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The Place of Catholicism in the World Today Essay


Introduction

Catholicism is a general word that describes the universality of Christianity in doctrine, morality, theology, liturgy, and spirituality. What is not in dispute is that Christianity is a religion spread all over the world and practiced by people with varying cultures. The impact of these cultures on the nature of Christianity is also diverse. As Christianity seeks to remain relevant in this constantly transforming world, it has to deal with the faithful of other religions.

This paper looks at the Catholicity of Christianity as well as the need to incorporate aspects from other religions and cultures in its practice. It begins by looking at the nature of Christianity as it is now, followed by an analysis of the comparability between Christianity and other religions. The paper concludes by assessing what the future holds for Christianity.

The Nature of Catholicism

Christianity has come a long way from the early days of “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Lin 11). Doctrinal divisions in the church have resulted in the existence of many denominations in Christianity with varying doctrines and practices (Lin 19).

Some of these doctrines are related since they have a common origin while others are introduced with changes in lifestyles, culture and technology. Religious pluralism (or tolerance of several religious viewpoints) is one of the issues that Christianity and many other religions have to deal with as globalization and amalgamation of world cultures become persistent. A section of Christians perceive religious pluralism as conflicting with the biblical teachings.

This view of Christianity sees pluralism as an impossible undertaking, and that there can only be one true religion. This view is largely inaccurate since even within Christianity there exist various denominations with varied degrees of traditions. Roman Catholicism, a denomination within Christianity, perceives itself as the most absolute and accurate revelation of God to mankind (Martin 29). The Roman Catholics perceive other Christians as having authentic (but limited) revelation from God.

Some Christians who support pluralism believe that God is enough to be shared by all and that there are many paths that lead to Him. Even the Catholic Church now admits that it is possible for followers of other denominations other than Roman Catholicism to enter heaven. Today, Christianity consists of many denominations such as Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodox faithful, Mormons, Unificationists, among other sub-groups of Christianity (Robinson 14). These denominations practice different rituals and hold beliefs that vary significantly from one group to another.

For instance, the reverence of icons practiced in Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodoxy is not acceptable among many Protestant Christian churches. These variations make comprehending the Christian faith as a whole difficult. The diversity that exists in these denominations appear so different that reconciling the denominations is not easy. However, these variations are needed to incorporate the different cultures in which Christianity is practiced.

It is biased to practice Christianity based on Western European cultures in an Asian or African setting. African members of the Roman Catholic Church incorporate their own traditional dances and songs in their worship (Dhavamony, 42). Though this is not a different denomination, it is not the same as the mainstream Roman Catholic service as practiced in the Vatican.

This trend of integrating culture in Christian worship is a clear sign of the diverse nature of Christian worship. The only unifying factors that are universal about Christianity are their use of the Bible, belief in Jesus, and the faith they share in God. Other than that, Christianity is as diverse as the different denominations and the areas in which they are practiced. The next section assesses the degree to which Christianity is compatible with other religions and their points of divergence.

Compatibility between Christianity and other Religions

In the world that we live in today, interactions between people from different cultural and religious backgrounds are becoming increasingly common. Globalization ensures that anyone can live anywhere in the world. For this reason, the need for religious integration and tolerance is now higher than ever. Christianity can no longer afford to dismiss other forms of religion as non-significant. On the contrary, many conventional Christians perceive their religion as the only valid faith.

They see others as either flawed or not religious at all. Some Christians believe that those who do not possess the Christian faith will burn in hell upon death (Uhalley and Wu 34). In some extremities, they possess the belief that even other Christian denominations other than their own are pagan. These Christians hold that the deities worshipped in these religions are essentially evil spirits. To them, there is little difference between non-Christian religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Neopaganism.

What these conservative Christians do not realize is the closeness in essence that exists between Christianity and these other religions. Some of these religions such as Judaism even share part of their scriptures with Christianity. The ‘Tanakh’ used by Judaism is the same as the Christian Old Testament (Lin 38).

