Review: What Do the Religions Say about Each Other? by William Stoddart
A Review by Samuel Bendeck Sotillos
Since the appearence of the book by Samuel Huntingdon, the thesis “clash of civilisations”, along with its implications, has been accepted much too readily and much too uncritically by the public at large. This notion is far from being an adequate summary of the problem of ‘Islamic’ terrorism and its relationship to the modern ‘Christian’ world.
I must insist that Islamic terrorism is not Islamic, and that the modern world (as represented by Europe and North America) is not Christian. The ‘clash’, therefore, is not between Islamic civilisation and Christian civilisation, but between modern urban warfare and modern humnanism.
We should be fully aware that this curt statement (though essentially accurate) does not provide a sufficient description of either of the two parties. Europe has indeed a rich Christian heritage, though it is commonplace that the majority of people today are religiously indifferent, and that such watered-down religion as still remains is socially, rather than spiritually orientated. In North America the situation is similar, with the difference that a large and influential cohort of the population there, known as the ‘religious right’, manifests a type of religious fundamentalism that is more redolent of an ignorant mass patriotism than of the Christian Gospel.
As to whether the terrorists are Islamic or not, all I would say is that whilst they come from Islamic countries, they have broken injunction after injunction of the Koran and Mohammed. And it is this question — the most crucial question of all — that is examined in this book.
At any rate, we have no choice but to take the world as it is, which means we must look unflinchingly at the existing clash between terrorism (wrongly called ‘Islamic’) and modern secular society (wrongly called ‘Christian’).
The main achievement of the terrorists is to have created the ‘Islamophobia’ that is today prevalent everywhere in the West. The object of this new book is combat the ideology of Islamophobia by presenting to readers a facet of Islam that is rather unknown to the vast majority of contemporary individuals.
One of the central features of present-day interfaith dialogue is the attempt either to ignore differences among the religions altogether, or to make them appear less significant than they truly are, which equally lends itself to a reductionistic flatland and does not resolve the dialectic between pluralism and exclusivism. This has brought about much confusion regarding the deeper understanding of the spiritual traditions of the world.
Contemporary interfaith dialogue generally devalues the observance of orthodoxy or ‘right thinking’ — in this differing fundamentally from the perennialist or traditionalist school, which indefatigably affirms that there is no esotericism without exotericism. As English Catholic philosopher Bernard Kelly (1907-58) observed, “Traditional norms provide the criteria of culture and civilization. Traditional orthodoxy is thus the prerequisite of any discourse at all between the Traditions themselves.”
We have to understand that the great religions of the world are not the same, but different! This is their raison d’être. Almighty God has spoken in many languages, but He does not speak the same one twice.
The good news is that a model of ecumenism existed for centuries in Andalusia, and indeed throughout Spain. Perhaps what is needed to meditate more profoundly on its spirit of tolerance, which underscores an effective spiritual model affirming the differences on the outward dimensions and likewise on the inner dimensions — something that has been splendidly recognised as the “transcendent unity of religions” by the philosopher Frithjof Schuon (1907-98).
What do the Religions Say about Each Other? constitutes a considerable contribution to traditionalist or perennialist studies. And who better to compile such a vital portrayal of “paths that lead to the same summit” than the Scottish philosopher and medically trained octogenarian William Stoddart, who has dedicated his life to researching the spiritual doctrines of the world’s religions?
This book will be of interest to scholars and lay readers alike as it is fashioned by what is essential — namely that the Truth is One, even if the ways to it are many. May we all unlearn intolerance, in order to cultivate the ‘unity among civilisations’ that depends upon the true assimilation of one’s spiritual tradition, whatever it may be.