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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Western Religion Today

The Pieta, Mary and Jesus, by Michelangelo

Religion Today

Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

The three Western religions have enormous influence in America today. All three are undergoing vast changes and conflicts. These changes and conflicts relate to our changing society as well as the relationships among the three religions.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are adopting to or reacting against American culture at this time. In all three groups there are tendencies to blend in with the culture or to establish a separate identity opposing the culture.

Jews have assimilated so well into America that many people are astonished to learn that many celebrities, writers, and sports stars are Jewish. However, there are also enclaves of Jews, especially in metropolitan areas, where the traditional dress and customs of Jews single them out among the population. Wearing the yarmulka is not so remarkable, since many Jewish men wear the yarmulka in urban areas. What startles the casual observer are the full beards of the men, their large hats, and their exotic customs.

Likewise, Christianity was a primary reason for establishing America as a “city set on a hill.” Protestantism and Catholicism became so entwined in our culture that politicians cultivate the religious leaders of both groups. Many large denominations have joined the Roman Catholic Church in providing professional lobbyists in Washington DC. However, reactionaries have established their own areas where the problems of American culture are resisted as much as possible. Although religious motivation is mixed with political ideology, it is fair to say that Protestant separatism is rooted in their approach to the Scriptures.

Islam can assimilate into other cultures but it can also react against a host country in a Holy War, a jihad. Even if the vast majority of Islamic adherents are peaceful and industrious, a small percentage of the 500 million Muslims world-wide can disrupt the world economy and destroy the world’s peace. Added to this explosive mixture is the fact that some Jewish leaders are equally bellicose about Islam. Therefore, a small minority in each religion can keep the tensions going indefinitely. Several trends in Islam are unique, compared to Christianity and Judaism. The Moslems are growing through their birthrate and through conversion. Moreover, Muslims take their religion seriously and pack the local mosques while Jews and Christians remain away. The combination of population pressure and religious zeal is bound to be explosive in the coming decades.

From a doctrinal standpoint, American Christianity is moving in two directions at once. The old established denominations have clergy and theologians who may as well be Unitarians. They do not teach the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth of Christ, or His actual resurrection. Instead, they make everything “symbolic” and mythological. These mainline denominations are quite intent on changing American standards of social justice but have little interest in the official confessions of their denominations. At the same time many former members of established churches are founding their own congregations and church groups to re-establish what was once taught. The old established denominations are moving toward merger into one big denomination. The newly independent congregations are looking for fellowship among like-minded Christians.

The Catholic situation needs to be addressed separately. The same trends are clear in the Roman Catholic Church, but it is impossible to be Roman Catholic outside of the institution. Therefore, it is convenient to have groups within the visible church to lobby for this doctrine or that, for this social action idea or for another. Roman Catholicism is so extensive that almost any set of doctrines can find a common ground among the various interest groups (Assumption of Joseph movement, Marian societies, liberal social action, Opus Dei, religious orders, etc).

Discussion Questions

1. Will Islam accommodate itself peacefully in America or will the trends toward jihad continue?
2. What can Israel do to relieve tensions with Islam?
3. What did you learn most about during this course?

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