A few years after giving readers a crash course in Religious Literacy, Boston University professor Stephen Prothero’s new lesson plan focuses on debunking the theory that all religions are just different paths to the same goal (heaven, enlightenment, salvation, etc.). His new book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter, has made lots of religion news lately, and the Prothero’s promotional rounds included a visit to last night’s Colbert Report. (That’s the second time this Comedy Central show has come up here in the past week, even though it’s been ages since Stephen Colbert devoted a segment to “This Week in God” or “Yahweh or No Way.”)
In the discussion between the Stephens, the author explained that, contrary to atheists (who see all religion as the same and bad) and multiculturalists (who see all religions as the same and good), he sees them as “going up different mountains with different techniques and different tools.” For example, Buddhists focus on letting go of human suffering, Jews on the issue of exile, Muslims on overcoming pride and submitting to God, Hindus on resolving the cycle of reincarnation, Confucianists on addressing social order… you get the idea.
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When pressed by Colbert — a Roman Catholic — to explain which faith is “winning,” Prothero noted that Islam is ahead (in terms of contemporary impact) and “Christianity is losing market share, if you think about it in business terms.” Colbert’s response made me chuckle:
“Well, of course, but Jesus always wins in the end. I mean, Jesus loves to run up the odds. You saw what he did the last time he was here. He let them think they had him on the ropes, and then three days later, BOOM! He comes back, they clean up at the table.”
All kidding aside, however, I’m not sure how I feel about Prothero’s message. I haven’t seen the book yet, but as a religion reporter, I’m generally more interested in probing what different faiths have in common (especially when you get strange bedfellows), as opposed to stoking conflicts (which make plenty of news anyway). Perhaps this also has something to do with being in an interfaith marriage, but if that’s the case, more than a third of Americans may be inclined to feel this way, too.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.