Huston Smith, The World's Religions, Part
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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