This week (tomorrow, actually), I’m participating in a Patheos.com book club roundtable on Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One, which mostly consists of me posting a review of the book I did back in June here, them posting it on their site as well, and also me asking Prothero a question.
As I’ve mentioned Prothero’s work on here several times, particularly in relation to mysticism and monism and other issues, following this event may be useful or interesting to many of you reading.
The question bit has already been done, and you can see my question and another participant’s here.
I think his answer to the first question is right-on, not only in terms of his overall project, but also because it rightly points out that the “it’s all one” perennialist/monist thinking underlying the question IS theology, and not reality. So, well done there!
However, on my own question, I think he was incredibly lazy. Here’s my question and his answer:
Q. If you were to write “God Is Still Not One,” and included eight more religions that were not covered in the first book, what would they be, what order would you put them in, and how would you characterize them (e.g. Buddhism as “the Way of Awakening,” etc.)?
Stephen Responds: Sorry, my pagan friend, but that is just too tall an assignment. But I will give you the tradition I would have included if I had gone from eight to nine of the great religions: Sikhism. I am the faculty adviser for Boston University’s Sikh Student Association, so I know a fair number of Sikhs, and theirs is one of the world’s leading religions, with perhaps 20 million adherents worldwide. A product of medieval India, Sikhism grew out of a culture of Hindu/Muslim interactions, and Sikhs today share a devotion to monotheism with Muslims and such beliefs as reincarnation and karma with Hindus. As for what to call it, I’m torn. Either “the way of the gurus” or “the way of learning,” since the term “Sikh” means “learner.”
I know he was sad not to include Sikhs in his book–he says so in the book itself on p. 16. (He also said the same thing, nearly word-for-word, in this earlier interview on the book.) And while he may not have had to answer every bit of what I asked, I don’t think it would have hurt to at least name eight other major religions…but, of course, I suspect much of what that stems from is lack of knowledge on his part about those religions–including Shinto and most forms of modern paganism.
In this, he’s little different from many other “world religion experts” these days in knowing nothing of those faiths and not including them in serious consideration, despite the fact that Shinto includes, at least, half of the population of Japan (including many who would identify primarily as Christian, Buddhist, or atheists), which (at around 60 million) is substantially larger than the 20 million figure he cites for Sikhs (though he says “25 million” in the book itself, as well as the other interview)…and that’s a conservative estimate.
He makes the argument in his book that Confucianism, while it may not have a huge number of identified and devoted practitioners/adherents, is still one of the most influential systems of thought the world has ever known, and I certainly agree with him. While it may not have as huge or as pervasive an influence, I’m still surprised that he didn’t cover Shinto, then (apart from the mention of it at the head of his list of religions not covered on p. 15, which culminates with the Sikhs on the next page), at least on the level of actual people who are participating in it in some way in the modern world. Just because Shinto practitioners are mostly confined to Japan and the Japanese diaspora, nonetheless State Shinto (admittedly, not the best chapter in the history of that religion) played a huge role in world history in the mid-20th century. Anime is popular all over the world, and a great deal of it has strong Shinto and traditional Japanese elements to it; most of the films of Hayao Miyazaki (particularly Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Ponyo) have a Shinto element to them; and there is even a very popular video game that is based in Shinto notions of divinity. Among youths all over the world, therefore, there is a subtle Shinto influence. Is it because of embarrassment over that fact that Shinto has continued to be misunderstood or downplayed in overall religious discussion in the past seventy years? I suspect such is the case.
Perhaps I can attempt to answer what Prothero himself declined to answer by simply quoting his statement on pp. 15-16, on traditions he did not include.
Much is missing here. Shinto is not covered. Neither is Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Wicca, or the Bah’ai faith. Also neglected are new religious movements such as Rastafarianism and Scientology. But the religion I most regret excluding is Sikhism….
So, there’s your eight religions…how hard would that have been to regurgitate? And yet, because I asked the question the way I did, I had hoped for more.
I’m also not entirely convinced by identifying Sikhism as “the way of the guru.” Yes, Guru Nanak did found the tradition, and several gurus after him carried it on. The Sri Guru Adi Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, is considered a guru in itself. So, yes, it’s certainly relevant. However, a great deal of modern Hinduism is also guru-based in its practices, and any number of traditions could be considered guru-based: Islam and Christianity, certainly (if “guru” is understood a bit more widely), since it is not just learning that is important, but that the guru “saves” a person not only by their teachings, but in their own incarnate divinity or inward holiness. Hmm. But, as a self-definition from within the tradition, it’s probably not a bad one at all, and he knows more about Sikhs than I do, I’m sure.
His manner of characterizing different religions as “the way of ____” is an interesting and useful one, and more will be said on that in relation to the Ekklesía Antínoou in my upcoming book, Something To Do: A Pagan Experiential Praxis Theology, which I hope may be out later this year or early next year.
In any case, more discussion of the book directly (not only in and of itself, but also as it may or may not be of interest to pagans), tomorrow, in addition to various other topics of note for the Ekklesía Antínoou in particular.