I finished reading the book, “God is not one,” by Stephen Prothero, a few weeks ago, and it is by far the most helpful and readable book I’ve ever read on explaining distinctions and differences between the biggest world religions.
Prothero doesn’t go into specific rituals, detailed doctrine and practices so much as looks at the big picture differences in how adherents of these faiths view God and their relationship to Deity, if they see one at all.
The thesis of his book is that the world religions are very different from one another and have different goals, and to understand your neighbor who practices a different faith, you need to understand the differences. It’s not wise to sweep all into one pot and declare that we all worship the same God, because we don’t.
He wrote, “…pretending that the world’s religions are the same does not make our world safer.” Further he states, “The world’s religious rivals are clearly related, but they are more like second cousins than identical twins. They do not teach the same doctrines. They do not perform the same rituals. And they do not share the same goals.”
The subtitle of his book is, “The eight rival religions that run the world—and why their differences matter.”
The eight groups he covers are Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba Religion, Judaism and Daoism.
He deftly treats each religion in the form of stating what that faith sees as “the problem” that needs to be solved, and then how they solve it.
For instance, in Islam, “the problem” is self-sufficiency, not sin, as in Christianity.
Prothero wrote, “Muslims do not believe in original sin. Every human being is born with an inclination toward both God and the good. So sin is not the problem Islam addresses. Neither is there any need for salvation from sin. In Islam, the problem is self-sufficiency, the hubris of acting as if you can get along without God, who alone is self-sufficient. ‘The idol of your self,’ writes the Sufi mystic Rumi, ‘is the mother of (all) idols.” Replace this idol with submission to Allah, and what you have is the goal of Islam: a ‘soul at peace’ in this life and the next: Paradise.”
Prothero explains that the word Islam means submission or surrender. “Islam is the path of submission, and Muslims are ‘submitters’ who seek peace in this life and the next by surrendering themselves to the one true God. They do this first and foremost by prostrating themselves in prayer….”
Prothero believes that in the big picture of religion today, Christianity is waning and Islam is on the ascent. He sums up the chapter on Islam with, “To presume that the conversation about the great religions starts with Christianity is to show your parochialism, and your age. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries may have belonged to Christianity. The twenty-first belongs to Islam.” And he backs up his statement with facts and figures.
Prothero continues handling each religion chapter by chapter. His table of contents reads:
Islam: The Way of Submission
Christianity: The Way of Salvation
Confucianism: The Way of Propriety
Hinduism: The Way of Devotion
Buddhism: The Way of Awakening
Yoruba Religion: The Way of Connection
Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return
Daoism: The Way of Flourishing
He gets a chapter in on atheism too.
I could go on and on, but if you have any interest in understanding the differences of the world religions and how adherents view God, or don’t view God at all, this book is a winner.