God Is Not One II

I’ve joined the discussion at Spectrum magazine about Stephen Prothero’s new book on world religions:

David, Stephen Prothero’s book is not prescriptive as much as descriptive. He says nothing about learning from other religions.

I do not think “learning from other religions” is something most people can do. Practicing one’s own religion is hard enough. Who wants to be bothered by the strange beliefs and practices of the people across the street?

I think most of us most of the time think other religions are just plain weird (though we would not say this publicly).

“Searching” and “struggle” in religion is largely the domain of intellectuals. Regular people are too busy with the prosaic tasks of life.

I notice that much of the discussion thread is about what we should do. That’s one conversation. When we intermix prescription with description, however, we often get confused.

Whether it is because of my bent or my background, I generally prefer description, which is what I aimed at in my review.

GREG LEAKE EMAILS: Hi Luke,

Good review. I like the implied joke of G-d is one…II.

Prothero was deceptive when he titled his book God Is Not One. The proper title would have been Religion Is Not One. By calling his book God Is Not One, he was exercising a kind of theological judo.

Everyone who studies comparative religions or the history of religions already knows about the differences that Prothero points out. However, the nature of this metaphysical being that we refer to by the word “God” is not affected by different perceptions of what his almighty nature might be. Unless one is a polytheist, there may be many religions, but there is only one God.

Before the 1940s everyone interested in religion would have focused on these same differences. So really this is simply a way of reconstituting the way we all felt about religions years ago. The only new thing about religions began to be introduced by Mircea Eliade and others who started the various humanist disciplines of comparing religions and their histories.

We have discovered that despite different ethical precepts and practices, holidays, and other particulars unique to specific religions, at root religions are more alike than different. We have also discovered some facts about our ways of viewing religion that represent a challenge to theology that has been built up by both the silly and the profound for many centuries. Frankly, some of the things that we know would call for a reevaluation of some of our theology if it were any other subject than religion.

In a chapter about Martin Buber, Paul Tillich talks about his last visit with his old friend. As he reflected on this last visit, he wrote:
“The reason was that Buber’s universalism transcended any particular religion, although it was derived from his interpretation of Judaism, just as I derived my universalism from what I think to be the true nature of Christianity. This is the reason why our dialogs were never Jewish-Christian dialogs, but dialogs about the relation of God, man, and nature. They were dialogs between a Jew and a Protestant who had transcended the limits of Judaism as well as the limits of Protestantism while remaining a Jew, the one, and the other a Protestant. This concrete universalism seems to me to be the only justifiable form of universalism.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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