Nearly right…

Stephen Prothero, Boston University scholar and author of the book God is not one, wrote this article to CNN’s Belief Blog. It’s a reply to another one written by the Dalai Lama and published today in the New York Times, which states that compassion is “a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths.”

The keyword here is “major [faiths]”, though we’re not told exactly what numbers allow a religion to be classified as such and, therefore, which ones are and are not part of the “major” group. If the Dalai Lama meant the three Abrahamic religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, then I might give his statement some credit; if, however, he was also thinking of cases like Shinto, I’d disagree with him and nearly agree with Professor Prothero.

As I stated in the previous post, some religions are strictly orthopraxic, i.e., they focus not on correct doctrine or human social behavior, but on correct ritual practice. Their concern is proper worship at the right time and place, to whom it is due and by whom has the duty of performing the rites. Unless it involves sacred space, nothing about it has anything to do with how humans behave amongst themselves; therefore, it has nothing to do with compassion too. And Stephen Prothero knows it (or should) and at first it looked like he was going to nail it in his article, until he said this:

To be sure, all religions preach compassion

Preach? Preaching requires a doctrine and orthopraxic religions have none (not officially, anyway). One might do it on a personal level or as a member of a philosophical school, but hardly in the name of a whole religion whose focus is on ritual practice. You were nearly right, Professor! And if it’s true that the Dalai Lama spoke only of the “major faiths”, Stephen Prothero however speaks of “all religions” which, in all honesty, should have made him take into the account the reality of “all” and not just some “major” few. Generalizations are a bugger…

2 thoughts on “Nearly right…

  1. 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.

  2. In an earlier comment I had mentioned the similarity of the mystical traditions vs. the difference of orthodox religious doctrines, as outlined in my e-book at In fairness to Dr. Prothero, I came across a later editorial review in which he states:
    “Mystics often claim that the great religions differ only in the inessentials. They may be different paths but they are ascending the same mountain and they converge at the peak. Throughout this book I give voice to these mystics: the Daoist sage Laozi, who wrote his classic the Daodejing just before disappearing forever into the mountains; the Sufi poet Rumi, who instructs us to “gamble everything for love”; and the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, who revels in the feminine aspects of God. But my focus is not on these spiritual superstars. It is on ordinary religious folk—the stories they tell, the doctrines they affirm, and the rituals they practice. And these stories, doctrines, and rituals could not be more different. Christians do not go on the hajj to Mecca; Jews do not affirm the doctrine of the Trinity; and neither Buddhists nor Hindus trouble themselves about sin or salvation.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s