Bronze-level articleChristianity

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A multi-chef broth
Devil's in the details
The pearly gates
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
Thomas Jefferson[1]

Christianity is a monotheistic religion that grew out of Judaism as it was practiced between 200BCE-100CE. The primary distinction between Christianity and Judaism is the belief that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, and that he died and was risen as a final sacrifice for human's sin. Generally, under the "New Covenant," anyone who believes in the Son of God can dwell at God's side in Heaven in the eternal afterlife.

Christianity is the largest of the Abrahamic religions by number of adherents. Though it is divided into many denominations and sects, it has three major branches: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism - to find out where they came from, with indications of what they believe see the basic history of Christianity. Of course, the variety of beliefs between the branches and within the various denomination is huge. Primary disagreements include: the nature of God, the role of church authority, the validity of various texts, and the question of how people can "access" God.


[edit] Origins and early history

For God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

Christianity has its roots in a number of religious and philosophical traditions, including Jewish theology, Zoroastrian theology, and Hellenistic philosophy. The earliest forms of the religion (or cult, in the technical sense of the term) of Jesus appear to focus on Jesus as teacher and prophet, with messianic aspects only hinted at, depending on the church.[2] Paul, a leader of one of these distinct churches that would go on to become the dominant Church, described his and other "Christianities" in his New Testament epistles (ca. 52 to 58 CE). Other churches of note, which would go on to produce their own writings about Jesus, included the Church of Mary, the Church of Peter, the Church of Simon, and even the Church of Judas.

The Gospel of Mark (the first of the synoptic gospels, written in the latter half of the first century) provides some details of Jesus' ministry. The Gospel itself was likely based on oral tradition, and it offers scholars a clue about Jesus actual views and teachings, vs. what would be taught as "Christian" by Paul and the later "Christianity." A careful reading of Mark suggests that those early churches were as much political movements as they were religious, were actively challenging the authority of the Priesthood(s), and contained a strong sense of the individual's right to access God without priestly intercession.

The two other synoptic gospel accounts, Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke[3] and the Gospel of John begin to show the tears in the fabric as the Churches fight over the message and meaning of Jesus. Was Jesus a friend to the Jews and an enemy of the Romans, or the other way around?[4] Was Jesus mostly human, his miracles few? Or was he godly, largely a magician, performing tricks at every turn?[5]

Christian authors produced many writings during the first few centuries CE. A large selection of them come from a schism of Christianity that perhaps more closely reflects Jesus' views, the Gnostics. While many of their works are extant, Gnosticism in its various forms did not survive the political Canonization of the early Christian Empire. Many of these works blended elements of Greek philosophy (in particular, neo-Platonism) with Christianity, elements which contributed greatly to later disputes over piddling fine points in theology that no one else could even understand.

Two centuries after the death of Jesus, the political powers shifted, and a single dominant religion began to emerge, crushing all divergent philosophies, theologies, and texts out of existence, and creating the first "official" orthodoxy. The First Council of Nicaea, convened by order of the Roman emperor Constantine I in 325 CE, started the path to Paul's non-gnostic Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE.

Christianity prior of 4th century was religion of the people, especially the poor. However, since 380 AD, Christianity became a giant business, and the Church at large alienated itself from Jesus' ascetic life.

[edit] Doctrine

Taken as a whole, the only single requirement to be a Christian is the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he "died and was risen for our sins."

The Roman Catholic Church, and by extension the Protestant Churches, share many commonalities that begin with what was written in the Apostle's Creed, 390 C.E. [6]

was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried: he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
—Apostles' Creed

It is somewhat worth noting that each line in the Apostles' Creed marks a belief that was opposed or contested by a lesser Church at the time. Gnostics, for example, did not believe Jesus was flesh, therefore he was not born and did not die.

