Preserving Tradition Leads to Extreme Forms of Faith

How does religion impact on the notion to be human, and the notion of society, particularly in Christianity and Islam? The endless spectrum of questions raised, from morals and ethics to community values, to spreading the word of ‘God’ to others, explores the competing goals of people, their belief systems, and the positive and negative consequences that can trickle through society. When considering these thoughts, the scope narrows to what is expected from the individual and how religion will provide the societal foundations to achieve said expectations; and if at all will the goals of the religion’s credo be achieved successfully. Will the polar extremes of fundamentalism and secularization take over, or will there remain a balance permitting the individual to strive for religious understanding and attainment?

What is anticipated from the individual in terms of their faith, and what the outcomes achieved in society are, can eventuate into unexpected realms dependant on the various interpretations placed on religious practice. Although Christianity and Islam have creeds governing how one should conduct their life with respect to others, racism or other forms of discrimination can and do occur, thus contradicting societal values already in place.  How society should support this way of life and maintain the notion of the human person within these boundaries is not always straightforward. What Christianity and Islam infers for their followers is the expectation to uphold values within a set realm; this gives way to a myriad of implications for the followers’ destiny in either religious context, including how to attain salvation and succeed on Judgement Day after death.

“Will the polar extremes of fundamentalism and secularization take over, or will there remain a balance permitting the individual to strive for religious understanding and attainment?”

The practice of Islam, for example, adheres specifically to the teachings of the Qur’an, using centuries old scripture and traditions entwined with a legalistic society bound by strict ‘divine’ law. For the notion of person and society of Islam, the religion is cultural. Ritual salat (prayer) is engaged in, dominating life as the means to reach God or Allah, to achieve a move from darkness into light. The media’s representation of the modern-day notion of Islam, however, is purveyed as a suppressor of individual rights at the expense of community. Although Islam modernists attempt to reconcile this issue in the face of an encroaching western secularization, schisms are created in response – better known as fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is more prevalent in Christianity and Islam than other world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Christian white supremacy movements such as the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, promote racial and religious divides within the notion of society; and Islam’s current fracture to ISIS in the Middle East sees moderate Muslims and Christians alike treated as the enemy. Those belonging to the more moderate lines of Christianity and Islam contend with these fundamental approaches to religion and the social impact it has on their communities by Imams of Islam and Christian evangelists countering fundamentalist violence and condemning the behaviour publicly. For the individual, social persecution in the form of group violence, racial vilification or Islamophobia may take place, challenging the core tenets of their faith.

In postmodern times, the “too secular” argument suggests that current fractures within Christianity and Islam are a sign of the person wanting to return to the older, more traditional values of the religion. What does this mean for the Christian and Islamic fundamentalist?

Fundamentalism is said to be employed to “replace existing structures with a comprehensive system emanating from religious principles and embracing law, polity, society, economy and culture.” This term was coined traditionally to relate to Protestants in the 1920s who fought to preserve the “basic tenets´ of their religion, and has later been widely applied to other religions of similar intent. For Christian fundamentalists during this time, critique of the Bible was being reconciled with Darwin’s evolution and secular modernity, rather than with God, and challenged religious creed and life. The notion of what it was to be Christian was under scrutiny.

Christian fundamentalism was also witnessed into the late twentieth century, when Protestants separated “non-Christians” from Christians and included those of the Jewish faith and Catholics; with the Ku Klux Klan later adding blacks to the list. For the outcast Christians it meant segregation, racism, slavery and an overall bigotry. For Christian fundamentalists, restoring the religion to its former glory meant fulfilling the ‘word of God’ by selectively applying specific sections of the Bible to the entirety of society to maintain a purist view.

Comparatively, for Islamic fundamentalism, the notion of upholding cultural Islamic society revolves around the restoration of faith. This belief is said to stem from past European and Western imperialism, and self-blame. God’s “wrath” is displayed through imperialism, when the Muslim fails to “obey divine law,” and alternatively, when they obey Allah then “great empires and civilizations” are created to reward their strength. Not unlike Christian fundamentalism, where one belief is taken to override another in the name of returning to more inherent traditional values, Islamic fundamentalism does the same. Allah is the centre of Islam for every Muslim, and some experts maintain it as an obsessive behaviour. However Islamic fundamentalism takes what is considered mainstream Islam a step further for the human person, placing political and social consequence of extreme faith and worship on the doorsteps of society, while segregating the moderate Muslim who disagrees.

Fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam gives importance to the centre concept of salvation after death, however the concept itself is by no means specific to extremism and is a core tenet that demonstrates the true notion of what it is to be human in these religions.

