Sunday, September 05, 2010

Book Review: God is Not One

One day I was doing a bunch of ironing, and I had the tv on, to distract myself from that boring chore. I happened upon a program about Stephen Prothero, and his new book: God is not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter. This man really got my attention with that title. 

I have heard people say, when talking about religions, "We are all going up the same mountain, right? Just up different paths." This always kind of disturbed me, but I didn't really know why. It sounds like the right thing to say, doesn't it? But as a Buddhist practitioner who was raised as a Catholic Christian, I know that the teachings of the Catholic Church and Buddhism are directly at odds with one another. But it was hard for me to understand exactly what the difference was, on a more metadata level. 

Stephen Prothero does an outstanding job explaining the 8 great world religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and the religion you never heard of but is everywhere: the Yoruba religion of West Africa (and the world, due to the vast diaspora of African people.) There is also a chapter on Atheism. 

The thing that made this book so valuable for me is that Prothero reviews each religion by discussing what it defines as the problem it solves, and what the solution is. Because each of these religions sees the problem differently, people who share that world view aren't really in the market for what the other religions are offering as the solution. 

For example, the religion I grew up with was Christianity. The problem, according to Christianity, is sin. The solution is acceptance of Jesus as lord and savior. The problem, according to Buddhism, is suffering. The solution is non-attachment. Think of it as a lock and key. The lock each of these religions views as the ultimate reality are different, so of course the key of one won't work in the lock of another. As a Buddhist, I don't even grok sin. It isn't in anyway a part of the equation. I don't want salvation. Heaven offers no lure for me. In fact, the idea of a heaven that excludes others seems really profoundly wrong! 

I think it is important that we ask ourselves, why do we find it necessary to say that everyone thing is the same? I understand that "you aren't from around here, are you, stranger?" has been the prelude to most of the world's suffering. But I don't agree that saying we are really all the same is the solution. Because we aren't. And we need to appreciate and celebrate that fact, not be afraid of it. 

Find a copy of God Is Not One and read it. Wonderfully informative, and I promise you will appreciate your own spiritual/religious tradition more than you ever have before. 


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