Sunday 7 September 2014

Religions explained

Here is a map showing the dominant branch of religions across Europe and the middle east. In the Good old days of the Roman Empire these were all one religion. So how did these splits come about? 

Blue - Roman Catholic
Purple - Protestant
Red - Eastern Orthodox
Light Green - Sunni Islam
Dark Green - Shi'i Islam

Like most things it had much more to do with politics than religious ideals. 

If I was to blame one person it would be Constantine the Great  as he organised the following
  1. The Council of Nicea - I would argue that by vilifying arianism in favour of trinitarianism, would become became a fundementally seperate religion as it did not believe Jesus is God.
  2. Founding Constantinople and which lead to a Greek vs Latin political divide which eventually led to the East-West Schism

Constantine made some bad calls

Christianity - Islam Split

The reason for the Council was that Roman Emperor Constantine wanted to enforce one religious doctrine across the Empire, in order to ideologically unify the Empire's citizens. The main ideological issue is the nature of Jesus with Christians arguing Jesus is God (as part of Trinity) whereas Muslims (and Christian Arians) argue Jesus was just a Prophet. 

Islam views itself as a more pure form of the same monotheist faith. Islams main issue with Christianity is due to Christianity's insistence on the divine nature of Jesus. Now arguably Muhammad's teachings and military might may have made Islam still irreconcialable with Christianity (like Joesph Smith & Mormonism), but it's hard to know for sure. It's also hard to know where Muhammad picked up his ideas as well, see hereFor example, John of Damascus (d.749), a Christian writer, states that Muhammad "having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy."

Arabs Conquer half of the Roman empire
At the time of the Arab conquests, Christianity remained united, with the Patriach of Constantinople being the dominant leader, not the pope in Rome.

Sunni and Shi'i Split in 656 AD Sunni split from Shiite
Originated from Arab infighting over who was the rightful successor to Muhammad. The Sunni's beat the Shiites at the battle of The Camel which is why most of the Muslim world is Sunni.

Arabs get into a fight over who's boss of the new Empire. Sunni's win. Persians
hijack the Shiite cause to retain their territorial and political independence.

The Persian Empire began force converting it's land to Shia Islam, starting with Ismail I who began the Safavid dynasty and wanted an additional instrument for preventing the Ottoman Empire from easily conquering and assimilating it's territory. So this ideological split was introduced to unite peoples within the persian empire against the rest of the muslim world.

Christianisty split into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox

Constantine split the running of the empire between the Greek run portions of the empire became managed seperartely to the Latin run portions. This had happened before, but he also set up a second centre of power to rival Rome, Constantinople. Rivaly between the Pope in Rome and the Patriach in Constantinople lead to the east west schism. The Eastern empire became eastern orthodox (and spread this to the slavs in Kievian Rus), while the successor states of the Western Roman Empire (notably the Carolingian Empire and it's successors France and the Holy Roman Empire) became Catholic.

Constantine splits Roman Empire into East and West. This went on to become the
Roman Catholic - Eastern Orthodox split. He also enforced the doctrine of the Trinity and outlawed

East - West Schism leads to Roman Catholic - Eastern Orthodox divide. Basically
boils down to The Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of  Constantinople getting in a
pissing contest.

Roman Catholic - Protestant Split

After the Romans lost the battle of Teutoburg Forest against German tribes, Rome never again tried to conquer and assimilate the German people. Protestantism spread almost exclusively among Germanic successor states (where Germanic languages are spoken).

Language Map - There is a complete mapping of Protestants with Germanic speaking peoples. The only Germanic speaking people that Remained Catholic are those who were part of the Hapsburg Empire.

As these regions never spoke a Romance language they felt especially disconnected from a church who's religious ceremonies were carried out in Latin. Once the bible was translated well by Martin Luther into German and disseminated by the printing press, people began to question the 'corruptions' in Roman Catholic contemporary teaching and challenge papal authority.

This could have lead to a reform of the Catholic church without a split from the Church, so why did Germans, Scandanavians and English split from the Catholic Church? Because the Rulers of these regions wanted more power over the Church, and the pope's main enforcer, the Holy Roman Emperor no longer had the power to enforce unity.

This lack of power was ironically due to the Pope's own policies against the Holy Roman Emperor in previous centuries. The pope supported the Northern Italians and German Barons against the Emperor leading to defeat in Northern Italy and appeasement in Germany. In time this lead to further decentralisation of the empire which culminated the a religious 'civil war', the thirty years war that destroyed Germany and German religious unity. The Holy Roman Emperor could not enforce Catholicism on his subjects, it's princes chose there own flavors of Protestantism (Luther, Calvin, etc.)
30 years war between protestants and Catholics in 17th century.


Islam (Green) splits from Christianity (Blue, Red, Purple) with Mohammads teachings & Muslim Conquests
Sunni (Green) splits from Shia (dark green) with Ismail I of Persia
Roman Catholic splits from Eastern Orthodox with Pope Leo IX
Protestants (Purple) split with Catholics (Blue) after Martin Luther

So why blame Constantine?

Putting it simply, Constantine shouldn't have just deferred the decision making at the council of nicea to bishops and shouldn't have accepted such a divisive outcome to the council. He was the ultimate decision maker and had been using Christianity for political gain. It happens all the time with politicians who don't necessarily care too much about what the ideology they're using for their own succes is actually about... For example Trump said the bible is his favourite book, but when asked about what his favourite verse is - just says "I like all of it". Now the irony that Constantine didn't care or believe in the religion he contributed to the institutionalisation of isn't lost on me, but it's just life.
On the assumption that the critique that St. John of Damascus made of Islam is true, and further on the assumption that had the resolution to the arian controversy been more moderate, then either islam would never have arisen (arguably it would anyway, given say Joesph Smith) OR it would have arisen as a more reconcilable "heresy" (Islam was originally classified as a heresy not a seperate religion).
If that assumption holds true, then the church ends up being more flexible around doctrine, Muhammad's heresy could fit in the envelope (and the east west schism would have been less likely, which is likely to have impacted the crusades, especially the 4th). Therefore, even if the saracens (how arab desert dwellers were identified originally, not by their religion but by where they came from) had conquered large swathes or all of the eastern empire, they would likely learn greek and be assimilated much like the mongols were in china into the christian 'greek' religion (let's face it, the new testiment was written in greek) would be far more compromising and therefore more unifying.
Now, specifially to asia minor this does assume that inland anatolians would not be assimilated if a christian religion was more tolerant of heresy, while a counterpoint could be made that inland anatolians were assimilated by the turks because they had more in common with nomadic turks then costal dwelling greeks.
Why is this Constantines fault - well while he had the 'divinely inspired' dream about Christianity, used it as a rallying call and won a civil war, he didn't even necessarily believe in it, and if he did maybe he was an arianist. So why the big push for trinitarianism? The reason is he didn't care - he just wanted a unifying ideology, and he deferred complete authority over the proceeding to bishops who excommunicated and exiled arius, but his 'heresy' lived on for centuries, arguably 'inspiring' (if not divinely inspiring) islam. If he had taken a more active role in the proceedings, he would have no doubt elected for a more pragmatic outcome. He didn't see what the big deal was, he jusrt wanted a unifying force for the empire that wasn't emperor worship (which had been the way things worked previously).
St John's view: "From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy." - This is a statement I believe because I don't believe in God or divine inspiration: I don't think angels visited Muhammad, or that a gospel written in greek in ~70 ad about an aramaic guy who died in ~30 ad is factually correct. I do however understand how a religion can act as a catalyst for cultural assimilation. Look at latin america, or wesern europe, or the arabic word if you need examples.

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