The basic knowledge of Christianity and Islam would be greatly helpful when you have
a conversation with a Westerner. Yuval Noah Harari, who is the author of world
best-sellers of over 20 million copies such as “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”
“Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” gives us commentaries on how these two
monotheist religions have been spreading ――more to come both in English and in
The big breakthrough came with Christianity. This faith began as an esoteric Jewish sect
that sought to convince Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was their long-awaited messiah.
However, one of the sect’s first leaders, Paul of Tarsus, reasoned that if the supreme
power of the universe has interests and biases, and if He had bothered to incarnate
Himself in the flesh and to die on the cross for the salvation of humankind, then this is
something everyone should hear about, not just Jews. It was thus necessary to spread
the good word――the gospel――about Jesus throughout the world.
Paul’s arguments fell on fertile ground. Christians began organizing widespread
missionary activities aimed at all humans. In one of history’s strangest twists, this
esoteric Jewish sect took over the mighty Roman Empire.
Christian success served as a model for another monotheist religion that appeared in the
Arabian peninsula in the seventh century――Islam. Like Christianity, Islam, too, began
as a small sect in a remote corner of the world, but in an even stranger and swifter
historical surprise it managed to break out of the deserts of Arabia and conquer
an immense empire stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to India. Henceforth, the
monotheist idea played a central role in world history.
Monotheists have tended to be far more fanatical and missionary than polytheists.
A religion that recognizes the legitimacy of other faiths implies either that its god is not
the supreme power of the universe, or that it received from God just part of the universal
Since monotheists have usually believed that they are in possession of the entire
message of the one and only God, they have been compelled to discredit all other
religions. Over the last two millennia, monotheists repeatedly tried to strengthen their
hand by violently exterminating all competition.
It worked. At the beginning of the first century AD, there were hardly any monotheists in
the world. Around AD 500, one of the world’s largest empires――the Roman
Empire――was a Christian polity, and missionaries were busy spreading Christianity to
other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.
By the end of the first millennium AD, most people in Europe, West Asia and North Africa
were monotheists, and empires from the Atlantic Ocean to the Himalayas claimed to be
ordained by the single great God.
By the early sixteenth century, monotheism dominated most of Afro-Asia, with the
exception of East Asia and southern parts of Africa, and it began extending long
tentacles towards South Africa, America and Oceania. Today most people outside East
Asia adhere to one monotheist religion or another, and the global political order is built
on monotheist foundations.
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