This week’s book is God is Not One by Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University.  Prothero is not an evangelical.  His book is not a Christian world religions book.  I think it is always wise to read people who think differently than you to see if your faith really has substance.

I read this book, because his introduction blew me away.  Here was a very well-respected non-evangelical speaking of world religions with some actual solid reasoning abilities.  In a post-modern world where everyone wants to claim that all religions are the same and maintain religious tolerance, Prothero thinks that type of thinking is ignorant and dangerous.  A simple look at these religions show that there are remarkable differences in what they believe and how they practice.  I literally was jumping out of my chair reading the introduction because someone in a different thinking community spoke solid wisdom concerning this religious dilemma.

Below, you can hear Colbert interview him concerning the book.  Very intriguing:

I do not agree with all the conclusions that Prothero comes up with.  At the end of the day, we do believe differently, but we do see the differences of religions as the same.  He spends a chapter on the 8 top rival religions by size, so it is hard to summarize the book, so most of the following lines are from opening pages so you can see what he is talking about. Quote #4 is a haunting rebuke.

Top 5 ideas:

  1. “…as Hindu teacher Swami Sivananda writes, ‘The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same.  There is difference only in non-essentials.’  This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue” (2-3).
  2. “‘It would be impossible to find anywhere in the world,’ writes Catholic theologian Hans Kung, ‘a sincere Jew, Muslim or atheist who would not regard the assertion that he is an anonymous Christians as presumptuous’…Unfortunately, we live in a world where religion seems as likely to detonate a bomb as to defuse one.  So while we need idealism, we need realism even more” (6-7).
  3. “Each religion articulates: a problem; a solution to this problem, which also serves as the religious goal; a technique (or techniques) for moving from this problem to this solution; and an exemplar (or exemplars) who chart this path from problem to solution” (14).
  4. “Nonetheless, Islam is the Muhammad Ali of the world’s religions.  Statistically, it is second to Christianity, but its numbers are growing far more rapidly…Numbers aside, Islam is the leader of the pack in terms of contemporary impact.  Many Christians render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, restricting their faith to the private realm.  Muslims, by contrast, have never accepted this public/private distinction.  Most see Islam as both a religion and a way of life” (19).
  5. “This strategy of accommodating local cultures is one of the keys to Christianity’s global success, and one of the sources of its dizzying diversity” (67).
Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.