Charles Gelman has already posted here on Stephen Prothero’s book God is Not One, but a new interview with the author, published at Religion Dispatches, may be of additional interest. In it, Prothero clarifies his book’s location and argument:
In some ways it’s a follow-up to Religious Literacy, which argued that while the United States is one of the most religious nations on Earth we know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of others. Here I wanted to provide some basic literacy about the world’s religions, and do a little ranting along the way.
The main argument is that the world’s religions are climbing different mountains with very different tools and techniques. One perspective that new atheists and liberal multiculturalists share is that the religions are essentially the same (false and poisonous on the one hand, and true and beautiful on the other). I think this view is dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue.
The notion that all religions are in essence one seduces us into thinking that we can send 160,000 troops into Iraq without reckoning with the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam or, for that matter, between Sunnis and Shias. It prevents us from seeing the role that religions plan in many of the world’s hotspots: from Israel and the Palestinian territories to Nigeria and Kashmir. Equally importantly, it prevents us from seeing and appreciating the unique beauty of each of these religions. If I am a Christian and all religions are essentially the same, what do I have to learn from reading the Daodejing or from attending a Hindu wedding?
The bottom line? Tolerance is an empty virtue if you don’t even understand what you are tolerating. In God is Not One, I try to present as best as I can my own understanding of the world’s most influential religions.
Additionally, regarding the book’s reception and audience, Prothero states:
I’m writing for general readers rather than academics. Some academics who have read the book have said I’m coming late to the party—that religious studies scholars have been rejecting the so-called perennial philosophy for a generation. That is largely true. But not many religious studies scholars write popular books on religion, so the most widely-read books on the subject still preach pretend pluralism. What good does it do our soldiers in Iraq to tell them that Sunni and Shia Islam are essentially the same? Or our diplomats in the Middle East to tell them that the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are inconsequential. So I’m for those soldiers and those diplomats—curious readers who know you can’t understand the world without understanding the powerful role the world’s religions play in it.
Read the full interview here.