My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Faith line, Color line, revisited

Since writing my last post about the faith line and the color line, I have been to a secondhand bookshop! Now I absolutely love secondhand bookshops. I simply cannot pass any sale of secondhand books without stopping to browse, and I almost always find something I cannot resist, to add to my burgeoning bookshelves at home, or to increase the height of the pile of books waiting to be read by my bedside. I guess it’s an addiction in its own way! Although perhaps it’s not a bad addiction to have!
The other day we went out for the afternoon to view part of our wonderful national heritage – a splendid Jacobean house and garden open to the public. And there beyond the back of the gift shop selling all those manner of new and over priced items that we simply do not need, was a small room stuffed with old and not so old books of every shape, size, genre and condition, simply begging to be bought; and all for a good charitable cause. What was there to lose?
So I just had to buy Comparative Religion, by A C Bouquet. Born in 1884 and an expert on the history and comparative study of religions, Bouquet wrote this paperback during the Second World War to provide what he described as a “plain tale, inspired by scientific method”… of the “religious quest of mankind, its fruits, its failures, and its future prospects…” This is a Pelican Book, an imprint of the famous Penguin Books, and I bought the fourth revised edition of 1953. How could I not buy it as part of my current research into the Wisdom of Religious Tolerance!?
I havn’t read very much yet – I’m on holiday after all – but there are some very wise words. “No doubt the study (of comparative religion) has its dangers,” he writes. “It may sink to the level of collecting dead insects or pressed flowers, which in the process lose all their colour and reality. Collecting religions is no better. The only tolerable way of engaging in the work is to let one’s self be enthralled by man’s ceaseless quest for something supernatural and eternal which the ordinary life of this world will never give him, and to try to put one’s self into the place of those who are obviously enthusiasts for a religion which is not one’s own” (my emphasis). Now I have mentioned John Sentamu’s call for religions to celebrate their differences and unique perspectives before. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, explained on his visit to the new Hindu Temple of Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) in Birmingham on 15 November 2008, ‘interfaith dialogue is not a way of obliterating our differences, it's a way of living creatively with them. A way of living gratefully with them, so that our compassion, our love and our fellow feeling do not stop simply with those who are like us.’ Only with all the facts, Bouquet wrote all those years ago, can we “make comparisons with justice and fairness.” Oh so true, and surely today so much bigotry and aggression and intolerance and ridicule arises from not appreciating the full facts, from much crass ignorance, although many suddenly seem to claim huge expertise when they can hide behind the relative anonymity of the Internet!

Dr Bouquet was himself an Anglican priest, but he was very clear of his responsibility to write an entirely objective account – to write as a scientist, he said, not as an advocate. “I believe,” he wrote, "that truth shines by its own light. I have faith that if my own creed is in any true sense absolute, it cannot suffer from an unprejudiced and dispassionate exposition of the history of religion.”
It is curious to see his use of the word science as well, in the study of religion, since of course in this twenty first century many seem to believe that science and religion are entirely incompatible, at opposite ends of the spectrum of understanding.
But science was after all originally called the natural philosophy. It is only relatively recently that it’s meaning has been hijacked by the reductionist and materialistic scientists and the angry atheists for their own agenda.
Talking of which, there is another little gem in the book that I have not yet had time to look into any further. A certain Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who died in 1648, is noted by Bouquet as asserting that there are no real atheists,but only so called atheists, who object to the false and inappropriate attributes which are assigned to Deity, and will rather have no God than one who is unworthy of belief.” An interesting thought.


  1. Why do we just focus on what makes us different? Why not also focus on what we have in common? Objections to stealing, lying and killing for instance.

  2. I'm researching and writing for a whole chapter about that at the moment - there are far more commonalities in fact than differences - I agree essential to emphasise those first! Keep posting comments!