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The impact of religion on Western culture : a mixed legacy


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Hubbard, Benjamin J.










Judaism, Christianity and Islam contributed to a moral revolution known as ethical monotheism. God was seen as a caring deity who entered into a covenant with the Jews requiring of them both belief in his oneness and ethical conduct: concern for the poor, the pursuit of peace and a day of rest for all creatures. Jesus Christ rearticulated and refined aspects of this teaching, especially the value of non-violence. Prophet Muhammad emphasized the value of philanthropy and complete submission to Allah.

All three faiths were instrumental in the promotion of learning: Judaism through a dedication to study that enabled Jews to make signal contributions to science and medicine, Christianity through the preservation of learning and steps leading to the formation of universities, and Islam through the transmission of Greek philosophy and the pursuit of mathematics.

The problem with these faiths was a triumphalism whereby each one trumped the prior faith (e.g., Christianity over Judaism), coupled with a conversionary drive that at times caused untold suffering to the politically weaker tradition. The Enlightenment and the American experiment with religious freedom have blunted Christian triumphalism, but it is still a problem in the conservative wing of Christianity and in many Islamic countries. Fortunately, the worldwide interfaith movement has provided hope for greater tolerance and understanding among religions.