Religions do not march united into modernity. So says Jones, 2003. In this essay, I have chosen three religious traditions, the Christian tradition of baptism, the Jewish tradition of circumcision, and the Muslim tradition of females wearing the burka, to research, analyze and discuss. Based on this I will then draw a conclusion as to whether or not I agree with the statement made by Jones.
Impact on Religion
The key sentiment of the claim “religions do not march united into modernity” is that modernism has an impact on religion. This seems to imply that religions are faced with a choice – whether or not they are going to react to what modernism would appear to require of them, or whether they are going to stick resolutely to their ideals with little or no form of modification. I don’t think, however, that we can dispute that modernism does have some impact on all religions – whether that impact just means that it is considered and dismissed, or whether that impact means great change follows – and that it must be taken in to account by religious leaders, followers and all those affected by religion in any way.
Meaning of the term “Modernism”
I believe that the meaning of the term modernity in the instance referred to in the comment must be assessed before we can accurately decide whether or not we agree with the statement. Modernity is essentially a term used to describe the condition of being modern. But being modern in itself is a very broad scenario. It can refer to the way of life that we lead today.
It can refer to the style of music that teenagers listen to. It can refer to a physical period of time and mean all of post-medieval history, and can also refer to the period 1910 – 1960, an era for which the term has largely been adopted, or more loosely, it can refer to the period beginning 1870 and extending to date. (Wikipedia, 2005). It can refer to ways that we think, it can refer to cars that we drive, or it can refer to movies that we watch! So we are going to have to narrow it down for this particular purpose. Let’s assume that in this statement, modernity means the way that we live, and the thoughts that determine our lifestyles today.
Shall we, for a minute, look at modern ways, meaning the way that people live their lives today. To talk in general terms, we like speed (consider instant meals, instant cash withdrawals, and email and the internet – instant information). We like convenience, and we like accuracy. We are intolerant of what we believe to be incorrect. We believe we are living in the information age, and don’t like to do things about which we are not fully informed. We will not put our health and our lifestyles at risk. We don’t want to spend too many hours on one particular activity – we consider that time is a valuable commodity of which we do not have enough. Our health and comfort is of importance to us. And the way that we dress, or appear, is considered to be indicative of how we live our lives – indeed, it’s indicative of our very personalities.
In the face of this, consider the age old traditions of religion. Most religions are simply many thousands of years old. So are their traditions. So do these have to be adapted to new ways of thinking, or is it okay to leave them as they were?
The first of the three religions we are going to look at in this essay is Christianity.
Let’s take a quick look at what Christianity is and it’s history. Christianity is in effect a monotheistic system of beliefs and practices which are based on holy writings, the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus as embodied in the New Testament and emphasizing the role of Jesus as saviour. (Princeton, 2005)
Consider that Christianity originated in Palestine in the first century, and is based on the life and teachings of a Palestinian Jew, Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Messiah, and who lived 2000 years ago. It is obvious that the ways of the first Christians are somewhat different from the ways of today’s Christians.
The brief history of Christianity that follows gives a basic understanding of the ensuing practices and traditions that are part of the religion.
Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, in not the most ordinary circumstances. The Bible tells us that his conception was immaculate (He is the son of God), and that his birth was in a stable, surrounded by animals. This birth is marked annually by the celebration of Christmas.
It is only natural that a child born of immaculate conception in such a humble manner will go on to do great things! After a none too ordinary childhood, the adult Jesus went on to become a performer of miracles and a great healer, who was incredibly wise and loving. He spent much of his time teaching and praying. His first followers were Jews and Jewish Proselytes. His teaching was based on the Hebrew Scriptures, in addition, he sometimes referred to other traditional writings of Judaism. Ultimately, Jesus died for our sins, and rose again, and then ascended to God in glory. Christians commemorate this with the celebration of Easter.
Subsequent to this Christianity carried on using the Jewish scriptures (the Tanakh became the Christian Old Testament) and Christians accept some of the very fundamental doctrines of Judaism as monotheism, (and thus, in turn, Judaism’s sole deity YHWH) and the belief in a moshiach (Hebrew term usually rendered messiah in English, which is the same as the term, Christ — which is derived from Christos in Greek).
However, from the very beginning, in accordance with what is documented in the New Testament, the teachings delivered by Jesus to his listeners were seen by the Jewish religious leaders as not being compatible with Judaism, which itself was very diverse during the time of Iudaea Province.
