Christianity

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Symbolism used in Christianity.

Christianity is a religion that began as a sect of Judaism around 30 CE, but, after several decades, it evolved so many differences, it diverged into a new religion. Christianity is currently the world's largest religion, although Islam is expected to overtake it in the next few decades. There are thousands of different sects of Christianity around the world, and, while none of them can agree on every aspect of the religion, most agree that Yahweh is their supreme deity, the books in the New Testament are extremely significant, and that Jesus is very important.

I grew up in a secular home, but I attended an Assemblies of God church (a type of Evangelical Protestantism called Pentecostalism) weekly with my aunt and uncle from around age 10 to 19, but started identifying as an atheist in my mid-20s. While I think that Christianity is capable of doing good works, I find the religion to be internally inconsistent and deeply flawed.

Structure

Christians refer to their various sects as denominations, and, while there is a fair amount of overlap between then, each denomination has their own unique structure. Christianity is traditionally broken into five major denominations: Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, but each of these has dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of smaller divisions. Every denomination disagrees with every other denomination on one or more aspects of their religion. Some Christians attempt to find common ground between the denominations, a process they describe as ecumenism, while others believe that their denomination is the only true version of Christianity and all others are blasphemy.

Growing up, I was taught almost nothing about the other denominations of Christianity. I knew of the existence of some other denominations because I would see church signs for other denominations, but the only memory I have of learning about them from the churches I attended was when they mentioned how all the others were wrong. Some of my relatives on my father's side are Catholic, as was my first serious girlfriend's family, so I learned a little bit about Catholicism, but my public school upbringing mostly ignored religion except a few teachers and administrators who tried to convert the students. It wasn't until after I stopped identifying as a Christian and started studying religion from an academic standpoint that I learned a lot about the many other denominations. Based on most of the Christians I have met, they are equally insulated from other Christian beliefs and know almost nothing about beliefs outside their specific denomination. My experience is backed up by a Pew poll in 2010 which showed that, in the USA, Christians know less about other religions than atheists and Jews [1].

Scriptures

Like most traditional religions, Christians frequently defer to a collection of manuscripts they call their scripture. The earliest Jewish Christians used the Tanakh exclusively as their scripture, but, as new manuscripts were written about their budding church, and later, the life of their prophet Jesus, they began adopting these new scripture as well. However, in the first couple centuries, many manuscripts of dubious origin were being circulated and accepted by various churches. This caused a centuries-long debate within the church, before most denominations eventually agreed upon which books should be canonized as official and which were frauds. The finished compilation, called the New Testament, has become the most important Christian scriptures, overshadowing even the Tanakh. However, as later historians have discovered, several of the books Christians canonized show evidence of tampering, and several others are most likely out-right frauds.

Today, Christians refer to the Tanakh as the old testament. Jews themselves cannot agree upon which books should be canonized into the Torah, so Christians haven't been able to agree either. While the canonized books mostly overlap, each major denomination has canonized their own unique old testament and has a preferred translation (some denominations even say their translation is superior to the original manuscripts!). For example, Catholics rank the Book of Judith among canon, but Protestants do not, the Eastern Orthodox church canonized four Books of Maccabees, but Catholics have only canonized two, and the Book of Jubilees is canonized by some Oriental Orthodox churches, but no others.

In addition to the new and old testaments, each denomination also has a list of additional books that they consider canon, important, or blasphemous. Naturally, one denomination's blasphemy is another denomination's canon. For example, the Book of Mormon is considered canon by some Restorationists (a sub-set of Protestantism), but all other Christians see it as straight-up blasphemy.

Since I grew up attending a church of the Protestant denomination, I read from a Protestant bible, primarily the King James Version and New International Version translations. Ignoring the differences in translations, I assumed that all Christians used the same source material for their bibles. As a teen, I remember seeing a Catholic bible and noticing several additional books in it. I was curious about this, but I didn't bother to investigate them at the time, and it wasn't until after I stopped practicing Christianity and become more interested in religions that I learned why every major denomination has their own unique bible.

