The Corner

Kathleen Parker on Religion

It may be that justice just can’t be done to the topics Parker takes on in her latest column in the space that she has, and I’m sure I won’t be able to do justice to them in this post either. But while I share some of the sympathies she expresses, I don’t think her argument succeeds.

First, a minor point. She writes: “A survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors, conducted by an evangelical polling firm, found that 47 percent agree that Islam is ‘a very evil and a very wicked religion.’ But such opinions may be confined mostly to an older generation. Evangelicals under 30 believe that there are many ways to God, not just through Jesus.” As presented, there is no contradiction in these views: It is possible to hold that there are many ways to God but that Islam, as a very evil etc. religion, isn’t one of them.

It’s a later passage that seems more problematic. “[Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s] research led to some startling conclusions that have caused no small amount of Sturm und Drang among those who believe theirs is the one true way. She found that whether one is a Sikh, a Catholic nun, a Buddhist monk or a Sufi Muslim, the brain reacts to focused prayer and meditation much in the same way. The same parts light up and the same parts go dark during deep meditation. . . . [S]piritual experience is a human phenomenon, not a religious one. Different routes to the same destination.” Only if by “destination” we mean the lighting up and darkening of certain parts of the brain. I don’t see how this research could possibly disprove that one of these religions is the one true way; I don’t see how it even bears on the question. Nor can I see its bearing on the question of whether spiritual experience is a human rather than a religious phenomenon (although I’m not sure what that means in the first place).

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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