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Christianity's relationship with other religions and faiths

Christianity's relationship with other religions and faiths

Christian martyrs in the first three centuries AD were crucified in the same manner as Roman political prisoners or eaten by lions as a circus spectacle. They are recognized as martyrs because they have preferred to die rather than renounce their Christian faith which often times included making a sacrifice to a pagan deity.

In spite of the widely held belief that violence is antithetical to Christ's teachings, Christian adherents have at times persecuted, tortured, and killed others for refusing to believe in their type of Christianity. While most modern Christians would condemn such actions, they were carried out by people who were seen as mainstream Christians at the time. The European colonization movement was endorsed by the mainstream European Christian churches. This endorsement supposedly "legitimized" the exploitation of the colonized lands by the European powers. This colonization led to the destruction of many cultural artifacts, particularly in South America related to the Inca and Aztecs.

Conflicts within Christianity itself have led to persecutions of one Christian group by another. Protestants, Catholics and other Christians have persecuted each other in the name of Jesus. In the second half of the 20th century a battle in Northern Ireland continues between Roman Catholics and Protestants over the forced British occupation of Ireland.

The concept of religious tolerance, that Christians in political authority should permit persons of differing faith to practice their own religions, has risen and fallen many times in history. At times, church leaders have considered tolerance itself to be a heresy. Modern Christianity appears, for the most part, to have adopted a position of tolerance. There are, however, exceptions such as American Christian Reconstructionism which calls for the persecution of dissenting faiths.

Christianity and Judaism

Since the Holocaust, there has been much to note in the way of dialogue between some Christians groups and Jews; the article on Christian-Jewish reconciliation studies this issue.

Messianic Judaism refers to a group of evangelical Christian religious movements, self-identified as Jewish, who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Contrary to Judaism, they are trinitarians, professing that Jesus is God, incarnate. Even though many Messianic Jews are ethnically Jewish, they are not considered part of the Jewish community by mainstream Jewish groups. They are not to be confused with the many Christian believers of Jewish ethnic background who are not members of these religious movements, but rather of regular Christian churches.

Concepts of God

Both Jews and Christians believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Tanakh (Christian Old Testament, Hebrew Bible), the creator of the universe. Both religions reject the view that God is entirely immanent, and within the world as a physical presence. Both religions reject the view that God is entirely transcendent, and thus separate from the world (although this can be argued in some Judaic thought). Both religions reject atheism, on the one hand, and polytheism, on the other. (Reform Judaism does not completely reject atheism, although it does encourage theism and/or deism.)

Both religions agree that God shares both transcendent and immanent qualities. How these religions resolve this issue is where the religions differ. Christianity posits that God is a trinity; in this view God exists as three distinct persons which share a single divine essence, or substance. In those three there is one, and in that one there are three; the one God is indivisible, while the three persons are distinct and unconfused. Judaism sees God as a single entity, and views trinitarianism as both incomprehensible and a violation of the Bible's teaching that God is one. In addition, Christianity teaches that God became especially immanent through the Incarnation of Jesus, who is believed to be at once fully God and fully human. Judaism rejects the notion that Jesus or any human could be God, that God could be divisible in any way, or that God could be joined to the material world in such fashion.

Some Jewish and Christian philosophers hold that due to these differences, it may well be that Jews and Christians don't believe in the same god at all. The majority Jewish view, codified in Jewish law, is that Christians do worship the same God that Jews do. The vast majority of Christians have always held that they worship the same God as the Jews.

The Messiah

Jews believe that a descendant of King David will one day appear to restore the Kingdom of Israel. Jews refer to this person as a moshiach, translated as messiah in English and christos in Greek. The Hebrew word 'moshiach' (messiah) means 'anointed one,' and refers to a mortal human being. The moshiach is held to be a human being who will be a descendant of King David, and who will usher in a messianic era of peace and prosperity for Israel and all the nations of the world. The traditional Jewish understanding of the messiah is fully human, born of human parents, without any supernatural element, and is best elucidated by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), in his commentary on the Talmud. The messiah is expected to have a relationship with God similar to that of the prophets of the Tanakh. In brief, he holds that the job description, as such, is this:

All of the people Israel will come back to Torah; The people of Israel with be gathered back to the land of Israel; The Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt; Israel will live among the nations as an equal, and will be strong enough to defend herself; Eventually, war, hatred and famine will end, and an era of peace and prosperity will come upon the Earth. Christians hold Jesus to be the messiah foretold in the Hebrew Bible. He is believed to be the son of God in a literal sense, fully human, and simultaneously divine, fully God. In this view, Jesus the messiah is the son of God who offers salvation to all humans.

