There is a popular notion that we all hear all the time from people who haven’t given much thought to the matter: “We all worship the same God, after all – don’t we?” It goes along with the popular presumption that “All spiritual paths lead to the same goal.” As a popular presumption, it is both inaccurate and not very helpful in interreligious dialogue.
Precisely because this is a popular notion, books that try to give voice to an alternative theory of religions – that is, that they are more characterised by their distinctions than their similarities – are generally not, therefore, popular. Joseph Ratzinger’s “Truth and Tolerance: Christian belief and the World Religions”, for instance, carries a masterful analysis of the differences between Western/Abrahamic and Eastern religions. But Karen Armstrong’s irenic books tend to sell better.
Bit of a surprise then to see this from the popular press: “God Is Not One:
The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter” by Stephen Prothero.
Here is the book description from Harpers Collins website:
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, dizzying scientific and technological advancements, interconnected globalized economies, and even the so-called New Atheists have done nothing to change one thing: our world remains furiously religious. For good and for evil, religion is the single greatest influence in the world. We accept as self-evident that competing economic systems (capitalist or communist) or clashing political parties (Republican or Democratic) propose very different solutions to our planet’s problems. So why do we pretend that the world’s religious traditions are different paths to the same God? We blur the sharp distinctions between religions at our own peril, argues religion scholar Stephen Prothero, and it is time to replace naïve hopes of interreligious unity with deeper knowledge of religious differences.
In Religious Literacy, Prothero demonstrated how little Americans know about their own religious traditions and why the world’s religions should be taught in public schools. Now, in God Is Not One, Prothero provides readers with this much-needed content about each of the eight great religions. To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each attempts to solve a different human problem. For example:
–Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
–Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
–Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
–Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
–Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is to return to God
Prothero reveals each of these traditions on its own terms to create an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to better understand the big questions human beings have asked for millennia—and the disparate paths we are taking to answer them today. A bold polemical response to a generation of misguided scholarship, God Is Not One creates a new context for understanding religion in the twenty-first century and disproves the assumptions most of us make about the way the world’s religions work.
Sounds interesting. May be worth a look. I especially like his (perhaps simplistic, but nevertheless interesting) analysis of the “problem/solution” each religion is trying to address. VERY interesting that he identifies “exile” as the problem for the Jewish religion. Tom Wright would have something to say on this, I think… As this Pontificate has taught us, in dialogue with others it is sometimes more productive to address and clarify differences rather than simply seek commonalities. The commonalities are there, but will be read inaccurately if the fundamental differences are not first completely understood.