to lose his complete personal identity by becoming one with an impersonal Ultimate Reality, does not offer any sense of hope for the present or for the future. Pantheistic monism offers only an impersonal absorption. A sense of hopelessness seems to permeate this belief system.
Christian Theism: One profound difference between the Christian world-and-life view and pantheistic monism is that (in the former) human beings can enjoy a relationship with a loving, caring, personal God who is knowable, reachable, and accepting. Christian theism offers an intimate redemptive relationship with the God who came to Earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, described the power of hope in his fellow systematically starved concentration camp inmates. Those who clung to hope survived; those who lost hope often fell over dead.
Unlike Hinduism’s pantheistic monism, historic Christianity’s gospel message offers self-aware people genuine hope, purpose, and meaning in this life and indescribable goodness in the next. Historic Christianity uniquely offers people a viable reason to live and to die.
- This topic receives an expanded discussion in my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).