April 13th, 2011
04:04 PM ET

My Take: Relationships and religious advice

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I have been giving a lot of lectures recently — at institutions as different as Duke, Virginia Military Academy and the University of North Alabama — and I have settled into the routine. A bit about my book "Religious Literacy" (Americans are very religious, but know almost nothing about their own religions), a bit about my newest project, "God is Not One" (no, religions are not different paths up the same mountain) and some humor thrown in here and there.

My favorite part of any speaking engagement, however, is the Q& A, which gives me an opportunity to hear what is on the minds of college students, and allows me to freelance a bit — to think on my feet.

In an April 6 talk sponsored by the Center for Interreligious Education at DePaul University in Chicago, DePaul’s Cortelyou Commons — the “Harry Potter” room, as my host David Wellman called it — was packed, thanks to the extra credit offered by many professors and the fact that I had appeared a few nights earlier on "The Colbert Report".

Usually the questions and answers last only 15 minutes or so, and often they traverse familiar ground. This time, however, the back and forth went on for an hour, and I got a lot of new questions.

The Q&A started with an angry young woman eager to exempt her beloved Confucianism from the horrors of religion. Do I really think Confucianism is a religion? Yes, I do. But Confucius hardly spoke of God or the afterlife. Well, neither do many forms of Buddhism.

I asked her whether she had been to the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, China, where Confucianism’s founder is plainly worshipped as a god. She said yes, but added that Confucius would be disgusted by efforts to turn him into anything other than a sage. The debate ended only when Wellman, an assistant professor of religious studies at DePaul, told us to move on.

Apparently I wasn’t particularly convincing. The next day the woman called me an ignorant “a–hole” on her Twitter feed.

My favorite exchange of the evening came from a young Muslim woman. She told me she was rooming with two Russian Jewish women who had become her friends, but that her grandfather was very upset with the arrangement.

“What should I do?” she pleaded. "It's a real problem."

At first, I had no idea. So I stalled by saying I felt like I was on the NPR program “Car Talk,” where the hosts dispense advice about carburetors and timing belts but are really talking about relationships and other human foibles. In between my hemming and hawing, she asked me to explain “this Jewish-Muslim thing” — something I said I doubted I could do in a minute or two.

In the end, what I said was that her grandfather was concerned because he loved her. I then suggested she do some research on "La Convivencia" — a moment in medieval Spain, from 711 to 1492, in which Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted peaceably, collaborating together in such arenas as mathematics, philosophy and architecture — and share her findings with her grandfather. Perhaps her dorm room could become yet another place of interreligious “coexistence.”

I have often observed that religious traditions intrigue me more for the questions they ask than for the answers they offer. And so it goes for my invited lectures. At least for me, it’s the questions that really get me going.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Confucianism • Interfaith issues • Islam • Judaism

soundoff (149 Responses)
  1. Muneef

    History FYI:
    The different Yemenite states, Sabaa, Awsan, Hadramawt, Main, Timna, Qataban, Raydhan and Himyar, were often in agreement with regard to the role each one had to play in its own domain with regard to a generally conceived Yemenite interest. However, reunification considerations we attest only as late as the end of the 2nd century CE, and it is the Himyarites, who seem to be more conscious in this regard.

    Among the ten countries that evolve around the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, Abyssinia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, the real leader will make the difference at the qualitative level. This involves mainly a regional vision for regional peace, concord, progress, development, knowledge and prosperity. A vision that can emanate from Yemen, that would bring forth a fresh common perspective for the entire regional population, and that would match the great historical past with modern ideals and practices


    April 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Adelina

    American liberals will get what they aimed for – collapse of USA

    April 19, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  3. Beth Boyle

    Most mainstream academics today want to see all religion whipped out so colleges are not going to start teaching religious history in depth any time soon. My daughter just finished getting an education degree and all religious topics were off limits and treated like they were poison and backwards

    April 18, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Adelina

      Present USA = Soviet Union – Russian literature + hedonism + perversion + infanticide

      April 19, 2011 at 6:41 am |
    • LEB

      There is a place for in-depth religious studies... and that's at private religious universities, of which there are HUNDREDS in this country. Many secular colleges also offer courses in comparative and/or specific religion, but if they are public universities receiving public funds, then the SHOULD NOT be focusing on religious education because that is a violation of the separation of church and state.

      If your daughter wanted to learn about her religion (or any other), she should do it at a private religious college, at her church, or on her own time. Don't act like you or she are oppressed or discriminated against because universities are making an effort to be inclusive of ALL students, and not just WASPs who got in on their father's money and alumni status.

      April 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  4. Muneef

    [3:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

    [3:1] A.L.M.*

    [3:2] GOD: there is no god except He; the Living, the Eternal.

    [3:3] He sent down to you this scripture, truthfully, confirming all previous scriptures, and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel

    [3:4] before that, to guide the people, and He sent down the statute book. Those who disbelieve in GOD's revelations incur severe retribution. GOD is Almighty, Avenger.

    [3:5] Nothing is hidden from GOD, on earth, or in the heaven.
    Miracles Bring Greater Responsibility*
    [2:211] Ask the Children of Israel how many profound miracles have we shown them! For those who disregard the blessings bestowed upon them by GOD, GOD is most strict in retribution.

    [2:212] This worldly life is adorned in the eyes of the disbelievers, and they ridicule those who believe. However, the righteous will be far above them on the Day of Resurrection. GOD blesses whomever He wills, without limits.

