Christianity Essay, Research Paper
Christianity was traditionally understood to be founded by Jesus of Nazareth. Paul of Tarsus, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, worked tirelessly to establish Christianity among both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles of the Diaspora. Clues in the New Testament indicate that there was a significant rift between Paul and the Jewish leadership early in the history of the Church. It is primarily Paul’s writings which has most influenced the Church today. Christians span the globe and are present on all the inhabited continents and in most of the world’s societies. As Christianity is a universalizing religion, it embraces all nations and peoples. Major Teachings: Most Christian denominations and sects teach that man is sinful and can never inherit eternal life in the presence of God as a result of the sins of our first parents, Adam and Eve,as well as our own personal sin. It thus became necessary for God to become man in the person of Jesus Christ who as the Son of God was sinless and unblemished. His purpose was to suffer and die in atonement for the sins of all who accept his sacrifice for sin. Individual salvation is dependent upon the acceptance of this atonement. The Church is the Bride of Christ whose purpose is to spread this message, “the Gospel”, to all people before Christ’s return to the earth to rule all nations as the heir to the throne of David. This is primary message of most Christians. Other sects will have variations on this message, and may include many other doctrines they find necessary to their own message or purpose. Scriptures and Other Significant Writings: The New Testament together with the Jewish Bible make up the canon of Christianity. The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity also include books in their canons that many Protestants do not, called “the Apocrypha” or the “Deuterocanonicals”. Also important are the writings of the early church fathers and early church councils, which established much of the doctrine now considered dogma in the Church today. As of 1986, at least one book of the Christian Bible has been translated into 1,848 languages of the world. A book has been compiled by the United Bible Societies which lists languages alphabetically, chronologically, and geographically Of the present missionary efforts by many of Christianity’s sects, biblical translation is just one of many. Symbols: The most well known symbol of Christianity is the cross, or crucifix, symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. An ancient symbol of Christianity is the fish formed by two intersecting arcs. Often the Greek word for fish, IXTHYS, appears within being an acronym for “Jesus Christ God’s Son”. Major Divisions: The three major branches of Christianity are Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. There are, arguably, other sects such as Mormonism claiming this distinction due to major departures from orthodox doctrines. Major Holy Days: Although the differing divisions and sects of Christianity may celebrate differing holidays, place emphasis on certain holidays rather than others, or may use a differing calendar, the major holy days of Christianity are: Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas The Details about Christianity: Christianity arose as an obscure Jewish sect, and through the dedicated missionary efforts of such persons as the Apostle Paul was distributed throughout the Mediterranean basin. Church tradition suggests that each of the remaining Apostles of Jesus taught in such diverse places as the British Isles and India. After years of official persecution by the Roman Empire, Christianity was embraced as the state religion by Emperor Constantine.Several important church councils were held during this time period to decide on controversies over doctrine. Eventually, the decisions of these councils provided guidelines to determine orthodoxy or heresy. The many divisions and sects now found in Christianity today has been the result of opinions which differed from the established doctrine. The Geography of Christianity: Christianity has greatly influenced the geography of medieval Europe, and later, the rest of the world due to colonization and missionary efforts. Perhaps the most significant contribution of Christianity was the reorganization of Europe from pagan bands and villages into the centrally organized holds of feudal Europe. This reorganization was patterned after the ecclesiastical hierarchy envisioned by the Church and set the stage for all that was to come in the future. Monasteries were set up throughout Europe as either destinations or as waystations for pilgrimages. Monasteries became the repositories of civilization, learning, and often wealth. The Church provided sanction and divine recognition for governments of the day in the form of “Divine Right”. The Church was responsible for the ordination of kings and often arbitrated disputes over territory. Until the Reformation, the Church was a power to be reckoned with in both religious and secular matters. Also important in the geography of Christianity is the special distribution of the various denominations, each denomination’s geographic divisions, and what effects each denomination has upon the land. For example, many new Protestant sects such as the Shakers experimented with new communal living arrangements in a quest for utopia during the first part of the nineteenth century. Although most of these efforts eventually failed, they created intentionally designed settlements of farms and workshops expressing new cultural and societal ideals. Roman Catholicism and Mormonism express their ecclesiastical geography through dividing the world into a hierarchy of areas. Catholics and many Protestant groups have missionary territories throughout the world. ISLAM Early History of Islam: Most religious historians view Islam as having been founded in 622 CE by Mohammed the Prophet in Median. It is seen as the youngest of the world’s great religions. However, many if not most of the followers of Islam believe that: 1 Islam existed before Mohammed was born, 2 The origins of Islam date back to the creation of the world, 3 Mohammed was the last of a series of Prophets. