I just finished reading the parts of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions that I wanted to read. I enjoyed Smith’s writing and take on the religions; I felt like I was hearing an unbiased approach to the religions of the world. That’s something that I feel is hard to come by.
Why do I think that’s important?
An unbiased opinion of the world religions is important because we lack an ability to see and love one another when we hold biases and labels in front of one another. That said, I wonder if what I did was build a bias, a label, of various religious adherants, that is, by studying the world religions via Smith (and other books), did I just create a label, a box, to put people in?
I hope not. And, I think Smith’s writing helps me (and others) with that.
What I gather from Smith’s tone and take is that the world religions have developed like stories across time, much like your story and my story has developed as we’re inflenced by revolutionary ideas, revolutionary people, and common questions of humanity (e.g. what happens when I die? what is the core purpose of life?). Smith’s writing about the religions carries that same tone – that of a developing story. This tone is what makes him so easy and fun to read. The pompastity of religion has been deflated from the true core and life of religious and spiritual desire.
I write this analysis from a Christian perspective. I’ve been exploring World Religions with a handful of others lately and Smith’s book has been one of my go-to’s (for the above reasons). I, and the others with me, were hungry to explore some of the basics of other religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism, respectively. …and, Smith’s take helped form our conversation.
My final thought, after closing The World’s Religions’ cover, was this: There seems to be something more, something deeper, in spiritual life – something of God – that we must be formed to be attentive to. Many books about world religions level the playing field and look at the religious and spiritual sincerity of religious adherants and gauge the validity of the truth of the religions based on sincerity and moral, good-for-society measures. I’m convinced there’s something deeper, something we’re called into that runs deeper, than sincerity or good intentions. I believe that “deeper” is the permeating, personal-touch, grace that God extends to us and all people – through Jesus Christ. There is a God. He’s beyond the impersonal force within of Hinduism; God is more concerned with reality and suffering thatn Buddhism lets on; he’s not as strict and “other” as our Muslim friends speak of God; and he’s concerned and gracious to more than a national group of people, as our Jewish friends might attest.
Who is this God?
I think the clearest picture we can have of God is the personal, knowable, gracious, forgiving God of Abraham, incarnate in Jesus the Christ. We are loved infinitely by this God and he calls us into relationship (reliance upon) with himself through Jesus (himself in the flesh). To know reality and the deep workings of life is to be known and loved by this God, and to be shaped into the likeness of Jesus by the power of God the Holy Spirit. It’s all about God; start to finish.
This deeper truth of the Word of God enables us to retain some of the peculiarities of the world’s religions: Hinduism’s concept of decisions affect others and self; Buddhism’s concept of life not being right (suffering) and our desires often being a cause of that distortion; Islam’s call to faithful obedience and a life that revolves around God (Allah in Arabic) rather than self; and Judaism’s deep thread of a story, from whom Jesus emerges as the great fulfillment to an ancient promise.
Smith’s book is worth your time. You’ll make quick work of it.