Each specific branch of Christianity, and each denomination within those branches, have other specific views about:

[edit] Theological issues

  • The nature of God - Is God one or three? Is God male, or is it also female, or all, or none?
  • The nature of Christ - Is Jesus loving? Is he a vengeful Redeemer?
  • The nature of saints - Is a saint worthy of veneration? Can saints grant prayers? Do saints even exist?
  • The nature of Mary (the mother of Jesus) - Can she heal people? Should she be worshiped? Was she a virgin all her life?
  • The nature of Sin - Is sin a representation of mere human failings? Is sin a true root of evil in all humans? Is personal sin (the things you yourself do) distinct from Original Sin, which every human shares regardless of their acts and deeds?
  • The nature of the Afterlife - Do the souls of believers go directly to heaven, or do they have to make a stopover in Purgatory if their lives weren't completely sinless? Or are they "asleep" until the return of Jesus?
  • Intercession - Can anyone speak with God, or do they require a go-between ordained by the Church?
  • Sacraments - What are they? Do they even exist? Are they necessary?

[edit] Church organizational issues

  • Priests - What is their role or should there even be priests?
  • Pope - Is there one head of the Church? Does he possess the power of infallibility, and how is he selected?
  • Liturgical language - What languages can or should be used?
  • What is the role of women in the Church? In society?
  • What about gays, abortion, and other "social" issues?
  • Which translation of the Bible should we use?
  • Is the Bible to be understood as literal truth?

Every time an important or trivial question could not be resolved, the Church splintered, leading to the host of denominations and sects that exist today.

At various times, Gnostics, Cathars, Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Quakers, Mormons, Universalists, and many other groups have been called heretical or non-Christian by other Christian groups. Historically, heresy was, in most Churches, considered an act equivalent to treason, and in situations where a Church had temporal power, disputes over doctrine led to massive persecution, torture, and murder. Not many people are bothered about heretics these days, though, and no one who is has any power; not yet, at least.

Theologians have long grappled with the idea of "What actually makes a Christian". Writer C.S. Lewis promulgated a definition known as "Mere Christianity," and some evangelical groups use the Four Spiritual Laws as a basic working definition for proselytization purposes.

[edit] Salvation

Probably the most fundamental concept of Christianity is that the inherent imperfection of humanity (caused by original sin according to some traditions) requires salvation, given by the grace of God, in order for humanity to reside in the presence of God after death.

[edit] Through Jesus

Prior to Christianity's take on the issue, salvation was in part accomplished by sacrificing animals to atone for a person's sins.[7] According to Christian doctrine[8] [9], Jesus was the final sacrifice. His death brought about the end of the necessity to make continual sacrifices and obey the thousands of laws that the Jews had. [10]

[edit] Deeds or Faith?

So if Jesus' death alone was not enough to rid the world, or more importantly, individuals, of sin, and allow one to reside with God, how exactly should one obtain one's salvation? As with every other theological doctrine, there are various schools of thought, but they mostly come down to faith and deeds, or some combination of those. Paul maintained that salvation is achieved mostly by faith[11], but he does include the need to lead a life free of serious sins[12] (although he never stated that those were the only requirements for salvation), and the author of the letter of James held that "faith without works is dead"[13] and that one also needed to show their faith by performing "good works." Originally, this included observing Jewish ceremonial rituals, such as circumcision and keeping kosher[14] , but later, in the process of reconciling Paul's and James's views, when the ceremonial law was declared to be "deadly," this came to encompass such actions as penitential prayers and charitable giving acts of charity. However, it is universally agreed that Jesus' sacrifice was an atonement for the sins of the human race.