Christian readings of the Hebrew Bible find hundreds of references to Jesus; some such readings maintain that almost every reading was about not only the topic of the chapter as such, but is also about the coming of Jesus, if only read properly. In this Christian view, the Old Testament Biblical subtext about the coming of Jesus have become more apparent over time.

Faith vs. Good deeds

Judaism teaches that the purpose of the Torah is to show that good works are considered by God just as important as, or even more important than, belief in God, that both are required of people. Although the Torah commands Jews to believe in God, Jews see belief in God as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for being Jewish. The quintessential verbal expression of Judaism is the Shema Yisrael, the statement that the God of the Bible is their God, and that this God is unique and one. The quintessential physical expression of Judaism is behaving in accordance with the commandents specified in the Torah, and thus live ones life in Gods ways.

Much of Christianity also teaches that God wants people to perform good works, but it holds that good works will not lead to salvation. Some Christian denominations hold that salvation depends upon faith in Jesus and good works, while many others hold that faith in Jesus alone is necessary for salvation. The major theological innovation of the New Testament is to teach that beliefs (such as belief in Jesus as the son of God) are considered by God as a prerequisite for salvation. This is especially so in Protestantism. Others hold that beliefs and actions are both essential, each encouraging the other (See entry on Eastern Orthodox Christianity).

A practical outcome of this difference is the attitudes of the two religions to death bed conversions. According to most forms of classical Christianity, one may lead an evil life, but on one's death one may repent for one's sins, accept Jesus as Christian dogma teaches, and then that person will be rewarded with a heavenly afterlife by God; this will be the same heavenly paradise that a comparatively less sinful person would receive. In contrast, all forms of Judaism teach that God judges a person based on their actions and beliefs, and that deathbed conversions have no effect on God's judgement.

Salvation and attaining an afterlife

Both Jews and Christians believe that there will be some sort of afterlife. Most forms of Christianity teach that one can only be saved through the acceptance of Jesus as a saviour, although some modern forms of Christianity teach that salvation is available to followers of other faiths as well.

Catholic views

Catholicism traditionally taught that "there is no salvation outside the Church", which thus denied salvation to non-Catholic Christians as well as non-Christians; Catholicism reversed this position in Vatican II, which said that "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator", thus potentially extending salvation to other monotheistic faiths. Vatican II further affirmed that salvation was available to people who had not even heard of Jesus.

However, later official Vatican position papers have led some to question the Church's commitment to ecumenism. The current Pope has personally endorsed a document called "Dominus Iesus", published in August 2000, by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It has been ratified and confirmed by Pope John Paul II "with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority." This document states that people outside of Christianity are "gravely deficient" in their relationship to God, and that non-Catholic Christian communities had "defects". Jewish and Muslim groups have expressed distress at this disparagement of their faiths.

In response to these criticisms, Pope John Paul II on October 2 of that year emphasized that this document did not say that non-Christians were denied salvation: "this confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united". The pope then, on December 6, issued a statement to further emphasize that the Church continued to support the position of Vatican II that salvation was available to believers of other faiths: "The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes--the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life--will enter God's kingdom." He further added, "All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this kingdom,".

On August 13, 2002, American Catholic bishops issued a joint statement with leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, called "Reflections on Covenant and Mission", which affirmed that Christians should not target Jews for conversion The document stated: "Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God" and "Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God's kingdom." However, some U.S.-led Baptist and other fundamentalist denominations still believe it is their duty to engage in what they refer to as outreach to "unbelieving" Jews.

Eastern Orthodox views

Eastern Orthodox Christianity emphasizes a continuing life of repentance or metanoia, which includes an increasing improvement in thought, belief and action. Regarding the salvation of Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians, the Orthodox have traditionally taught the same as the Catholic Church: that there is no salvation outside the church. People of all genders, races, economic and social positions, and so forth are welcome in the church. People of any religion are welcome to convert. Orthodoxy recognizes that other religions may contain truth, to the extent that they are in agreement with Christianity. (Some of the early church fathers pointed to Socrates' belief in one God; a few more modern Orthodox Christian theologians have found traces of trinitarianism in the writings of Lao Tzu.)

