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Throughout history, various groups have considered themselves chosen by God for some purpose. This status may be viewed as a mark of superiority or a rank of special purpose and responsibility.
Types of purposes
The sense of being a chosen people occurs in both religious and nonreligious contexts. The Abolitionists, who were largely Christian, considered themselves chosen by God to bring freedom and equal rights to the slaves.
The Nazis considered the Aryan race to be superior, and believed it was their mission to eliminate all races they considered "inferior." Many religious and charitable organizations consider themselves to be chosen by God to care for the sick and the suffering. Manifest Destiny drove Americans across the continent.
The sense of being a "chosen people" is therefore often associated with a particular ideological movement —it is a sense of importance which drives people to further the ends of their ideology.
Chosen to receive a message
In many religions it is believed that the God has revealed a message to a prophet or messenger.
Some of these religions, such as some forms of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, teach that their path is the only path to salvation. In other religions, like other forms of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Wicca, and Transcendentalism, it is believed that the followers of one's faith do not have an exclusive path to God. They hold that people of other faiths may also reach God in their own way.
Views of being a chosen people are sometimes connected with ethnocentrism. The idea of a chosen people can be used to justify or create cultural imperialism, racism, and xenophobia. However, the "chosen status," by definition is a humbling one, as it claims to carry greater responsibility and sacrifices than others.
An example of this type of thought is exhibited in the Christian writing, Phillipians 2:5-8: "Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross."
In Judaism, chosenness is the belief that the Jews are a people chosen to be in a covenant with God. Note that non-Jews may convert to Judaism, though conversion is not seen as a right, and, in Orthodox Judaism, it is generally discouraged.
The Jewish idea of being chosen is first found in the Torah (five books of Moses) and is elaborated on in later books of the Hebrew Bible. This status carries both responsibilities and blessings as described in the Biblical covenants with God. Much is written about this topic in rabbinic literature. This topic is described in depth in Jews as a chosen people.
Supersessionism is the belief of most Christians that Christians have replaced Israel as God's Chosen people. In this view, the Jews' chosenness found its ultimate fulfillment through the message of Jesus; Jews who remain non-Christian are no longer considered to be chosen, since they reject Jesus as the Messiah and son of God. Christians who ascribe to supersessionsism, cite the Bible verse John 14:6, attributed to Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life, No one comes to the Father except through Me" as evidence that only Christians can attain heaven.
Other Christians reject supersessionism and believe that members of other religions can also reach heaven. They cite verses such as Romans 2:6-11, "For God .. will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God."
Roman Catholicism has traditionally taught that all non-Christians would not be saved. Today many within the Roman Catholic Church teach that salvation is not ruled out for those who have not had the Gospel proclaimed to them, nor the possibility of asking to be baptized.
Latter Day Saints
In Mormonism, the Latter Day Saints are viewed as a chosen people. In contrast to supersessionism, Latter Day Saints do not dispute the "chosen" status of the Jewish people. Indeed, some Latter Day Saints view themselves as chosen because they are Israelites, in one of two ways: (1) some European and Asian Latter Day Saints claim literally to have Israelite blood, usually from the lost tribe of Ephraim; (2) others claim that when they accept Mormonism, they become an adopted Israelite.
Christian Identity groups
Christian Identity groups, based on a fusion of Nazi ideology, white supremacy, and fundamentalist Christianity, have developed a theology which holds that God hates the Jews, and that only white Christians are God's chosen people. These groups are rejected as non-Christian by the great majority of mainstream Christian churches.
As an example, The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord is a Christian Identity movment which preaches that "Jews of today are not God's chosen people, but are in fact an anti-Christ race, whose purpose is to destroy God's people and Christianity through its Talmudic teaching, forced inter-racial mixings, and perversions."
Some Muslims believe Islam is Exclusive, and some do not.
Muslims who believe that Muslims, Christians and Jews all serve the same God cite Qur'anic verses such as:
- Say, 'People of the Book! come to a proposition which is the same for us and you - that we should worship none but Allah and not associate any partners with Him and not take one another as lords besides Allah.' If they turn away, say, 'Bear witness that we are Muslims.'(Surah Al 'Imran; 3:64)
- Today all good things have been made halal for you. And the food of those given the Book is also halal for you and your food is halal for them. So are chaste women from among the muminun and chaste women of those given the Book before you, once you have given them their dowries in marriage, not in fornication or taking them as lovers. But as for anyone who rejects iman, his actions will come to nothing and in the akhira he will be among the losers. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 5:5)
- Among the people of the Book there are some who have iman in Allah and in what has been sent down to you and what was sent down to them, and who are humble before Allah. They do not sell Allah's Signs for a paltry price. Such people will have their reward with their Lord. And Allah is swift at reckoning. (Surah Al 'Imran; 3:199)
- Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best who is misguided from His way. And He knows best who are guided. (Surat an-Nahl; 16:125)
- ...You will find the people most affectionate to those who have iman are those who say, 'We are Christians.' That is because some of them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. (Surat al-Ma'ida; 5:82)
- Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way - except in the case of those of them who do wrong - saying, 'We have iman in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him.'(Surat al-'Ankabut; 29:46)
- ...There is a community among the People of the Book who are upright. They recite Allah's Signs throughout the night, and they prostrate. They have iman in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and compete in doing good. They are among the salihun. You will not be denied the reward for any good thing you do. Allah knows those who have taqwa. (Surah Al 'Imran: 3:113-115)
- Those with iman, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabaeans, all who have iman in Allah and the Last Day and act rightly, will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Surat al-Baqara; 2:62)
Muslims who believe Islam is in an adversarial relationship with Christianity and Judaism, cite other verses such as:
- O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people. (Qur'an 5:51)
- Ye People of the Book! Why do ye clothe Truth with falsehood and conceal the Truth while ye have knowledge? Surah 3.71
- Can ye, o ye men of Faith, entertain the hope that they will believe in you? Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of God and perverted it knowingly after they understood it. Surah 2.75
Islamic supersessionism presents Muslims as the only people chosen to carry the true word of God.. According to these individuals, Islam the leaders of both Judaism and Christianity deliberately altered the true word of God, and thus led all of their believers down a false path. In the Qur'an, Mohammed charges the Jewish people with "falsehood" (Sura 3:71), distortion (4:46), and of being "corrupters of Scripture."
Some parts of the Qur'an attribute differences between Muslims and non-Muslims to tahri fi-manawi, a "corruption of the meaning" of the words. In this view, the Jewish Bible and Christian New Testament are true, but the Jews and Christians misunderstood the meaning of their own Scriptures, and thus need the Qur'an to clearly understand the will of God. Other parts of the Qur'an teach that many Jews and Christians deliberately altered their scripture, and thus altered the word of God in order to deceive their co-religionists. This belief was developed further in medieval Islamic polemics, and is a mainstream belief in much of Islam today. This is known as the doctrine of tahrifi-lafzi, "the corruption of the text".
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