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Religion Through the Ages

The role religion plays in world history is, at best, tremendous. Through the ages, religion has both unified and divided civilizations often bringing extreme human casualty, in the case of division, or creating interesting new cultures, in the case of the latter. In the Ancient civilizations such as the Greek, Kush and Egyptian empires religion serves as a catalyst further strengthening the bond found in such homogeneous societies.

In these civilizations it is important to note that the inhabitants did not conceive of religion in terms of a belief system in a higher moral authority, rather, the belief system was such a part of their lifestyle that there was no differentiation. In discussing ancient civilizations such as the Greek and Kush empires it is also important to understand that nonconformity was not even a mode of thinking, therefore, there was no room for religious disunity.

In homogeneous societies, religion serves to further bridge the culture together. This is not the case in other later civilizations. England’s King Henry VIII separation from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century presents the most interesting scenario in discussing the role of religion and how it either unites or divides people. For the first time, moreso than Rome’s conversion to Christianity, a religious division was taking place within a relatively homogeneous society.

Religion perhaps is predominately viewed by most contemporaries as problematic given the current divisions among many Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and the continuing conflict between Muslims and Hebrews in the Middle East. The Crusades serve as an example of how two religiously unified societies become fierce competitors in the conquest for world domination, in this sense, religion is divisive. The dynamics in determining whether religion unites or divides people are extremely complex especially when discussing civilizations from the Egyptians to the English dynasties.

However, three distinctions can be outlined in this discussion. Firstly, religion serves as a catalyst further unifying homogeneous civilizations such as the Greek, Kushite and Egyptian societies, secondly, religion serves as a primary focus of difference when two homogeneous societies, such as the Muslims and the Christians involve themselves in a conflict for spiritual dominance, and, thirdly, how religion, in some homogenous societies such as the Protestant Reformation of the late Tudor and early Stuart dynasties in England, serves to divide the people.

Religious observance in ancient civilizations serves to further bridge the connectedness that the people of those societies felt. In the ancient Greek, Kushite and and Egyptian cultures religion was such a integral part of their lifestyle that it was totally indistinguishable in terms of contemporary classifications. The ancient Greeks held close to a common polytheistic belief system and operated the government, domestic lifestyle, and recreation from this system. The evidence is abounds in that the Olympic Games were held at the feast of Zeus at Olympia in Elis, and the Pythian Games were held at Delphi, in honor of Apollo.

Although the Greeks were advanced in the governmental procedures such as their creation of the republic, Kings such as Darius yielded extreme power and control. The Kushites who first known around the sixth century B. C. (538 B. C. ) were the darker skinned people who rivaled, to a small extent, the great Egyptian dynasties. The Kushites had a central belief system that revolved around the ka or “soul” as Miriam Ma’at Ka Re Monges explains in her book entitled Kush: The Jewel of Nubia.

The ka was “used as a term for the creative and sustaining power of life” which every human being shared by entering the world. Another important factor in explaining how religion within homogeneous societies serves as a bonding force is the Kushite custom of regicide. In Meroe as well as other Kushite kingdoms, the killing of the king was an accepted custom. The religious belief is that the King’s physical well being was directly tied to the gods and to the fertility of the lands.

Monges, in her book, further contends that: ince the king was responsible for Maat[term a number of positive qualities, i. . righteousness and truth] and since the fertility of the land was necessary for balance and order, the decreased vitality of the king would affect the production of the land. This suggests an underlying reason for the ritual killing of the king(109)This was an accepted custom for ages until the belief system was challenged by King of Ethiopia Ergamenes during the “reign of the second Ptolemy. ” Ergamenes was educated in Greece, and, therefore, did not have the true understanding of Kushite custom as his predecessors.

Two belief systems clashed. Eragmenes was the “first to have the courage to disdain the command” because of his Greek training, consequently, he puts “the priests to the sword, and after abolishing this custom ordered affairs after his own will. ” This occurrence serves as concrete example of how religion can become extremely dangerous when one, in power, disrupts the common belief system of a homogeneous society. Monges, in her book, further contemplates the Ergamenes situation:

The ritual killing of the king was being practiced by these African people. It isapparent that the culture was not fully understood by these outsiders. Didorus[Greek historian who records the account] writes that prior to Ergamenes, the ritual killing of the king was “accepted by the simple mind of a creature shaped by old and ineffective customs. ” The Greek mind separated the material and the spiritual. (113)Precisely, the Greek mind in Ergamenes did not allow him to simply give up his wealth for something spiritual that he could not see.

In the case of Ergamenes the only bloodshed caused was that of the priests, however, in other cases where two belief systems clash, especially when these two belief systems are religions dedicated to world dominance such as with the Christians and the Muslims, the extreme human destruction is incalculable. The ancient Egyptian civilization, which spans over 3 millenium, is yet another example of how religion within the contexts of a homogeneous society further bridges people to a commonality. For the most part, Ancient Egyptian religion was polytheistic with tremendous pyramids and other religious objects dedicated to this religion.

An example of how important religious conformity is among the ancient Egyptians one can look at the reign of Ahmenhotep IV. Amenhotep IV undertook a religious reform by displacing all the traditional deities with the sun god Aton . In the god’s honor, the pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaton, Akhenaton’s reforms were one of the earliest attempts to enforce monotheism among a longstanding polytheistic culture. Images and inscriptions of other gods were removed, moreover, Akhenaton, to further enforce his views, moved the country’s capital from Thebes to a place up north which he called Akhetaton.

