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I want to expand on the previous reviewer's comments, which I essentially agree with. The introduction to this book is a blast against both the regressive fallacy that one religion can be better than others and the progressive fallacy that all religions are in a lovey-lovey way all the same. This is not the case, he declares; instead, each religion has its own independent character and instincts, appeals to different needs and desires, and aims to take you to different mental places -- this is what he means by calling them "rivals". It's a bracing call for a full-frontal tolerant plurality without wincing away from points of contention. It's a promising thesis to begin a book with.
Unfortunately, that's as far as it goes. The rest of the book consists of eight essays concerned separately with a "major" world religion (sorry Sikhs, Jains, Shintoists, and Scientologists... nothing here for you) that, while pleasant to read/listen to, are ultimately nothing more than pedestrian glosses. This book is, in fact, a direct sequel to Prothero's previous book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know" which called for Americans to learn more about the religions of the world. As he say towards the end of the introduction, people were writing to him asking for a book to GIVE them that literacy. This is that book, and if that is what you want then this is the book for you. Each essay starts from basic facts, breezes through some history and contemporary issues, and ends there. Without a rhetorical connection between them the original thesis is nowhere to be seen. I was hoping for more depth.
There is still much of value here, particularly in the surprising choice of Yoruba as one of the major world religions. I like to think that I'm slightly more literate than most Americans when it comes to world religions, but was frankly ignorant about this West African religion and its many New World descendants. Touche, Mr. Prothero; consider me educated.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
This is generally an interesting book, reviewing as it does aspects of the beliefs for eight major religions. However, it has significant flaws. It fails to tell us why the specific differences among these religions matters. Why are faith-based conflicts so pervasive and hard to resolve? No answer. What can we do to reduce the conflicts? Again, no answer.
Anyone who has read other books on religion will quickly realize that Prothero is presenting an incomplete picture. With the exception of a few remarks on Islamist violence, we learn nothing about the negative side of faith, in spite of the fact that this is apparent to anyone who reads a newspaper. Neither are we given a good historical review of the often violent conflicts among the faithful and shown how those conflicts originate in their different beliefs and practises.
The only group that comes in for criticism are the New Atheists, whom Prothero singles out for snide and dismissive treatment. I conclude that Prothero is in favor of faith in general and wants to reassure his readers that they should be comfortable with whatever faith-based beliefs they happen to hold. How will this kind of thinking will help humanity rise above faith-based conflict? How will this book will help us deal with the impact of these contending religions on the world? Prothero has no answer, except, it seems, that we should all keep believing.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful