Religious Differences Are Real

Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?

All of the above. I have certainly done my share of pissing people off, and I do think some of the writing in the book will bring readers pleasure, but the main goal is to inform. The world's religions are in my view not so much repositories of unchanging dogmas as they are repositories of unanswered questions. "How do we get rid of suffering?" ask the Buddhists? "How do we stop being reborn?" ask the Hindus. "What must I do to be saved?" ask the Christians. So I want to inform readers about the questions these great religions have asked, and about how practitioners have wrestled with various answers.

What alternate title would you give the book?

My working title was "The Great Religions," but we finally decided on something with a little more frisson.

How do you feel about the cover?

I love everything about it, including the colors (yellows and browns) but especially the photograph, which shows a road punctuated by two one-way signs, each pointed in a different direction-an elegant summation of the main argument of the book.

Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?

So many! But since there is a hidden fiction writer in me just waiting to get out I'll go with Jumpa Lahiri's short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. One story in that book, "This Blessed House," is a masterpiece that somehow manages to explore the mysteries of both marriage and faith without lapsing into clichés about either.

Oh, and it comments on Jesus-obsessed America along the way.

What's your next book?

It's still simmering, but likely something on America's debts to Judaism.

This article originally appeared at Religion Dispatches and is reprinted with permission.

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10/5/2010 4:00:00 AM
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