Friday, October 4, 2019

Christianity and Islam Essay Example for Free

Christianity and Islam Essay A few months ago, when a Vatican official announced that Catholicism was surpassed by Islam as the world’s largest faith, many news agencies around the world carried what seemed to have been a largely unnoticed issue for this present generation – religion. At least for some time, renewed debates about whether or not one should indeed consider Islam as a religion that commands world’s largest followers surfaced one after another. The issue many people think should not be dismissed is the fact that Christianity – a religion which combines an array of all its offshoots namely Roman Catholicism, Orthodox, Protestantism, Anglicanism, Evangelicals, among others – still has the largest adherents compared to any other religion, including Islam. Even if Christianity may be broken down into some larger or other smaller denominations, many people subscribe to idea that since all Christians root their belief in Christ, one must take them as belonging to a singular religion, the largest in the world to be exact. To consider Christianity as a single religion involves rounds of new separate debates. Surely, when the differences between the mainstream Christian blocks and the thousand of other minor denominations are brought into the fore, their respective beliefs will manifest diversity, resemblance, opposition, and even contradiction. Tedious as this process may appear, one may not yet consider the fact that even in the Islam religion itself there are further classifications of membership that must be taken into careful account. Again, it is legitimate to inquire whether it is proper to take Islam as a unitary religion, or they too must be broken down into their finer types. As one may correctly observe, inner divisions within the world’s largest religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. – appear to be a fundamentally given fact. One can perhaps inquire whether it is possible to identify a major religion with millions, if not a billion of adherents, which does not have any, or have not suffered from any inner rift at any given point of its history. It may be interesting to ask therefore, what accounts for the eventual internal fall out of world religions in history? Better yet, how must we attempt to understand what happens in a religion that has been divided into smaller aggregate types in the course of history? II. Rationale and Scope This brief study presents a case for divisions transpiring within world religions. But since the scope of studying the issue is broad (considering that there are many major world religions to cite), this research shall be restricted at tackling Christianity and Islam as chosen types. Specifically, the study shall describe the events that transpired during the Catholic-Protestant divide of the mid 1500’s for Christianity, and the Shiite-Sunni divide for Islam. To be sure, there are other identifiable divisions which can be noted in the history of Christianity. While there are small schisms involving â€Å"heretics† who refuse to accept fundamental Christian teachings, Christianity is said to have been divided into two major blocks during the 11th century. It produced the dichotomization between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, which until the present still exists. For the purposes of limiting this study, the Christian division which shall be discussed in this study shall dwell on the Luther-led Reformation of the 1500’s. Meanwhile, it is also insightful to note even in the Islam religion, there have been various types of smaller divisions and schisms. For the purposes of this study too, the rift between the Shiites and the Sunnis that was created in the early years of Islam religion shall be the one in focus. A short analysis and interpretation of the sample religions used shall comprise the conclusion of this study. III. Discussion Proper a. Nature of Religion Before relating the events defining the divisions that were experienced both by Christianity and Islam, it will be helpful to cite some theories to help explain the dynamics of religion. This is important since it shall provide a working perspective which is to be used later on in the analysis. Religion is a phenomenon which may be understood in many ways. Basically speaking, it refers to the common innate feeling or â€Å"belief in a Supreme Being† (McCutcheon, 2007, p. 22). Religion obviously stems from a belief that there is a higher being that must be worshiped or adored. But religion does not pertain to kind of personal belief alone. It also describes how a believer finds the need to belong to a community which shares the same belief, and thus obey a given set of rules within it. Thus, another definition for religion may also be expressed as a â€Å"unified system of belief and practices relative to sacred things† which â€Å"unites (believers) into one single moral community† (McCutcheon, 2007, p. 22). Combing both definitions enable one to fully appreciate the fact that religion pertains to both a personal ascent to God, and a