A place for new ideas to settle.

21 November 2011

The Big Questions

So you might remember my earlier post contra to Dr. Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn't. In that post, I raised some objections to Prothero's claim that "religion matters," including that it's a case of special pleading, and that a lot of the time, religion is somewhat incidental to the salient points of history.

Well, on 15 November I attended a lecture here at Western by Dr. Prothero, mostly about his newest book, God Is Not One. In that book, he examines the world's eight greatest religions—in mostly-descending order, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Confucianism, Judaism, and Taoism—and especially their differences. In his lecture he explained that, far from being "eight roads up the same mountain" as some people claim, there are actually different mountains entirely. They ask and attempt to answer different "Big Questions." For example, Christianity asks "how do we become saved from sin?" whereas Buddhism asks "how do we transcend suffering?" In answering these questions, each specific religion emphasizes the different components (as categorized by religious-studies scholars) of religion-in-general. Christianity emphasizes doctrine, Confucianism emphasizes education, Buddhism emphasizes experience, and so on.

Also, I got to talk with Dr. Prothero at a reception afterward, which was awesome.

I still think he has some wrong ideas, though. So here I will ask him some Big Questions of my own.