Many Orthodox theologians believe that all people will have an opportunity to embrace union with God, including Jesus, after their death, and so become part of the church at that time. God is thought to be good, just, and merciful; it would not seem just to condemn someone because they never heard the Gospel message, or were taught a distorted version of the Gospel by heretics. Therefore, the reasoning goes, they must at some point have an opportunity to make a genuine informed decision. Ultimately, those who persist in rejecting God condemn themselves, by cutting themselves off from the ultimate source of all Life, and from the God who is Love embodied. Jews, Muslims and members of other faiths, then, are expected to convert to Christianity in the afterlife. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also holds this belief, and holds baptismal services in which righteous people are baptized in behalf of their ancestors who, it is believed, are given the opportunity to accept the ordinance.

Jewish views

Judaism holds that whatever salvation may exist is found only through good works. The majority of Jewish works on this subject hold that one's faith alone play no role. However, for a contrary Jewish position see Maimonides's The Guide of the Perplexed, which limits the afterlife only to people who attain a relatively high level of intellectual perfection, thereby allowing the active intellect to be made eternal through God.

Judaism teaches that all gentiles can receive a share in "the world to come". This is codified in the Mishna Avot 4:29, the Babylonian Talmud in tractates Avodah Zarah 10b, and Ketubot 111b, and in Maimonides's 12th century law code, the Mishneh Torah, in Hilkhot Melachim (Laws of Kings) 8.11.

Judaism has no strong tradition of offenses being punished by eternal damnation (the Hebrew Bible itself has very few references to any afterlife, and the word Sheol that is often translated as "Hell" is as often as not simply translated as "the grave"). Some violations (e.g. suicide) would be punished by separation from the community (e.g. not being buried in a Jewish cemetery).

Judaism's view is summed up by a biblical observation about the Torah (Old testament): in the beginning God clothes the naked (Adam), and at the end God buries the dead (Moses). The Children of Israel mourned for 40 days - then got on with their lives. No reference is made in the Torah to anything beyond.

The Biblical concenption of God is that his covenant is with the Jewish people, not individual Jews. In the context of this covenant, the death of individual Jews is inconsequential and various Biblical passages suggest that individual death is final. It is the continued existence of the Jewish nation that is emphasised and the way that life should be lead. With the rise of Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) thinking, and later the rise of Christianity, Jews became more concerned with the problem of individual death and an afterlife. Nevertheless, these beliefs are relatively undeveloped in Judaism and unimportant.


Both Jews and Christians regard pregnancy as a gift from God, and hold children to be miracles.

The only statements in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) about the status of a fetus state that killing an infant does not have the same status as killing a born human being, and mandates a much lesser penalty (a fine); it should be added that the instance cited in the Tanakh contemplates the accidental, rather than the deliberate, causing of an abortion.

The Oral Law states that the fetus is not yet a full human being until it has been born (either the head or the body is mostly outside of the mother), therefore killing a fetus is not murder, and abortion - in restricted circumstances - has always been legal under Jewish law. Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus 'lav nefesh hu--it is not a person.' The Talmud contains the expression 'ubar yerech imo--the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,' i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman's body." Judaism prefers that such abortions, when necessary, take place before the first 40 days where the Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 69b states that: "the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day." Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born. Christians who agree with these views may refer to this idea as abortion before the "quickening" of the soul by God in the fetus.

There are two additional passages in the Talmud which shed some light on the Jewish belief about abortion. They imply that the fetus is considered part of the mother, and not a separate entity:

One section states that if a man purchases a cow that is found to be pregnant, then he is the owner both of the cow and the fetus. Another section states that if a pregnant woman converts to Judaism, that her conversion applies also to her fetus. Rabbis also generally agree that abortions are not permitted on the grounds of genetic imperfections of the fetus, nor are they permitted for family planning or conveniance reasons. Each case must be decided individually, however, and the decision should lie with the Mother, Father, and Rabbi.

Most branches of Christianity have historically held abortion to be murder of a human being, referring to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1, as well as New Testament passages concerning both Jesus and John the Baptist while they were in utero. These verses have been interpreted as literally applying to pre-born humans. Many Protestant Christians claim that the Ten Commandments prohibit abortion under the heading of "Do not murder". Others reject this view, as they hold that the context of the entire set of Biblical laws includes those laws which restrict them to already born human beings.

External Links

Christian / Jewish Relations

Jewish statement on Christians and Christianity
by Dabru Emet, National Jewish Scholars Project

Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited
A book on Jewish-Christian relations from an Anabaptist perspective.

The current views of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) concerning other Christian denominations and other religions are explained in a Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus.

Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia on Religious Heresay.

Christian View on Heresay

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