by Stephen Prothero
From the outset, God is Not One forced me to reevaluate my reasoning for studying religions. Stephen Prothero introduces the idea that the current trend of defining religions as different paths to the same end goal, an attempt at pluralism, is false and argues that each religion has different problems and different goals. Prothero outlines these problems and solutions as follows:
– Islam (the way of submission): the problem is pride / the solution is submission
– Christianity (the way of salvation): the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
– Confucianism (the way of propriety): the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
– Buddhism (the way of awakening): the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
– Judaism (the way of exile and return): the problem is exile / the solution is return to God.
He also discusses Hinduism (the way of devotion), Yoruba Religion (the way of connection), Daoism (the way of flourishing), and Atheism.
My favorite aspect of God is Not One, is Prothero’s emphasis in the introduction and conclusion that religion plays a crucial role in all aspects of society. He also points out that the most discussions around pluralism and dialogue do not focus on “describing the world but reimagining it.” However, Prothero does not belittle the possibility of a reimagined world, but explains that to understand and coexist with religious rivals, interfaith dialogue needs to expand to include discussions of belief and practice, religious difference, and religious conservatives – he calls it “Interfaith Dialogue 2.0.”
To some, the majority of the book may seem disconnected from the introduction and conclusion. However, the separate chapters dedicated to different religious traditions support Prothero’s claims. By outlining the beliefs and practices of major world religions, Prothero draws attention to the differences he argues are so often neglected in pluralistic dialogue. At the same time, religious similarities and blending are addressed. The assimilation of Catholicism into Yoruba traditions or the blending of Buddhism and Confucianism in Chinese culture, demonstrates the importance of religion to society and the possibility for religious coexistence.
God is Not One is a great read for religion enthusiasts and the curious, unknowledgeable. The book walks the reader step-by-step through Prothero’s argument with clear writing and interesting facts. God is Not One attempts to open up the field of religion to the average atheist, agnostic, practitioner, and scholar in each of us by never questioning your intelligence, but also giving you the basics other books expect you to know. No matter your level of expertise in the study of religion, God is Not One is an interesting and easy read and an addition to any shelf.
I mentioned Prothero includes interesting facts to maintain the reader’s attention. You may be wondering what these facts could be….right? Well, here a couple.
“In the 1950s, Cuban-American actor and musician Desi Arnaz sang repeatedly to the Yoruba orisha Babaluaye on the sitcom I Love Lucy.”
“Though long seen as dangerously un-American, Mormons are now widely viewed as quintessentially American. The most popular American novelist of the early twenty-first century – Stephanie Meyer of Twilight series fame – is a Mormon. The HBO show Big Love features a Mormon family. And LDS members such as David Archuleta of American Idol are so inescapable on reality shows that some critics are starting to complain that Mormons have colonized reality television.”
“’Its [Buddhism’s] beliefs and practices have made their way onto the television show The Simpsons, the move The Matrix, a bestselling book by NBA coach Phil Jackson called Sacred Hoops, and lyrics by the hip-hop group the Beastie Boys (“Bodhisattva Vow”).”
Go borrow or buy God is Not One to read more interesting facts about the major world religions!