Tuesday, September 14, 2010

God is not one.

by Kurt Nelson

A number of people have sent me the following article, announcing the coming of Stephen Prothero's new book God is Not One.


My esteemed colleague and co-blogger, Richard, shared it with me a number of months ago. And we discussed it.  And then he sent it to me again this morning.  So I figure it's worth a comment.  (And I've ordered the book through our library.)

I'll start by saying I agree with Prothero's basic point.  There are many who believe that all religions are essentially the same.  And I am not one of them.  And it seems to me the basic point of honest, multi-faith dialogue to come to terms with this fact, and to find a way to live and work with it.

In that vein, I take umbrage with the following paragraph:

While I do not believe we are witnessing a “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam, it is a fantasy to imagine that the world’s two largest religions are in any meaningful sense the same, or that interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims will magically bridge the gap.

There are many poor opportunities out there for multi-faith dialogue (so too there are poor religious studies courses, and poor opportunities for religious observance.)  I have certainly witnessed and participated in badly run dialogues.  But there is a new generation of inter-faith leaders who are trying to live and work with difference without ignoring, avoiding, or glossing over it.  This is how we describe and do multi-faith dialogue.  It's far from "magical" and is often quite difficult.  But I have faith that a world with more thoroughgoing inter-faith engagement and education will be a world where blatantly anti-Muslim rhetoric is not so politically advantageous.

So says Prothero later:

What we need is a realistic view of where religious rivals clash and where they can cooperate. The world is what it is. And both tolerance and respect are empty virtues until we actually know whatever it is we are supposed to be tolerating or respecting.

Indeed, we are allies on this front.  But purchasing this particular book isn't the only way to get there.  In the midst of increasingly diverse college campuses especially, I would welcome the encouragement of both good religious studies work in the classroom, and good and honest inter-faith engagement and dialogue outside of it.  In the current religious climate, I suspect it will take us all to make a serious, lasting difference.


  1. Hi Kurt! This is Katherine :)

    I know very, very little about intellectual interfaith dialogues--because as you now know, I spend more time in my own spiritual quest :)

    But something that experience has shown me so far --which could facilitate dialogue-- is that to build bridges, focusing on shared ground and common purpose is one excellent way to go.

    The differences will always be there--and they will always be to enrich life!--but when you access the power of shared purpose, something magical begins to happen:
    you begin to befriend those with whom you differ! And when you become friends, many other beautiful things begin to fall right into place on their own, such as appreciation, consideration, thoughtfulness and eventually the most beautiful of all feelings, love (the kind that just embraces the whole package, similarities, differences and all).

    Since we are all people--with joys, griefs, and dreams--there will always be common ground: our basic humanity to turn to for a great conversation and friendship.

    So perhaps, like one of my beloved mentors says 'it's time to stop making our differences our 'identity banners' and turning instead to our similarities, our shared humanity to build 'global tribe'. "

    May it be so!

    Much love always, ~Katherine

  2. Well said, Katherine.

    It's a balancing act, to be sure. We need to be honest about those instances of real difference, in order to find points of commonality and cooperation. Too much of one or the other, especially when it comes to our initial assumptions, can be really unproductive.

    We'll find ways to get you involved upon your return to campus.