The Boston Globe has an interesting essay on religion. The writer, Stephen Prothero, is the author of the book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter. His point is that efforts to make all religions part of the same happily family are misguided. The differences among the religions, he says, are at least as important as the similarities. Do read the whole piece at the link.

Separate truths
It is misleading — and dangerous — to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom
Stephen Prothero

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim, which reaches back to “All Religions Are One” (1795) by the English poet, printmaker, and prophet William Blake, is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so self-evidently at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, both essentially the same and basically good.

This view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture, not least on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, “Eat Pray Love,” where the world’s religions are described as rivers emptying into the ocean of God. Karen Armstrong, author of “A History of God,” has made a career out of emphasizing the commonalities of religion while eliding their differences. Even the Dalai Lama, who should know better, has gotten into the act, claiming that “all major religious traditions carry basically the same message.”

Of course, those who claim that the world’s religions are different paths up the same mountain do not deny the undeniable fact that they differ in some particulars…

This is a lovely sentiment but it is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

UPDATE: For another view on the limitations of interfaith dialogues, take a look at what Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf has to say (Google translation into English here). [Thanks to Solomon2 for the link.]

May:28:2010 - 08:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (26) | Permalink
26 Responses to “Similarities and Differences in Religions”
  1. 1
    Me Said:
    May:28:2010 - 09:59 

    i don’t know why the western world associates islam with hinuism?!?!

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    May:28:2010 - 10:14 

    To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t. What makes you think so?

    If you mean to say that there are people who lump all foreigners into one group, then sure, that happens. Sort of the way all Westerners end up as ‘farangi’ in the Arab world.

  3. 3
    Ron Krumpos Said:
    May:28:2010 - 12:08 

    Orthodox, institutional religions are quite different, but their mystics have much in common. A quote from the chapter “Mystic Viewpoints” in my e-book at on comparative mysticism:

    Ritual and Symbols. The inner meanings of the scriptures, the spiritual teachings of the prophets and those personal searchings which can lead to divine union were often given lesser importance than outward rituals, symbolism and ceremony in many institutional religions. Observances, reading scriptures, prescribed acts, and following orthodox beliefs cannot replace your personal dedication, contemplation, activities, and direct experience. Preaching is too seldom teaching. For true mystics, every day is a holy day. Divine revelation is here and now, not limited to their sacred scriptures.

    Conflicts in Conventional Religion. “What’s in a Word?” outlined some primary differences between religions and within each faith. The many divisions in large religions disagreed, sometimes bitterly. The succession of authority, interpretations of scriptures, doctrines, organization, terminology, and other disputes have often caused resentment. The customs, worship, practices, and behavior within the mainstream of religions frequently conflicted. Many leaders of any religion had only united when confronted by someone outside their faith, or by agnostics or atheists. Few mystics have believed divine oneness is exclusive to their religion or is restricted to any people.

    Note: This is just a consensus to indicate some differences between the approaches of mystics and that of their institutional religion. These statements do not represent all schools of mysticism or every division of faith. Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    May:28:2010 - 13:26 

    Unfortunately, many Sunnis–and particularly within Saudi Arabia–don’t much care for the mystical path of Islam, Sufism. Thus, Ritual and rites, along with a narrow reading of scripture, tend to dominate.

  5. 5
    Ron Krumpos Said:
    May:28:2010 - 14:05 

    Many religious leaders, and their followers, believe mysticism is either nonsense, heretical or both. The Wahabis, in particular, attack Sufism and Ataturk banned Sufi orders in Turkey.

    There are also many Christians who deny the possibility of unio mystica, are bewildered by mysticism, or reject it as non-Christian. A great many Jews think the Kabbalah is a joke and early kabbalists were often shunned. There is more support in Eastern faiths, but few Hindus and Buddhists follow the mystical path themselves.

    Unfortunately, mysticism in general and mystical schools have been frequently distorted by charlatans, cults, occult practitioners, and New Age romantics.

  6. 6
    kactuz Said:
    May:29:2010 - 02:26 

    Ron, leave the mystics alone. Just because they sell a silly rock (excuse me, a crystal) that is about an inch long for 30 bucks doesn’t mean they are charlatons.

    I have a friend that simply hates the New Agers – It seems they are always stealing his rocks to do the Vortex channeling thing. I guess it is not easy to channel spiritual powers unless you have the right rocks in the right places. On the good side, for about 10 grand up in Sedona they will raise your conscienecness so much that you become one with nature. The down side is that that “one with nature” means you are dead and the last few minutes on earth are with really smelly people chanting really bad music. That kind of makes the 72 virgins alternative seem kind of attractive.

