On Why Pluralists Don’t Get It

OK, I deviated from my reading plans again. I had every intention to finish reading On the Road (and I still do), then went to the library. I only intended to pick up a book on the history of Perry County (I’m starting another blog on the subject; need one of those like a hole in the head) when I walked by the religion section and found a book that has always piqued my curiosity: God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero.

God Is Not One is one of those books I always saw sitting amongst the New Atheist and comparative religion books that talk about how all religions are the same and therefore suck equally. The title led me to believe it was exactly like those books, but when theology homebrewer and awesome pastor Bo Sanders dropped this book’s title in one of his theology nerd throwdowns, saying how awesome it was, I figured if I ever saw it I would give it a shot.

This is how my reading plans get derailed so easily.

Prothero’s goal in God Is Not One is actually a polemic against pluralism, played out through the demonstration of key differences in the world’s eight major religions (He hits Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Yoruba Religion, and Judaism, with a “coda” on New Atheism). He shows that, though all world religions have a starting point in attempting to answer the problem of the human condition, none of them agree on how that plays out, have the same end-goals in mind, or even agree on what the initial problem is; only that there is one. I’ve read the first three chapters, and thus far I feel like I learned more about Islam and Confucianism than I ever did in my religion courses in college (the chapter on Christianity was nothing new to me, but was excellently written).

I’ve never been a pluralist myself, but I do believe in respect and tolerance of other religions, even if you disagree with them. It does no good to be rude and hostile to people of different beliefs, especially when you’re trying to fix what you each perceive to be a broken world. However, it’s equally as wrong to go on pretending we’re all the same. We are indeed trying to remedy problems this world has (poverty, violence, distrust for our fellow man/woman), but these are all symptoms of a problem the nature of which no two religions agree over. This is what leads to our potentially hostile differences, and those differences aren’t so easily dismissed over common ground. We’re not all looking for the same thing, believing in the same God (or lack thereof), or fixing the same problem. It’s rather uneducated (not to mention rude) to assume all religions just say the same thing when there are many clear differences evident with a mere skimming of any primary religious text.

In spite of this, there are grounds for mutual respect. Ethically, all religions have common ground, such as care for the poor and abstention from violence. It’s also true that no religion is perfect, and some of its teachings lead to a dark side that must be acknowledged. When we admit that we’re not perfect, though, that’s when we can start looking to others and saying to them, “I don’t agree with you, but you are human like me.”

Anyway, expect to hear more from me on Prothero. I like this guy a lot.

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