A New Testament account which is contested by many Jews as being non-historical, attests that the temple priesthood and the Sanhedrin (the supreme religious and civic court of Jerusalem, at that time) got together and planned to have Jesus put to death by the Roman authorities. He taught things about his identity and authority which they did not believe were compatible with the Mosaic Law, and with the Jewish traditions of doctrine and the worship of the God of Israel. For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to get rid him, because it seemed to them that not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, which made him an equal with God, and was probably deemed to be nothing short of blasphemous. (John 5:18 (ESV)). Some people were of the opinion that he was out to to destroy Herod’s Temple: “Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death” (Matthew 26:59 (ESV)).
From the time of the crucifixion of Jesus onward, the Jewish leaders are believed to have attempted to suppress those who followed what Jesus taught. But, after his death and resurrection, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles formed a community, a church distinct from other Jews and Greeks, into which they allowed uncircumcised Gentiles to enter by baptism, while openly declaring Jesus to be the Christ, and they began to be called Nazarenes and Christians.
Christianity also continued many of the patterns found in Judaism at that time, such as adapting the form of synagogue worship to become the Christian church parishes, prayer as a way in which to communicate with God, use of sacred scriptures, a priesthood, a religious calendar in which certain events such as the birth and death of Jesus, and/or beliefs are specifically commemorated on certain days each year, use of music in hymns and prayer, giving donations to the Church, and ascetic disciplines such as fasting and almsgiving. The Christian church and religion had been born.
First of all, Christians took up the Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures, which were known as the Septuagint, and made it their own Bible.
At a later stage they also canonized the books of the New Testament and the Bible of today was made.
Through the ages Christians have suffered much persecution because of their beliefs.
Currently, there are 6 million active Christians in the United Kingdom, but another 29 million people would consider themselves to be of the Christian persuasion, as they celebrate Christmas and Easter, albeit in a very commercial fashion. There are currently many variations, or denominations of Christianity, including Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian.
It is a Christian tradition to attempt to convert those of other religions to the Christian belief, and yet most Christians would say that it is their doctrine to respect that which is good and true within other religions.
The tradition of baptism is defined as being a Christian sacrament which signifies the spiritual cleansing and rebirth of the person who is undergoing the ritual. Most often, parents of children will have their children baptized to symbolize that they plan to bring the child up in a Christian household, but the baptism of adults is not uncommon either, indeed, it is true that a number of churches insist on the baptizing of a person only when he has reached adulthood.
Baptism was once known by the now relatively outdated term “christening”.
Interestingly, baptism is not solely connected with the Christian religion, but, similarly to so many other Christian traditions, is born of the Jewish religion – long before the time of Christ, baptism was known as the consummating step of the process by which a person would become Jewish. The people of the New Testament era were thus well acquainted with the practice of Baptism, which was made better known by John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who was just a little older than him. It is important to note that when the priests and Levites confronted John the Baptist (Jn. 1:19), they did not ask what he was doing, but rather why he baptized”. When an outsider confessed a faith in Judaism, he would be
- instructed in the faith,
- and then (after he had healed) he would immerse himself in water in a witnessed ceremony.
Immediately as he came out of the water, he would be given all rights and privileges of Judaism. (House Church Central, 2005)
Because Christianity began in the roots of Judaism, the process by which a Gentile would become a Christian followed this procedure precisely except that circumcision was no longer required (Acts 15:19). Note that this change tended to erase any distinction between men and women, making it clear right at the time of a candidate’s initiation that Christianity completely removes the three traditional barriers between people that are enumerated in Gal. 3:28. This verse, believed by many scholars to be a quotation of a baptismal formula in the early church, says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is what baptism symbolizes – the introduction of the person to the Christian faith, and the oneness with Jesus Christ.
Modern churches, for the sake of convenience, for the most part, do not conduct baptisms using full immersions, but rather by the means of sprinkling or pouring water onto the head of the person being baptized, and a debate is raging as to whether this is in fact a true baptism. I use the following analogy to answer this.
At the last supper, we believe that Jesus used unleavened bread (assuming it was a Passover meal), and fermented wine (given that unfermented grape juice would have been unavailable at that time of year). If we are to follow Jesus’ instructions to ‘do this in remembrance of me…”, as accurately as we possibly can, then we too should use unleavened bread and fermented wine. However, there are good pastoral, practical, and social reasons why many modern churches use grape juice and leavened bread for communion. They are still following the Lord’s command, and the essential nature of what they are using is the same. Few people would suggest that communion with leavened bread and unfermented grape juice is not communion, although we may wish to argue about which is more ideal.