commitment to a community, a set of rules and a specific set rituals. When seen under the lenses of scientific inquiry (e. g. anthropology, sociology, philosophy, etc. ) religion reveals patterns and dynamism consistent with human belief system, knowledge, interest and relationships. This means that religion is molded into the belief system of the believers. For instance, if Christians hold that Christ in his lifetime was compassionate to the poor, it follows that they too, since they follow Christ, must do something good for their less fortunate brethren. Or if Moslems take Mohammad as their example, and Mohammad was a deeply spiritual man, they too must not take spirituality lightly in their lives. Religious mindset is committed to certain courses of action (Slater, 1978, p. 6); and these actions are meaningful only because believers draw their identities from a person or a belief system they embrace – be it the Lordship of Christ, or the greatness of the Prophet Muhammad (Slater, 1978, p. 82). This is one of the primary reasons why religions possess their â€Å"continuing identities† (Slater, 1978, p. 82). So long as a group of Christians identify themselves to the teachings of their religion, say Catholic Church, they will remain to be Catholics. As indeed, so long as a group of Moslems identify themselves to the teachings of their religion, say Shiite group, they will remain to be identified with it. What explains the shift in a belief system is when one cannot anymore identify either with a teaching, or specific religious structures. It is a general rule that key to a religion’s perpetuity is establishing an identity. When people start to feel alienated with what they used to hold or believe it, it can explain why a group of believers create their own groups to accommodate their otherwise alienated belief system. To help establish the point, it may be good to lay down two glaring examples. b. The Shiite-Sunnis Divide Islam was born at least five hundred years after Christianity was already an institutionalized religion. But what started out only as a small community following Muhammad, Islam grew in exponential proportion in just a short span of time. Within the rapid growth came bitter disputes and eventual breakaways. Although Islam is a religion which does not readily recognize that there are divisions within them, scholars are almost unanimous in agreeing that some factions already broke from within the Moslem community dating back to the days when the religion itself was merely beginning to be established. In a sense, Islam is a religion broken down into at least two major divisions even before it got to be formally established as a religious phenomenon. It all started when a certain man named Muhammad, who by the way was born in 570 to a very poor family, begun to attract followers after experiencing visions and revelations (Renard, 1998, p. 7). His reputation spread in neighboring places, and soon found himself at odds with ruling empires for the large number of followers he had gathered. After this increasingly expanding community finally settled in Mecca in 630, Muhammad would die two years after (Renard, 1998, p. 7). His death would then see his community figure in a prolonged tug-of-war for rightful succession, and would officially begin the drift within the newly established religious community. One group claimed that Muhammad chose his rightful successor in the person of his son named Ali before he died. The other group contested the claim and said, no instructions were made by the Prophet whatsoever. Instead, they held that it was appropriate for to appoint leaders themselves, and eventually chose Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law, as the first of the four caliphs (meaning head), to rule the Islam community. Those who embraced the leadership of Ali were eventually known as the Shiites, while the followers who believed Abu Bakr’s caliphate eventually came to be known as Sunnis. As such, the neat separation within the just-emerging Islamic religion has been established. Since it exists up until today, it can be described as the â€Å"largest institutional division within the Muslim community† so far (Renard, 1998, p. 13; Ayoub, 2004, 72). c. The Catholic-Protestant Divide The era that colored the Catholic-Protestant divide was a Church marred with controversies, silent disenchantment and an ever growing discontent among Christian faithful. As history would show, it was through and because of Martin Luther – and his whole ebb generating protests against the Church – that the radical break from Catholicism was to be established. But hundreds of years before the supposed break, there had already been numerous events that point to the restlessness within the membership of the Church which it tried to quell. What were the controversies about? As early as the 1300’s, roughly two hundred years before Luther was born, an ordained priest by the name of John Wycliffe started to publish series of attacks against some of the major teachings and traditions of the Church. In 1372, he was summoned and reprimanded by Church