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Christianity

Current status; diversity of beliefs;
this web site's section on Christianity

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Note:

It is not a simple task to write about Christianity. There are on the order of 1,500 different Christian faith groups in North America which promote many different and conflicting beliefs. Further, many groups believe that they alone are the "true" Christian church and that all of the others are in error. As a result, one cannot write anything about  Christianity that is acceptable to all faith groups.

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Current status of Christianity:

About 33% of the world's population -- in excess of 2 billion people -- regard themselves as Christian. This percentage has been relatively stable for decades. (The second most popular religion is Islam at about 20%. It is growing. If its present growth rate continues, it will to become the dominant religion of the world during in a few decades.)  About 75% of American adults and a similar number of Canadians identify themselves as Christian. This number has recently been dropping almost one percentage point per year. This is mainly due to:

bullet The rapid increase in non-theists, such as Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, etc. They are growing about one percentage point per year.
bullet An increase in the numbers of followers of minority religions, largely caused by immigration from regions of the world which are predominantly Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim.
bullet The emergence of new spiritual/religious movements like New Age, Wicca and other Neopagan religions. Wicca, for example, is doubling in size about every 30 months.

Christianity in North America is a severely divided faith, consisting of  over 1,500 denominations, which are often categorized into conservative, mainline and liberal wings:

bullet Many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians regard "saved" individuals as the only true Christians. They maintain separate religious denominations, radio stations, publishing houses, book stores, local ministerial associations, etc -- even exercise videos. They tend to look upon Christianity as a living relationship with their Savior. Many regard other religions as lacking truth; they believe that truth is found exclusively in Christianity.
bullet Mainline Christians tend to be much more inclusive. They accept as Christian almost anyone who follows the teachings of and about Jesus Christ. Most value the contribution of non-Christian religions. 
bullet Liberal Christians agree with mainline Christians, and are even more inclusive. Some liberal theologians, particularly those who are members of the Jesus Seminar, have abandoned or completely reinterpreted most traditional Christian beliefs. Some take a pluralistic approach to other religions, accepting all of them as true, as interpreted within their own culture.

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An example of diversity of belief: life after death:

There is perhaps no other aspect to Christian belief that contains as much diversity as the expectation of one's life after death. Many Christian's prime focus is on the afterlife for themselves, family, and others. Life on Earth is merely considered a type of anteroom to Heaven:

bullet Many conservative Protestant Christians believe that people are born and remain sinful. They will end up after death being eternally tortured in Hell unless they were "saved" during their life on earth. Salvation is a free gift of God. It is attained by repenting of sin and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. 
bullet Roman Catholics also believe that salvation comes from God. But they believe that it is channeled through church sacraments to sinful but repentant persons. Most people, at death, enter Purgatory, which is a type of temporary Hell and considered to be both a place and a state of existence. A very few go directly to Heaven; others go permanently to Hell for eternal punishment without any hope of relief. Their destination depends on the good and evil deeds that they have performed during life, and their exact status with regard to the sacraments at the time of their death.
bullet Liberal Christians generally interpret hell symbolically, not as an actual place. They reject the concept of a loving God having creating a Hell -- a place of eternal torment for the vast majority of humans. On Earth, governments that Imprison people for thought crimes, that torture prisoners, and/or give prisoners very long sentences for minor crimes are all judged to be profoundly immoral; many religious liberals feel that God would not sink to the ethical level of such pariah nations and their dictators.
bullet Some progressive Christians do not believe in an afterlife. They believe that the only part of us that survives our death are the influences that we have had on others.

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About this section of our web site:

The main Christian menu is linked to many hundreds of essays covering a wide range of beliefs, practices and social policies. We hope that the essays will help visitors to this web site to understand the great diversity of beliefs and practices found Christian denominations different from their own. It describes how they developed through time, and how they will probably change in the future.

As a minimum, we try to compare and contrast the beliefs of the most conservative and liberal Christians. We realize that many, if not most, Christians hold intermediate views. We also describe the beliefs of the early Christian movements, which are often quite different from those of modern conservative and liberal Christians. Where beliefs of prominent Christian faith groups differ from the conservative and liberal positions, we describe them as well. We often describe the beliefs of the early Christian movements.

We receive many critical Emails about these essays. Some are quite angry and hateful. Some accuse us of promoting our own liberal beliefs. Some say that we are a stealth Islamic, Satanic, Scientology or Mormon group trying to undermine Christianity. Others perceive us as lacking any deeply held beliefs. Still others say that we are just plain wrong. In our opinion, none of these assertions are true. We are a multi-faith group (Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan, and Zen Buddhist). Each holds firmly to their own religious and spiritual beliefs.

Our essays describe the wide diversity within Christianity. Yet many of our readers are distressed at seeing their beliefs mentioned beside those of other Christian groups. We have prepared a list of common Emailed complaints from our visitors, along with our responses.

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Site navigation: Home page > Christianity >  Introduction > here

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Copyright 1995 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAR-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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