Essay on the Story in Religions
Number of words: 599
There are innumerable differences between the many religions of the world, from their beliefs, to their structure, to their traditions and customs. Some religions emphasize a personal relationship with the deity or deities; others hold community at the greatest level of respect. A notable differentiator, for our purposes, is the historical legacy of some religions as opposed to others. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hindu religions, among others, certainly possess a rich collection of stories and fables that make up their religious texts, but they do not necessarily qualify as religions of history. They do not possess a single, cohesive story. There are dramatic differences between the works of Confucious, for example, and the writings of the Tanakh and Quran. These differences do not indicate any level of superiority, but rather an interesting duality between these types of religions.
A very important distinction between ‘religions of history’ and other religions is the linear nature of their texts. The Torah, for example, follows a set of stories that fit together into a cohesive narrative. The tales of Abraham, Moses, and Jacob follow one another in much the same way as a modern story would. Islam also follows a similar structure with its religious text, even sharing similar stories. Both of these religions possess similar beginnings, such as a creation story, and ending with the final Day of Judgement. In between these two points lies the meat of the religions. Both texts have grand prophets and heroes, trials and tribulations, and an ultimate battle to be one. Prothero also highlights the importance of the laws laid out in both religions, even going so far as to claim that “Judaism has always been more about practice than belief.” (Prothero, pg 319). While this is up for debate, he is correct in saying that everyday practices form a foundation for these religions. These practices are just one way that religions of history connect modern believers to their ancient counterparts, something other religions do not have the ability to do.
Another difference that religions of history possess is the ability to create a sense of belonging to a part of a story. The narrative structure of the religious texts creates a journey for those who devote themselves to these religions. They become a part of a continuing narrative, adding themselves to the struggles of Muhammad and Abraham and those who fled persecution. This is one of the major distinctions; Judaism and Islam are built upon generations of believers (Prothero). They are as much a cultural group as they are a religious one. More than devotees- they are participants in the religion’s story, fostering a deep connection with what came before them.
None of this is to say that religions of history have more credibility than any other religions. This difference has to do with what makes these religions work. Some religions are strong because they are able to be viewed through either a religious or philosophical viewpoint, such as Daoism. Other religions, such as Judaism and Islam, have such rich cultures and stories that their power lies in how all-encompassing the are. These religions of history aren’t just for modern people. They hold the story of thousands of passed believers. They have a special kind of complexity that makes them more challenging to understand. They’re a culture as much as a religion, a community as much as a belief.
Prothero, Stephen R. God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World-and Why Their Differences Matter. New York: HarperOne, 2010. Print.