His obsessive concentration on religious reform allowed for the empire to disintegrate to a degree. After his death, Tutankhamun, restored the original gods and returned the capital back to Thebes. Again the internal religious belief system of a homogeneous culture is threatened, but unlike the case of Ergamenes in the Kushite kingdom, Akhenaton’s reforms were overturned. In these three cultures, one can readily observe how religion serves as a catalyst further strengthening the bond of the homogeneous societies. Only in cases, where the religious belief system is threatened is the continuity of the civilization in jeopardy.

Religious observance in ancient civilizations serves to further bridge the connectedness that the people of those societies felt. In the case of the Muslims and the Christians, the long history of the Crusades serves as an example of how two groups of people spanning borders and languages side themselves on religion alone. The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II in 1095. Urban was a reforming, activist pope who according to Dr. Ellis Knox “was looking for some great event or cause. ” Pope Urban II gave a speech, which directly leads to the first but not last lengthy battles of the Crusades.

Knox gives a summary of what Urban II says on his website page. Christians are being oppressed and attacked; the holy places are being defiled; and Jerusalem itself is groaning under the Saracenyoke. The Holy Sepulchre is in Muslim hands. The West must march in defense of the Holy Land. All should go, rich and poor alike. God himself will lead them, for they will be doing His work. There will be absolution and remission of sins for all who die here they are poor and miserable sinners – there they will be rich and happy, true allies of God. Let them march next summer.

The history of the Crusades is as dynamic and complex as all the battles and events that take place. A series of defeats and triumphs for both the Christians and the Muslims provide Europe with more of a Muslim influence and set the stage for the Middle East being the breadbasket for Islam. Knox, in the last page description of the Crusades in his website, brilliantly divulges: It is common for textbooks to talk about the results of the crusades: increased contact with the East, opening of markets, Arab influences on styles and customs, changes in military practice.

While all these certainly came about at one time or another, crusades were preached from the end of the eleventh century on into the sixteenth century. One has to be cautious in assigning any sort of result to a movement that covers five hundred years. http://history. idbsu. edu/westciv/crusades/21. htm)One must “be cautious” in “assigning” any significant historic event or movement that evolved from the Crusades but the quote is included to show the how religion has played such a vital role in dividing people.

Knox further argues that making enemies of the church became such a “commonplace” activity that “Crusading activity simply became a part of European culture. ” He also contends: In a sense, the religious wars of the Protestant Reformation are the logical result of this mentality; by the time Europeans had exhausted themselves in internal religious war, we hear no more about wars against the infidel. Exactly, the internal religious wars had become external which sets the historical stage for the Protestant Reformation. The third distinction outlined earlier discusses how religion in homogeneous societies can divide people.

The Protestant Reformation perhaps is the best example of this occurrence. Unlike Ergamenes in the Kushite Empire and Akhenaton in the Ancient Egyptian civilization, King Henry VIII’s great matter altered the course of history forever and divided people along distinct lines. Henry VIII, desperate for a son and believing that Catharine of Aragon could not provide him a son, seeks an annulment from their marriage on grounds that Catharine violated their marriage by consummating her first marriage to his brother who died.

The Vatican in Italy did not support the King’s claim therefore he separates from the Roman Catholic Church and creates the Anglican Church of England. The ramifications that this move had on Parliament and the people of England were paramount. Parliament had new found power in that the Church money no longer flowed to the Vatican and the King needed to get Parliament’s permission for most funds. King Henry VIII, however, successfully starts the tradition of Protestantism in Europe, which ultimately leads to the rise of Protestantism as a major religious world force.

England after the transition, however, faced constant threats of revolution and plot attempts on their king’s court. The tragic rule of Queen Mary illustrates this point best. Like Akhenaton and Ergamenes she attempts to change her people’s religion but, unlike the previous two mentioned, Mary attempts to bring a religion that her people traditionally serve, Catholicism, back to England. Her reign was filled with people being burned at the stake with the charge of heresy. Queen Mary’s marriage to Philip II of Spain did not contribute in her endeavor of bringing England back to Rome’s control.

Mary’s tragic reign ultimately ends in her death in 1558. She alone is responsible for the destruction and tragedy she brings to her people as Stuart E. Prall in his book entitled Church and State in Tudor and Stuart England explains: The belief that the people and the monarch should share the same religion Was deeply ingrained throughout Western Europe. It was Mary and her advisors Who forced Cranmer and England to choose[Protestantism]. Once Mary Combined mass burnings at the stake with a pro-Spanish foreign policy, all In the name of the Roman church, the eventual triumph of a monarchial EnglishProtestantism appeared to be inevitable. 8)

The issue at hand with the Protestant Reformation is the a homogeneous people had deep religious divisions internally due to a shift in religious practice. Religion has both united and divided societies since the beginning of history. As demonstrated with the ancient Kushite, Greek, and Egyptian cultures, homogeneous societies use religion as a bridge further developing the interconnectedness of the group of people. The second distinction made in discussing whether or not religion unites or divides is understanding the origins and plight of the Crusades.

When two homogeneous groups of people with differing belief systems collide, the results are horrific. The Protestant Reformation provides a twist in the discussion. A homogeneous people with religion being problematic in that it divides them between their King and their God. Religion is at once dividing and uniting. It serves as a means for humans to explain their existence and substantiate their place in this world, however, as demonstrated the impact of religion in world civilizations has been tremendous, and should continue to be.

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