April 25, 2010

Religions Separate and Different

This morning I read Stephen Porthero’s Boston Globe piece on why it’s important not to think all religions are intrinsically the same—that they are substantively different. His argument is well articulated. All religions accept that there is some intrinsic problem with the world as-is—but they diagnose this problem differently and prescribe very different treatments aiming at sometimes diametrically opposed outcomes. (Medical analogy may not be the most appropriate here, but it’s early in the morning for me.)

When it comes to international conflicts where religion is involved, he argues, it’s important to take these differences into account. I can accept this—up to a point. I am very weary of assuming that humanity’s religious differences are at the forefront of today’s so-called “Clash of Civilizations.” These differences are, in my view, merely contributing factors to larger political and socio-economic conflicts, which use religion and culture as the playing field on which to wage battle.

I’m quite happy with Prothero’s argument that religions are actually different. This is in fact what I believe about Buddhism. At the same time, I’m not sure if I buy into the political implications he extends—but my uncertainty may simply be rooted in that I don’t understand his argument well enough yet.

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