The Effect of Modern Christianity on Culture and Society, Research Paper Example
Words: 2170Research Paper
Although Christianity hasn’t always been the world’s most prominent religion, it is clear that its beliefs and values are having a heavy impact on thinking in the modern world. According to the World Factbook, 31.59% of the world’s population is Christian, which is nearly one-third of the population (CIA – The World Factbook). There is no other religion that demonstrates this kind of worldwide prevalence, with religions like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism trailing behind Christianity in terms of numbers. As such, this widespread religion is reflect heavily in the tradition of people all over the planet. Many governments base their laws off of Christian principles, these ideas encourage people to be charitable and kind to one another, and Christian beliefs have led to the organization of many institutions, such as churches and schools.
Firstly, it is important to describe how Christian beliefs have impacted the formation of law in several countries. An example of this impact can be illustrated by examining the Constitution of the United States; it is clear that many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights are tightly or loosely based on the Ten Commandments. According to “Christianity and the American Constitution”, people believe that while equality of religion is emphasized in the United States, Americans tend to equate Constitutional law with the moral code that is described in the bible (Vincent). Outside of the idea of morality, including concepts that state it is unjust to cheat, kill, or steal, Christianity appears in the Constitution more frequently than one would expect for a country that aimed to achieve religious equality. In one example, the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights states, “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.” This specific law has nothing to do with morality, but it is a clear reflection of the Christian practice that honors Sunday as a day of rest. It is interesting to note that this Constitutional tradition has continued today despite the fact that presidents may not necessarily use to the day to go to church or rest.
Since Christianity was widely believed by the forefathers and original settlers in the United States, it isn’t surprising that Christian values are deeply intertwined into our culture. In fact, when the forefathers originally decided that religious freedom should be a value of this new nation, they likely referred to the fact that people would be free to worship the different forms of Christianity; there were very few people in the New World who celebrated Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., and as such, Constitutional laws were made as an effort to reflect the beliefs of the majority. The writers of the Constitution could not have predicted the diversity of religions that live within this country today and did not account for this potential when deciding the laws of the new nation. In fact, Justice Joseph Story, who served on the Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845 said, “Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the First Amendment to it . . . the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private religious rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation . . . .The real object of the amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government” (Story). This focus on uniting Christian religions because it helped form a country with many differing beliefs, which eventually contributed to the acceptance of non-Christian religions and people.
Outside the scope of the Constitution of the United States, Christianity still plays a major role in the culture of American society. For example, even though Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of baby Jesus, people from outside the Christian faith celebrate certain aspects of the holiday. It isn’t unusual for American families who are non-religious to buy and decorate a tree and exchange gifts during this time of year. The Christmas holiday has evolved in such a way that it includes all American people; we enjoy listening to Christmas carols on the radio, look forward to the holiday specials on television, appreciate people’s holiday decorations, and feel the “spirit” of the holiday overall as a consequence of our cultural values rather than our individual religious beliefs. In addition, the celebration of Christmas in the country enhanced the importance of the holidays that other religions celebrate such as Hanukah and Kwanzaa. For example, Hanukah didn’t initially involve the exchanging of large gifts, preferring small trinkets to commemorate the miracle of light and the fact that their people won the war against the Greeks. Although Hanukah was never considered unimportant by the Jewish people, it was never emphasized as a major holiday like Christmas. However, since Hanukah typically occurs at the same time of year as Christmas, the Christian culture influenced the American Jewish holiday tradition to become more similar to their celebrations. As such, both Hanukah and Christmas are considered large and lavish celebrations in American culture even though they hold unequal importance to the religions that established them. Furthermore, Kwanzaa was developed by African Americans to celebrate their heritage and culture in the same fashion that Christians celebrate on Christmas. Although Maulana Karenga developed Kwanzaa in order to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society”, the holiday shares clear similarities with Christmas (The African American Lectionary). If Christmas weren’t a mainstream cultural phenomenon in the United States, it is unlikely that Karenga would have felt a need to develop this holiday in response.
A fundamental belief in Christianity is that good Christians should be kind to one another and help the less fortunate. While in a sense, the government supports these values through certain programs like food stamps and public housing, modern society takes this value a few steps further in their practices charitable acts. In today’s society, we know many people who volunteer for organizations, donate items and clothing to the needed, and participate in charity walks in a regular basis. The rationale for these actions is that we are helping to make the world a better place by doing so, and we feel good that we are helping others. The Christian religion believes that participating in charitable causes is spreading God’s love. Although many people who do charity are not doing so to spread the message and love of God, it is clear that this Christian principle has hit home with many people across many religions and defined morality in this sense. We can all agree that even though charity is a Christian principle, it is good and satisfying to help other people.
