Yet Another Unitarian Universalist
A postmodern heretic's spiritual journey
Watching a video by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, at SFMOMA.
My talented brother!
I came across your name in a UU World article from 2010 “Do All Religions Share a Common Thread.” I was working on my blog (commonsense.typepad.com) after seeing a video of Harvard professor Clay Christensen making a case that religion is the necessary base for a democracy.
I have long held the view that the major religions share a commonality, and had not heard of Prothero’s book, so I read the column with interest, though I haven’t yet read the book. I do more agree with the Dalai Lama’s idea of compassion, whether it be view as love or not, as a common thread, and as yet have not been disabused of that opinion.
It does seem that though Prothero makes a good case for the differences, and I do agree there are vast differences, it is always easy to see differences if that is what one is looking for. It can safely be said that I am human, but vastly different from the person right across the table from me in this coffeehouse, if that is what I am looking for. Yet, we are too, the same, being human.
I think that point is lost in Prothero’s premise, and so he makes the case for the differences.
In all religions is seems people try to find a way to live the given number of years we have to live. And in that living, the religion provides guidance. And I think that guidance is informed by compassion, or love.
Is that not a commonality?
I know you have studied and written on this topic much, and I have not. But I was wondering if you might care to share some insight on this.
Thanks, Roger German
Roger, this general topic is being debated in the current scholarly conversations in theology, religious studies, etc. Probably the best thing I can do for you is refer you to this scholarly conversation. First of all, do read Prothero’s book, or at least read the first chapter and skim one or more chapters on specific religions. For a Christian theologian who concludes that Christians and other religions are very different, see Mark Heim, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion — not the most readable book, but here again, you can skim it and get the gist of Heim’s argument. Another way to identify differences between religions can be found in Ninian Smart’s Dimensions of the Sacred, where he outlines seven dimensions of the sacred — the seven dimensions are the doctrinal, legal/ethical, mythic/narrative, ritual, experiential/emotional, social, and material dimensions — and then he shows how different religions emphasize different dimensions, e.g., Christianity emphasizes the doctrinal dimension, while Confucianism emphasized the ethical dimension, etc.
In your comment you argue for commonality among religions, insofar as they’re all human. Well, of course that’s true, but really that’s just restating the definition of what religion is. We could also say that all automobiles are alike because they can all move people from one place to another; but while a Formula One race car and an electric Smart car both move people from one place to another, they are nevertheless very different kinds of automobile, designed for very different purposes.
In short, this is a big fascinating complicated question, one that you could spend the rest of your life studying, and still not come to a final conclusion.
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