What God do you worship

July 26, 2010 | 4 comments

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.

4 thoughts on “What God do you worship”

  1. Mary Baker Eddy’s sermon/booklet, “The People’s Idea of God” examines the deeper dimensions of how humanity’s concept of God affects society’s ideals, values and general health and well-being.

    Prothero sounds like one of the many ‘experts’ who want to ascribe a noble ‘gestalt’ to Islam while tiptoeing around the question of Mohammed, what kind of behaviors he engaged in, and how this shaped what he claimed to be revealed to him–a god formed after the pattern of mortal personality, passion and impulse–which leads in any society where such a god is worshiped to tyranny, intolerance and bloodshed.

    And if, as Islam teaches, Mohammed is the final prophet of God, then the sacredness of Christ Jesus as the prophesied Messiah is denied, and anything else that claims to be the final revelation of Truth is infidel heresy.

    Important ideas to think and pray about.

  2. Orthodox, institutional religions are quite different, but their mystics have much in common. A quote from the chapter “Mystic Viewpoints” in my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org on comparative mysticism:

    Ritual and Symbols. The inner meanings of the scriptures, the spiritual teachings of the prophets and those personal searchings which can lead to divine union were often given lesser importance than outward rituals, symbolism and ceremony in many institutional religions. Observances, reading scriptures, prescribed acts, and following orthodox beliefs cannot replace your personal dedication, contemplation, activities, and direct experience. Preaching is too seldom teaching. For true mystics, every day is a holy day. Divine revelation is here and now, not limited to their sacred scriptures.

    Conflicts in Conventional Religion. “What’s in a Word?” outlined some primary differences between religions and within each faith. The many divisions in large religions disagreed, sometimes bitterly. The succession of authority, interpretations of scriptures, doctrines, organization, terminology, and other disputes have often caused resentment. The customs, worship, practices, and behavior within the mainstream of religions frequently conflicted. Many leaders of any religion had only united when confronted by someone outside their faith, or by agnostics or atheists. Few mystics have believed divine oneness is exclusive to their religion or is restricted to any people.

    Note: This is just a consensus to indicate some differences between the approaches of mystics and that of their institutional religion. These statements do not represent all schools of mysticism or every division of faith. Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.

  3. Hi Ron,

    You make some good points…Thank you.

    There are enlightened spiritually minded thinkers everywhere, in many different religions. We all learn from each other.

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