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. “Muslim” is an Arabic word that refers to a person who submits themselves to the Will of God. “Allah” is an Arabic word which means “the One True God.” An alternate spelling for “Muslim” that is occasionally used is “Moslem”; it is not recommended because it is often pronounced “Moslem”: which sounds like an Arabic word for “oppressor”. Some Western writers in the past have referred to Islam as “Mohammedism”; this is deeply offensive to many Muslims, as its usage can lead some to the concept that Mohammed the Prophet was in some way divine. Little is known about Muhammad’s childhood. He was orphaned at the age of 6 and brought up by his uncle. As a child, he worked as a shepherd. He was taken on a caravan to Syria by his uncle at the age of 9. Later, as a youth, he was employed as a camel driver on the trade routes between Syria and Arabia. Mohammed later managed caravans on behalf of merchants. He met people of different religious beliefs on his travels, and was able to observe and learn about Judaism, Christianity and the indigenous Pagan religions. After marriage, he was able to spend more time in meditation. At the age of 40, he was visited in Mecca by the angel Gabriella. He developed the conviction that he had been ordained a Prophet and given the task of converting his countrymen from their pagan, polytheistic beliefs and what he regarded as moral decadence, idolatry, hedonism and materialism. He met considerable opposition to his teachings. In 622 CE he moved north to Medina due to increasing persecution. The trek is known as the hegira . Here he was disappointed by the rejection of his message by the Jews. Through military activity and political negotiation, Mohammed became the most powerful leader in Arabia, and Islam was firmly established in the area. By 750 CE, Islam had expanded to China, India, along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean and into Spain. By 1550 they had reached Vienna. Wars resulted, expelling Muslims from Spain and Europe. Since their trading routes were mostly over land, they did not an develop extensive sea trade. As a result, the old world occupation of North America was left to Christians. Believers are currently concentrated from the West coast of Africa to the Philippines. In Africa, in particular, they are increasing in numbers, largely at the expense of Christianity. Many do not look upon Islam as a new religion. They feel that it is in reality the faith taught by the ancient Prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. Mohammed’srole as the last of the Prophets was to formalize and clarify the faith and to purify it by removing foreign ideas that had been added in error. At a level of 1.2 billion, they represent about 22% of the world’s population. They are the second largest religion in the world; Christianity has 33%. Islam is growing about 2.9% per year which is faster than the total world population which increases about 2.3% annually. It is thus attracting a progressively larger percentage of the world’s population. The number of Muslims in North America is in dispute: estimates range from under 3 million to over 6 million. The main cause of the disagreement appears to be over how many Muslim immigrants have converted to Christianity since they arrived in the US. Statistics Canada reports that 253,260 Canadians identified themselves as Muslims during the 1991 census. Those figures are believed to be an under-estimate. Important Text There are two main texts consulted by Muslims: the Qur’an are the words of God. This was originally in oral and written form; they were later assembled together into a single book, the Qur’an. Its name is often spelled “Koran” in English. This is not recommended, as some Muslims find it offensive. The Hadith, which are collections of the sayings of Mohammed. They are regarded as an excellent guide for living. However, the writings are no regarded as having the same status as the Holy Qur’an; the latter is considered to be God’s word. Muslim Beliefs and Practices: Muslims follow a lunar calendar which started with the hegira, a 300 mile trek in 622 CE when Mohammed relocated from Mecca to Medina. A Muslim’s duties as described in the Five Pillars of Islam are: 1.to recite at least once during their lifetime the shahadah: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet. Most Muslims repeat it at least daily. 2.to perform the salat 5 times a day. This is recited while orienting one’s body towards Mecca. It is done in the morning, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset and just before sleeping. 3.to donate regularly to charity through zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy as the individual believer feels moved. 