Modern views on exactly what people need to do to be saved include:

  • Faith and works: The first view is that salvation lies in both faith and works. This means that one needs to believe in the sacrifice of Jesus and perform acts of penitence to be absolved of one's sins. Giving money to the Church, acts of charity to the needy, and so called "good deeds" are also – although not equally – important. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hold this position formally. Many Protestant Churches follow this view, although it is not generally the official doctrine.
  • Sola fide: The doctrine of sola fide ("by faith alone") states that good works are not strictly necessary for salvation, even though they are important for personal growth and being a "good Christian." However, except for a fringe minority of antinomians, Protestants believe that there is no obligation to live a moral and charitable life and that one does not need to perform works to be absolved of one's sins.[15] Anglicans and Lutherans maintain that baptism into the Church is required for salvation, while others take a more decentralized view and hold that mere belief is sufficient; this is a process known as "becoming saved" or "being born again."
  • Unconditional election: Unconditional election is a central tenet of Calvinism. In Calvinism, people have no free will; God is in complete control of the universe, and therefore God is the one who decides whether they have faith or not. Consequently, God must choose who is saved and who is not; those who are saved are known as the "elect," and have been elected unconditionally, with no regard to the beliefs or actions of each individual. Today, hyper-Calvinism, on which Dominionism is based, takes this idea to its logical extreme.
  • Universalism: This holds that Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient for all humanity's sins regardless of personal acceptance.

[edit] The Trinity

See the main article on this topic: Trinity

Most Christians, and all orthodox Christians, subscribe to a concept known as the Holy Trinity, where the single god exists in three equal but distinct persons simultaneously — God the Father, God the Son (i.e. Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The exact interaction and nature of the three depends on the theology of one's denomination; Martin Luther described it as one person filling three different roles, God the Father creating the universe, God the Son redeeming the people, and God the Holy Spirit doing the grunt-work of saving people afterwards.[16] The Athanasian Creed states that "God" is one and is the Father, who is not the Son, who is not the Holy Spirit, but all are God.

Trinitarianism is the majority and orthodox viewpoint within modern Christianity, but is not the only viewpoint. In particular, Unitarians traditionally recognize only a single person of God (many Unitarians today are part of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which also welcomes polytheists and atheists), while Oneness Pentecostals consider Jesus alone to be God. In addition, some ancient Christian sects rejected God the Father and focused on Jesus in a manner similar to Oneness Pentecostals. Outside Christianity, the concept of a Trinity is generally considered blasphemous or even polytheistic, or nonsensical at best.

[edit] The Bible

For more information on different denominational approaches to Biblical canon, see the Bible article.
Gutenberg detail.jpg
The Bible is Christianity's theological base. All Churches and denominations of Christianity share the 24 books of the Masoretic "Old Testament" and the 27 books of the "New Testament". One single major difference between the 3 main schools of Christianity, "Eastern Orthodox", "Roman Catholic Church", and the Protestant churches are the other books that are considered part of the Bible's canon. The Catholics and Eastern Orthodox include seven books, the deuterocanonical books, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize other texts from the Greek Septuagint.

Another critical difference between denominations is the way they interpret the Bible, who they think wrote it, and even the actual wording of the Bible. On one extreme, most Christian fundamentalists espouse a position of Biblical inerrancy, where everything stated in the Bible is to be taken literally[17]; at another extreme is the "looseleaf Bible" approach of extreme liberal denominations such as the Unitarian Universalists, which allows the worshiper to consider anything as scripture that they find inspiring[18]. The middle ground, adopted by mainline Protestantism as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, is biblical infallibility: the belief that the Bible was written as a spiritual text, not a historical or scientific text, and therefore is inspired as regards its moral and spiritual teachings, but is not necessarily accurate in regard to secular records and research. The Catholics and Orthodox have more leeway in doing this, as they are not reliant on the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and can allow more of a role for the Church brass in interpreting the Bible.

[edit] All schisms great and small, the Lord God made them all

Christianity supplies a Hell for the people who disagree with you and a Heaven for your friends.

Christianity is highly fragmented with thousands of denominations ranging in size from the billion-plus people baptized into the Roman Catholic Church[19] down to small, family-sized church groups.

The earliest schisms happened even before the Christian church was established, with the personal animosity between James, Peter, and the other original disciples and Paul of Tarsus.[20] The single most critical issue was Paul's belief that the religion should be brought to the Greeks, but this was by no means the end of the differences. Paul's theology was more regimented than what Jesus is likely to have taught and his theology was less political than Jesus'.

