Stephen Prothero's book "God Is Not One", LA Times Review

Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 7:10 AM Bookmark and Share
There's a book review in the LA Times of Stephen Prothero's latest book God Is Not One (that's Stephen Prothero the author and professor of religion, not Donald Prothero the paleontologist who wrote this great book).

I won't be picking up the book until my thesis work gets finished, but I thought you might appreciate the reviewer's summary of religious differences that exist in the world today...
And how different are they?

Christians regard sin as the problem and see salvation as the solution. Muslims define the problem as pride that can only be conquered by submission. Buddhists seek to overcome suffering while Christians regard suffering as ennobling, which is why Christians aren't trying to achieve nirvana. Buddhists, unlike Christians, aren't looking for salvation since they don't believe in sin. Neither do Confucians. And while Jews and Muslims speak of sin, they are not all that interested in salvation from their sins.

And there's more.

Jews believe in one God, Buddhists believe in no God, Hindus believe in many gods. Christ is regarded as a God among Christians, whereas for Muslims, Muhammad is very much a man who achieved perfection as a prophet, political leader, military general and family patriarch. And when it comes to the diversity in denominations among the world's religions, Christianity is king.

Got all that?

[Hat tip to Ophelia Benson @ Butterflies and Wheels]


Posted by: Ron Krumpos | 6/10/2010 11:06 AM

Orthodox, institutional religions are quite different, but their mystics have much in common. A quote from the chapter "Mystic Viewpoints" in my e-book at on comparative mysticism:

Ritual and Symbols. The inner meanings of the scriptures, the spiritual teachings of the prophets and those personal searchings which can lead to divine union were often given lesser importance than outward rituals, symbolism and ceremony in many institutional religions. Observances, reading scriptures, prescribed acts, and following orthodox beliefs cannot replace your personal dedication, contemplation, activities, and direct experience. Preaching is too seldom teaching. For true mystics, every day is a holy day. Divine revelation is here and now, not limited to their sacred scriptures.

Conflicts in Conventional Religion. "What’s in a Word?" outlined some primary differences between religions and within each faith. The many divisions in large religions disagreed, sometimes bitterly. The succession of authority, interpretations of scriptures, doctrines, organization, terminology, and other disputes have often caused resentment. The customs, worship, practices, and behavior within the mainstream of religions frequently conflicted. Many leaders of any religion had only united when confronted by someone outside their faith, or by agnostics or atheists. Few mystics have believed divine oneness is exclusive to their religion or is restricted to any people.

Note: This is just a consensus to indicate some differences between the approaches of mystics and that of their institutional religion. These statements do not represent all schools of mysticism or every division of faith. Whether mystical experiences vary in their cultural context, or are similar for all true mystics, is less important than that they transform each one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life.

Posted by: Paul | 6/10/2010 7:58 PM

Care to clarify your definition of "Mysticism"??

It seems like it could also be called "subjective" or "personal" supernaturalism based on the definition in your ebook, which gives a pretty vague definition. Maybe I just need examples of what isn't mysticism? For example, what would distinguish religious individuals in general from "mystics"?

Posted by: Ron Krumpos | 7/04/2010 5:11 PM


Sorry, I missed your response. A definition from the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions:
Mysticism. “The practices and often systems of thought which arise from and conduce toward mystical experience. Mystical systems are distinguished from other metaphysical systems by their intimate connection to a quest for salvation, union and/or liberation realized through forms of mental, physical and spiritual exercise in a classic definition. Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or lesser degree, such a direct experience; one whose religion and life are central not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which he regards as first-hand personal knowledge.”
Note: Non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism, seek the same ultimate Reality, but it is not conceived as God.

Posted by: Paul | 7/04/2010 7:50 PM


So to summarize, it's fair to say that Mystecism is a set of supernatural beliefs based primarily on personal experience (as opposed to something like Judaism which is based on the accounts of others)?

Posted by: Ron Krumpos | 7/30/2010 11:40 PM

Sorry I'm so late in responding. If you want a personal experience - or consciousness - of mystical give up your ego and individuality for a day. Direct experience is more convincing than relying on the accounts of others.

Posted by: Paul | 7/30/2010 11:54 PM

I ask because I'm curious about the approach and whether or not it's a good way to understand truth or reality, if you will.

Personal experience alone is wrought with problems - many are fairly well understood as they result from our sensory limitations and our mental/psychological/cognitive setup. Though I agree that "direct experience is more convincing than relying on the accounts of others", but I'm unconvinced it's capable of leading to beliefs that are more correct than other means - such as those that seek verification via something external to one's own thoughts and emotions.

Posted by: Ron Krumpos | 7/31/2010 1:23 PM

A mystic must go beyond personal thoughts and emotions to discover the underlying reality which unifies all of existence. It is difficult to summarize in a blog post what took me five years to write in a 100 page e-book.

Read pages 4-5 (Introduction), 17-18 (Mystic viewpoints) and 82-83 (Contemporary views) to better understand that it is not belief or faith, but direct consciousness which provides wholeness and certainty. My book at is free because 19 mystics of five faiths and 20 religious leaders and scholars freely provided their input.

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