This one is a little different, as the question is longer than the answer, but I thought it would be good to print the whole thing, as there is quite a lot of good information:
It came up in a conversation that the majority of religions are based on a ‘reward’ system. By this, I mean if we perform good will towards man, we will be granted eternal happiness. For those that falter throughout life, continuously acting upon transgressions, they are sent back on the continuous wheel of life known as rebirth or sent to the flames of Hell.
Muslims follow the Koran, which provides vivid descriptions of both Heaven and Hell. Heaven is viewed upon as “Worldly Delights”. Whereas torments of Hell are explained in lurid detail. On Judgment Day, Allah will rise and determine ones destiny. Also being described as, “passing over Hell on a narrow bridge in order to enter ‘Paradise’, or Heaven. Those who fall, weighted by their bad deeds, will remain in Hell forever.”
Hinduism states that in order to be freed from the endless rounds of birth, death, and rebirth, one must follow a life completely devoted to the Brahman. Their afterlives continue in many forms, and in many different worlds depending on how one lived his/her life on earth. Good for good, bad for bad, etc. In fact, neither life nor after-life are permanent unless the soul is liberated. Liberation is defined as “freedom from the individual soul from the cycle of births and deaths, from the sense of duality and separation, and union with Brahman, the supreme soul.”
In the Jewish religion, they await the coming of the Messiah, where he will hand out the eternal judgment and reward to all. One large belief in Judaism is that their entire Jewish race and the whole of creation will be judged, as opposed to individual men. Again, it comes down to good for the good, bad for the bad, etc.
Christianity is a strong representation of this view. Those that follow God, abiding by his will, will be rewarded upon death with eternal happiness, and into the gates of Heaven. Those that turn their face from God, performing a life of everlasting sin, will be doomed to the gates of Hell. “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving…their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8.
And finally, with Buddhism, the doctrine is summed up in the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering; The origin of suffering is attachment; The cessation of suffering is attainable; The path to the cessation of suffering, The way down that path is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. As well as the FNT, we have to factor in Karma. In Buddhism, from what I’ve learned, it is basically the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. In other words, we are responsible for our own happiness and misery, “the architects of our own fate.”
And finally my question: Why is it that Religions have to be so black and white regarding eternal happiness. Shouldn’t Religion and Spirituality be celebrated as Love? If God is Love, or the God of your understanding, then why would such a world be created in which suffering and pain is inevitable. Thus creating opportunities and “excuses” for sin. Creating anger and hatred, revenge and spite, good and evil. Shouldn’t everyone be granted eternal happiness? Not forced into the cycle of rebirth, in the sense of “try try again? Shouldn’t all men and woman be accepted for who they are, and not judged by their actions? Which, by the way, are all a result of ones family life, and how their father treated their mother, grandfather to grandmother, so on and so forth. Our minds exploited by the information and beliefs of our elders. We are all products of societies influence, generation after generation. And are a direct result of our environment. Love should be rewarded with love, as should pain, suffering, anger, hatred and the like.
What is your take on all of this, from a Buddhist’s standpoint?
I’m going to turn off “Buddhist-teacher mode” for this one and put on my old Comparative Religions hat for this one to look at it from the outside. This answer has a lot to it, so if I offend anyone, I apologize in advance. Take issue with it in the comment section if you want, better yet, add your ideas!
Whether or not there is a God behind any of it, all religions seek to explain the world around us and also answer the big questions, such as what happens when we die? How they answer these questions lies partially in the cultures and regions from which they came. Those in the East involve reincarnation, while those in the West involve some higher power that sits in judgment.
The last line of your own question, “Love should be rewarded with love, as should pain, suffering, anger, hatred and the like,” explains the rest. Humans have an innate need for fairness and justice. If I spend my life helping others, being generous and compassionate, etc. and my neighbor is a greedy, cheating, liar, then what’s fair about that? The afterlife, in most religions, is there to balance the scales. That nasty old neighbor will get what’s coming to him later when I enjoy my rewards! Pain should be rewarded with pain, hatred with hatred, and so forth; you reap what you sow; karma; it’s all a form of eternal justice to make up for the inequities of this life.
The source of the idea that “God is love,” is 1 John 4:8, yet beyond that one line, there isn’t much evidence of that. The line has been blown way out of proportion in my opinion. According to everything else in the Bible, God is a person or being with desires, plans, and wishes of his own; he’s not a generic entity such as Love. You asked, “Should religions and spirituality be interpreted as love?” Why? Religions are there to explain the world, and if the people in a certain area don’t see love as the highest ideal, then that’s not going to be reflected in their religion.
Much of your question is also based around an old theological trap called “The Problem of Evil.” You may have heard it before, but here it is. It’s from Christian theology, but it applies to Islam and most other god-centric religions:
1. God is all-knowing and all-powerful.
2. God is perfectly good, wanting only the best for us.
3. There is evil and suffering in the world.
Do each of those statements look true to you? They should.But taken as a whole they contradict each other. If God is good and wants the best for us, then how can Evil exist? Either God cannot cannot defeat evil or he won’t for some reason. If he cannot, then #1 is wrong. If he will not, then #2 is wrong.
Buddhism, as in many other things, is a bit different than all this. Whether or not you believe in the more religious flavors of Buddhism, they all place an emphasis on this world. You are supposed to do your best to follow Buddha’s Path now, not after death. By doing so, we build a better world right here. This is one reason Buddhism is so vague on Nirvana or “Heaven,” no one knows what it really is, and we’re not that attached to getting there (if you think of it as a place at all). It’s not the goal that really matters, it’s the life and the practice that matter.