    Disastrous Jealousy
    [2:213] The people used to be one community when GOD sent the prophets as bearers of good news, as well as warners. He sent down with them the scripture, bearing the truth, to judge among the people in their disputes. Ironically, those who received the scripture were the ones who rejected any new scripture, despite clear proofs given to them. This is due to jealousy on their part. GOD guides those who believe to the truth that is disputed by all others, in accordance with His will. GOD guides whoever wills in a straight path.*

    [2:214] Do you expect to enter Paradise without being tested like those before you? They were tested with hardship and adversity, and were shaken up, until the messenger and those who believed with him said, "Where is GOD's victory?" GOD's victory is near.
    [4:56] Surely, those who disbelieve in our revelations, we will condemn them to the hellfire. Whenever their skins are burnt, we will give them new skins. Thus, they will suffer continuously. GOD is Almighty, Most Wise.
    [78:39] Such is the inevitable day. Whoever wills let him take refuge in his Lord.

    [78:40] We have sufficiently warned you about an imminent retribution. That is the day when everyone will examine what his hands have sent forth, and the disbeliever will say, "Oh, I wish I were dust."
    [5:98] Know that GOD is strict in enforcing retribution, and that GOD is Forgiving, Most Merciful.

    [5:99] The sole duty of the messenger is to deliver the message, and GOD knows everything you declare and everything you conceal.

    [5:100] Proclaim: "The bad and the good are not the same, even if the abundance of the bad may impress you. You shall reverence GOD, (even if you are in the minority) O you who possess intelligence, that you may succeed."

    April 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  5. Muneef

    The Commandments
    [2:83] We made a covenant with the Children of Israel: "You shall not worship except GOD. You shall honor your parents and regard the relatives, the orphans, and the poor. You shall treat the people amicably. You shall observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat)." But you turned away, except a few of you, and you became averse.

    [2:84] We made a covenant with you, that you shall not shed your blood, nor shall you evict each other from your homes. You agreed and bore witness.

    [2:85] Yet, here you are killing each other, and evicting some of you from their homes, banding against them sinfully and maliciously. Even when they surrendered, you demanded ransom from them. Evicting them was prohibited for you in the first place. Do you believe in part of the scripture and disbelieve in part? What should be the retribution for those among you who do this, except humiliation in this life, and a far worse retribution on the Day of Resurrection? GOD is never unaware of anything you do.

    [2:86] It is they who bought this lowly life at the expense of the Hereafter. Consequently, the retribution is never commuted for them, nor can they be helped.
    Major Commandments
    [4:36] You shall worship GOD alone – do not associate anything with Him. You shall regard the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, the related neighbor, the unrelated neighbor, the close associate, the traveling alien, and your servants. GOD does not like the arrogant show-offs.

    [4:37] The ones who are stingy, exhort the people to be stingy, and conceal what GOD has bestowed upon them from His bounties. We have prepared for the disbelievers a shameful retribution.

    [4:38] They give money to charity only to show off, while disbelieving in GOD and the Last Day. If one's companion is the devil, that is the worst companion.

    [4:39] Why do they not believe in GOD and the Last Day, and give from GOD's provisions to them? GOD is fully aware of them.
    [16:90] GOD advocates justice, charity, and regarding the relatives. And He forbids evil, vice, and transgression. He enlightens you, that you may take heed.

    April 18, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  6. Muneef

    Lord of the Universe:
    Surprised to have seen many of you to state that God Allah is the Lord of the Moon ! When he is the Lord of the whole Universe and Creation ! You accuse Muslims of Worshiping of the Moon ! When the Quran clearly indicated that the Sun and the Moon are being used for knowing the number of days,other than that known or unknown forms of uses and needs for !

    Now the only verse that in which God clearly has indicated that he is Lord of is the "The Planet of Sirius" that can be found within Q/S/V's 53:49
    An-Najm (The Star) 53:
    And that He it is Who is the Lord of Sirius; (49).
    Pronounced in Arabic "El-Sherra".

    Links for you to gain the knowledge of this opportunity which i feel thankful to those who drove me to search for it and research it, adding to that i became to understand that the planets are responsible for what ever goes on in the universe as to disasters on earth and to creations, i take it from the Quranic verse that this "Sirius Planet A&B" is or are the Head Star or Planet of all Group of universal Planets in being responsible as a Head Gear for the entire movement of all Gears of the the Ticking Clock of time "The Universal Life time Granted to it to work..!

    The Question that we should be asking or looking for an answer for is: 
    Would time here haste for manking being hasty or would it be granted more time by becoming:
    -a non corruptor to earth and sea.
    -for holding right God Message of revelations and laws.
    -for showing mercy and being charitable paying out the poor dues.

    Wouldn't that make a change when majority become as that since as seems that the darker side overtaking the brighter side meaning Evil-being taking Over the Good-being in their deeds ? It is only when signs like that are shown the earth shake and maybe the whole universe shake that same shake ! After all "The head Key Planet of all those universal planets "The Sirius" is in the hand of God the creator and the lord who is either crediting or debiting our intentions and actions on what was deposited upon us to maintain uncorrupted but rather to go on spreading Justice,Respect even before Love since they say "Some Love do Kill more than hate kills" !!!

    Sorry having got carried away kindly read the links that i found to be very interesting and very informative :         



    April 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.