While many believe that people were charitable before Christianity, historians emphasize that the concept of charity is a purely Judeo-Christian idea; before these two monotheistic religions, the world was a very different place. Historian Will Durant has described charity in ancient Rome, the greatest of the civilizations of antiquity, by stating, “Charity found little scope in this frugal life. Hospitality survived as a mutual convenience at a time when inns were poor and far between; but the sympathetic Polybius reports that ‘in Rome no one ever gives away anything to anyone if he can help it’—doubtless an exaggeration” (Newcombe). As such, we should be thankful that the widespread prominence of Christianity enforced this idea of charity in the modern world. It supports our modern belief that although there are constantly problems in the world, such as plague, war, and hunger, people who care about the downtrodden are genuinely able to make a difference in someone’s life, no matter how small this difference may be. As a result of this belief, the modern world has many organizations that help a variety of people in need, including organizations that bring food to the homeless, donate wigs to people with cancer, raise money for cancer research, and the list goes on and on.
When the United States was first founded, a majority of the public institutions were led by religious leaders or religious individuals. In particular, schools and churches were major public gathering places that were heavily influence by Christianity and its culture. School houses, independent of what age group or gender they educated, focused greatly on teaching the bible to its pupils. A majority of children learned to read using the bible and as a consequence, become very familiar with this material. Even books that were not specifically the bible tended to incorporate scripture and other aspects of the Christian religion. For example, a book entitled “The Little Orator, Or, Primary School Speaker”, which was published in 1865, attempted to instruct students through stories that provided them with lessons about morality. These stories aimed to convince children that they should not lie, to wake up early and not waste time, to be thankful for the lives that they were given, and to do the right thing.
Aside from the textbooks that the children received, the specific lessons that they were given was heavily impacted by the gender roles that were defined by the bible. As such, female children were taught to be excellent homemakers, how to sew, how to cook, and how to complete other tasks that would make their husband’s lives easier. Meanwhile the male children would learn other skills; some would delve more deeply into religious practices, others would learn how to be skilled speakers, and others would learn advanced languages. For men who wished to go to college, these practices would continue throughout their education. In addition, since colleges were all founded by Christian societies, the Christian faith was always intertwined with other educational studies.
Although modern schools no longer emphasize the difference between males and females according to gender, it is important to consider that many colleges have Christian roots and continue to celebrate this today. For example, while the Ivy League schools are not currently considered to have a specific religious affiliation, many have churches on their campuses and originally trained men to become ministers and other leaders within the religion. Even though the focus of education has shifted for these institutions, they still focus on many moral and ethical standards that are defined by Christianity. For example, these schools prohibit cheating in the form of plagiarism, encourage students to do charity work in addition to their school work, and try to structure them into being the best person they could possibly be. Although these values seem disconnected from their original intent, one would not have to travel very far within one of these schools to find a Latin inscription or another relic that reminds one of the school’s early origin.
When the nation was first founded, churches played an important role in the community. Although their primary function was as a place to worship God and pray, its secondary function was as a community gathering place. As a consequence, during the founding of the country, churches functioned as meeting places for the community to discuss matters important to them and to host celebrations. Even though the modern world has formed buildings with these specific purposes separate from churches, it is important to note that these are still important gathering places for many people.
In conclusion, Christian society is greatly ingrained in the culture of the modern world. It is integrated into the law, thoughts of politicians, and moral code of the public in general. It helps us question right from wrong, influences us to help the needy, and steers us in the right direction when we are at school or at work. Although countries like the United States aren’t purely Christian, it is important for citizens to appreciate its Christian roots. Christianity in the United States is the main doctrine that allows people to tell right from wrong and guides the action of citizens both legally and personally throughout life.
“CIA – The World Factbook.” Welcome to the CIA Web Site — Central Intelligence Agency. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2012. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html>.
Newcombe. Charity – a Judeo-Christian Invention. 18 Jul. 2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. <http://townhall.com/columnists/jerrynewcombe/2013/07/18/charitya-judeochristian-invention-n1643160/page/full>
Story J. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 2nd Ed. Boston: Little Brown, 1905.
The African American Lectionary. 2010. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. <http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupCulturalAid.asp?LRID=183>
Vincent B. Christianity and the American Constitution. N.D. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. <http://www.rbvincent.com/usconstitution.htm>
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