Western Religions Given the Remarkable Diversity Term Paper

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Western Religions

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Given the remarkable diversity within each Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it seems silly to generalize about the broader differences between the three "religions of the Book." Yet even though Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all stemmed from the same geographical area and to an extent, the same ideological and theological foundations, the three religions of the Book have diverged from one another theologically and culturally so much so that major wars have been fought -- and continue to be fought -- between them. The similarities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have become nearly superficial, such as the belief in one and only one God. Monotheism alone cannot unify three such distinct traditions, and the differences between the religions of the Book far outweigh their similarities, especially in the ways those three religions manifest in and guide secular society. All three religions have made a remarkable impact on human civilization. Judaism is by far the most ancient, and might have indirectly spawned Christianity and to an extent Islam as well. Its deep roots reflect the common threads shared with Christianity and Islam as well. For example, all three religions not only believe in one God but also in similar moral codes. At their most orthodox manifestations, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam advocate the subjugation of women to men, and all three religions contain a built-in militaristic, fanatical component that has sparked wars and ideological strife. However, only Judaism has practiced a laissez-faire approach to the religion, per se, and has never except for extreme anomalies sought to attract converts or influence the trajectories of whole cultures in the way that both Christianity and Islam have done.

Term Paper on Western Religions Given the Remarkable Diversity Within Assignment

Christianity and Islam can be said to be far more evangelical than Judaism: the first major and most glaring sociological and political difference between the three faiths. Liberal stains of Judaism permits converts but in some orthodox sectors only the mother's ancestry determines the child's religious birthright. In this sense, Judaism is formulated at the core to be a matrilineal culture that sharply differs from the patrilineal traditions of Christianity and Islam. However, none of the three faiths can be said to be matriarchal: none have espoused a system of female priesthood or female civil leadership. All three faiths have undergone major transformations within the past century regarding women's. Protestant branches of Christianity may have made the greatest inroads in allowing women to participate equally in religious services due to the essentially egalitarian theories underlying Protestant ideology, especially in North America. More recently, Protestant churches have permitted female clergy members and Protestant-led cultures like the United States have borne witness to female secular leaders too. Female leadership is nearly non-existent within the Catholic Church, although Catholic cultures have supported women's role in civil politics. The Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, all of which evolved in the 20th century, have witnessed the ordination of female Rabbis and a small number of Orthodox women have become Rabbis in recent years (Hein 2006). Most Orthodox congregations, however, continue to be led by male rabbis and follow the age-old tradition of segregated seating for men and women. Muslim cultures have perhaps been the most scrutinized of all three religions of the Book regarding the role of women in secular society because of the overt restrictions on women's rights in some Islamic theocracies. Some women have served as imam -- ironically in China, a nation not known for its overall respect for the female sex -- but for the most part, women's status within the religious and social hierarchies remains low ("Women as Imams").

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam differ significantly with respect to their history, beliefs, customs, and religious worship. Judaism began at least a thousand years before Christianity, which began about five hundred years before Islam. All three faiths are predicated on the belief in one supreme deity who is referred to through a masculine pronoun in religious texts and in common vernacular. The supreme deity is referred to by different names in each of the three faiths. According to Jewish writings, Moses was one of the only human beings ever to have known the true name of God, which was revealed when Moses led the Jews out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. However, the name of God was revealed to Moses as a mystical tautology translated into English as "I am that I am," or "I will be as I will be." God is therefore perceived more in verb form than as even a proper noun. Moreover, most Jews do not utter or print the name of God and many will write God to emphasize the ineffability of God's name. God's name is endowed with super-human spiritual power, and according to tradition, to utter the name of God would be akin to meeting God face-to-face, which would entail death. Some non-Jews refer to the God of the Hebrew Bible as "Yahweh" as an attempt to re-create the name of God from the four Hebrew letters that God revealed to Moses and which mean roughly "I am that I am." The God of the Hebrew Bible is also portrayed as distant as well as vengeful and the peoples of the Book are all staunchly opposed to animism and other forms of paganism. Both Christianity and Islam inherited the fundamental features of the supreme God from the Jewish canon.

Whereas most Jews, regardless of whether they are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist, agree to the general nature of God, various sects of the Christian tradition have long debated God's nature and role in the world. Like the Jews, Christians ultimately believe in one supreme deity that is simultaneously external to and integral in human affairs. However, by definition Christianity centers on belief in Jesus Christ as the only son of God, leading to the concept of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is unique to Christianity and has no parallel in either Judaism or Islam. Neither Judaism nor Islam proposes the potential existence of a son of God or a divine birth like Christianity does. Although there is room for some type of messianism in both Judaism and Islam, the messiah need not be perceived of as God's son as Jesus is perceived to most Christians.

The Christian faith was founded precisely on the teachings of a man who is believed to be at least partly divine and who, according to the writings of the apostles that comprise the New Testament, declared himself to be the Son of God. Some recent divisions of Christianity including the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have denied the existence of the Holy Trinity while still referring to Jesus Christ as "Lord" but in general most Christians conceive of God the Father as different from God the Son and God as Holy Spirit, the third and most elusive aspect of the Trinity.

Like the Jews, Muslims do not believe that God has ever manifested in human form as the Christians believe. The Muslim God, Allah, is clearly based on the God of the Hebrew Bible. All three faiths encourage absolute submission to God but perhaps nowhere more so than in Islam: the name of the religion itself means "submission to God."

Prayer, religious practice, religious custom, and religious ritual are integral to all three religions of the Book. However, the ways Judaism, Christianity, and Islam approach personal and collective worship differ somewhat significantly, leading to outward differences that disguise the inner similarities between the faiths. For example, Islam's Five Pillars are nowhere to be found in the canons of either Judaism or Christianity. At the same time, elements of the Five Pillars resemble the Jewish concept of Covenant with God, which informs the halakah. The Five Pillars include Shahadah, the declaration of belief in one and only one God Allah and that Muhammad is God's prophet; Salat, prayer five times per day; Zakat, almsgiving; Sawm, fasting; and Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam's Five Pillars are more concise than Jewish halakah, which contains hundreds of specific laws called mitzvoth. Included among the mitzvoth are the Jewish kosher dietary laws that are customary among most Orthodox Jews. No set of customary laws similar to those outlined in the same detail as the Five Pillars or the halakah has been central to Protestant Christianity since the schism with Catholicism. Unlike most Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church continues to honor the practice of the sacraments as customs and as religious rites of passage, including Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony. Baptism and matrimony remain the only two sacraments still central to Protestant Christianity.

The outward practices of religion often comprise the bulk of their character and draw the most attention because of their tangibility. In other words, it is easier to point out differences between Christian and Jewish worship than it is to discuss differences between Christian and Jewish theology. Each of the three faiths of the Book includes the following in common: a house of worship specific to that faith;… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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