That all religions are not the same is plainly obvious to traditional practitioners or believers in a particular religion. But where the public conversation around the topic has been dominated either by atheists attacking religion generally (“they’re all the same, and bad”) or by multi-culturalists and pluralists lifting them up (“they’re all the same, and good”), the distinctiveness of each religion has been ignored.
Enter religion professor Stephen Prothero. He first signaled a warning about the impoverishment of our understanding of world affairs and western civilization with his book, Religious Illiteracy, lamenting how dreadfully little we knew about major religions in general and Judaism and Christianity in particular, as influential as they have been and are in the West. Now he takes an additional step, pointing out not only our collective ignorance of basic doctrine, history, and practice of various religions but also our mental laziness and disrespect in proclaiming them “all basically the same.” The book is God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter.
Check out the promo video below. This entertaining appearance on The Colbert Report offered the usual off-beat opportunity to promote the book afforded to Colbert guests.
3 thoughts on “all religions are not the same”
I do a sermon series, “Is there a difference?” every few years. The first message is usually the basic theory, followed by separate messages on the difference between Christianity and Islam, Eastern Religions, American Religions, Americanism, etc.
I usually use the story of the blind men and the elephant, a favorite story of those who tend to see all religions as “the same.” I get as big an elephant as I can and act it out in front of the congregation. But then I start cheating. I start feeling things that aren’t the elephant and then pronouncing what the elephant truly is, trying to show that the illustration loads the deck by having an omniscient observer who, contrary to all the narrow-minded particularists, actually CAN see.
I haven’t read Prothero’s new book yet, just his old one.
I like that, Richard. Tim Keller makes the same point about the elephant illustration in “The Reason for God.” Once you realize the preposterously arrogant perspective of the modern enlightened Westerner as the omniscient observer, wisely looking upon the little religious traditions as good efforts towards perceiving Ultimate Truth, the illustration unravels.
This looks like an excellent book. I have been reading quite a bit lately about Islam as I am deeply concerned about a growing clash with Islam and the world. When I was working, I traveled a good deal to Islamic countries and generally felt uneasy as an “infidel.” Much of the history of Islam is very troubling as are many of the practices of Mohammed. The most glarring difference is that Islam is a religion of works – not grace. It is the obverse of Christianity. Plus, Islam offers none of the tolerance that the book author suggests. Very concerning…