Christianity is a western religion with its roots in Judaism. It started out as a denomination, or church, within Judaism but soon evolved into a completely separate sect. It is part of the Abrahamic traditions which includes Christianity, Judaism and Islam. While all three religions value the Old Testament as a history of their common past and as containing the word of God, they differ on their beliefs in a Messiah, or promised messenger from God. Christians believe this Messiah, promised by the prophets of the Old Testament, to be Jesus Christ. He is believed to have been born over 2 millenia ago in the land now known as Israel in the town of Jerusalem.
Originally, Christianity was a small religious movement that was attractive mainly to the poor. It began around the time when Jesus Christ, then called Jesus of Nazareth, began traveling and preaching to people in the land of Israel. After his death, others began to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ and it began spreading into the Roman Empire. Initially Christians were Jews who still practiced their Judaic traditions but incorporated the teachings of Jesus as the messiah. This made the religion very unpopular amongst Jews who believed that Jesus was a fraud and that Christianity was a blasphemy. Thus, early Christians were persecuted and had to leave Israel, moving throughout the Roman Empire and beyond and converting new followers at the same time. New Christians were now not just Jews, but Romans, Greeks, Italians and anyone else who came to believe in the new religion. Over time, Christianity has spread, through the work of missionaries and converts, to all corners of the globe. Countless denominations emerged and evolved as the gospels were interpreted and reinterpreted over time.
Christianity’s major influences come from the Greek and Roman empires. These empires were home to intellectuals and philosophers who were open to the philosophy of Christianity. The religions of these empires, however, has not been monotheistic in the past but instead worshiped a pantheon of Gods. At Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine sought to bring a consensus of Christianity and to make it the official religion of the Roman Empire. During this time, the official doctrine of Christianity was decided on and the modern day Bible was created using select texts from early Christian doctrine. In addition, some Roman and Greek traditions were also incorporated into the religion in order that it fit more with the current religious traditions that the people were used to. The great Cathedrals and decadent houses of worship, for example, are influences of the Roman empire which relished ritual. Days of celebration, as well, were decided upon, such as Christmas and Easter. These days were also set on days that were already an important part of the Roman Empire, adding to their Roman influence.
Significant divisions within the religion come mainly from an interpretation of the texts. The two main denominations of Christianity are the Catholics and Protestants. There are also many sub-denominations within these two sects, all having to do with how they interpret the word of God and Jesus and the books of the Bible. They also vary in ritual and tradition and how these are performed within the specific society or culture.
Contemporary issues facing the religion come from many faces. In the Catholic denomination, recent issues come from the number of alleged acts of misconduct from priests, an issue which threatens the very fabric of this sect. All Christian denominations must decide how issues such as war, stem cell research, abortion, technology and other social issues can be interpreted based upon their religious beliefs. Christians must decide how they feel about modern day issues and how they fit into their religious dogma.
Christianity does not have one single official founder. Jesus Christ could be said to be a founder of the religion, though when he was alive there was not a name for the religion. The official religion was began later, using the teachings of Jesus Christ and others. One of the most important leaders of early Christianity, however, was the apostle Paul. Paul was a Jew that was born in a Greek town so he was familiar with the Greco-Roman culture. When he converted to Christianity, he was able to preach the doctrine to Romans and Greeks in a language they could understand and relate to, thus facilitating the spread of the religion throughout Greece, Italy and the Middle East.
Christianity broke from the past Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomies, however. The Christ figure is of Apollonian persuasion, but Dionysian ecstasy is prohibited. Instead of a dichotomy in which both are necessary parts of the whole, the concept of Good and Evil is introduced, with God and Jesus being on the side of good and the nemesis Satan being on the side of evil. In Christianity, it is believed that humans must choose to accept the good and become Christians or they accept evil if they do not.