Spreading the "Gospel" of Religious Pluralism: A Q&A with Jim Burklo

The great spiritual danger facing my students, and all of us, is selfishness, which has been raised to the status of religious dogma in America. It's assumed that greed is good, that making your own self-interest paramount is what is best for society as a whole. The social consequences of this attitude are disastrous. Income inequality worsens, moneyed interests have more sway in politics than ever, our culture becomes shallow, our lives lose meaning, and the needs of poor and vulnerable people are neglected.

The world's religions are virtually unanimous in rejecting this dogma of selfishness. Religion focuses the soul on the Holy Other, shifting attention away from the small "s" selfish self. This is what happens to Joshua T. Stoneburner. He shifts from having himself at the center of his life to finding divine love for others at the center of his life. He goes through a conversion that all of us would do well to experience.

What do you hope readers take from this novel?

More than anything else, I hope this novel opens the hearts of readers to greater compassion. I hope it makes readers care about the people that our society has left behind: the immigrants, the poor, the sick, the lonely, the hurting ones. I hope it humbles readers into deep curiosity about religions other than their own, as means of drawing closer to divine love, and as means of putting faith into practical action. I hope very much that the novel activates the moral imaginations of its readers.

Brian Boyd, author of "On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction," argues that fictional stories have more emotional impact than factual ones. He argues that fictional, mythical stories have evolutionary survival value: they train our minds to imagine the consequences of different courses of action that we can take. This skill has enabled us to endure as a species. I hope my novel trains minds to imagine what life is like for the most vulnerable of our citizens, and to imagine vividly and compassionately which courses of action we can take as citizens to assure their greatest well-being -- for God's sake!

Read an excerpt from "Souljourn" at the Patheos Book Club.

6/15/2015 4:00:00 AM
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  • About Alonzo L. Gaskill
    Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion; with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.