“It is important to regard how the individual’s notion of self within a religious context to preserve tradition can lead to extreme forms of faith that ultimately impact and shake the core concepts of society…

Like Islam’s Qur’an, Christianity follows a set scripture known as the Bible – the Old and New Testaments handed down throughout the centuries – to guide the individual into salvation and reach their destiny in the afterlife. Not unlike Islam, this is but one element of a dominant world religion that helps outline the life of what a Christian should look like, the community they live in, and how interactions with surrounding societies should take place. Overall, Christianity claims peace and harmony, but different interpretations on how to achieve this have led to a history filled with Crusades, Reformation, and internal divisions threatening to destroy the very ‘moral fabric’ the religion declares to protect, as seen in fundamentalism.

In Christianity, the central tenet is based on the doctrines’ concept of the Trinity and a single God as the Creator.  Destiny of the follower (and society) is interwoven within the biblical resurrection of Christ, Judgement Day, and the salvation of those who correctly serve Christianity. The question for the follower is to be asked: why am I here and what is my destiny? How is salvation achieved?

Salvation is the granting of eternal life based on living a ‘moral’ life within the context of the divine scriptures – the Bible. The notion of salvation beyond mortality, for example, is, for the follower dependent on the life led prior to death, through the teachings of the Bible and the ‘word of God.’ Following the Ten Commandments is the predominant step to helping secure the path to salvation. Thus, the person is likely to live their life as close to the scriptures as possible in preparation for their judgement day, to enter Heaven and avoid the ‘eternal damnation’ of Hell. This can include the famous ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘do unto others’ commandments. But what governs this ‘right way’ of living is open to interpretation that can otherwise create tensions with those considered not Christian or those beneath the Christian dominated patriarchal system.

Throughout twentieth century history, Christianity has defined what it is meant to be as a woman, an outcast or even a slave. Historically, the Bible held authority over the church and state in western society, shaping it into a single entity and permeating many aspects of the individual and society. For women, it meant lesser rights and domestic servitude until the suffragettes’ movement, and colonialism bolstered the Christian church in nations of slavery, particularly in Africa. This continues to linger in western society, creating current challenges now rising against the tone of the Bible, including feminist schools of thought demanding equality, and racial divides are fought as increasing white supremacy movements of fundamental Christianity in the United States reopen civil disputes.

What Christianity’s biblical teachings are to the person striving for salvation, Islam’s Qur’an and hadith are to Muslims. Islam promotes similar values to Christianity in that Allah is worshiped and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah. The Qur’an is taken as the voice of Allah, documenting how the Muslim should accord their life with strict prayer and Islamic laws to obey.  Sacred texts outline devotional acts for the follower including salat or prayer, often three or more times a day; avoiding shirk – associating Allah with other Gods as does the Christian Trinity; fasting; and the formal hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The hajj in particular presents the human person as a humble servant of Allah, and reinforces the importance of the Qur’an’s divine scripture. God is ‘absolute’, and by preparing and completing hajj the person acknowledges that God is the creator of existence and the one to end it. In this context, the act of hajj provides a spiritual transcendence which encapsulates the meaning of what it is to be an individual person in the community of Islam – there is no distinction – as both the individual and society serve the other for spiritual attainment to get closer to Allah. This meaning can be carried across to Islam as a culture where there is no line between Church and State, the secular and the religious. For the person practising Islam, Allah permeates every aspect of life as it does during hajj. Where Christianity permits the person free will to determine their fate, Islam considers no such thing, with the very act of life being part of Allah’s will.

What is profound with Islam is the notion of religion as a culture. Unlike Christianity which can be found in all corners of the world despite culture, the member of Islam is bound also by social, political, and civil law governed by religious creed. This notion of society again becomes cultural in every aspect.  This can be witnessed in Islamic religious law taken from the Qur’an that governs personal and family conduct, right through to political issues.

As a culture, Islam is a complete way of life rather than ‘just’ a religion, immersing the person in every aspect of its teachings and traditions. The very notion of the human person in Islam is shaped by the daily rituals of eating, working, settling debt before embarking on the hajj pilgrimage, to marriage and obeying Islamic law.  The all immersing practice of Islam helps to discourage any potential to lack adherence to Islamic tradition and encourages self reflection.

Comparatively, although the Final Judgement is dominant in both religions, the notions of Heaven and Hell and what will take place following death tends to gravitate the Christian’s notion of values within society. Despite the lack of cultural immersion that Christians experience compared to that of Muslims, key influencers such as the Christian Bible’s authority shapes social conduct.

Christianity and Islam both shape the morals and ethics of the person for good or worse, providing a roadmap of scripture, tradition, and ritual, claiming to help them reach salvation after death. However, fundamentalism within Christianity and Islam also tends to occur when stringent core beliefs are threatened, particularly by western secularization. It is important to regard how the individual’s notion of self within a religious context to preserve tradition can lead to extreme forms of faith that ultimately impact and shake the core concepts of society.


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