God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter Reprint Edition, Kindle Edition
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In God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and religion scholar Stephen Prothero argues that persistent attempts to portray all religions as different paths to the same God overlook the distinct problem that each tradition seeks to solve. Delving into the different problems and solutions that Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Yoruba Religion, Daoism and Atheism strive to combat, God is Not One is an indispensable guide to the questions human beings have asked for millennia—and to the disparate paths we are taking to answer them today. Readers of Huston Smith and Karen Armstrong will find much to ponder in God is Not One.
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As I wrote God is Is Not One, I came back repeatedly to this conversation. I never wavered from trying to write true things, but I knew that some of the things I was writing he would consider false.
Mystics often claim that the great religions differ only in the inessentials. They may be different paths but they are ascending the same mountain and they converge at the peak. Throughout this book I give voice to these mystics: the Daoist sage Laozi, who wrote his classic the Daodejing just before disappearing forever into the mountains; the Sufi poet Rumi, who instructs us to "gamble everything for love"; and the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, who revels in the feminine aspects of God. But my focus is not on these spiritual superstars. It is on ordinary religious folk—the stories they tell, the doctrines they affirm, and the rituals they practice. And these stories, doctrines, and rituals could not be more different. Christians do not go on the hajj to Mecca; Jews do not affirm the doctrine of the Trinity; and neither Buddhists nor Hindus trouble themselves about sin or salvation.
Of course, religious differences trouble us, since they seem to portend, if not war itself, then at least rumors thereof. But as I researched and wrote this book I came to appreciate how opening our eyes to religious differences can help us appreciate the unique beauty of each of the great religions--the radical freedom of the Daoist wanderer, the contemplative way into death of the Buddhist monk, and the joy in the face of the divine life of the Sufi shopkeeper.
I plan to send my Sufi shopkeeper a copy of this book. I have no doubt he will disagree with parts of it. But I hope he will recognize my effort to avoid writing "false things," even when I disagree with friends. --Stephen Prothero --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B003F1WMAC
- Publisher : HarperOne; Reprint edition (April 6, 2010)
- Publication date : April 6, 2010
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So far so good, but to get to this point Prothero finds it necessary to reject the traditional definition of religion as the belief in a supernatural power and instead posits a four-step approach to defining religion: (1) a problem, (2) a solution, (3) a technique, and (4) exemplars. This allows him to include groups as diverse as Christians who believe in a god and a hereafter and the billion plus "Confucianists" who don't believe in a god, a hereafter, or wouldn't even think of calling themselves "Confucianists." He goes further to include also atheism as a religion although ironically, here he uses the term "religion" pejoratively, as some religious people are prone to do, to minimize and dismiss Atheism's contribution to the world's cultural and intellectual history. He alleges, "Atheisim is not a great religion. It has always been for elites rather than ordinary folk. And until the twentieth century, its influence on world history was nonexistent as Woody Allen's god." Wow, can he actually be serious. Where's the scholarship behind this outrageous statement. For those interested in some excellent scholarship in this area, I would recommend "Doubt - a History" by Jennifer Michael Hecht. If Prothero can define Confucianism and Atheism as religions, why not Capitalism, Communism, Maoism, Hedonism, American Elitism or any other -ism. They all identify a problem, a solution, a technique, and have exemplars up the yin yang. In fact, it's hard for me to imagine what human enterprise would fall outside his four-step definition of religion and, I guess, Prothero may be suggesting the same when he has his students create their own religions, supposedly following his criteria.
It's not just that his definition of religion is too broad; it also leads to the wrong conclusions. By defining Confucianism and Atheism as religions, he's throwing a deaf ear to the billions of non-believers and doubters and the tremendous influence they have had throughout world history. He literally cuts this line of inquiry off when he states in his introduction, "...nine out of every ten Americans believe in God, and, with the notable exception of Western Europe, the rest of the world is furiously religious." Of course, the world is "furiously" religious if any definition of god or human activity can be assumed by his four-step criteria. I want to ask, are the nine out ten Americans surveyed referring to the god of Thomas Jefferson who as a professed Epicurean saw god as not having an active role in our lives or the god of crusading Evangelists who see God's handiwork everywhere? Having been brought up in a fundamentalist family, it often surprised me to encounter Christians who do not believe in miracles, Christ's resurrection, or his virgin birth. Like Jefferson, to us these were non-believers, deists, or in the technically correct parlance of today atheists. In China where the majority of people I met did not seem comfortable referring to themselves as atheists, they had no problem stating that they did not belong to a religion or believe in a god. Here, it should be pointed out, as Prothero himself acknowledges, not even the Chinese government considers Confucianism a religion. So then, why has he? One final example, in the former Central Asian soviet countries where about 80% of the population is Muslim I saw little evidence during the month of Ramadan of the Muslim faith in practice. "Muslim light" is what some called it. Are these non-practicing Muslims actually Muslims? Prothero has no qualms in assuming that they are although he acknowledges that each religion has its non-believers, but then fails to plumb the depth and breadth of this phenomenon and as a result ends up drawing the wrong conclusions. I submit that had he used the traditional definition of religion, he would have found that the world is largely non-religious and that this has had a positive moderating influence on the religious extremism that continues to threaten the world today. This criticism aside, I feel obligated to give the book four stars because it moves the discussion of world religions in the direction of understanding and self-examination. Professor Prothero should be applauded for that.
