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Selections from The World's Religions by Huston Smith, Copyright © 1991 by Huston Smith. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.  HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
 


"If you were trying to describe Christianity to an intelligent and interested but busy Thailander, how many denominations would you include?"

Huston Smith, The World's Religions, Part Three

2. Even in the realm of meanings the book does not attempt to give a rounded view of the religions considered, for each hosts differences that are too numerous to be delineated in a single chapter. One need only think of Christendom. Eastern Orthodox Christians worship in ornate cathedrals, while Quakers consider even steeples desecrations. There are Christian mystics and Christians who reject mysticism. There are Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Unitarians. How is it possible to say in a manageable chapter what Christianity means to all Christians?

The answer, of course, is that it is not possible – selection is unavoidable. The question facing an author is not whether to select among points of view; the questions are how many to present, and which ones. In this book the first question is answered economically; I try to do reasonable justice to several perspectives instead of attempting to catalogue them all. In the case of Islam, this has meant ignoring Sunni/Shi’ite and traditional/modernist divisions, while noting different attitudes toward Sufism. In Buddhism I distinguish its Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions, but the major schools within Mahayana are bypasses. The subdivisions never exceed three lest trees obscure the woods. Put the matter in this way: If you were trying to describe Christianity to an intelligent and interested but busy Thailander, how many denominations would you include? It would be difficult to ignore the differences between Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant, but you would probably not get into what separates Baptists from Presbyterians.

When we turn to which views to present, the guideline has been relevance to the interests of the intended reader. Three considerations have figured in determining this relevance. First, there is the simple matter of numbers. There are some faiths that every citizen should be acquainted with, simply because hundreds of millions of people live by them. The second consideration has been relevance to the modern mind.

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