Monday, August 23, 2010

God Is Not One

I knew I wanted to read God is Not One: the Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero, after I saw his appearance on The Colbert Report. I had also read Prothero's other book, Religious Literacy, and liked that one quite a bit.

God is Not One is a response to the religious pluralists who like to say "they are all just different paths up the same mountain of truth". Prothero's thesis is that they are different mountains altogether, because different religions make different basic assumptions and are seeking answers to totally different questions. He lays this argument out in the Introduction to the book.

I was a bit disappointed to discover, however, that after that Introduction the rest of the book just examines each religion and explains the basics everyone should know about it. It's a bit of rework of Religious Literacy - a great text for a comparative religion class, (oohh, an idea for adult education), but not a major continuation of the "different mountains" discussion.

But Prothero's style is engaging and understandable, reducing some complex theological concepts to simple terms and grouping ideas nicely. And his judgment of the most important religions is interesting: Islam first, then Christianity, then Confucianism. It went on to Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, Daoism, and "A Brief Coda on Atheism".

Unfortunately, I've only made it to Buddhism and it's overdue at the library. So this one will remain on my wishlist.

1 comment:

  1. Orthodox, institutional religions are quite different, but their mystics have much in common. A quote from the chapter "Mystic Viewpoints" in my e-book on comparative mysticism:

    Ritual and Symbols. The inner meanings of the scriptures, the spiritual teachings of the prophets and those personal searchings which can lead to divine union were often given lesser importance than outward rituals, symbolism and ceremony in many institutional religions. Observances, reading scriptures, prescribed acts, and following orthodox beliefs cannot replace your personal dedication, contemplation, activities, and direct experience. Preaching is too seldom teaching. For true mystics, every day is a holy day. Divine revelation is here and now, not limited to their sacred scriptures.

    Conflicts in Conventional Religion. "What’s in a Word?" outlined some primary differences between religions and within each faith. The many divisions in large religions disagreed, sometimes bitterly. The succession of authority, interpretations of scriptures, doctrines, organization, terminology, and other disputes have often caused resentment. The customs, worship, practices, and behavior within the mainstream of religions frequently conflicted. Many leaders of any religion had only united when confronted by someone outside their faith, or by agnostics or atheists. Few mystics have believed divine oneness is exclusive to their religion or is restricted to any people.

    Note: This is just a consensus to indicate some differences between the approaches of mystics and that of their institutional religion. These statements do not represent all schools of mysticism or every division of faith. Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.