The Common Origins of the World’s Major Religions



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Nick Meeker

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The Common Origins of the World’s Major Religions

All too often in modern society it is the differences and conflicts that serve to separate religious groups that are emphasized. The mainstream media, fundamentalists’ propaganda, and other sources choose to ignore the numerous similarities that many religions share, and instead focus on the divisive elements. In this paper, I will attempt to shed light on the many commonalities in dogma that I believe exist between the major religions of the world. I also want to illustrate the fact that in addition to having similar core teachings, many religions have histories that have either endured or arisen during times of persecution. It is ironic that in many cases, the persecution that a particular group faces happens to be at the hands of the mainstream of a society who at one time or another had been persecuted themselves for their religious beliefs.



Above is a chart showing the population of the followers in millions of several religions


Throughout the history of civilization, religion has played an essential role in many societies. There are many reasons why religions have played such a prominent role in defining the culture of a society, but arguably the most notable of these reasons is that a belief or faith in a spiritual or divine power can add meaning and significance to may people’s worldly lives. This phenomenon has proven to be especially true amongst persecuted peoples. One of the reasons why persecuted peoples have shown a great propensity for holding steadfast religious beliefs is that their faith can give them a sense of hope and reason for living despite the terrible conditions of persecution. Evidence of this can be seen in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies. All three of these societies have been subjected to varying forms of persecution at some point in their respective histories, and many historians have pointed to the group’s steadfast religious beliefs as one of the major sources for their resiliency.
Judaism

The Jewish Bible points to Abraham and the covenant that God made with him in the Book of Genesis. Yahweh’s people as they are known, today Jews account for over fourteen million people. Throughout their history, Jews have been persecuted for their faith as much as, if not more than the followers of any other faith. From having the first temple of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC to internment in Nazi concentration camps in the twentieth century, Jews communities have remained solidly united through belief in the Diaspora and the goal of reestablishing the state of Israel.1 Finally, in 1948, Israel once again regained its sovereignty; however, this has not brought an end to the suffering and conflict that seems to have characterized Jewish life since its inception.



Above is a picture of an original copy of the famous manuscripts from the Tora.

Central to Jewish dogma, is adherence to the Torah, or the Jewish Bible. The Torah, which is composed primarily of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. While the most notable split from traditional Judaism can be seen in the origins of Christianity, other breakings include Conservative and Reform movements in the nineteenth century.

One of the greatest prophets in the Jewish tradition is Moses. Living at around the thirteenth century BC, Moses is accredited with delivering the Jewish Israelites from the harsh oppression of the Egyptian emperor. According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was supposed to be killed at birth because of an Egyptian law stating that all newborn Israelite boys were to be put to death. However, after a clever plot by Moses’ mother which spared his life, Moses grew up in Egypt unaware of his Jewish ancestry. After killing one of the Egyptian slave masters, Moses was forced to flee so that he would not be punished. It was during this time, that God revealed himself to Moses and told him that he was to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land for the Israelites.



Above is a picture of the contemporary Israeli flag. Israel regained its sovereignty in 1948.


In Contemporary Jewish Philosophies, William Kauffman presents the dominant theories of several prominent Jewish thinkers of the modern era. One of the most interesting of these theories comes from Richard Rubenstein. Rubenstein argues that in the post-Auschwitz age, it is no longer practical for the modern Jew to be always compliant, or submissive. Instead, Rubenstein argues that the modern Jew must take a stand in defending his faith and change the “image of the Jew from one of powerlessness to one of power.”2 While theories such as these are definitely instrumental in building a religious identity, they also run perilously close to the dangers that come with fundamentalism. Namely, the militant form of Judaism that can be seen practiced by many in the modern state of Israel departs greatly from the core of Judaic teaching.

Christianity

After tabulating all of the various denominations, Christians outnumber the followers of any other religious faith in accounting for just over one-third of the world’s population. Roman Catholics represent the largest branch of Christianity, with approximately one billion people who profess allegiance to the Pope. Christianity originated from a section of Jews who began to follow Jesus in the first century. These disciples believed that Jesus was the Messiah who had been sent by God to redeem mankind.



Above is a chart of the breakdown of the various Christian denominations of the world as of 1991.


During the time of Jesus’ life and after his death, early Christians were heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire. It was not until Constantine I came to power in 312 and issued the Edict of Milan that Christians were accepted into Roman society. The early church was guided St. Paul, and continued to be led by successive popes until the Protestant Reformation occurred in Europe in the sixteenth century.

The Protestant Reformation was led by individuals such as John Wycliffe and Martin Luther who opposed the abuses of power and corruption that was prevalent throughout the Catholic Church in medieval times. The posting of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses on a church door is the pointed to by many to be the symbolic beginning of the reformation. Soon after declaring the injustices that he saw within the church hierarchy, Luther was excommunicated from the Church. In the wake of Luther’s excommunication, numerous other reformers began other denominations that each varied in the extent to which they departed from traditional Catholic teachings. Episcopalians are generally thought to be the closest of the reformed denominations to the Catholic Church; however, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Baptists all have several similarities with one another.



In modern society, the origins that Christianity has in Judaism are often overlooked or disregarded. In his book Rabbi Jesus, Bruce Chilton examines many of the commonalities of tradition that exist between the Jewish and Christian faiths. One clear example of this can be seen in the Jewish observance of the Passover. On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, he celebrated the feast of Passover with his disciples at the Last Supper. The breaking of the bread and drinking from the cup were adopted by many Christian religions as a part of their Eucharistic ceremony. In fact at several Christian churches around the United States, such as the Epworth United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona, pastors encourage the congregation to celebrate the feast of Passover when it occurs in March for the purposes of trying to reconnect with their Jewish heritage.3 Many Christian pastors also emphasize to their congregations that within the Bible, God takes special care to mention that the Jews are His chosen people.

Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of the Last Supper






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