The same principle is true of Baptism. During the time of Jesus and the early Church it is likely that most Baptisms were by immersion. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that the large- crowd and whole- household baptisms were not done by immersion. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that every Baptism described in the New Testament was by immersion. Also for very good pastoral, practical, and social reasons, many modern churches use sprinkling or pouring for Baptism. We know from the didache that this practice dates back to at least the second century. They are still following the Lord’s command, and the essential nature of what they are using (Water) is the same.
We are therefore able to conclude that with regards to Baptism, Christianity has responded to modern requirements and adapted in a manner which still adheres to the basic stipulations laid down in its beginnings. The modern baptism still complies with what Jesus stipulated, but is done in a safer (nobody is going to drown), more hygienic and quicker manner.
The second of the three religions I would like to look at is Judaism.
Circa 2000 BCE, the God of the ancient Israelites set up a divine covenant with Abraham, which made him the patriarch of many nations. This allowed the derivation of the term Abrahamic Religions from his name. There are the four religions which trace their roots back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i World Faith.
A description of the events surrounding the lives of the three patriarchs is found in Genesis – they are: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Joseph, who is recognized as a fourth patriarch by Christians is not considered to be one by Jews). Moses, who led his people out of captivity in Egypt, and received the Law, in the form of the Ten Commandments, from God, was the next leader of the ancient Israelites. He spent 40 years wandering through wilderness; Joshua led the tribes into the promised land, after driving out the Canaanites through a series of military battles.
After this, original tribal organization was converted into a kingdom by Samuel; and the first king of this empire was Saul. The following king, David, established Jerusalem as the religious and political center, and Solomon, the third king built the first temple there.
A brief biography of events infers that Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE; Judah fell to the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The temple was destroyed and some Jews returned from captivity under the Babylonians. In 63 BCE, the Roman Empire took control of Judea and Israel.
Four major (and quite a number of minor) religious sects had formed by the 1st century CE – these include: the Basusim, Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees. At that stage many people anticipated the arrival of the Messiah who they believed would drive the Roman invaders out and restore independence.
The period from the destruction of the temple onward gave rise to heavy persecution by Christians throughout Europe and Russia. Many groundless stories were spread, which accused Jews of a number of things including ritual murder, the desecration of the Catholic host and continuing responsibility for the execution of Jesus. Unsubstantiated rumors continue to be circulated today. In the 1930s and 1940s, Adolph Hitler and the German Nazi party used centuries of anti-Semitism, and heir own psychotic beliefs in racial purity as excuses to organize the Holocaust. About 6 million Jews were killed in one of the world’s greatest examples of religious and racial intolerance. The Jews have suffered much persecution along these lines throughout their history.
In response to this, the Zionist movement was a response from Jewish traditions to centuries of Christian persecution. Their initial goal was the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and the state of Israel was formed on 1948-MAY-18.
Currently about 18 million Jews exist throughout the world, mainly concentrated in North America (about 7 million) and Israel (about 4.5 million) (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2005).
In recent times much debate has raged around the traditional Jewish practice of circumcision. Many are quick to condemn it before knowing all the facts, and I believe that before opposing the practice of circumcision in Jews, we must understand what the ideology behind it is.
There is no question that ritual circumcision is a difficult choice many Jewish parents. Some Jewish families once comforted themselves with the idea that circumcision would have medical benefits for their children. Nowadays, that belief has come into question as most doctors are neutral on the subject of circumcision, and some are quite decidedly outspoken against it. Quite a number of famous child care experts and doctors recommend against circumcision in their books. Dr. Dean Edell has expressed opposition against infant circumcision for at least 15 years now.
The author of child care books Sheila Kitzinger very emphatically recommends that parents leave their sons intact. Dr. Lendon Smith goes into detail explaining the foreskin’s purposes and giving all the reasons why circumcision should not be performed. Dr. Spock, in his most recent book, stated “I feel that there’s no solid medical evidence at this time to support routine circumcision.” He recommends “leaving the foreskin the way Nature meant it to be.” Penelope Leach also recommends against routine circumcision. (Ray, MG, 1998)
As circumcision becomes less common in the American general population, Jewish parents have a choice to make – that of whether they will be the facilitators of the physical mark that distinguishes Jewish sons from boys of other religions, and as we can see, those that want to uphold the tradition do so in the face of quite marked opponency from the medical world.
On the other hand, many Jewish parents are drawn positively to the distinction of having their sons “look like” their fathers and other Jewish boys.