4.to fast during the month of This is believed to be the month that Mohammed received the Qur’an from God. 5.if economically and physically, to make at least one hajj to Mecca. Jihad (struggle) is probably the most misunderstood religious word in existence. It often mentioned on Western TV and radio during news about the Middle East, where it is implied to be a synonym of “holy war” – a call to fight against non-Muslims in the defense of Islam. The vast majority of Muslims have an entirely different definition of Jihad. It is seen as a personal, internal struggle with one’s self. The goal may be achievement in a profession, self-purification, the conquering of primitive instincts or the attainment of some other noble goal. Common beliefs: God is the creator, is just, omnipotent and merciful respect for earlier prophets and belief in their teachings: Abraham, Moses and Jesus that Mohammed is the last of the prophet belief in the existence of Satan who drives people to sin that Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God return to a state of sinlessness belief in Hell where unbelievers and sinners spend eternity. One translation of the Qur’an 98:1-8 states: “The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn for ever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures. belief in Paradise, a place of physical and spiritual pleasure where the sinless go after death abstinence from alcohol and gambling rejection of racism avoid the use of alcohol, other drugs, eating of pork, etc. avoid gambling that Jesus is a prophet. They regard the Christian concept of the deity of Jesus to be blasphemous that Jesus was not executed on the cross Originally, in Islamic countries, there was no separation between religious and civil law, between Islam and the state. Turkey and some other countries have become secular states during this century. This is a controversial move in Islamic circles. Understanding of Jesus, within Islam and Christianity Traditional Christians and Muslims have certain beliefs in common concerning Jesus. They both accept that: Jesus’ birth was miraculous. Jesus was the Messiah. He cured people of illness. He restored dead people to life. However, they differ from Christians in a number of major areas. Muslims do not believe: In original sin (that everyone inherits a sinful nature because of Adam and Eve’s transgression) That Jesus was killed during his crucifixion. Muslims believe that he escaped being executed, and later reappeared to his disciples without having first died. That Jesus was resurrected (or resurrected himself) circa 30 CE Salvation is dependent either upon belief in the resurrection of Jesus or belief that Jesus is the Son of God. Schools within Islam: There are four different schools of jurisprudence within Islam. Much blood has been spilt over disputes between them. The main divisions are: Followers of the Hanifa, Shafi, Hanibal and Malik schools are called Sunni Muslims and constitute a 90% majority of the believers. They are considered to be main stream traditionalists. Because they are comfortable pursuing their faith within secular societies, they have been able to adapt to a variety of national cultures, while following their three sources of law: the Qur’an, Hadith and consensus of Muslims. Followers of the Jafri school are called Shi’ite Muslims and constitute a small minority of Islam. They split from the Sunnis over a dispute about the successor to Mohammed. Their leaders, Imams promote a strict interpretation of the Qur’an and close adherents to its teachings. They believe in 12 heavenly Imams (perfect teachers) who guide the faithful from their locations in Paradise.There are over 70 other groups which originated within Islam and broke away from the Sunni and Shi’ite faith communities: Sufism: a mystic tradition in which followers seek inner knowledge directly from God through meditation and ritual and dancing. They developed in the 7th century CE as an ascetic reaction to the formalism and laws of the Qur’an. Baha’i World Faith: This is an attempt to integrate all of the world religions. It was originally a break-away sect from Islam but has since grown to become a separate religion. Ahmadis: Followers of the Ahmadiyya Movement believe that God sent Ahmad as a Messiah, “a messenger of His in this age who has claimed to have come in the spirit and power of Jesus Christ. He has come to call all people around one Faith, i.e. Islam…” The movement’s founder was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835- 1908). He was born in Qadian, India. He felt that he had a mandate from God to correct a serious error within Christianity. Most Christians believe that Jesus is a member of the Godhead. “…because Jesus, whom God sent as a Messiah to the Israelites was taken for a God, Divine jealousy ordained that another man [Ahmad] should be sent as Messiah so that the world may know that the first Messiah was nothing more than a weak mortal.” After his death, the community elected a series of Khalifas (successors). The current and “Fourth Successor (Khalifatul Masih IV), to the Promised Messiah was chosen in the person of Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad” on 1982-JUN-10. The Ahmadiyya Community currently has more than 10 million members worldwide. They are very heavily persecuted in Pakistan. Black Muslim Movement (BMM): This is largely a black urban movement in the US. One driving force was a rejection of Christianity as the religion of the historically oppressing white race. It was started by Wallace Fard who built the first temple in Detroit. Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole) established a second temple in Chicago and later supervised the creation of temples in most large cities with significant black populations. They taught that blacks were racially superior to whites and that a racial war is inevitable. The charismatic Malcolm X was perhaps their most famous spokesperson; he plaid an important role in reversing the BMM’s anti-white beliefs. In its earlier years, the movement deviated significantly from traditional Islamic beliefs (particularly over matters of racial tolerance the status of the BMM leaders as prophets). This deviation is being reversed.Islam is growing rapidly and is now followed by more than 20% of the world’s population. Christianity is not growing; its popularity has been stuck at about 33% of the worlds population for many decades. It is in decline in the United