A second major fight looming at the time of the temple destruction, was the right to define the essence of the Christ figure. Jewish gnosticism had permeated the religious landscape for a few hundred years before the arrival of Christ. Strongly influenced by the Hellenistic world, Gnosticism posited a view of God (and with the arrival of Jesus on the scene, a view of Jesus) that was doctrinally incompatible with Paul's vision of Christianity. With the help of the Romans, the newly forming "Christian Church" under Paul, marginalized them, and targeted them for political destruction. Not much later, fights between groups such as the Arians, Marcionites, and Coptics led to the formation of the state church of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine (313 CE), of which the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are historical continuations.

The Great Schism of 1054 saw the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church, predominantly over views of the authority of the Pope, but of course there were many other theological and ecclesiastical reasons.[21]

Martin Luther's rejection of papal primacy in doctrinal interpretation led to the Protestant Reformation in 1517[22] and even further schism as Protestant and Catholic authorities simply refused to try to settle their differences and began to accuse each other of not even being Christian at all.

The Protestant doctrine of the "church invisible" — that the "One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church" is not a physical, temporal assembly like the Roman Catholic Church but instead a spiritually united structure showing limited to no temporal unity — has been particularly encouraging to schisms. In the modern United States, both because it was built on dissenting forms of Protestantism from the ground up and because of a literal right to freedom of religion, the tendency towards schism is especially strong. Large numbers of churches (particularly nondenominational fundamentalist, Baptist, and individual Congregational churches) are essentially denominations unto themselves, and even members of mainline churches such as Catholicism and the Anglican Communion have rejected the authority of church hierarchy, generally over increased liberalism in the church's thinking. For example, the Northern Baptist vs. Southern Baptist schism in the United States was over slavery and other racial issues—the Northern Baptists were largely neutral or abolitionist in their thinking, while the Southern Baptists made heavy use of scripture condoning slavery to maintain their position that it was not only justified, but even required.

Members of mainline churches such as the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches have occasionally talked about reconciliation or reunification. While full communion has not been achieved between Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant groups, most mainline Protestant groups have entered into full communion agreements with each other; for example, the Porvoo Communion uniting Protestant churches across Northern Europe, or agreements between the Episcopal, liberal Lutheran, and United Methodist churches in the United States. However, while formal reconciliation is a long way off, many ecumenical (i.e. cross-denominational) groups exist and function well at local level.

[edit] Fundamentalist Christianity

See the main article on this topic: Fundamentalism

Fundamentalist Christianity is an almost uniquely American version of Christianity, though they have been all too happy to share it with the rest of the world, especially countries in Africa where they can use the poverty to their proselytizing advantage. RationalWiki on the whole, takes a very poor view of fundamentalists because they tend to push a Christianity that is incompatible with science, and also rather sexist, racist, and homophobic. Fundamentalism as a sect is generally accepted as an early 20th century phenomenon, but it didn't get the attention it deserved until the 1980's with the election of Ronald Reagan who highlighted his religious views within his position as elected official. This emboldened the fundamentalists to come out of the woodwork, trying to pass laws to counter the humanist acceptance of such things as abortion rights and homosexual rights. In the beginning of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election virtually every Republican candidate for president was a Christian fundamentalist.[23] Fundamentalist Christians tend to believe in the following:

  • A literal, infallible Bible. (usually, the English "King James")
    • From that, a literal creation, a literal flood, and a young Earth
    • A desire to discredit evolution, geography, physics and other sciences that would disprove a young Earth or a "created" Earth.
  • A sense that morality is very "Black and White".
    • Abortion is wrong.
    • Homosexuality is wrong.
    • Atheists are more evil than child rapists, murderers, dictators etc., who can easily be forgiven of their sins as long as they believe the Bible.
    • Anyone who does not wholeheartedly believe in their interpretation of Christ will be tortured forever in Hell.

