I just finished reading quite an interesting book. I was watching CSPAN the other day and they had this guy Stephen Prothero on. He seemed really interesting. He is the religion professor at Boston University, and seemed extremely knowledgeable from the interview I saw, since I truly like both religion and smart people I decided to read his book.
In the book, Prothero breaks down the world’s eight most important religions in order of importance (1. Islam, 2. Christianity, 3. Confucianism, 4. Hinduism, 5. Buddhism, 6. Yoruba Religion, 7. Judaism, 8. Taoism, and a Coda on Atheism) and shows how they are different. He points out that people often times try to say that different religions are all equally correct pathways up the same mountain, or they use the analogy of the elephant in the dark cave, but that that cannot be true in any physical or metaphysical sense of the word. Nor is there even a single factor that all religions, or even all major religions share.
Prothero’s analysis of Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism were a great and basically a congruous fortification of Mr. Henson’s survey of them which I took this past year. His view of Atheism is an important one- pointing out Atheistic religiosity is something few people are willing to do- but current Secular Humanism, or New Atheism are just as much, if not more, religious than, for instance, Taoism is. When it came to Judeo-Christian heritage religions, though, Prothero seemed to have some preconceived aversion, (which could have spawned from a catholic upbringing) as he approached their synthesis and analysis with an air of obvious fallibility, rather to being open to its claimed perfection, even as a concept, as he did for the other religions.
Yoruba Religion seemed to be Prothero’s favorite, it emphasizes mysticism and it would be easy to lump it into a discussion of animism, but it is quite different from your basic brand therein. More than anything else it resembles Hinduism, with a vast pantheon of metaphysical beings who correspond to parts of the physical world. I had never learned about Yoruba Religion before and it was quite interesting, but the sheer quantity of gods and goddesses, as well as practices and customs obfuscated its essence in a cloud of terms and history. I would advise Charlotte Christian to include this in their survey of world religions in the future, as it seems to be more important than people give it credit for.
The point on which I disagree with him though, as I hinted at above, is his analysis of Christianity. For a world religions professor at a prestigious sub-ivy university, he seems spottily informed, in that it is apparent he has deep knowledge but not a deep understanding of the text. There is a difference. He makes statements which certainly show his doctrinal ignorance. Now, let me just say that I don’t think that it takes Christian faith to write a summary of Christianity, but you do have to understand its dogma.
First he asserts that all religions are equally fallible, therefore Christianity is no exception, in this case he attempts to point out Bible verses (naturally, taken out of context) which paint our religion it in a malicious light.
Secondly, he very heavily hints at his belief that Christianity is not, as it claims to be, a monotheistic religion. While never outright stating it, he dances around calling The Trinity a polytheistic doctrine. Which doubly demonstrates his lack of inside information on Christianity, its like if someone was claiming not to be from any country at all while trying to analyze the United States government. They would say it contradicts itself by claiming to be one government while still holding the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, which, as they would claim, are clearly three different governments. We as Americans would say, no, because they are simply three different aspects of one government, they do different jobs, they are ontologically different while being economically the same. This is the same mistake Prothero makes about The Trinity.
Overall though, it was quite an enlightenning book. It gave me a basis for interfaith dialogue between people I may meet of opposing spiritual stances, and it fortified my previous year’s learning on the subject. I would recommend this book to anyone who already has a basic knowledge of the main worlds religions and wants to learn more about how they function and operate. I’m not so sure this is, to borrow the colloquialism, a 100 level overview, at least in my case it did help to have a good foundation in the religions of the world prior to reading its 400+ pages. I think it is far more of a 200 level course, with more insight and dimension than a 100 level generalist summary can offer.