By Nimue Brown
The converting tendencies of Christianity and Islam have given a perspective of the place of religion at odds with many perspectives. Most religions are not universal, nor meant to be. Judaism is the religion of a people, and I have recently discovered that Shinto is Japanese to a degree that would make a nonsense of outsiders trying to practice it. Romans venerated their Emperors. Faiths do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a social context, as part of a culture. They may be interacting with other cultures – the relationships between Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto are, from a superficial look, clearly very complicated. The relationship between politics and religion is equally long and messy. Just think of the divinely sanctioned rulers, and the rulers who became gods.
There is a vast difference between mediaeval Christianity, and any of the modern interpretations. And I would bet at least as much difference again to the people who started it. How much of Christianity belongs in the landscape of its origin? What happens when we take a religion out of its place of origin and give it to people from a different culture? Can it hope to be the same religion? If I took up Buddhism, or Taoism, could I really follow those paths with the same depth as someone whose whole culture was steeped in them?