Back in May I hosted a chat on syncretism for members of the House of Netjer. It was interesting and provided me with a lot of fodder I need to go back and cull. Some of it being that I still have a LONG way to go in terms of understanding syncretism.
One person in the chat was asking a lot of questions related to Kemetic practices and Hinduism. Now, I’m not Hindu, never been Hindu, the closest I get is a deep and abiding love for Shiva. Something about the questions though triggered a realization that sometimes needs to be reinforced. Religions are not interchangeable, no matter what ecumenists might try to say. If they were, why would the practices and labels be so important to people and why couldn’t we all just be the same thing? Never mind that for many people this defaults to Christianity, which is a beautiful tradition and most certainly not my tradition.
Around this time, Stephen Prothero was promoting his new book God Is Not One. Being the good polytheist and syncretist I am, I had to borrow a copy. (Incidentally, this meant I got my library to purchase it. Huzzah!) It’s been a few months since I read it and I do wish I could give a more complete review, but that could be summed up in this one sentence.
This is a wonderful book and you must read it.
Prothero covers eight major world religions: Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba Religion, Judaism, and Daoism, and also gives a chapter to Atheism, focus on the more strident atheist voices currently speaking. He goes into beliefs, practices, and histories of these different faiths and gives a good general understanding of what makes them all unique and DIFFERENT from the others.
I suspect a lot of readers here will most resonate with the chapter on Yoruba, as it also covers a lot of the major points shared by tribal faiths and emphasizes the importance of ritual observances and divination and other such practices to the tradition. In fact, one big point Prothero stresses is that, outside of Christianity, most religions place a higher priority on practice and ritual (orthopraxy) rather than proper thought (orthodoxy)*.
Two quotes stood out for me in the book as they touch strongly on what makes “us” as polytheists distinct, even though the author is not discussing us in these chapters.
First, from the chapter on Christianity, which I alluded to above.
“It is often a mus take to refer to a religion as a “faith,” or to its adherents as “believers.” As odd as this might sound, faith and belief don’t matter much in most religions. Often ritual is far more important, as in Confucianism. Or story, as in Yoruba religion. Many Jews do not believe in God, and the world’s Hindus get along quite well without any creed. When it comes to religion, we are more often what we do than what we think.” (p. 69, emphasis mine)
From the chapter on Confucianism.
“The Western monotheisms tell us that religion is a zero-sum game. You need to pick one, and you would do well to choose on the basis of what each religion can do for you at death. But among the many things Confucius and his followers seem to be saying is that perhaps the point of religion is not so much the by-and-by as the here and now. Perhaps human flourishing and social harmony are sufficiently lofty goals for any religion. Perhaps the greatest questions the great religions have to answer concern how to become a human being.” (p. 1300
I definitely recommend this book, even if you feel you have a good understanding of the world’s religions. At the least, it can serve as a good reminder for what your spirituality is and is not. And if you’re not sure, or do not know how to frame the discussion for someone not in your tradition, this would be a good starting point.
*Since I am using these terms, I thought I would just point out that while I am Kemetic Orthodox, the tradition in application would better be described as Kemetic Orthopraxy.