Contra this feel-good globalism, Prothero posits a need for familiarity with humanity’s many religions. Toward that end, he conducts overall looks at the eight religions he considers most influential in today’s international milieu. (Remember, it’s Prothero’s eight.) The three Abrahamic religions, the four most widespread “Eastern” religions, and the Yoruba tradition, which became global owing to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. These eight religions, in distinct ways, exert diverse pressures on politics, economics, and lifestyles daily.
Many outsiders often assume certain transcendent claims describe all religions. Not so, says Prothero. Many precepts absolutely necessary to Christianity, like God or an afterlife, don’t exist in other religions. Some religions, like Confucianism, are entirely this-worldly, while others require some separation from this world, like Buddhism and Daoism. And even seemingly unitary religions like Judaism disagree wildly on important points: not all Jews agree on an afterlife, or even God’s literal or symbolic existence.
Prothero isn’t a theorist. But he postulates a simple heuristic for understanding how religions work: they identify a problem, offer a solution, construct a path to achieve that solution, and offer human or superhuman exemplars of how to follow that path. This theory isn’t airtight—it could apply to the Marine Corps, for instance—but he makes a persuasive case that, to understand various religions’ incompatible claims, we must see them on their own terms.
This text isn’t simple reading. Prothero, a serious scholar, cites many sources, offers occasionally incompatible evidence, and drops so many names, I recommend taking notes. However, if you hope to understand religion as a humane phenomenon, he provides plain-English introductions to world religions which often aren’t explained in ordinary language. And he includes enough source notes to continue self-guided beyond the introductory level. He raises more questions than he answers, but they’re good, important questions.
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a. It's written by someone who is clearly more drawn towards straightforward comparative religion which itself is not a deep criticism, but means that the book lacks depth on a theoretical level. Even as a book on comparative religions it's actually quite poor - it says nothing about different religions and their relationships to sex, money, economics, eating, dressing, womens issues, individual freedoms, etc. There is actually a good reason why he doesn't go into these deatils and that's because it means opening up a hornet's nest of controversy that this author is uncomfortable with ... ;
b. He is not very objective - it's written from a very conservative agenda of only ever saying nice things to religion which gets a little tiresome;
c. His shocking treatment of 'new athies' shows his biased sensibilities. After happily concluding the 'new atheism' is indeed a religion, he then goes on to treat without any of the respect and consideration he gives to the other religions - sure new athiests have valid concerns, issues and experiences too? Why are they never probed and empathised with?
Is you want a book on comparative religion there's much better out there than this ... If you want a debate about the word 'god' where we are all talking about the same thing, OR are under an illusion here and are actually talking about very different things, then wait for someone to has more analytic training and rigour.
In brief, don't bother.
I refer to this book as a "primer" for good reason. Each religion is given only two or three dozen pages, much of which is devoted to basic precepts and cultural context. A great deal of detail is sacrificed in order to get to Prothero's core points. Experienced readers of comparative religions texts might take issue with some of the author's omissions and generalizations. In particular, as other reviewers have noted, the selection and explicit ordering of religions (whose chapters are arranged from most- to least-important) within the book might raise some eyebrows.
Despite these points, I regard this book as a good starting point for new readers who may be unfamiliar with broad-strokes differences between the world's major religions. Prothero celebrates the differences that he presents, and plainly seeks only to educate (and not offend) new readers. The text is both engaging and informative, and is not difficult to read in an evening or two. For many readers, this may be a better place to start than a staid textbook on religious studies.