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Faith and Society, GCSE Coursework Example

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GCSE Coursework

Faith and society have always been intertwined concepts to some extent, but it is clear that they have become more distinct features rather than individual characteristics that define how individuals interact with their universe. The 300 years between 1500 and 1800 AC marked an enormous change in attitude towards religion. While it once dictated the day to day life of people in a major way during the Middle Ages, religion transitioned to a background position in the Renaissance where it supported art and science in a capacity that allowed individuals to make discoveries that occasionally contrasted its validity. Many individuals believe that the shift from a religious lifestyle to secularism was accompanied by a shift from the sense that Christianity was reflected in religious and social values to more of a political ideology, that the beliefs of the church evolved to more adequately reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ, that war and arguments over religious ideology were no longer worthwhile, the fact that the Enlightenment brought about new beliefs that helped humanity explain their universe, and that people initiated actions that would help them co-exist rather than fight over religious differences.

Before we can consider what caused the transition between a religion dominated society and secularism, we must define the characteristics of society that changed over this time period. One of the major changes that occurred between 1500 and 1800 AC is the belief that the concept of Christianity as defined by the Catholic Church and the bible may not be an accurate representation of the message of Jesus Christ. This is one of the most notable transitions in society because this marked the first time that an individual questioned religion in any sense. While Martin Luther was a devout Christian, he did not allow himself to become blinded by the many unethical practices conducted by the Catholic Church. It was apparent that members of the clergy enjoyed a lavish lifestyle compared to average citizens as a consequence of misuse of church donations. While these monetary contributions were initially intended to support the church and contribute to charity, they were instead being used by members of the clergy to ensure that they were living well above the means, which is a clear contradiction to the oath each of them had taken when entering the monastery. To ensure this farce would continue, the clergy claimed that monetary donations would ensure salvation, which encouraged even the poorest individuals to participate. Martin Luther disagreed with this concept and instead promoted the belief that salvation could be achieved through prayer and faith alone.

In “On the Freedom of a Christian”, Martin Luther discusses his understanding of Christianity and how these beliefs are independent from the ideologies that the church-dominated government had set fourth (Luther). The ability to perform one’s duty as a Christian is independent of one’s duty to the state and an individual’s duty to Christ should come before all. Therefore, Luther proposed that believers should focus less on the politics of religion and more on their exploration of faith. This was history’s first notable example for the call of separation of church and state. Luther’s logical ideas earned him many followers which eventually pressured the monarchy and Catholic Church to adapt and play more distinct roles in religious enforcement and law enforcement.

Although Luther’s beliefs brought about a widespread support of secularism, it also created a sense of tension between the major religions in Europe. While Christianity was certainly prevalent, sub-religions such as Protestantism were beginning to form, which affected the balance of power between groups. Meanwhile, other Judeo-Christian religions such as Judaism and Islam struggled to continue to have the right to exist. “Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe” calls to attention the war over religion that many individuals faced during this transition period (Kaplan). Ultimately, this caused a lot of blood to be shed. Even though Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” after major attempts to eliminate non-Christians from Europe such as the Spanish Inquisition, these events marked a clear struggle between some individual’s want to change and others fight to remain the same. While this was a necessary part of history, it helped call to attention the need to determine a resolution among the various religions. For some, this meant the separation of church and state, for others this meant the continuation of Christianity as a director of both social life and politics. This led to the restructuring of many ruling families and convinced others that the only way to obtain true religious freedom would be to flee Europe altogether. While conflict was continuous in some city-states, many adapted a policy of tolerance. As the Renaissance continued, religious persecution decreased which reflected a diminishing sense that religion was the most important aspect of life to individuals.

While it is now clear what aspects of life changed that contributed secularization of Europe, it is essential to consider what specifically caused these changes. A major changed resulted as a consequence of the Enlightenment, which had a nearly continent-wide participation. The Enlightenment was essentially a renewal of interest of the academic topics studied by the ancient Romans and Greeks, which contributed to a number of ideas that contrasted biblical knowledge. A majority of the arts in the Middle Ages focus on religious themes; paintings were depictions of religious scenes and music was produced to be used in church services almost exclusively. The Enlightenment promoted the idea that it is reasonable to pursue the arts outside the confines the church in addition to exploring other areas of knowledge. One of the major advances that contrasted the concepts put forth by the bible was human exploration of astronomy. The Catholic Church had taught its disciples that the Earth is the center of the universe, which is consistent with the belief that it must be the most important due to God’s interest in using it to create life. However, scientists such as Copernicus found that this is not the case; the Earth and the other planets in the solar system orbit around the sun. While Copernicus was framed as a heretic by the church for this finding and asked to retract it, this finding provided convincing evidence that not everything that the Catholic Church said was true. Not many individuals were brave enough to counteract the word of the church but did so because they believed that understanding the larger picture of how the universe works is more important than their religion.

It is clear that our history has pointed us in the direction of religious tolerance. European history has shown us that for this to be possible, individuals must be committed to furthering the knowledge of humanity. Ultimately, increased knowledge has led to an increased ability to understand one another and to tolerate individuals despite contrasting beliefs. Between the years 1500 and 1800 AD, tolerance had extended to the ability of the city-states to define which religion they would follow. Although many governments remained Christian, they were allowed the ability to determine which sect best represented their citizens. This lead to a decline in power of the Catholic Church, which then switched from a primarily political power to one that aimed to promote equality and good for all people regardless of faith, which more closely reflects Christian ideals. Our ability to understand the evolution of religious tolerance is necessary to the world today because there will continue to be religious conflict as long as we misunderstand one another. It is important therefore, to mimic the model of tolerance that evolved out of the Enlightenment. While we certainly do not have to agree with one another’s religious beliefs and values, we do need to learn to co-exist for the benefit of humanity. Religion will always exist and many people believe that their religious principles are their truth and understanding of the universe. Others believe that academic research and scientific fact is the only way to truly understand the universe. It is not our place to determine which method is correct and which is wrong, but to ensure that these beliefs are allowed to continue and any attempt to understand the opposite point of view contributes to equality and peace.

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