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Dear Friends:

I think this is a totally brilliant essay/review by Prof. Chilton.

Some of us saw and heard Karen Armstrong speak some years ago at an interfaith conference at the (other) Temple Emanuel in NYC and were very impressed by her knowledge of the Bible.  She is an interesting lady herself, a former Catholic nun, who has written over the years on a number of religious topics.  

Some of the criticism that Prof. Chilton makes in this essay are echoed in a book I have recently finished by Stephen Prothero Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't. Here is what Prothero says about Karen Armstrong and others who advocate similarly:  


. . . As recently as the 1980s many popular textbooks on the world's religions pretended in the name of pluralism that all religions were different paths up the same mountain, and that view persists in popular books by Huston Smith and Karen Armstrong, among others. But this trend has been reversed, at least in higher education, where even introductory religious studies courses typically recognize the fact that the world's religions, which address very different problems through different techniques and to different ends, aren't even climbing the same mountain. Moreover, we may be at a tipping point where we are realizing that you cannot really respect a religion that you do not understand and that understanding a foreign religious tradition means wrestling with ways in which that religion is fundamentally different from your own.   

The Fall into religious ignorance is reversible. Admittedly, we cannot go back to the Protestant 'paradise' of the New England Primer and the early McGuffey readers. Even if we could, few Americans (including me) would want to do so, not least because we rightly demand a far greater measure of religious tolerance than the Puritans were willing to mete out. But perhaps redemption of a different sort is still possible.

(p. 120-121 in the paperback edition of Religious Literacy)


I think this is a great challenge to all of us to continue our interfaith dialogue in the spirit of learning and understanding. The call to even out the playing field and that all differences fall in the name of love, are very tempting. However, you can see where this has sometimes led in human history in the Bruce Chilton's New York Sun essay.

But, personally, I prefer the hills and mountains of religious intellectual endeavor - and altho the journey may be more difficult, the end result is deeper and more real, and hopefully, redemptive for all of us. 



Robert Cohen

Kingston, NY