You know, I really should write down where I found the recommendation for a book that I put on my Amazon wish list the moment I add it. I could easily put it in the comments and translate that to the book itself when I get it, but I have forgetten every single time. I’m not sure where I got the idea to read this one. I thought it was from a recent article that I read on a blog, but when I found that article it wasn’t in there. Oh well. Live and learn. I’ve left a post-it note for myself. Maybe now I’ll start!
“Religious Literacy” by Stephen Prothero
Many times, books that describe different religions can feel condescending to your own. I remember reading about different religions in high school and college textbooks and they always treat it like ancient mythology or fiction. There’s little respect for tradition. This book did not feel that way, at least from my Christian perspective.
It’s also not difficult to read and doesn’t get into deep details. It skims over the surface of history and points you in the direction where you can find more information throughout the book and in a “Further Reading” section at the back of the book.
Basically, it goes through a general history of religion in the United States, where we started and why, how it evolved over the years, and where we are now. It also gives great reasons why we should be generally familiar with all major religions whether we are religious ourselves or not. His thinking is that you can’t separate religion from history, philosophy, or science because it’s usually an integral part of why things have happened in the past. It’s a part of the story and if you throw it out, some things just don’t make sense anymore, or they look flat and uninteresting.
I agree. We can’t understand why the Pilgrims came across the ocean if we don’t know religious history. We can’t understand the slavery issue in the US, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful protests, or most of the issues in the Middle East, if we rule out any religious history study. As a Christian reading this, I felt a tad convicted about my lack of knowledge about my own religious history. You’d think we’d all at least know the differences between our own denominations, but most of us don’t.
I look at having a basic understanding of major religions the same way I look at any argument. We should define the terms before we start any discussion. If I don’t know that “Jesus” is not defined in the same way in all religions that know of him, then how can I even begin to discuss how we should be following him?
So now I’ve come to the end of another wonderful book with six more books and several Wikipedia pages added to my reading list. That means I got my money’s worth from this one!