B’rit Milah is motivated by traditional ideology. In Jewish tradition, circumcision it is the physical sign of the covenant between God and Israel. It is a covenant that links generation to generation, it is appropriate that the mark is on a “generative” organ. From eight days after their birth, Jewish boys are marked by the covenant in a way that prefigures the eventual passing of that covenant to the next generation.
The whole idea of B’rit Milah also portrays something about the Jewish attitude toward our human bodies. Jewish tradition holds that human beings are not “perfect” as we are born. Before we can become our truest and best selves, we need “help” by means of spiritual discipline, growth and development that nature alone cannot provide. Circumcision can be symbolic of this completion of perfection of nature.
I think that many find this a difficult ideology to accept, and in keeping with that, it does not appear as though it was meant to be “easy.” According to Jewish tradition, B’rit Milah reinforces the message that choosing to follow the Jewish religion in general, and choosing to raise a child as a Jew means making difficult choices, especially in the face of a modern society that makes it so easy to ignore the wisdom of our tradition. Although some individuals make the choice not to circumcise, and indeed leave the choice up to the child himself, when he is of age, it
There are other modern concerns that accompany circumcision: some have concerns about the pain caused to the baby by circumcision. Many mohelim and mohelot (those who perform Jewish ritual circumcision) use safe and effective local anesthesia before performing the circumcision. This is an option for those who are worried about causing their babies pain.
Others object to B’rit Milah because of its implicit sexism. Tradition holds that we enter boys into the covenant with circumcision, but do nothing for our girls. I believe that this legitimate concern is best addressed by creating new rituals for welcoming baby girls into the covenant and new understandings of the nature of the “sign of the covenant.”
Some offer the explanation that girls do not require a mark of the covenant on their bodies because they already carry a sign linking them to future generations — the eggs that baby girls have in their ovaries from birth. Nonetheless, there is a feminist movement that has voiced its objections to circumcision.
I would conclude that in the case of the tradition of circumcision, the Jewish religion has not moved forward with modern times and thought.
The religion of Islam began in Mecca and was claimed to be the revelation of God (Allah) through the angel Gabriel to a man named Muhammad. Muhammad was born in approximately AD 570-571 to the powerful tribe of the Quraish.
Apparently his father was a maker of caravan trips who passed away a trading trip soon after his marriage to Aminah, leaving Muhammad fatherless at birth. Aminah died when he was six and Muhammad was taken in by his grandfather, who in turn died when Muhammad was eight, and he was passed to his uncle, Abu Talib, one of the leaders of the Quraish tribe.
Muhammad learned the family business quite successfully. A wealthy widow named Khadijah arranged for him oversee her trading business, and was so impressed with him that she proposed marriage to him. They married (he was 25 and she 40). They had two boys (both of whom died early in life) and four girls. Muhammad became the founder of Islam.
After marrying the wealthy Khadijah, Muhammad now became a gentleman of leisure and somewhat of a philosopher, spending his hours in meditation, greatly concerned about the condition of the civilization he saw around himself. He put himself on a personal mission to find “truth.” He often frequented a cave on Mount Nur. It was while in this cave, during the month of the Ramadan, a pagan festival, that he received his first visitation from Gabriel and recited the verses found in Qur’an 96:1-5.
At first, Muhammad shared his new revelations with only his family and close friends. But during the next three years the message of Muhammad spread among the people of Mecca, and then Muhammad received instructions from Allah to go publicly proclaim his message. This open condemnation of idolatry became an economic threat to the prosperity of Mecca, and as a consequence, organized opposition to Muhammad and Islam began. After the subsequent persecution, many fled to Ethiopia for refuge. Meccan delegates tried to extradite them, but the ruler did not allow this because his faith was similar to theirs, and he could not allow them to be harmed.
Muhammad went on spreading the message, and his following slowly grew. At one point, in 621, a group of delegates from Medina responded to his call and made a covenant with Muhammad and declared themselves to be Muslims.
Then in 622 seventy people from Medina made a similar declaration and pledged that they would protect Muhammad against any and all odds. This pledge or covenant was a turning point for the Islamic religion.
Muslims were now provided with a secure base of operations and allowed to expand from it. Muhammad commanded the Muslims in Mecca to migrate to Medina. A struggle ensued and Medina was then declared to be wholly a Muslim community. For 13 years, Muhammad preached in Mecca without much success. He made use of an approach that was quiet and not in the least political. In the 14th year however, perforce, he altered his tactics. He became a religious, political, and military leader.
