Sex. Politics. Religion. These topics fall into the “forbidden at the dinner table” category but are certainly topics that everyone finds interesting and loves to debate. Religion has been a topic of discussion since the dawn of man.

JESSICA SMIT

Sex. Politics. Religion. These topics fall into the “forbidden at the dinner table” category but are certainly topics that everyone finds interesting and loves to debate. Religion has been a topic of discussion since the dawn of man.

Religion gives evidence of the evolution of human thinking throughout the ages. One of the interesting chapters of this story is the most recent one: the relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Little is known about beliefs held by the most primitive people and many different theories about the origin of religion developed over the ages. The nature-worship theory claims that human beings developed religion because they didn’t understand the forces of nature surrounding them. They thus devised a system that could explain the mysteries of the universe and deities to whom they could pray when they felt vulnerable.

Along with this is a wish-fulfilment theory – in times of trouble people feel as though they can’t cope with life and project their wishes onto gods and religions. For others religion is a scheme devised by a select group in power to control the masses: as Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.”

A French theologian, John Calvin, was of the view that the “seed of religion”, or semen religionis, is found in human nature. This means that human beings have some sort of innate disposition to believe in a “creator god”.

Sakhile Nkosi, a second-year student, feels that these theories are attempting to explain the inexplicable. She says that, “All religions stem from some form of faith and faith cannot be justified or explained.”

The traditional view is that God revealed religion and certain religious truths to human beings at different points in our development.

The story of Judaism, Christianity and Islam reads almost as sub-chapters within the Middle Eastern chapter of religion.

Judaism came first, and with their belief in one God the Old Testament of the Bible was written. Followers of Judaism believe the first five books were written by Moses, and these are referred to as the Torah. Then there is the Nev’im, which comprises the books about the many prophets of Israel and the Ketuvim, which includes books such as Psalms, Proverbs and Chronicles.

Christianity came next, around the first century AD, with the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was Jewish, and throughout his life he gathered a group of disciples who believed him to be the son of God. The New Testament was then written by certain of his followers some years after his death. Christians therefore kept the Jewish beliefs, but added their own new beliefs to them. Today, Jewish people do believe in the existence of Jesus, but do not subscribe to the notion that he was the son of God, sticking solely to their Old Testament beliefs.

Then there was Islam, with the life of Muhammad the prophet, about 500 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Muhammad claimed to have received messages from God, or Allah in Arabic, through Gabriel, who spoke to him in his dreams. The Muslim Holy Scripture, the Quran, was then recited by Muhammad who was illiterate. Islam also believes in the “sayings” of Moses, the prophets, David and Jesus. They agree that Jesus was an important religious figure, but they reject the belief that he was the son of God. They merely believe that Jesus was a prophet who preceded Muhammad. They believe that throughout the ages God has revealed religious truths to various prophets and that Muhammad was the final of these prophets.

Therefore, it could be surmised that these are three chapters in the same story of the same God. Ferial Carelse, a third-year Journalism student who follows Islamic belief says, “All these religions are just deifying a part of the same omnipotent being. Many people share this view. It’s an open secret.” Of course it is not this simple. The three religions do not accept the validity of either of the others which has led to conflicts the world over.

Mark le Roux, a student with a BTh Theology degree, explains his reason for choosing Christianity was because of a CS Lewis quote, which states that the one thing that makes Christianity unique among other religions is grace. He goes on to say that he hopes everyone goes to heaven “because God loves my Muslim and Hindu friends just as much as He loves me.”

An indication that beliefs are forever evolving and that new “religions” are forming is that there are many modern beliefs. The Christian church has broken up into many denominations since the Protestants decided to part ways with the Catholic Church. From there Protestantism broke up into many smaller denominations such as the Methodists and the Calvinists. Islam also has different denominations such as the Sunnis and Shi’ites. The most distinguishable difference in their beliefs is that the Sunnis believe that a caliph, or a successor of Islamic leadership, is ideally elected by consensus. Whilst the Shi’ites believe that a caliph is appointed by divine will. Therefore they disagree on the rightful successors of Muhammad.

Meanwhile, whole new religions such as Scientology have emerged. A growing number of people have also completely rejected the whole notion of religion.This brings up the question of what the future holds for religion?

Carelse believes that “[religion] is an unavoidable part of our existence. We live these almost soulless lives where reality can be tough. Religion is an escape, one that offers guidance. The only problem is that 2000-year-old guidance may be a little stale.”

Thus, it seems human beings will continue to be fascinated, albeit somewhat confused, by religion and its never-ending evolution.

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