Besides resemblances in creed and scripture, Christianity ought to assess its relationship with Judaism since Christ and his disciples are Jews. Their lives and practices conform to the Jewish religion and tradition. Christ and his disciples only criticize the Jewish traditions from within the system. It is not possible to understand the teachings of Jesus Christ without taking them in the context of the Judaist religion that existed in his time.

History shows that the relationship between Christians and Judaists is not a pleasant one. Some Christians even blame Jews for killing Jesus Christ and hold that the entire Jewish community ought to shoulder shared guilt for the murder. This religious animosity was evident in the case of the momentous German Holocaust in which many Jews were killed. Despite this history, there are several lessons Christianity can learn from Judaism.

For instance, in the Jewish religion, every child is taught to recite Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (Shema) at the beginning and end of each day (Robinson 110). The Shema teaches children to obey and love God and grow up loving Him. Christianity and other religions can certainly learn to improve their love for God and love for neighbors from this practice.

Islam is another religion that shares a number of philosophies with Christianity such as positions on “heaven, spirits, monotheism, angels, judgment, hell, and impending resurrection” (Ernst 7). Muslims also recognize and admire Jesus as one of the prophets (Isa). Christians seem to take issue with this and perceive it as lessening of the status of Jesus from the son of God in the Holy Trinity to a prophet.

Christianity and Islam have the same conceptions on the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection and ascension, and the miracles he performed. However, Islam disagrees with the Christian notion that the supreme and perfect God can transform into a weak human and die. Christians and Muslims also disagree on the issues of the Trinity and Jesus’ crucifixion.

The Muslims believe in a single God who neither takes the form of human flesh nor is capable of death (Ernst 8). They view reverence of icons as idolatry. Among the things Christianity can learn from Islam are dedication to prayer, alms-giving and fasting. Muslims also provide important lessons for Christians concerning respect to the family institution and hospitality towards strangers.

Christian practice is quite liberal concerning marriage, divorce and morality. In religion, there is a need to provide an ideal, strict code that governs the adherents’ lives. Christians can also learn tolerance for other religions from Muslims who view Christian and Jewish traditions as important in the development of Islam.

The author of this paper, believes that Buddhism and Christianity disagree on views concerning hell, reincarnation, heaven as well as other fundamental beliefs. One depiction of such difference is evident in the conflict between Buddhism and Christian Protestantism (in the 19th century in Tibet and Sri Lanka) during the Younghusband Expedition (Martin 53).

Despite these differences in doctrine, the relationship between Buddhists and Christians is often cordial. Several Buddhist practices (such as meditation) and theology have been incorporated into Western Christianity. As a matter of fact, meditation is practiced by Eastern Orthodox faithful and some members of the Roman Catholic Church.

The kind of spiritual meditation practiced to relieve stress in Buddhism can be important to Christians who wish to seek spiritual elevation with their deity (Dalai Lama 115). The distinct moral code taught by Buddhism for those who wish to attain Nirvana can also be productive to Christians who are often accused of being slightly liberal on morality. Christians can learn from the spirituality taught by Buddhism, which includes distancing oneself from worldly pleasures.

Impact of Inclusivity on Christianity

If Christianity is to remain relevant in this era of globalized cultural interaction, it has to incorporate cultures of the people it targets into its practices and theology. As it gains acceptance in Asia, Africa and the previously predominantly Muslim Middle East, Christianity must change its outlook to be more inclusive.

If people are to feel part of the religion they practice, then that religion should identify with some aspects of their culture to which they can relate. The era of forcing Asians and Africans to recite most parts of the mass in Latin is long gone. Today, there are many religions in the world that provide alternative sources of divine inspiration if a person feels that Christianity is foreign and non-inclusive.

Another need for inclusivity stems from the relationship in origin and beliefs that Christianity shares with other religions like the ones outlined in the previous section. Since the gospel of Jesus Christ (who was Jewish by the way) demands reaching out to the gentiles and the unchurched, this section looks at the impact of such inclusivity on the essence of Christianity. Can Christianity remain the same while incorporating different cultures into its tradition and practice?