The community of believers became more important than family or tribe. The spread through was done through intimidation and force. Tribes and cities were forcibly “converted” (under threat of war or by conquest). In 630, Muhammad returned to Mecca with overwhelming force – so much so that the Meccans made no resistance. Muhammad destroyed all Meccan idols, and declared the Kabah to be the place of worship for Allah.
Islam became the power on the Arabian Peninsula. Forcibly, allegiance was declared by tribe upon tribe and by city after city. Muhammad went back to Medina and the rule continued from there. He was 63 when he died in 632 – having established a religion and social order that is still dominant in the Arab world today.
Islam is one of the greatest opponents in existence to the gospel of Christ today, and is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. (Rieber, 2005). It is estimated that there are about 1 billion Muslims in the world.
The tradition of the burka is a contentious one based on recent events involving the Taliban, but that aside, let’s look at why some Muslims wear a burka and how it is has reacted to modernism.
Muslim women wear a variety of veils in accordance with hijab which is the word used in the Islamic religion to signify the concept of dressing modestly, something all Muslim women are instructed to do from puberty in their holy book, the Qu’ran.
There is no precise dress code for men or for women set out in the Qur’an but it does give some guidelines as to how Muslim women should behave. It is mentioned that believers should draw their cloaks close round them when they go out and say to the believing women that they should look down and be modest. They should not display their beauty and ornaments.
They are told that they should draw their veils over themselves. They can only display their beauty to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who are no longer interested, or to small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and t they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.
Various Islamic scholars have interpreted the meaning of hijab in different ways. The basic requirements are that when in the presence of someone of the opposite sex other than a “close family member” a woman should preserve her modesty by keeping her beauty to herself.
The supporters of Hijab say that it provides women with higher levels of sexual security and protection and that the consequence of this is that it encourages men to respect women for being chaste, modest and obedient to God.
In opposition, there are a lot of non-Muslims and some Islamic reformers who are of the belief that hijab is an unfair and somewhat oppressive movement. However, on the other hand, many Muslim women, including quite a large number in western cultures, say that they prefer to follow the movement as a sign of their faith (to their God), and in order that all Muslim women can be respected equally rather than some have more respect for their appearance. To these women it also appears to be a matter of social responsibility. So we have looked at the traditional aspect of why a woman will wear a burka.
Let’s take a look at the ritual from a modern perspective. People are encouraged to think for themselves in this day and age. Individualism is encouraged, and critics refer to pressure from members of the family and of the community on Western Muslim women as being undermining (or influential) to the ideal of hijab as a personal choice. In addition, feminists have fought for independence and individuality, and some feminists have argued that women who veil themselves to bring respect to themselves undermines the sexual and personal freedoms of all women, regardless of religion or culture, in other words they are in effect in some ways undoing the work that has been done through the years (The Free Dictionary, 2005. This cannot in any way be said to be “marching into modernism!”
In conclusion, then, in this essay we have looked at three religious traditions, coming from three separate religions. We have analysed them and we can state the following:
- It is clear that with the tradition of baptism, Christianity has indeed moved forward and tried to keep in line with modern requirements for convenience and speed by shortening its’ ritual.
- We can conclude that the religion of Judaism has not attempted to keep pace with modern demands with the ritual of circumcision
- The Muslim religion, with the wearing of the burka has been almost resolutely stubborn in not moving with modern thoughts regarding womens’ dress,
Based on the above, I therefore agree with the statement made by Jones: Religions most definitely do NOT march united into modernity!
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Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance Date of Posting/Revision: 2005 Date of Access: 19 Sep 2005, http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_desc.htm
Princeton Date of Posting/Revision: 2005 Date of Access: 19 Sep 2005, http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=christianity
Ray, Mary G. Mothers Against Circumcision Date of Posting/Revision: 1998 Date of Access: 19 Sep 2005, http: http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/
Wikipedia Date of Posting/Revision: 4 Sept 2005 Date of Access: 19 Sep 2005, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernity.
Ray, Mary G. Mothers Against Circumcision Date of Posting/Revision: 1998 Date of Access: 19 Sep 2005, http: http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/
Rieber, Ney. The History of Islam Date of Posting/Revision: 2005 Date of Access: 21 Sep 2005 http://www.bible.ca/islam/islam-history.htm
The Free Dictionary. Date of Posting / Revision: 2005 Date of Access 21 Sep 2005 http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/hijab