I never thought I would be learning so much about the worlds religions from World History class. My World History teacher here at Northland takes a tremendous amount of time, when we talk about a civilization, to tell us about that civilizations religious beliefs. The goal being, to instill in us a respect for them. In many situations, with the formations of these religions, you can't help but respect them for their dedication. People like the Jainists who didn't believe in killing anything, and went to far as to carry a broom around with them so that they could sweep away bugs in order to not step on them, and would even wear face masks in order to not breath in a bug and kill it. We as Christians can often be very ignorant, and say things like: "That's stupid!" But, our History teacher here, tells us about these religions in order to instill in us a respect for them. When we have respect for their dedication to their beliefs, it helps us to minister to them, and evangelize to them in the future.
One religion that I have gained a respect for is Islam, and I was completely surprised that I would have respect. Misguided as they were, and are, you can't help but understand how this religion would appeal to people in the situation that the Arabs were when they heard the message Mohammad brought to them. Our teacher presented a theory to us about what gave Mohammad his ideas, and I found very interesting, and frankly, it just made sense. I'd like to share it with you.
The Arab peninsula before the establishment of Islam was sparsely populated. The people were not unified at all. Most of the population were bedouins (nomadic shepherds). The Persians were continually invading and pushing them farther, and farther south into the desert. Most major powers of the known world were unified under monotheistic belief systems...the Persians had Zoroastrianism, the Byzantines had Orthodox Christianity, and the Romans had Catholicism. This was the world that Mohammad was brought up in. Now this idea can't be proven in any way...but it seems like a very posible reality...perhaps Mohammad saw how monotheism unified the people. He saw how countries that were Polytheistic in their beliefs faded away and were conquered. Perhaps he thought he could create a new monotheistic belief system to unify the people of the Arab peninsula, and therein unify his people...and that's exactly what happens. Jihad is the means by which they could conquer...Jihad is their version of a "Great Commission." For us Americans, we have a strong hatred for Islam...I admit, I struggled with the idea that I could muster any amount of respect for Islamic people...seeing as how it is this religion that caused so many deaths of American people...but still, I can understand the appeal for them. But they are like any non-Christian...they are blind to the truth, and misguided by this religion that gives them a sense of community.
Recently we've been learning about Catholicism, and I have even gained a respect for them as well, and have a better understanding about how they became what they are today. Specifically I can understand how the Pope came to be regarded as so highly as he is today.
As the Roman Empire began to crumble, and it's leaders grew more, and more weak the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) began to lead the people. He provided stability when everything else was falling apart. The early Bishops of Rome durring this time, were merely trying to help. There's no evidence that at the beginning they were trying to take their power with greed. They were trying to help their people...they were even fulfilling Bible principles by helping those in need...they actively fought heresy which is again something that we as Christians are supposed to do. Overtime they gradually were given even greater and greater power, again as a means by which to provide stability. Can you blame them for wanting to help their people?
As time went on in the Middle Ages, illiteracy became common place. Life was very monotonous...people worked farms, did chores, and they desperately wanted to have a sense of community, and the church provided that. Religious leaders were educated, and the people looked up to them greatly. As usually happens when people gain a tremendous amount of power...it goes to their head, and all kinds of corruption seeps in.
Hopefully this short description of Catholicism and Islam helps you understand both of them a little better. I actually have a test over all this in class tomorrow, so writing this is almost like studying as well. I trust all in well with my followers!