You always see those posts about “5 things you should see – number 4 will BLOW YOUR MIND”. Well, yes, I am going to do it too. But I think these are all important and will help you better understand your religion and the others who also follow Christ.
Christianity has 2.4 billion adherents across all three branches. Catholicism alone counts 1.1 billion, a little less than half of all adherents, and accounts for a little over 15% of the world’s population. This places Catholicism, just by itself, in third place by number of adherents, just behind Islam. However, Catholicism is not the only branch of Christianity.
there are three branches of Christianity. They are Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course, all three believe in Jesus Christ as the savior and path to salvation, but they have different customs, rituals, and even some beliefs. Catholics, for instance, revere Mary, Jesus’s mother, while most Protestant sects certainly hold her in high regard but do not pray to her. In Eastern Orthodoxy, all bishops are equal, but in Catholicism, the pope is the supreme leader. There are saints in both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy but no such concept in Protestantism.
There were not always three main branches. Eastern Orthodoxy traces its origins back to 1054, when the East-West schism occurred and split the two. In 1517, the Protestant Reformation further split Catholicism from the single monolithic religion of Europe into Catholicism and Protestantism. Protestantism itself has fractured into literally thousands of denominations, each with little idiosyncrasies that make them unique. As humans are, this led to wars between sects of Christians. Wars can change national boundaries, but the competition and wars between nations adherent to different forms of Christianity has changed global boundaries and indeed global history.
The three branches have specific geopolitical boundaries for a reason. Eastern Orthodoxy, as named so in English, is in the East of Europe. Generally, it is a Russian and Slavic tradition, but it is also present in the eastern half of the former Roman Empire, which eventually became known as the Byzantine Empire after the fall of the western portion of the empire. This includes Greece and the Balkans. The Protestant Reformation started in what is present-day Germany, and hence many northern European countries are Protestant. Catholicism’s power emanates from Rome (and for a short time from Avignon, in France). This explains the boundaries in Europe. But it also explains the boundaries across the globe.
As northern and southern European countries tried to best one another, they conquered lands not only for power and glory, but for God. Just like the saying goes: “For God and Glory”. Spain, Portugal, and France remained Catholic and spread their religion throughout their respective empires. That is why South and Central America are so Catholic. England was the counterbalance to these forces, though mostly to the French (the height of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires are anachronous to the height of the French and British Empires). England was Anglican (a denomination of Protestantism) and France was Catholic. They vied for supremacy not only in power but in spreading their religion.
Africa is not usually thought of a bastion of Christianity. Northern Africa is actually Islamic, and many people view sub-Saharan Africa without thinking about religion. However, it is projected that nearly 40% of Christians will live there by 2050. This arises from both demographic trends and, as you’ve probably guessed, history. The population is already exploding in sub-Saharan Africa, and those people were once under the rule of the British and French (this is why most African countries have English or French as an official language). Those people followed the British and French religion, which was Christianity. Divisions in Europe that started 500 years ago are stilling shaping the world today.
Christianity’s influence on the world is remarkable. It is perhaps the only religion with such influence to date. Surely the European nations would have fought each other regardless, but Christianity lent them moral cause to fight. This competition eventually impacted every corner of the globe, and hence Christianity has, directly or indirectly, impacted every part of the globe.
We Christians may be separated by different rituals and beliefs, but we are all Christian and affected by it in some way. Let’s take Jesus’s words to heart and love our neighbors. Whether they are Christian or not, they have been influenced by the religion. Teach people these things and they may want to know more. Maybe one day they too will become Christian. If not, love them anyway.