With Easter and Passover fast approaching I tend to think about the differences between Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism. In a book I read awhile ago, in which most of the characters were Jewish, the main character asserted that there really wasn't much difference between Jews and Christians. The Jews are waiting for their Messiah, and the Christians are waiting for His return. We're all waiting.
But being a Christian, my interest tends to fall more on the differences between Catholics and Protestants. And Easter, more than any other time of year, the core of our differences are most apparent. Both Catholics and Protestants use a crucifix as a religious symbol. The difference between a Catholic crucifix and a Protestant crucifix is the presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is present on the Catholic cross-- a reminder of the sacrifice he made for mankind, the very sacrifice the Christian faith is based upon. On the Protestant cross, Jesus is absent. The idea being that Jesus was resurrected on the third day. For Catholics the focus is on the crucifixion and the sacrifice. For Protestants the focus is on the resurrection and the promise of His return. I'm not saying either focus is necessarily right or wrong, good or bad. They're just different and that one difference is the very root of many of the other differences that exist between the two primary branches of the Christian faith. And I believe in understanding and appreciating that core difference once can better respect and appreciate the other differences between the two branches of the Christian faith.
Incidentally, this played into the exploration of the Americas in the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries. Let's take the French for example. The Hugenot explorers were Calvinists (or as they're called today Presbyterians), the core tenet of Calvinism is predestination. God was here before we were born, he'll be here after we're dead. All of our lives are predetermined by Him.
Therefore, the Hugenot explorers didn't try to convert any of the Natives to Christianity. They studied them from a more anthropological standpoint and did try to at least make their lives on Earth better. The Catholics however (not to mention some of the non-Calvinist Protestants) DID try to convert the natives to Christianity. Many of them saw their interaction with the Natives to be part of a Divine mission. They may not be able to do much to help them out in this life, but maybe they could at least save their souls (I know, through a 21st century lens, this appears rather elitist and possibly even pretentious, but keep in mind times were different then. Religion was much more intertwined into everyday life. In many cases the Church and State were not at all separated).
But back to the crux of things-- If you take the story of Christianity, how the religion came to be. It is a truly beautiful story. A man who loved the world so much he was willing to give his very life for it. He taught of not only love and tolerance but also forgiveness and a general sense of altruism. But then you look at what Christianity has turned into and, maybe it's just me, but I find it rather depressing. Where is the love? Where is the forgiveness? The tolerance? The altruism?
It seems that over the past 2000 years that message has been lost in the dogma, the sacraments, and all the other window dressing that organized religion has deemed necessary to add to Christianity. But this time of year, gives me hope... maybe in the message of resurrection, those who call themselves Christians in name (but who live lives that are from the examples which Christ taught) will forget about all the window dressing and remember the very beauty of the message the faith was founded on.
I know Christmas is more the time for wishes-- but that is my wish for Easter. Happy Easter and Happy Passover (to any of my Jewish friends who happen to stumble upon this post).