Difference between revisions of "Christianity"
(although I like the irony of the speaking-in-tongues bit)
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[[Pascal's Wager|It is a pretty good deal if it's true.]]
[[Pascal's Wager|It is a pretty good deal if it's true.]]
==Origins and Early History==
==Origins and Early History==
Revision as of 20:37, 23 February 2010
Christianity is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion. Originally derived from a populist offshoot of 1st century Judaism, its central tenet is that Jesus Christ is God, incarnated on earth as "God the Son" in order to suffer and die to take the punishment for people's sins under the Mosaic Law so that anyone who believes in him can, by accepting this, dwell at God's side in Heaven in the eternal afterlife.
“”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.
Origins and Early History
Christians assert that their religion began suddenly with the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Although this is true in some ways, it tends to downplay the fact that Christianity was a continuation of centuries of Jewish theology, fused with Hellenistic mythology into the "Jesus mystery religion" described by Paul in his authentic New Testament epistles (ca. 52 to 58 CE). Note that these letters convey a strong sense that Paul knew nothing of the life and teachings of a recent historical Jesus who traditionally was executed in 26 to 36 CE.
Later (c. 65 to 80 CE) the Gospel of Mark provided some details about Jesus' ministry, probably drawing on oral tradition. The two other synoptic gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke (c. 70 to 100 CE) were based at least in part on Mark, while John varies significantly in specific details of the life of Jesus and shares less than a tenth of material with the other Gospels. The Acts of the Apostles were written at about this same time in order to present a history for the ministries of Jesus' alleged disciples.
Christian authors produced many more books during the first few centuries CE. Most were fraudulently attributed to traditional authorities in hopes that they would be accepted as reliable, although many were deemed inauthentic even in antiquity. Many of these later works blended further elements of Greek philosophy (in particular, neo-Platonism) with Christianity, which contributed greatly to later disputes over piddling fine points in theology that no one else could even understand.
Early Christianity owes less to verifiable history than to the attempts to resolve these disputes via debates over canonicity, theology and other doctrine. Heterodoxy within the church effectively ended with creeds established at the First Council of Nicaea, convened by order of the Roman emperor Constantine I in 325 CE. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE.
“”was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, and from thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
Apart from that, exactly what constitutes Christianity is often rather unclear, and varies widely depending on whom you talk to. The traditional definition is set down in three declarations of faith, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed; however, others have been devised. 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. Doctrine varies in strictness as well; the Catechism of the Catholic Church is highly systematized, while more liberal and/or decentralized denominations give wide latitude to individual worshippers and fundamentalist denominations profess very rigid and moralistic doctrines. (Pentecostals, as usual, are a special case, often focusing on the spiritual experience to the exclusion of a strict doctrine.)
At different times, Gnostics, Cathars, Protestants, Catholics, 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.
The most fundamental concept of Christianity is that due to the inherent imperfection of humanity (said to stem both by nature and, literally or metaphorically, from original sin — an act of disobedience by Adam and Eve, the first humans in the Bible), salvation, given by the grace of God, is required in order for humanity to proceed to the presence of God after death. Exactly how this is to be accomplished is a little vague, as there are various contradictory pronouncements on the matter; St. Paul maintained that one is justified by faith only, while St. James held that "faith without works is dead" and that one also needed to show their faith by living a good life. However, it is universally agreed that Jesus' extreme physical suffering and death as described in the Gospels were an atonement for the sins of the human race.
Some theories on exactly what people need to do to be saved are:
- Faith and works: The Catholic and Orthodox churches take a meritocratic view, claiming salvation through both faith and works (the RCC also has a heavy investment in social services in most countries in which it is active). This means that you need to believe in the sacrifice of Jesus and lead a good, moral, charitable life.
- Sola fide: Many Protestant believers, on the other hand, subscribe to the doctrine of sola fide ("by faith alone"), in which good works are unnecessary for salvation. Some Protestants maintain that baptism into the church is required for salvation, while others take a more decentralized view and hold that it is simply believing that does it; this is a process known as "becoming saved" or "being born again".
- Unconditional election: This 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 human. 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.
- Not thinking about it too much: Many Christians aren't really sure what they believe; they just try to lead good lives and hope for the best.
There is substantial debate over, once a person becomes saved, whether the salvation gained can ever be lost. Some denominational positions are as follows:
- Catholics and Orthodox believe that salvation can be lost by certain sins that have not been atoned for via the sacrament of confession.
- Lutherans believe that salvation can be lost by loss of faith.
- Methodists believe that salvation can be lost by straying from the path of Christian perfection.
- Calvinists (presbyterians, Congregationalists, some Baptists) believe that salvation cannot be lost ("perseverance of the saints").
The doctrine of "perseverance of the saints" does not jive well with reality in cases of apostasy, whereby it must be assumed that either someone can apostatize and remain in fellowship with God, or that the apostate was never truly a Christian in the first place. Many formerly sincere ex-Christians find the latter to be insulting, and many non-Christians find it to be a case of No True Scotsman.
Also, if anyone who is "saved" cannot be un-saved, that would imply that they have carte blanche to do whatever they want with no consequences in the afterlife — although that is really the whole point of Christianity, to be forgiven from one's sins.
Most Christians and all orthodox Christians subscribe to a concept known as the Holy Trinity, where the single God YHWH exists in three equal but distinct natures simultaneously -- God the Father (the God of the Old Testament), God the Son (i.e. Jesus, sometimes referred to as the Word), and the Holy Spirit (the force that protects and enables God's people on Earth). The exact way this is supposed to work is argued differently depending 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.
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 (the 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.
The Bible, or The Book of Jewish Folk-tales and Legends, with Christian Expansion, in Christianity's case meaning the Hebrew Tanakh (aka the Old Testament) and the Greek Gospel or New Testament, contains the fundamental founding documents of the religion; however, different denominations have different views on exactly what it says, how it is supposed to be interpreted, and even what it is. The Catholics and Orthodox include seven books that Protestants leave out, the deuterocanonical books, that were in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible but not in the original Hebrew
On one extreme, most Christian fundamentalists espouse a position of Biblical inerrancy, where everything stated in the Bible is to be taken literally and as is, with no additions; at another extreme is the "looseleaf Bible" approach of extreme liberal denominations such as the Unitarian Universalists, which allows the worshipper to consider anything as scripture that they find inspiring. 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 and can allow more of a role for the Church brass in interpreting the Bible.
- For more information on different denominational approaches to Biblical canon, see the Bible article.
Christianity and schism
Christianity is one of the most highly fragmented of all major religions, with thousands of denominations ranging in size from the billion-plus people baptized into the Roman Catholic Church 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 Saul of Tarsus (later, "Paul"), who preached a much more regimented theology than is recorded in the earliest known biographical writings such as the reconstructed Gospel of Q, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mark. Also, Paul made the hitherto unthinkable step of preaching Christianity to non-Jews, which caused a controversy regarding circumcision and the Mosaic Law that prompted the convening of the Council of Jerusalem (an account of which is found in Acts 15).
Subsequent doctrinal fights between groups such as the Arians, Marcionites, and the Gnostics led to the formation of the earliest version of the Roman Catholic Church under Emperor Constantine, while later tensions between Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire led to the Great Schism of Eastern and Western Christianity in the 1000s. Martin Luther's rejection of papal primacy in doctrinal interpretation led to the Protestant Reformation 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, which was built on dissenting forms of Protestantism from the ground up, 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 (ie cross-denominational) groups exist and function well at local level.
Christian apologetics is the field of study concerned with the systematic defense of Christianity. 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, the above-mentioned Pascal's Wager, assumes the benefits of belief outweigh the negatives.
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.
Although Christians acting in that capacity have historically been responsible for many deaths, a Christian apologist recently justified this saying, "The number of people killed in the name of Christianity pales in comparison to the number of people killed in the name of atheistic ideologies such as communism (Mao, Stalin)." This is an interesting example of the "not as bad as" argument.
- directly by God: more than 399,933 people, not counting those instances where a number is not provided (like "the Flood", a city, an army, ...)
- indirectly (by God's command): more than 2,017,956 people, not counting 65 entire cities.
- by Satan: 10.
Christianity and Religion
Although Christianity is mostly held to be a religion, any Christian worth his beans will tell you that Christianity is not a religion, but a "relationship with God." This distinction is likely due to the fact that True Christians seem to have a bit of a warped sense of a "true relationship".
As a part of the continued effort to dispel this "argument," the following Dictionary.com definitions are provided. Please note that facts are generally incompatible with religious debates with fundamentalists.
- a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
- a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
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 Byzantine Empire, prompting the emperor to appeal to the West for help. 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 often conducted at least partly in pursuit of wealth, territory or glory.
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.
I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.- Mahatma Gandhi
'Dad, what religion are we?' — 'You know... the one with all the well-meaning rules that don't work out in real life... Christianity!'- Bart and Homer Simpson
Christianity got too many lawyers and too few witnesses.- C.J. Hambro
Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.- Barry Goldwater
- Revealed religion
- Essay:Christianity and the 6th Commandment
- Pascal's Wager
- Talk:Good times virus hoax
- Essay:The Origin of Christianity
- King James Version
- 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 have more formal conversion processes.
- How obviously metaphorical writing is to be taken is sometimes a bit up in the air.
- See Wikipedia on the Gospel of Q
- 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 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.
- http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-820380763887160689 Video (at 10:00)
- And even those were contract killings for the Big Guy
- Lest this confuse you, remember that strong atheism is not a religion at all.
- Quotes: Carl Joachim Hambro (in Norwegian)