  7. 7
    Sparky Said:
    May:29:2010 - 02:57 

    kactuz someone is stealing your friend’s rocks? Pls. explain :-)

  8. 8
    Sparky Said:
    May:29:2010 - 03:14 

    This man’s article and research is at the brainstorming stage. It is not clearly developed and defined. Although he may have a point, in that there are evidently major differences in religion, the evidence he uses to back it up is severely flawed. He is looking for an answer to a very perplexing question which need be looked at from a political point of view not a religious one.

    His example which started out relatively good is seriously flawed:

    He says:
    “A sports analogy may be in order here. Which of the following — baseball, basketball, tennis, or golf — is best at scoring runs? The answer of course is baseball, because runs is a term foreign to basketball, tennis, and golf alike. Different sports have different goals: Basketball players shoot baskets; tennis players win points; golfers sink putts. To criticize a basketball team for failing to score runs is not to besmirch them. It is simply to misunderstand the game of basketball.”

    It is not to misunderstand the game of basketball! It is not to have access to the correct terminology of the same end goal. Quite different than whay he has laid out.

  9. 9
    John Burgess Said:
    May:29:2010 - 07:45 

    I find the sports analogy to be quite apt. If one doesn’t understand the sport sufficiently to have the basic vocabulary down, then there’s a real issue. I think his parallel between the sports terminology (and the lack of understanding that mis-use of words demonstrates) to those seeing salvation as the proper goal of all religions, for example, to be right on target.

  10. 10
    Ron Krumpos Said:
    May:29:2010 - 08:18 


    Too many people have your mistaken views of mysticism. I suggest that you read for a brief, albeit complex, outline or – better yet – my e-book. It is based on talks with 19 true mystics in 12 countries, including sheiks in Iran and Egypt, 180 books, and was reviewed by 20 religious leaders and scholars prior to publication. It probably won’t convince you, but at least you can get a balanced, objective understanding.

    I was introduced to mysticism in 1959 by a Nobel physicist at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. The Universe, and universal awareness, puts this mundane life into perspective.

  11. 11
    Sparky Said:
    May:29:2010 - 08:20 

    Well I interpreted his analogy differently. So do you think he was writing based on influencing Christian dominated assumptions and biases? I didn’t.

    I think my issue is with “different sports have different goals”.

    Can we agree that all of the sports he mentioned have one goal and that is to score. How someone scores is what’s different but wouldn’t the goal remain the same “win” and “score points”. Whether its a homerun or sinking putts it’s still about scoring points right? :-) I don’t know I am getting into deep philosophical thought right now. For me, the sports analogy disproved the point he was trying to make more than prove it.

    So all religions seem to me to have some sort of end goal and that is to score but how they do it or their path to scoring is different. So he thinks the end score is the major difference but the differences I see is the path taken that leads to scoring. In the end, no one can prove whether anyone scored. Now can we?

  12. 12
    John Burgess Said:
    May:29:2010 - 10:07 

    I think his point is that some religions–Buddhism, for example–have a goal of not scoring goals! To mix all religions up into a mass and then try to find how similar they are isn’t the way to go, in the writer’s opinion, and leads to bad outcomes.

  13. 13
    anon Said:
    May:29:2010 - 10:52 

    As a godless heathen I’d like to see all religious people keep their weird mythologies to themselves. You know what they say about talking religion or politics in polite company! This is especially pertinent to people who follow religions that believe that proselytizing is an imperative and a moral virtue. I’m talking to you Christians and Muslims! :)

  14. 14
    Sparky Said:
    May:29:2010 - 13:00 

    John I would agree with that he believes that finding similarities between religions is a bad thing in his opinion, but he has failed IMO to make a strong convincing case in that brief article. Perhaps you see some value in that article. Could you please elaborate on it because I am missing something that perhaps you caught.

    Hmmm you say Buddhism has a goal of not scoring goals. Do you mean worldly goals? So Buddhists do indeed have “a goal” of reaching nirvanna or the end of rebirths. They are scoring goals by being freed from greed, hate and delusion winning the game by reaching Nirvanna.

    “Therefore, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the arahant has attained only nirvana, thus still being subject to delusion, while the bodhisattva not only achieves nirvana but full liberation from delusion as well. He thus attains bodhi and becomes a buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning as in the early texts, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion.”

  15. 15
    John Burgess Said:
    May:29:2010 - 14:23 

    The paradoxical goal of Buddhism is to get beyond the need for goals! By becoming one with the universe, one loses all touch with mundane reality.