States (in terms of “market share”). Christian attacks on Islam are inevitable. Most criticisms are not well grounded in reality: Islam is often blamed for female genital mutilation. But it is obvious that FGM is grounded in cultural tradition, not religious belief, in those countries where it is practiced. A number of anti-Islamic books have been written recently, criticizing some Islamic countries for lack of religious tolerance Some conservative Christian web sites include attacks on Islam. They base their position on the inerrancy of the Bible, and their belief that Christianity is the only valid religion. An essay by Ric Llewellyn at dubious beginnings, fanaticism, irrational, accursed, religious bondage, cults, wicked doctrines, etc. It is our belief that these attacks are counter-productive. The main result of these web pages is to demonstrate the degree of intolerance and hatred held by their Webmasters; this does not reflect well on Christianity The media has historically disseminated a very negative image of Islam. It overwhelmingly reports on the beliefs and practices of the most conservative wing of the religion. Many non-Muslims are unaware that a moderate wing even exists in Islam. A number of anti-defamation groups have been organized to combat these negative portrayals. CAIR, The Council on American-Islamic Relations is a leader in this field. BUDDHISM: to be fully understood: the universality of suffering to be abandoned: the desire to have and control things which causes suffering to be made visible: the supreme truth and final liberation of nirvana which is achieved as the cause of suffering is eliminated. The mind experiences complete freedom and liberation to be brought into being: the truth of the eightfold ariya path leading to the cessation of suffering. History Buddhism was founded in Northern India by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. H was born circa 563 in Lumbini which is in modern-day Nepal. At the age of 29, he left his wife, children and political involvement’s i order to seek truth; this was an accepted practice at the time for some men to leave thei family and lead the life of an ascetic. He studied Brahminism, but ultimately rejected it. In 535 BCE, he reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha (one who ha awakened). He is also referred to as the Sakyamuni, (sage of the Sakya clan) He promoted The Middle Way, rejecting both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. He had many disciple and accumulated a large public following by the time of his death in his early 80’s in 483 BCE. Two and a half centuries later, a council of Buddhist monks collected his teachings an the oral traditions of the faith into written form, called the Tripitaka. This included a very large collection of commentaries and traditions; most are called Sutra. Buddhist Beliefs Buddhism is a religion which shares few concepts with Christianity. For example, the do not believe in a transcendent or immanent or any other type of God or Gods, the need for a personal savior, the power of prayer, eternal life in a heaven or hell after death etc. They do believe in reincarnation: the concept that one must go through many cycles of birth, living, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths may be described as: His Eightfold Path consists of: 1.right understanding 2.right thinking 3. right speech 4.right conduct 5.right livelihood 6. right effort 7.right mindfulness 8.right concentration Southern Buddhism has 100 million followers, mainly in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and parts of Vietnam. It started in Sri Lanka when Buddhist missionaries arrived from India. They promoted the Vibhajjavada school (Separative Teaching). By the 15th century, this form of the religion reached almost its present extent. Concepts and practices include: Dana – thoughtful, ceremonial giving Sila – accepting Buddhist teaching and following it in practice; refraining from killing, stealing, wrong behavior, use of drugs. On special days, three additional precepts may be added, restricting adornment, entertainment and comfort. Karma – the balance of accumulated sin and merit, which will determine ones future in the present life, and the nature of the next life to come. The Cosmos – consists of billions of worlds grouped into clusters; clusters are grouped into galaxies, which are themselves grouped into super-galaxies. The universe also has many levels: four underworlds and 21 heavenly realms. Paritta – ritual chanting Worship – of relics of a Buddha, of items made by a Buddha, or of symbolic relics. Festivals – days of the full moon, and three other days during the lunar cycle are celebrated. There is a new year’s festival, and celebrations tied to the agricultural year. Pilgrimages – particularly to Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka and India. Eastern Buddhism is the predominant religion in China, Japan, Korea and much of Vietnam. Buddhism’s Mahayana tradition entered China during the Han dynasty. It found initial acceptance there among the workers; later, it gradually penetrated the ruling class. Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century. It underwent severe repression during the 1960’s in China during the Cultural Revolution. Eastern Buddhism contains many distinct schools: T’ein-t’ai, Hua-yen, Pure Land teachings, and the Meditation school. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals, and five anniversaries from the lives of Buddha and of the Bodhissattva Kuan-yin. They also engage in Dana, Sila, Chanting. Worship and Pilgrimage. Northern Buddhism has perhaps 10 million adherents in parts of China, Mongolia, Russia and Tibet. It entered Tibet circa 640 CE. Conflict with the native Tibetan religion of Bon caused it to go largely underground until its revival in the 11th century. The heads of the Gelu school of Buddhist teaching became the Dalai Lama, and ruled Tibet. It has been, until recently, wrongly dismissed as a degenerate form of Buddhism Ceremony and ritual are emphasized. They also engage in Dana, Sila, Chanting. Worship and Pilgrimage. They developed the practice of searching out a young child at the time of death of an important teacher. The child is believed to be the successor to the deceased teacher. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals and anniversaries of five important events in the life of the Buddha. Buddhist and Tibetan culture suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution when an attempt was made to destroy all religious belief. JUDAISM Early History of Judaism Circa 2000 BCE, the God of the ancient Israelites established a divine covenant with Abraham, making him the patriarch of many nations. From his name, the term Abramic Religions is derived; these are the four religions which trace their roots back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i World Faith. The book of Genesis describes the events surrounding the lives of the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was the next leader of the ancient Israelites. He led his people out of captivity in Egypt, and received the Law from God.After decades of wandering through wilderness, Joshua led the tribes into the promised land, driving out the Canaanites through a series of military battles. The original tribal organization was converted into a kingdom by Samuel; its first king was Saul. The second king, David, established Jerusalem as the religious and political center. The third king, Solomon built the first temple there. Division into the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah occurred shortly after the death of Solomon in 922 BCE. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE; Judah fell to the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The temple was destroyed. Some Jews returned from captivity under the Babylonians and started to restore the temple in 536 BCE. Alexander the Great invaded the area in 332 BCE. From circa 300 to 63 BCE, Greek became the language of commerce, and Greek culture had a major influence on Judaism. In 63 BCE, the Roman Empire took control of Palestine. Four major religious sects had formed by the 1st century AD: the Basusim, Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees. Many anticipated the arrival of the Messiah who would drive the Roman invaders out and restore independence. Christianity was established initially as a Jewish sect, centered in Jerusalem. Paul broke with this tradition and spread the religion to the Gentiles .Many mini-revolts led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. The Jewish Christians were wiped out or scattered at this time. The movement started by Paul flourished and quickly evolved into the religion of Christianity. Jews were scattered throughout the known world. Their religion was no longer centered in Jerusalem; Jews were prohibited from setting foot there. Judaism became decentralized and stopped seeking converts. The local synagogue became the new center of Jewish life, and authority shifted from the centralized priesthood to local scholars and teachers, giving rise to Rabbinic Judaism. The period from the destruction of the temple onward give rise to heavy persecution by Christians throughout Europe and Russia. Many groundless stories were spread, accusing Jews of ritual murder, the desecration of the Catholic host and continuing responsibility for the execution of Jesus . Unsubstantiated rumors continue to be circulated today. In the 1930s and 1940s, Adolph Hitler and the German Nazi party drew on centuries of anti-Semitism, and upon their own psychotic beliefs in racial purity. They organized the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of all Jews in Europe. About 6 million were killed in one of the world’s greatest examples of religious and racial intolerance.The Zionist movement was a response within all Jewish traditions to centuries of Christian persecution. Their initial goal was create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The state of Israel was formed on MAY-18-1948. There are currently about 18 million Jews throughout the world. They are mainly concentrated in North America (about 7 million) and Israel (about 4.5 million). . Jewish Texts The Tanakh corresponds to the Jewish Scriptures, (often referred to as the Old Testament by Christians). It is composed of three groups of books: the Torah Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. the Nevi’im, the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Amos, etc. the Ketuvim, the “Writings” including Kings, Chronicles, etc.The Talmud contains stories, laws, medical knowledge, debates about moral choices, etc. It is composed of material which comes mainly from two sources: the Mishnah, 6 “orders” containing hundreds of chapters, including series of laws from the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled about 200 CE. the Gemara (one Babylonian and one Palestinian) is encyclopedic in scope. It includes comments from hundreds of Rabbis from 200 – 500 CE, explaining the Mishnah with additional historical, religious, legal, sociological, etc. material. It often records many different opinions on a topic without giving a definitive answer. Traditional Jewish Beliefs: They include: God is the creator of all that exists; he is one, incorporeal (without a body), and he alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible were revealed to Moses by God. It will not be changed or augmented in the future. God has communicated to the Jewish people through prophets. God monitors the activities of humans; he rewards individuals for good deeds and punishes evil.