Religions have significantly impacted cultural evolution of mankind being inseparable part of world history. Humans have tried to perceive unfamiliar concepts, such as after life, death and birth with the help of religion. Simultaneously. through the history each religion endeavored to prove its superiority for the purpose of dominance. While all belief systems promise lifelong peace and happiness essentially, they vary greatly due to main characteristics and values. Each religion has left its traces on the demographic, socio-cultural, historical and even economic components of the territory it dominates. In following sections, the world’s most widespread religion-Christianity, its development and impact on various aspects of world civilization will be discussed.
Christianity, monotheistic religion with the largest population, is founded by the beliefs and doctrines of Jesus who declared himself as a son of God. Although it is built on universal values such as love, kindness and eternal trust in God, Christianity has 6 main branches with various interpretations and practices of common values: Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Assyrians. Holy book of Christianity is accepted as Bible which depicts historical events such as birth of Jesus, his miracles, crucifixion, and his rise from death in archeological order. Although the accuracy of events described (e.g. miracles and resurrection) are doubtful, many historians confirm its historical validity. For modern world, we cannot ignore the significance of Christianity to the civilization. Even the calendars we use is based on the birth of Jesus Christ. Therefore, analysis of this topic in the context of word civilization is crucial.
Existing influence of Christianity all over the world and its main causes have been analyzed by thousands of authors throughout history. One of the most recent and popular ones, “The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History” (1996), by Rodney Stark discusses that early Christians survived disasters and illnesses which caused more prosperous and longer lives. This trend lured a lot of conversions during early period of Christianity. Moreover, longer life spans worked for the favor of Christian proportion of population. Moreover, prohibition on child abortions and other religious values impacted fertility among Christian population. Due to higher value associated with women in society, conversion among female population has significantly increased. Thirdly, martyrs’ persistency towards tortures after conversions and their approach to death impressed non-believers and affected their attitude towards new religion (Stark, 1996).
However, such fanaticism and persistence has not always been peace oriented. In eleventh century, the pope called all Christians to save sacred territories, including Jesus’s grave from pagans (near Palestine and Syria). He promised forgiveness of all sins for those who will enroll in army. Religious wars known as Crusades in history invaded new territories in their second attempt by defeating Seljuq dynasty. While hiding their real purpose under religion, European feudals were looking for new territories to rule. Manipulation of low class people with religious promises served the interests of these greedy landlords.
Perhaps, the figure of the most well-known conflict between science and religion, Galileo Galilei was executed for insisting his ideas on heliocentric model by catholic church. “The earth is flat, and all other celestial object revolve around it” has been used in the teaching of Christianity for ages and contradictory hypothesis might create suspicion about reliability of the church. However, such attitude by catolic church could not prevent birth of scientific ideas. After his execution, heliocentric system lured attention of many scientists that consummated it and passed it to the next generations.
Christianity is also held responsible for the major milestones in European and world history. Max Weber, in his “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, indicated that among European citizens significantly higher number of successful business leaders, educated people and skilled workers are Protestants rather than Catholic. He correlated this relationship with disciplined work ethic of Protestant people. Their tendency to save wealth served rise of capitalism, according to Weber. In other words, he advocated that religion function more than just a spiritual need, but as a determining factor on the rise of universal notion, capitalism in Europe. However, recent research with quantitative data belonging to period 1500-1870, “the thesis that the Protestant ethic has been an important factor in the growth of modern capitalism is not supported” (Sanderson et al., 2011).
In my opinion, Christianity was what world needed when it emerged despite criticisms of modern world intellectuals. Value system has been salvation for those who suffer due to lack of moral values in society. Major social institutions (e.g. marriage) and human relationships were reevaluated with peace and respect. Especially, Christianity approach to women and overall dignity in relationships created peace and salvation. Nevertheless, as civilization evolved, influential clergymen and religious people who abused underclass noticed potential threat in the scope of education. Therefore, they are main reason of enemy stigma attached to religion against education. Superstitious interpretations of religion and irrational attitude towards illumination were related to the concern over loss of dominance in Christian church (as seen from the example of Galileo Galilei). Obviously, even the most altruistic belief system can be contaminated with power in wrong hands. Being one of the oldest religions gave Christianity opportunity to secure its position and “contamination” by manipulative clergymen. However, its impact on culture and art is indisputable.
Moreover, faith in holy and divine creature inspired artists in numerous fields of art to create as a mean of communication. For example, numerous pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, such as “St Matthew Passion”, contain not only Bible references and scripts, but also demonstrates his admiration to God with explicit divinity of music that gives goosebumps to audience. Moreover, can we ignore the artists who attempted to depict Christ as a human and sacred human at the same time for ages while contributing magnificent pieces to the art world? Or can we ignore the magnificent church and other sacred monuments that are directly related with Christianity itself?
To conclude, Christianity should be evaluated along with its relationship with other social institutions. Its impact on cultural and social elements of civilization, for example, is undeniably profound. Renaissance artists inspired by Christian art gave birth to new movements, for instance. Thousands of poems and pieces would not exist if they were not dedicated divine figures of Christianity. Overall all other examples and factors discussed above about music indicate that there are distinctions between cultural and economic perspectives on impacts of Christianity to world civilization.