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How Much Deviation From Religious Doctrine Is Acceptable?

2480 words - 10 pages

Central to any religion is a unified set of beliefs that is shared amongst all its followers. These can range from stories about the origin of the universe or the lives of prophets or other important religious figures to sets of rules governing how you live your daily life. It is these beliefs that define who is a follower of that religion, and deviation from them could result in a person being outcast, persecuted, or even put to death in various areas and time periods. However, these beliefs are by no means universal. Interpretations of religious doctrines may strongly differ even between members of the same religious sect. These issues are very relevant even to non-believers as they have a strong influence on people’s opinions of important social issues, such as gay marriage, abortion, and the teaching of creationism in public schools. We have read about several different and contradictory interpretations of Christian theology in class, and through surveys and discussions we have seen that within our own class members of the same religion vary greatly in their beliefs. An important question then is how much should an individual be allowed to deviate in their beliefs from established doctrine? The answer is not so obvious because once some deviations are allowed it can be not easy to know where to stop. I think it is easier to focus mostly on Christianity in answering this question both because of the material we covered in class and because it is most relevant to America today. It is important to realize that from a historical context religious doctrines are by no means an absolute truth, as many would believe. They have been altered many times in the past and should be able to continue to change with the times. No religion should demand completely strict adherence to its doctrine, as this is both hypocritical from a historical perspective and detrimental to social progress.

Christianity can be divided into three main denominations: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodox. The doctrines of each of these divisions are based on the books of the Old and New Testament. Although their central texts are almost exactly the same (a few books are different), their interpretations of them differ greatly. Each asserts that their own interpretation is the only correct one and that all other doctrines are false (this is slightly less true of many protestants, owing to the lack of a central protestant church). Obviously, the most central part of Christian belief is the teachings of Jesus Christ, as described in the four Gospels. In the Book of Mark, believed to be the earliest of the four, it states “He who believes [the gospel] and is baptized will be saved, but he who disbelieves it will be condemned” (p106). This immediately creates an ideology based entirely on one’s faith rather than reason or even one’s actions. Jesus himself says “All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men… but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit...

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