  16. 16
    kactuz Said:
    May:29:2010 - 16:17 

    Sparky. It is about Sedona, one of those places that is both beautiful and nuts. I had both a cousin and friend living there. It seems that, not counting tourists and absentee owners, everybody in Sedona is either a Green or New Age. The two groups fight like cats and dogs. The Greens insist that nature be preserved, untouched and undeveloped. A few years ago the new agers (age-ers?) decided that for their stupid weirdo ceremonies to work properly (excuse me, for the multidimensional life-pulses to flow into their consciousness and infuse their souls with universal energy, or something like that) they had to build rock circles and even pyramids to serve as portals. Of course they don’t bring their own rocks so they take the smaller red rocks from the countryside and make their sacred places. This pissed off the Greens to no end, so they would go out and undo the the rocks and move them back. And so on. The Greens actually wanted the city council to make it a crime to move a rock. They are all nuts, I think, but I lean towards the Greens. I think the Sedona Mystics should be able to perform their rituals, but only if they bring their own 100 kilo rocks.

    Just to show you all I care, here is a link.
    The real problem in earth is….. (suspense) … is … “too much gravity!” yes that is what the link says. And silly me, I thought it was hunger, sickness and wars, etc…

    Let it not be said that I did not point all of you to the ultimate source of paranormal existence and self-discovery. There is also an alien connection just in case the old earth is too limited for your spirit.

    Ron, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but mysticism is either bunk and silly boloney or, as an alternative, nonsense and twaddle. My opinion.


  17. 17
    Ron Krumpos Said:
    May:29:2010 - 18:10 

    I found two recent articles about Sufi satellite TV stations, one in Saudi Arabia and the other in Egypt. You might find them interesting.

    Kactuz, your opinion matters to you. Perhaps you should learn more about it before saying: mysticism is either bunk and silly boloney or, as an alternative, nonsense and twaddle.

  18. 18
    kactuz Said:
    May:29:2010 - 21:57 

    Ray, I’d be the first to admit I have not studied mysticism in depth, but my encounters with those who believe in such things has usually resulted in me wondering what they had been drinking or smoking. Mysticism is too divorced from reality for my liking. It also presumes to know the unknowable, and to create substance where there is none. It uses too many cute, meaningless words. I seriously doubt that man (or woman) is able to achieve a conscious awareness of the ultimate reality or transcend him/herself and unite with absolute truth — and I have no idea what those concepts mean, nor does anybody else.

    Having said that, Mysticism is mostly harmless, like masturbation and watching Dancing with the Stars. If it makes people fell good, I can live with it. Even so, it does nothing to solve any real problems in this world. It is just an elaborate version of holding hands and singing kumbayah.

    In a way, the article “Separate truths” is about how the mystic mentality of “all paths lead to god” promoted by the counterculture has become mainstream thought, even in the face of very obvious facts to the contrary. Mainstream religion has become mysticised, if you will. Or to look at it in another way, mysticism is to religious dogma as multiculturalism is to traditional heritage and culture, or as postmodernism is to moral principles and Western civilization.

    Take care.

  19. 19
    olivetheoil Said:
    May:30:2010 - 00:27 

    To mix all religions up into a mass and then try to find how similar they are isn’t the way to go, in the writer’s opinion, and leads to bad outcomes.

    He is entitled to his opinion. As Bernard Shaw put it succinctly, the golden rule is that there is no golden rule.

    To others, like me, the fundamental principle of all religions is do unto others and you would have them do unto you, i.e., learn to live together, people, and don’t indulge in your passion to steal you neighbor’s spouse and cattle. The reward is eternal heaven, eternal detachment whatever, basically eternal freedom from having such fears and desires.

    We are all human, and if you cut us, in the end, we all bleed the same (to paraphrase Shakespeare who put it MUCH more beautifully).

  20. 20
    olivetheoil Said:
    May:30:2010 - 00:29 

    I have no idea what those concepts mean, nor does anybody else.

    Kactuz: that is obviously because you have not been drinking the right herbal potions.

  21. 21
    Sparky Said:
    May:30:2010 - 00:44 

    Kactuz @16 thanks for the explanation. We don’t those issues in my city in the USA. LOL

    I could see that turning into a wonderful sci fi Jihad movie of the Alien intervention of the Greeners versus New Agers :-)

  22. 22
    olivetheoil Said:
    May:30:2010 - 00:46 

    sci fi Jihad movie

    Good lord! That is a truly scary category.

  23. 23
    Sparky Said:
    May:30:2010 - 00:47 

    @15 John

    I am Budha: I have lost all touch with reality.

  24. 24
    Sparky Said:
    May:30:2010 - 01:56 

    ah forgot to say that statement is sealed with a big fat juicy kiss :-)

  25. 25
    Sparky Said:
    May:31:2010 - 01:07 

    Yesterday I was Budha,

    Today the Lord is my Shepherd Psalms 23

    Tomorrow I will sing by thy grace “Peace to All, Life to All, Love to all”

    Even if that is different, is it dangerous?

  26. 26
    Parapeti Said:
    June:11:2010 - 18:26 

    All the religions has many differences but almost all of them has one idea – to makelife easier. But how close we are getting to this is idea is the main question!

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