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I’ve been interested in Stephen Prothero for a while now. He’s written extensively on the effects that the Judeo-Christian religion has had on the development of Western culture. But unlike many who write on that subject, Prothero has garnered some attention, some good attention. Maybe it’s because he’s not dogmatic about what he believes. He labels himself a confused Christian.
And he talks like someone we can learn a lot from.
I really appreciate Prothero’s interview here. It’s in vogue right now to talk about the different religions as if they were all similar roads that lead to the same place. But I think Prothero makes an excellent point. They aren’t telling the same stories, they’re not trying to solve the same problems, or answer the same questions. There may be vague similarities that overlap in each story (or in the big 3: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, rather large similarities) but they are still different stories.
Our society has gotten so sensitive to leveling out differences that we’ve forgotten some differences are actually central to the integrity of the story these faiths are trying to tell. Did you notice what Prothero said about how each world religion has different objections? The problem Islam addresses is pride through submission (Muslim actually means one who submits to Allah), Judaism deals with exile, and Christianity deals with sin. Buddhism deals with avoiding suffering, and Christianity find suffering to be redemptive.
While this is all an oversimplification, Prothero does make a point that we have to deal with. These differences are not reconcilable. And that’s not a bad thing. In a world of pluralism, the answer isn’t to try and make everything bland.With that said, my own particular bent is that the way of Jesus is not a religion.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that Christianity, especially the brand that sprang up after Constantine, can be easily mistaken and turned into a religion. But the first few centuries, what those men and women were saying and doing…that was something else, something that doesn’t fall into the categories of what we’d call “religion.” I think we are called to live out something that is much more embodied.
I have more to say on that later. But here’s my question for now…What do you think about what Prothero was saying? Have you noticed an attempt at leveling all world religions? i.e. “All Paths lead to God.” How does a faith that believes it is speaking with the authority of God’s revelation talk about this?*
Dallas Willard once said that in a pluralistic world, the value of any religion is based on it’s benefit to outsiders. I think he’s on to something. My hope is not to just be a part of a church that can be confused with vague pop-spirituality. My hope is to be a part of a community that lives out the Christian story, in a way that it is good news for everyone outside of it.
*My good friend Joshua Graves is currently engaged in a great discussion about this here.