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Seven Dilemmas in World Religions

Seven Dilemmas in World Religions
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"We suggest that religion might be able to create a sense of community among its members even if we hold in abeyance its claims to truth about ultimate reality, and about human existence. To some extent, contemporary branches of reform Judaism, progressive Sunni Islam, and liberal Christianity do just that. Similar claims could be made about Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Japanese Shinto religion, and Buddhism in the East. However, there is of course a nagging dilemma here, too, because such claims can only be held in abeyance for so long. Ultimately, if members of a group do not believe the same about reality, do not believe the same about morality or its source, or do not believe the same about God, then one wonders in one sense whether they are a real religious community. Ultimately, one wonders whether such communities will continue to exist, for one test of any such community is what beliefs its members are ready to shed blood for. Without some such deep agreement, modern feelings of community might be a mere shell... We conclude that religion in this world is a mansion with many rooms. Some people need a room marked 'Truth;' others just don't want to sleep alone. Some enter and want to go to the archives; others need the infirmary to make it through the night. All the rooms are part of religion, and all, at least, provide a place to rest." ­­From Chapter 8 of Seven Dilemmas in World Religions

Professors Lynn Stephens and Gregory Pence offer this insightful and engaging introduction to six of the world's major religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Rather than lead us through the labyrinthian history preceding the modern-day incarnations of these six traditional religions, we are invited to view the world, if only for a few moments, as we might through the eyes of someone whose religious life is very different from our own.

By drawing our attention to the problem or "dilemma" central to the beliefs and rituals of a given tradition, the authors enable us to understand how the experiences common to all of us--birth and love, faith and community, suffering and death--can become, in the actual living of these experiences, uniquely Christian or Buddhist or Jewish. We learn about Christian moral thought as we puzzle over the mystery of Jesus' dual nature. We come to understand the idea of a "chosen people" by uncovering the tensions between ethnicity and universalism in Judaism. And we stretch our minds to comprehend the essence of life as we ponder the Buddhist paradox of soulless reincarnation.

The real treasure Stephens and Pence offer us is the knowledge that, beneath its motley exterior, humanity yearns toward whatever truth may yield answers to the questions burning with a similar fire in every human heart.

G. LYNN STEPHENS is professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He serves on the Editorial Board of Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology.

GREGORY PENCE is professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the author of Classic Cases in Medical Ethics.