The list below describes various stories from Christian scripture and my take on each:

Beliefs

Because there are so many different sects of Christianity, each disagreeing with the others, there is no one set of beliefs that all Christians agree upon. Instead, there are a whole bunch of various beliefs that a percentage of Christians believe. I've created a page which illustrates some of the conflicting beliefs held by various Christian denominations. Some of the more popular beliefs across the various denominations include:

Belief Description
Sin In Christianity, sin is anything that is immoral. Each denomination claims to have a theological foundation for how they determine what is sin, but, since they all disagree, sin is basically whatever each individual church preaches to be evil.
God The Christian god is co-opted from Judaism's Yahweh, but is viewed considerably tamer, and generally seen as a stern but just father figure. Most Christians describe their god as being all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere at once, and all-good. They also believe that only their god is real, and all other gods are either fake, or an evil supernatural creature disguising itself as a god. Most Christians understand their god to be nameless and address it by titles such as "Lord" or, simply, "God."
Jesus Archeologists describe Jesus as a Jewish rabbi from Palestine who preached religious reform 2,000 years ago. Most Christians believe that he was the son of their god while at the same time an incarnation of their god. Christians believe that he was born of a virgin, effectively began the Christian religion, and was then executed to absolve human sin, resurrected, and ascended into Heaven. There is a minority group of historians who argue that Jesus never existed.
Substitutionary atonement Most Christians believe it is only through the execution of Jesus that their sins can be forgiven by their god, and that only their god can forgive sins. Most denominations encourage seeking forgiveness from the people you have wronged, but don't believe it will absolve the sin. This belief goes against every modern system of justice.
Bible Christians have wildly different beliefs about their bibles from thinking it's a useful, but flawed book, to thinking it is an inerrant perfect book and the only way to truly know anything.
Church The word "church" is used by most Christians to refer to the building in which they worship as well as the congregation who attends services in the church. Many also refer to their specific denomination as a church.
Trinity Trinity is the belief that the Christian god exists in three incarnations: the father, son, and holy ghost, and that each is different from each other, but also still entirely god (many Christians admit this violates logic). Most Christians accept this belief, and those who do not are called nontrinitarians.
Worship Christians typically worship their god and Jesus by singing songs and speaking words of praise. They primarily do this while in church and during rituals.
Prayer Most Christians believe they can communicate with their god through a process called prayer which they use to make requests of their god, offer him praise, and to feel their god's presence.
Heaven Most Christians believe in a spiritual paradise outside of the bounds of space and time which they call Heaven. They believe their god and various other beings live there, and that proper followers of Christianity go their after they die.
Hell Many Christians believe that Hell is the a realm of punishment outside the bounds of space and time where people who aren't good Christians will be sent to be punished for eternity. Scripture doesn't say much about Hell, so most of the popular views of Hell come from art and authors.
Divine Christians use a variety of adjectives to describe things which they believe are directly related to their god including: divine, holy, sacred, and hallowed. The terms are generally used interchangeably, but some denominations use them in specific ways.
Satan Satan is the adversary of the Christian god. He is typically believed to tempt people away from Christianity to indulge in sin.
Original sin Most Christians believe that all people are born evil and must justly be sent to hell, and that it is only through salvation that they can avoid eternal damnation.
Salvation The concept of Christian salvation is the belief that Jesus's execution absolved human's sin so they can go to Heaven when they die, but only if they believe in the absolution.
Blasphemy This is a specific type of sin which goes against something viewed as holy.
Baptism This is a ritual performed by many Christians which is used to demonstrate a person's initiation into the church.
End time Many Christians believe the entire universe will be destroyed in the very near future in an multi-staged event called the end time(s). Various denominations have wildly different beliefs, but the generally involve the return of Jesus, a battle with the antichrist, and good Christians going to Heaven and everyone else going to Hell.
Witnessing Most Christians believe that their god wants them to convert every other human on earth to their religion. They do this in a process they call "witnessing" where they talk about their "testimony."
Dominionism The Christian belief that their god wants them to not only convert everyone else, but to conquer and dominate the world in order to eliminate all other religions, violently, if necessary.

Essays

The following are essays I have written which address various topics related to Christianity.

Links

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