All Religions Are Not the Same

HarperOne recently published a new book by scholar of religion Stephen Prothero titled God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World – and Why Their Differences Matter. Prothero, a professor of religious studies at Boston University, is the author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know- and Doesn’t, and American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon.

In this latest book, Prothero takes aim against an assertion that is common among people engaged in interreligious dialogue- that all religions are ultimately the same; that all paths lead to the same goal, and thus are equally beautiful and true. He writes:

This is a seductive sentiment in a world in which religious violence can seem as present and potent as God. But it is dangerous, disrespectful and untrue.

Prothero allows that major religions converge on common ethics, but that the particularity of religious traditions is significant and the differences matter greatly to individual adherents. And sometimes those differences can lead beyond disagreement to hostility and violence.

Some, like Huston Smith, see all religions as having the same beauty and truth; others, like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins see them as being equally deluded and misled. Prothero observes:

Neither of these desires serves our understanding of a world in which our religious traditions are at least as diverse as our political and economic arrangements. It does not serve diplomats or entrepreneurs working in China, where Confucianism is rapidly becoming the official state ideology, to be told that all Confucians are equally idiotic. It does not serve soldiers in the Middle East to be told that the Shia Islam of Iran is essentially the same as the Sunni Islam of the Taliban. We need to understand religious people as they are—not just at their best but also at their worst. We need to take a hard look at not only their awe-inspiring architecture and gentle mystics but also their bigots and suicide bombers.

For more of Prothero’s observations, see the article in the Wall Street Journal which is taken from the introduction to his new book.

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About D Andrew Kille

Editor of the Bible Workbench
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