American fundamentalist Christians twist religion with other political and "patriotic" issues:

  • America is a Christian Country
  • The Founders were 'Good Christian Men'
  • Elected officials should not just be proud of their religion, they should push religious based laws.
  • The US is better than other countries because we are Christian, we keep in God's favor. Other more secular countries (like France) are seen as historical failures.
  • Religious laws are good and proper. Judges should vote on their religion when looking at challenged laws, not on the secular rights.

[edit] Christian apologetics

See the main article on this topic: Christian apologetics

Christian apologetics is the field of study concerned with presenting a "rational" basis for Christianity thereby defending Christianity against criticism. Prominent Christian apologists include Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, and (in his pre-Pope days, in his role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) Pope Benedict XVI.

For example, with regard to the divinity of Jesus, it is often argued that "Jesus was either telling the truth, he was a liar, or he was a lunatic" ("Mad, Bad or God" for short) an argument called the "Lewis trilemma" after its most famous promoter, C.S. Lewis. Another, Pascal's Wager, is an attempt to trick God, and assumes the benefits of belief outweigh the negatives.[24]

Such arguments have limited utility in converting people to Christianity. While Christian apologetics can be useful for making a would-be Christian feel as though he is not moving in an irrational direction, faith based on logical arguments is subject to attack with logical responses, e.g., by arguing that Jesus never even walked the Earth, or that a supernatural entity that cannot be observed also cannot affect our universe.

Apologists have also been accused of using the logical fallacy of assuming the conclusion, that is, assuming that their faith is in fact the truth and then trying to support it logically, a variant of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.

[edit] Relationship with God

Christianity sees God as a personal God who interacts with each person individually, in a way very reminiscent to being another human. While Catholic priests take on the mantle of responsibility of Jesus and essentially act as Jesus-like figures to the Church[25], other members of the Church have varying relationships with God. Nuns literally marry Jesus, and some of the more extreme mystics, in particular St. John of the Cross and St. Theressa of Avila, write of their relationship with Jesus as that of a lover to his or her Bride, including moments of what can only be called sexual intimacy, never mind that they're not supposed to have sex, period.

Most Protestants have a less sexual view of God, and talk of God or Jesus as "a friend," "a brother," or "a parent." But they still see the relationship as a direct one-on-one relationship, where God or Jesus helps you, personally. Common requests include asking Jesus to do such nice things as "help me find my keys," "win our football game," and "Bless our bread," but crucial problems such as curing AIDS, or help babies who are dying of disease or starvation may be swept under the rug by more superficial folks.

Pastors within the various Protestant religions try to encourage this one-on-one relationship, and talk about the root or core of the Christian faith as far more this direct relationship than the dogma that surrounds the religion, which to them is far less important. Several pastors have gone so far as to claim that Christianity is not even a religion.[26] The goal here is to get people deeply committed to their "relationship" with God while ignoring the man-made traditions that have plagued Christians for centuries. The idea is that closeness to God will show through positively in a person's life, and no religious acts are necessary to demonstrate true faith. Religious acts only distance followers from the God who loves them and turns nonbelievers against the faith.

[edit] The Crusades

Main Article: The Crusades.

In the eleventh century, the Muslims, who had conquered the Holy Land, began persecutions of Christian pilgrims who were coming there. Concurrently, Muslims began launching assaults on the Eastern remnant of the Roman Empire (more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire), prompting the emperor to appeal to the West for help.

Thus began a series of ugly religious wars. Centuries later, they would be called 'crusades'.

The Pope drummed up an army by promising massive spiritual rewards to anyone who fought to reconquer Jerusalem. This was done in 1099 and 50,000 of the "heathens" (Muslims, Jews, and Christians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time) were murdered, but He still did not turn up (unless He was somewhere under the piles of corpses). Gaudefroi de Bouillon, the First Crusade leader, boasted that he rode his horse through the Holy Sepulchre knee deep in the blood of the unbelievers.

