Yom HaShoah, 2012

I’ve just returned from the Yom HaShoah (holocaust remembrance) service at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont, California. This annual program is sponsored by Tri-City Interfaith Council, and I have attended it several times.

My mood is always sober as the service begins, because I know I will hear of atrocities which are almost beyond belief. But there is great power in confronting the truth, facing what humans are capable of doing to other humans.

This post may seem off-topic, since this blog is about theists and atheists. But I want to find ways of breaking down artificial barriers that obscure our common humanity. Tonight I felt new hope that this is possible, partly because so many different faith traditions were present in that room. Yom HaShoah originated among Jews, but it is an important tradition for all of us.

It especially inspired me to see at least two Muslims in attendance. One of them participated in the program and the other helped plan it. Our main speaker was a marvelous Jewish storyteller, and I noticed that one of his stories was from the Sufi tradition of Islam.

As I left the temple, I recalled what Hosea Ballou wrote 200 years ago: “If we agree in … love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury; but if we do not no other agreement can do us any good.”

Thank you for reading this post, and welcome to the readers who have subscribed while I’ve been traveling. If any of you want to suggest specific topics for this blog, please let me know. I’m always happy to hear from people who want to build bridges between seemingly irreconcilable antagonists. That’s what we need, if we’re ever going to have a world that works.

Roger Christan Schriner

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Stephen Prothero’s “God Is Not One”

Since completing Bridging the God Gap: Finding Common Ground Among Believers, Atheists and Agnostics, I have read a book that might interest both theists and atheists: Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — And Why Their Differences Matter.

When Americans talk about spiritual matters they tend to focus on the majority religion, Christianity. However I have found it helpful to look at religious issues from a long-term, world-wide perspective, and reading Prothero’s book is a fine way to do that.

God Is Not One is well-researched and well-written. I have studied comparative religion for some time, but this book taught me new things about traditions such as Islam, Confucianism, Daoism, and the African-born Yoruba faith.

One of Prothero’s insights is that “What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: something is wrong with the world” (p. 11). That makes sense, and I find that theists, atheists, and agnostics can often agree about what is most challenging about the human condition. Furthermore there is often quite a bit of agreement about how we should treat each other, as Prothero observes: “The world’s religious rivals do converge when it comes to ethics” (p. 3).

I was also enlightened by the book’s discussion of Hinduism. I had thought that Hindu concepts of deity tend to be impersonal, describing God as an It rather than a Thou. I knew that Hindus who lack formal education often view God in personal terms, but I thought this contradicted mainstream Hinduism.

Prothero says that at one time Hindus did worship an impersonal deity. “Philosophical Hinduism was functionally atheistic; while the gods existed, they were largely irrelevant to the task at hand. [Liberation] was something you achieved by yourself, not something handed to you from on high” (p. 152). But today Hinduism emphasizes bhakti yoga, meaning loving devotion to one or more gods. For Hindus, “The notion that God is impersonal and ineffable is now confined to the rare philosopher” (p. 153).

The book also includes “A Brief Coda on Atheism,” dealing mainly with science-oriented atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. The author is quite critical of this approach, and he sometimes makes sweeping, stereotypical statements, e.g., “Atheists argue that the human problem cannot be solved by religion, because religion itself is the problem” (p. 318). That’s true of Dawkins and Harris, but I have known many atheists who would deny that religion is “the” core problem. To his credit, however, Prothero says there are many different approaches to rejecting God’s existence, and not all atheists are angry and rigid. Taking a swipe at Dawkins et al., he notes that ” . . . most atheists today are far less dogmatic than the high priests of the New Atheism” (p. 327).

I thank Stephen Prothero for this eye-opening survey of the world’s faith traditions, a book that gives us the gift of greater understanding.


Quotes About Theism

As a novice blogger, I have learned that one may post “pages” of blog-related content. I’ve now posted a page called Quotes About Theism, which includes quotations and comments (mostly positive) about belief in God. I will sometimes discuss these quotes in more detail in my blog, and I’ll add new quotes occasionally. I am also collecting quotes about atheism and agnosticism, which challenge belief in God. These will be posted on other pages during the next few weeks.

At this point most of the quotes on theism deal with unusual concepts of God. I’m also open to adding statements in favor of mainstream Abrahamic ideas of deity. (By Abrahamic religion I mean Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.) If you’d like to submit such a statement (up to 100 words), please include the author you are quoting, the source, and the page number. Thanks.

To check out Quotes About Theism, go to the menu just above this blog title and click on that page. The first couple of paragraphs duplicate what you’ve just read, so scroll down to the first heading, Is God a Person?