Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Arguing for the sake of Heaven

Via Brandywine Books, a quotation from the Introduction to Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter:
To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each tradition attempts to solve a different aspect of the human condition. For example:
  • Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
  • Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
  • Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
  • Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is enlightenment
  • Hinduism: the problem is the endless cycle of reincarnation / the solution is release
  • Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is our return back to God and to our true home
When we gloss over these differences we fail to appreciate each religion on its own terms.
And from a recent essay by Prothero, "Against the 'Answer Bank' Theory of Religion":
.... One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that all of them plumb the same depths, ask the same questions. They do not. Only religions that see God as all good ask how a good God can allow millions to die in earthquakes and tsunamis. Only religions that believe in souls ask whether your soul exists before you are born and what happens to it after you die. And only religions that think we have one soul ask after “the soul” in the singular. Every religion, however, asks after the human condition. Here we are in these bodies. What now? What next? What are we to become?

There are wonderful traditions of argumentation in Hinduism’s Upanishads, Tibetan Buddhist sutras, and Christian theology. But the argumentative tradition that has most captured my imagination in recent years has been created and sustained inside rabbinic Judaism.

This tradition makes an invaluable distinction between two types of arguing: arguing for the sake of ego (which it does not value) and arguing for the sake of heaven (which it does). Today our radio and television stations are clogged, on both the Left and the Right, with arguments on behalf of ego. The point is to cling to the answers you already have, even as you shove them down the throat of your antagonists. It is no wonder that so many of my students are allergic to argument. Happily, however, there is an alternative.

The name Israel refers to one who has wrestled with God (Genesis 32:28), and for millennia, Jews have done just that. They have also wrestled with one another, and with their own tradition’s tensions between story and law, exile and return, mercy and justice. According to the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, “If a Jew has no one to quarrel with, he quarrels with God, and we call it theology; or he quarrels with himself, and we call it psychology.” .... [more
Brandywine Books, Against the “Answer Bank” Theory of Religion | Big Questions Online