authorities for his teachings that dwelled on the following: his denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation (a belief that the bread and wine used in celebrating the Eucharist is transformed into the real body and blood of Christ), attacks on the authority of the Pope as the head of the Church, corrupt practices within the Church, and emphasis on preaching and the use of Scriptures for teaching the doctrines of the Church (Cook, 2008, p. 95). Wycliffe probably represented the first courageous voices which tried to confront what’s wrong with the Church. In fact, he did try to raise legitimate concerns about both the divisive doctrines and lamentable discipline which the Church at that time practiced. Years after, Luther would pick up from where his predecessors had left out. In 1517, he released his Ninety-Five Theses to the public – a collection of ninety-five protests against many Church teachings – both doctrinal and moral – and Church practices, such as indulgences (spiritual merits obtained in return for monetary donations), celibacy (the promise for priests not to marry), Eucharist, among others (Cook, 2008, p. 100). Since the general religious atmosphere at that time was already ripe for reforms, his ninety-five theses were easily duplicated and spread throughout the German empire – a testament, as it were, to a huge popular support he enjoyed for the risks he took. Luther’s break from the Church was formally established when he burned the Papal bull Exsurge Domine (a decree which threatened him of excommunication if he did not recant his protests) in front of many people in a public square (Cook, 2008, 101). After which, he did subsequently ask the authorities of the German kingdom to support his cause for Church reform. Luther is remembered as a man who broke the Catholic Church apart. True enough, even before he died, he already saw the far reaching effects of his call for reforms he perhaps initially did not intended to jumpstart. Thanks to Luther, Christianity would never be the same again. The â€Å"Germany after (the) Reformation† movement in the mid 1500’s became a home to a new breed of Christians who came to be branded as Lutherans, Calvinist, Reformers, or even Protestants (Pennock, 2007, p. 168). In principle, Luther earned the reputation of being an agent of division within the Christian religion. IV. Conclusion To be sure, Christianity and Islam are not the only major religions in the world which had suffered a kind of break-up from within. Religious divisions are commonplace, and that variations sprouting from within large communities may be brought about by various factors. When divisions occur, one normally observes that differences pertaining to a host of issues including (but not limited to) doctrines, practices, or even recognized leadership become patent. As earlier mentioned, the dynamics of religion may help explain why a feeling of alienation (or a loss of identity) can push a believer or a group to break-away from mainstream religion to form their own set of practices and norms independently. Christianity and Islam were taken as exemplifications. In the points that were developed, it was seen that they share a history with lots of bitter disputes, which in turn led to an eventual division. But both religions suffered from internal rifts quite differently as well. Islams division was more political in nature, as two major factions with their respective claims to rightful succession to their now-dead Prophet-leader tore the emerging community apart thus, the Sunnis and the Shiites. Christianity on the other hand, after experiencing many breakaway groups in the course of history, had to suffer yet another major blow from internal disputes led by Martin Luther in the 1500s on account of doctrine and practices. What followed was a Christian religion torn once again, which ushered the creation of a big faction named Protestants. Religious divisions can be put under rigorous inquiry. There are viewpoints that consider these divisions as something that separate one group after another, while there are those who propose to see the same divisions as something that merely distinguish (but not separate). While the two viewpoints may be valid in their respective senses, this study places much interest not on their â€Å"distinguishability† or â€Å"separability†, but on the fact that, truly, religious divisions from within happen. References Ayoub, M. (2004). Islam. Faith and History. Oxford: Oneworld. Cook, C.. (2008) The Routledge Companion to Christian History. New York: Routledge. McCutcheon, R. (2007). Studying Religion. An Introduction. London: Equinox. Pennock, M. (2007) This is Our Church. A History of Catholicism. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press. Renard, J. (1998)101 Questions and Answers on Islam. New York: Paulist Press. Slater, P. (1978). The Dynamics of Religion. Meaning and Change in Religious Traditions. San Francisco: Harper and Row. (Also consulted) http://ca. news. yahoo. com/s/capress/080330/world/vatican_muslims

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