Religious Conflict Through The Ages The role religion plays in world history is, at best, tremendous. Through the ages, religion has both unified and divided civilizations often bringing extreme human casualty, in the case of division, or creating interesting new cultures, in the case of the latter. In the Ancient civilizations such as the Greek, Kush and Egyptian empires religion serves as a catalyst further strengthening the bond found in such homogeneous societies. In these civilizations it is important to note that the inhabitants did not conceive of religion in terms of a belief system in a higher moral authority, rather, the belief system was such a part of their lifestyle that there was no differentiation. In discussing ancient civilizations such as the Greek and Kush empires it is also important to understand that nonconformity was not even a mode of thinking, therefore, there was no room for religious disunity.
In homogeneous societies, religion serves to further bridge the culture together. This is not the case in other later civilizations. England’s King Henry VIII separation from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century presents the most interesting scenario in discussing the role of religion and how it either unites or divides people. For the first time, moreso than Rome’s conversion to Christianity, a religious division was taking place within a relatively homogeneous society. Religion perhaps is predominately viewed by most contemporaries as problematic given the current divisions among many Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and the continuing conflict between Muslims and Hebrews in the Middle East. The Crusades serve as an example of how two religiously unified societies become fierce competitors in the conquest for world domination, in this sense, religion is divisive.
The dynamics in determining whether religion unites or divides people are extremely complex especially when discussing civilizations from the Egyptians to the English dynasties. However, three distinctions can be outlined in this discussion. Firstly, religion serves as a catalyst further unifying homogeneous civilizations such as the Greek, Ku*censored*e and Egyptian societies, secondly, religion serves as a primary focus of difference when two homogeneous societies, such as the Muslims and the Christians involve themselves in a conflict for spiritual dominance, and, thirdly, how religion, in some homogenous societies such as the Protestant Reformation of the late Tudor and early Stuart dynasties in England, serves to divide the people. Religious observance in ancient civilizations serves to further bridge the connectedness that the people of those societies felt. In the ancient Greek, Ku*censored*e and and Egyptian cultures religion was such a integral part of their lifestyle that it was totally indistinguishable in terms of contemporary classifications. The ancient Greeks held close to a common polytheistic belief system and operated the government, domestic lifestyle, and recreation from this system.
The evidence is abounds in that the Olympic Games were held at the feast of Zeus at Olympia in Elis, and the Pythian Games were held at Delphi, in honor of Apollo. Although the Greeks were advanced in the governmental procedures such as their creation of the republic, Kings such as Darius yielded extreme power and control. The Ku*censored*es who first known around the sixth century B. C.(538 B.C.) were the darker skinned people who rivaled, to a small extent, the great Egyptian dynasties. The Ku*censored*es had a central belief system that revolved around the ka or soul as Miriam Ma’at Ka Re Monges explains in her book entitled Kush: The Jewel of Nubia.
The ka was used as a term for the creative and sustaining power of life which every human being shared by entering the world. Another important factor in explaining how religion within homogeneous societies serves as a bonding force is the Ku*censored*e custom of regicide. In Meroe as well as other Ku*censored*e kingdoms, the killing of the king was an accepted custom. The religious belief is that the King’s physical well being was directly tied to the gods and to the fertility of the lands. Monges, in her book, further contends that: since the king was responsible for Maat[term a number of positive qualities, i.e.
righteousness and truth] and since the fertility of the land was necessary for balance and order, the decreased vitality of the king would affect the production of the land. This suggests an underlying reason for the ritual killing of the king(109)This was an accepted custom for ages until the belief system was challenged by King of Ethiopia Ergamenes during the reign of the second Ptolemy. Ergamenes was educated in Greece, and, therefore, did not have the true understanding of Ku*censored*e custom as his predecessors. Two belief systems clashed. Eragmenes was the first to have the courage to disdain the command because of his Greek training, consequently, he puts the priests to the sword, and after abolishing this custom ordered affairs after his own will.
This occurrence serves as concrete example of how religion can become extremely dangerous when one, in power, disrupts the common belief system of a homogeneous society. Monges, in her book, further contemplates the Ergamenes situation: The ritual killing of the king was being practiced by these African people. It isapparent that the culture was not fully understood by these outsiders. Didorus[Greek historian who records the account] writes that prior to Ergamenes, the ritual killing of the king was accepted by the simple mind of a creature shaped by old and ineffective customs. The Greek mind separated the material and the spiritual.(113)Precisely, the Greek mind in Ergamenes did not allow him to simply give up his wealth for something spiritual that he could not see. In the case of Ergamenes the only bloodshed caused was that of the priests, however, in other cases where two belief systems clash, especially when these two belief systems are religions dedicated to world dominance such as with the Christians and the Muslims, the extreme human destruction is incalculable. The ancient Egyptian civilization, which spans over 3 millenium, is yet another example of how religion within the contexts of a homogeneous society further bridges people to a commonality.
For the most part, Ancient Egyptian religion was polytheistic with tremendous pyramids and other religious objects dedicated to this religion. An example of how important religious conformity is among the ancient Egyptians one can look at the reign of Ahmenhotep IV. Amenhotep IV undertook a religious reform by displacing all the traditional deities with the sun god Aton . In the god’s honor, the pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaton, Akhenaton’s reforms were one of the earliest attempts to enforce monotheism among a longstanding polytheistic culture. Images and inscriptions of other gods were removed, moreover, Akhenaton, to further enforce his views, moved the country’s capital from Thebes to a place up north which he called Akhetaton.
His obsessive concentration on religious reform allowed for the empire to disintegrate to a degree. After his death, Tutankhamun, restored the original gods and returned the capital back to Thebes. Again the internal religious belief system of a homogeneous culture is threatened, but unlike the case of Ergamenes in the Ku*censored*e kingdom, Akhenaton’s reforms were overturned. In these three cultures, one can readily observe how religion serves as a catalyst further strengthening the bond of the homogeneous societies. Only in cases, where the religious belief system is threatened is the continuity of the civilization in jeopardy.
Religious observance in ancient civilizations serves to further bridge the connectedness that the people of those societies felt. In the case of the Muslims and the Christians, the long history of the Crusades serves as an example of how …