Religion is one of the most iconic aspect of a society. Nearly all ancient societies had spiritual aspects that enabled them to maintain certain levels of tolerance between persons as well as relationships with their Supreme Beings. As people migrated from one place to another, some religions were transferred and adopted in foreign places, while native religions in these host places became weak and some eventually vanished. This paper will evaluate the development of the native Indian religions, mainly Buddhism and Hinduism, which developed and grew in India and spread outwards, in comparison to Christianity that started in the Roman Empire and spread to the rest of the world to become the most popular religion it is today.
The Role of Government in Development of the Religion
Christianity started against the wish of the government of the time. After the death of Jesus, His disciples, whom He tasked to spread His teachings faced criticism, persecution and eventual deaths (Yeomans). The stiff opposition from government forced some of the disciples to flee their country, but they continued preaching the religion even in exile. Therefore, while trying to extinguish the language, the government strategies helped spread it to foreign areas where the disciples settled. Furthermore, the acceptance of the religion as legal by Emperor Constantine was a step towards a show of submission by government into accepting the religion. Continued struggle to eliminate it in the earlier years created more resolve and zeal amongst the early Christians, most of whom had experienced Jesus miracles. After its legalization, the religion spread throughout the areas of influence of the Roman Empire, essentially using the government network for its spread.
On the other hand, Indian religions developed based on beliefs and understanding on human nature, beliefs that extended centuries before the birth of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. Indian religions were based on social order and interaction. Some of them were strengthened by the resolve of some of their leaders not to kill any more people, but to pursue justice through peaceful means. This philosophy was carried forward to modern beliefs and values. At the time, people were rarely brought together by the government and political rule, but rather by their faith and their gods through religion. This does not fully resonate with the early Christianity that faced rebellion at first, but later experienced change when the church took control of the political scene of Rome and its environs.
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The Tenets of Religious Tolerance
While the Roman Empire used physical strength and violence to discourage Christianity, the converted Christians used prayer, belief and faith as a motivation for their resolve. This makes one of the most striking similarities between Christianity and Indian religions, which also created a relationship between people as well as reverence of ones faith and beliefs. Christian disciples preached the gospel of forgiveness and tolerance for both friends and foes, most remarkably through the tenet of love for ones neighbor and God.
Although Christianity and Indian religions had seemingly similar tenets during their inception, of respecting women, spirituality and tolerance, political interference created very big differences later in their development (Wood). The assumption of Christian leaders into political leadership eroded the Christian values, as Christianity became a tool for colonization and discouragement of old values of small ethnic communicates all over the world where they spread. This contrasted with Indian religions that maintained their views, and were only diverted by colonizing British. Notably, the era of colonization brought stark differences in the way the religions were structured, with Christianity assuming authority and Indian religions being subdued. Later developments of independence and sovereignty have attempted to allow for re-adoption of the old values. Indians have discarded the many negative impacts of British within their territory, with special interest in retaining their religions. One of the pointers is the continued pilgrimage where Hindus from all over the world acknowledge their faith and visit the origin of their religion. Likewise, Christianity has reasserted itself as a religion of peace, with just necessary political interference.
Interaction with other Cultures
As a new religion, Christianity needed to come up with its values, art, codes and general rules that would guide it. One of the widely known adoptions was art, which they adopted from ancient cultures. Some of the works of art were used by pagans and other religions such as Judaism. Some of their paintings and carvings resembled those created by the pagans and other ancient religions (Yeomans). This was a show that the development of a religion did not matter on the objects of the religion, but on the value and reverence that was bestowed on these objects. At the same time, the gesture showed non-condemnation of beliefs of other people. This was very similar to the Indian religions. Founders of Buddhism believed that no matter how worship was done, it always went to the same source.
Indian religion adopted other cultures, notably in architecture. Akbar the Great, a Mughal Emperor created an architectural piece that combined Hindu, Persians and Muslim features in order to bring all these religions together and show tolerance (Wood). The piece stand to date, showing the level of tolerance among the Indians. The most recent views for Indian Greats such as Mahatma Gandhi, that all religions are correct, echo the pillars of Indian culture and tolerance.
Materialism is a common concept between the two religions. Indian religions taught about the need to concentrate more on spirituality, rather than material, earthy belongings (Wood). This is the same message that Jesus passed during His work on earth when He stated that the earth was a bridge that should be used to cross, but not a place do build ones dwelling place (Wood). Jesus told His disciples to leave everything they owned and follow Him, a message that they too passed to the Christians who followed them. Buddhism argued that the root of human suffering was desire to own material things and that salvation was anchored in pursuing spiritual satisfaction rather than physical satisfaction.
Role of Transport in Development of Religion
The mobility of people was key to the development of both religions. The use of chariots animal transport were vital in ensuring that the religions went beyond their places of origin. Christianity spread through sending out of missionaries to every part of the world, but first throughout the Roman Empire territory. Indian religions invited other cultures into their own, since the invasion of Aryans, Persians and Muslims who settled on their land. The latest entrants into Indian territories were the British who were the eventual colonizers. As they migrated into the Indian Territory, these communities created road networks that were used for trade and migration. These are the same roads and networks that the Indians used when they emigrated to other regions. While other religions attempted to assimilate other communities into their own, Indians formed their Hindu or Buddhist communities whenever they went. They have maintained the trend to date.
Influence from Other Societies
The two religions had immense influence from philosophies outside their zones of origin. For instance, Indian religions faced immense tests during the colonialism period. In fact, some of their rulers believed that the Western ideals of masculinity, imperialism, capitalism were better and should have been adopted while discarding the traditional values and ideals of ancient Indian civilization. Slavery and treatment of Indians as useless people by British colonialists deteriorated the view of ancient Indians on human dignity, viewing the Britons as a superior race (Wood).
Similarly, Christianity faced influence from external cultures and beliefs. However, it had a high level of insulation due to the strength of the Roman Empire. Unlike the Indian religions that were impacted negatively, Christian influenced other cultures and converted them into their own. Moreover, some of the art that was adopted in the spread of Christianity came from other regions. For instance, the image of Orpheus was used to depict Jesus and His victory over death, while that of god Hermes was used to depict Jesus as a good shepherd (Yeomans). Both of these came from the ancient Roman Empire. Another influence came from Egypt, which was another old civilization. The artistic representation of care accorded to Jesus by His mother Mary was adopted from medieval Egyptian work that had Isis holding Horus to depict care for great people when young (Yeomans). Modern Hindus have retained their values as a people. They form their religious communities wherever they go, while rejecting to adopt the ways of their hosts.
The two religions developed under different conditions within different regimes. Indian religions followed traditional regimes and had only necessary contact with the political order. On the other hand, Christianity was strongly opposed by the government before eventually taking over the Roman Empire and even becoming a political icon. The Pope became a political figure while the Church took the center stage in oppressing some of the values of the people. The Indian religions were however anchored on humility and encouraged spirituality while discouraging materialism and capitalism. The spread of the two were helped by the infrastructure, either created by their respective governments or people coming from outside. In this regard, they have both similarities as well as a few differences in the way they developed and became global religions. Christianity began within the Roman Empire and spread among the imperial structures that had been built to support the Empire, while Indian religions was spread by people as they spread out following the networks of the people that colonized their nation.