The problem of inclusivity and tolerance is not a new concept in Christianity. Mathew 12:21 teaches that, in Jesus’ name, the Gentiles trust. Even during the early days of Christianity, the apostles often taught other Christians to spread the word of God to the gentiles. In Acts 11:1, the Bible talks about the apostles in Judea receiving the good news that the gentiles had accepted the word of God.

The early church was tasked with preaching the word of God to those who had not received it. If we look at Christianity in its original sense, the Romans who at some point are seen as the custodians of Christianity are indeed gentiles. This shows that Christianity as we know it today has transformed over time by incorporating different cultures and traditions. Has it changed in essence?

In incorporating different cultures in its tradition and theology, Christianity (like any other religion) must be careful not to change its fundamental principles (Elnes 23). The basic principles that govern Christianity are founded on the Bible and should not be altered to suit modernity simply in the name of being popular. Changing certain guiding principles such as the teachings of Christ and the disciples can mean altering the essence of Christianity.

What sets Christianity apart from other religions should not be compromised. In recent times, the desire to reach out has seen Christians become more liberal by entertaining some concepts that do not agree with biblical teachings. Such concepts as a black Christ are contradictory and only raise more questions than answers. New scientific discoveries often force many religions to review their positions on certain issues such as evolution.

If applied properly, inclusivity does not necessarily mean that the essence of Christianity is going to change. What the author proposes is providing room for different cultures to incorporate their traditions in worship without compromising the teachings of the Bible. Changing doctrinal principles such as church position on contraceptives or the service procedure does not spell doom for Christianity.

The Future of Catholicism

With the imminent changes expected to result from incorporating different cultures into Christianity, the future of the concept of universality of Christianity is bleak. Changes in the nature of services are bound to increase with the incorporation of technology as well as diverse cultures. This is the only way Christianity can stay relevant in this day and age. Christianity must reach out to other religions if it is to remain globally relevant.

However, the only way Christianity will survive in the face of these changes is if it will preserve the fundamental principles and biblical teachings. Christians must not lose themselves in their quest to reach out and spread the gospel. Any attempt to alter biblical teachings will leave Christians with a totally different religion. The author believes that the future of Christianity is bright as long as its inclusivity and liberalism are governed by proper understanding and interpretation of the Bible.

Conclusion

There is no universal Catholicism since many denominations with varying doctrines exist within Christianity. However, the Bible and the teachings of the early church are the unifying factors for all Christian denominations. Christianity should be tolerant to other religions and learn some important lessons from them.

Christianity must also incorporate different cultures and practices in its doctrines since it is no longer just a Western religion. These changes are bound to alter the way Christians worship. Therefore, the only way Christianity is to retain its essence amidst these eminent changes is by staying faithful to biblical principles.

Works Cited

Dalai Lama. The World of Tibetan Buddhism: An Overview of its Philosophy and Practice, USA: Wisdom Publications, 2005. Print.

Dhavamony, Mariasusai. Jesus Christ in the Understanding of World Religions, Rome, Italy: Gregorian Biblical BookShop, 2004. Print.

Elnes, Eric. The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity, San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.

Ernst, W. Carl. Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World, USA: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Print.

Lin, Jan. Shaking the Fundamentals: Religious Plurality and Ecumenical Movement, New York: Rodopi, 2002. Print.

Martin, David. The Future of Christianity: Reflections on Violence and Democracy, Religion and Secularization, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011. Print.

Robinson, George. Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs & Rituals, United Kingdom: Simon and Schuster, 2008. Print.

Uhalley, Stephen, and Xiaoxin Wu. China and Christianity: Burdened Past, Hopeful Future, USA: M.E. Sharpe, 2001. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Place of Catholicism in the World Today." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-place-of-catholicism-in-the-world-today/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Place of Catholicism in the World Today'. 28 November.

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