Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I finished reading Stephen Prothero's book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World - And Why Their Differences Matter last month. The title is a mouthful but I highly recommend it as an excellent read. Prothero is the chair of the religion department at Boston University and wrote Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know - And Doesn't (perhaps as a professor, he's given to long titles). What Prothero accomplishes in God Is Not One is the analysis of the eight major world religious systems and how they see the basic problem. That problem is what we know at our core: something is just not right with the world (and by extension, humanity). Prothero posits that if we define the problem differently, we will come up with different religious systems to address the problem - some of which involve a God and others which do not (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism are non-theistic systems). While Prothero admits his analysis is limited and is not always nuanced, I think his contribution to the conversation helps us understand others in a growing pluralistic world.

I was struck at his analysis of Islam and his proposition that the definition of the human problem from the Muslim perspective is that humanity is prideful and unwilling to submit to God/Allah. There are many quotations in the Qur'an which refer to submission to Allah and a devout Muslim knows the phrase Insha'Allah - "If God wills it." Submission to the will of God is the antidote to human ego and pride.

While Christians see the central problem as Sin, we do share a belief that human pride is part of the power of Sin (pride has traditionally been one of the "seven deadly sins"). Perhaps we can listen to our Muslim sisters and brothers and ask the question of how well we submit to God's will in our own lives. Are we listening for what God wants from us or are we more invested in what we want for ourselves? Where might we be called to set aside our ego needs to be right in favor of another plan?

I confess I don't always listen well and submission is hard. I have entered a new phase in my ministry which was precipitated by an abrupt departure from my position with Hospice of Washington County - a departure not of my choosing. Where is God in this? I'm not completely sure but I have been asked to be with a local congregation for a long-term supply assignment. I'm delighted to be with Grace Episcopal in Brunswick MD and hope our time together will be fruitful for everyone involved. An exercise in submission - Insha'Allah indeed.

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