Modern Christians have argued that maybe the Crusaders were not the proper sort of Christians, although they obviously thought they were. It should be noted that so-called 'holy' wars, of any religion, were invariably conducted in pursuit of wealth, territory or glory (or as often as not, all three).

Interestingly, the Fourth Crusade started with the intention of reconquering the holy land but they later realized that they had no way to pay the Venetians their boat fares. To settle this issue, they simply decided to sack the Christian city of Constantinople, permanently crippling the already weak Byzantine remnant of the Roman Empire.

[edit] Christianity in Asia

Christianity holds a special place in East Asia, because of its continuous growth. Although originally seen as inimical to social values and traditional belief, Christianity is gradually gaining ground in East Asia as conversion continues, mostly as an after-effect of globalization, the perceived affirmation of Western values in the wake of the Cold War and Christianity's insistence on proselyzation by its devotees.

The Philippines and East Timor, being former colonies of Spain and Portugal respectively, are the only predominantly Christian (Catholic in particular) countries in Asia. Both are located in the Southeast region of the said continent. Christianity is also relatively popular in South Korea, but this may have to do with certain coincidences between ancient Korean folk religion and Christianity (namely, both worship a "Son of God").[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Jefferson quotes
  2. "Church" in this context, simply means a small collection of people following a supposed disciple of Jesus. They were, by and large, informal bodies, known more by their location than the name of the person they followed. For convention and convenience, they are often referred to by the writings they would later produce.
  3. (c. 70 to 100 CE or later) (based in part on Mark)
  4. The passion stories found in each of the 4 Gospels show a shift away from the "enemy" of Jesus being the Romans, to the enemy being the Jews. For further information on this, see: JD Crossan, Who Killed Jesus,1996
  5. The Gospel of John is largely a gnostic gospel; Jesus is God, not human (or less human), and John emphasizes this by having him perform many miracles
  6. Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, Gnostics and other groups do not use the Apostle or Nicene creeds.
  7. It is important to keep in mind that the Jewish concept of sin is quite different from the Christian concept and that Jews do not share the concept of Original Sin.
  10. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Matthew 23:36, Mark 13:30-31
  11. Romans 3:28
  12. 1 Corinthians 6:9
  13. James 2:17
  14. One of the first detailed theological splits in the early "proto-Christian" community, was triggered by the argument as to what level the new Church would appeal to Gentiles. Paul was of a mind that the most important conversions were of the Greeks, and therefore Mosaic laws were unappealing. Peter, and by extension, James, disagreed; they felt that the new Christianity was, at its core, Jewish. Clearly, Paul's views won out
  15. Many "born again" believers simply undergo a brief profession of faith known as the "Sinner's Prayer," very similar to the Islamic shahadah; other Churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, have more formal conversion processes.
  17. How obviously metaphorical writing is to be taken is sometimes a bit up in the air.
  18. The Church of the SubGenius uses the same rule.
  20. Though there are no surviving records of what Jesus taught, nor are there records from the various non-Paulene churches, scholars have recreated their idea of what these churches likely believed by analysis of what was said about them, as well as analysis of the Q document and the Gospel of Thomas
  21. Ecclesiastical reasons: Authority of the pope, which texts were canonical, celibacy of priests, right to divorce; Theological: Original sin vs., ancestralial sin, inherant faith of humans, and free will.
  22. Give or take. The date is, like most things, disputed by different Protestant churches
  23. See: Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum
  24. Many non-Christian students of religion feel that both arguments, whether they are or are not sound in their logic, are based on faulty premises; the Lewis trilemma assumes that Jesus said all that was attributed to him (and was not honestly mistaken to boot), and Pascal's Wager assumes that the choice of belief will automatically be the correct one; with many choices of a "correct" path within Christianity alone, many claiming to be mutually exclusive, this is something of a long shot.
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