Sunday, July 11, 2010


Stephen Prothero has recently published God is Not One. In brief, he argues that religions are not all the same. They are motivated by essentially different views of the world, its core problems, and their proposed solutuions.

He's right about this, I think. No religion is one; taken together, they are a bewildering multitude.

The idea that 'religion' has a single essence and various manifestations is a creature of Romantic philosophy. Cool as reading, but misleading as social science or description.


  1. Stephen, I agree that the religions are not all the same, meaning, I assume that their views of God are different. However, I do not see this as a refutation that God is One. If God is transcendent then no finite description, bound by human language, finitude, and the institutional motivations of religions is adequate.

    One could say that the Jewish concept that "God is One" represented an attempt to build a new nation after the Babylonian captivity that argued, for the sake of national unity, that Yahweh, Elohim, and other names those people used to call God were all referring to the same God. It was a method of bringing tribes together in national unity. The burning bush episode where Moses hears Yahweh say that "you have heard me called by many names" is a key scripture.

    This is similar to phenomenon today as many different religions are colliding in a global culture. Many people are saying that all the religions are seing different aspects of ultimate reality.

  2. Gordon,

    I agree. Prothero's point, I think, is that religions construe ultimacy in a range of ways. This is not to deny, nor really even to comment on, reality in itself.


  3. 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. Ron,

    I have often heard this claimed, sometimes by mystics themselves. Also I have heard it said that when mystics meditate together, they experience the same reality, but that reality becomes multiple when they put it to words in discussion....

    Steve Healey



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