letters to surfers

Q: What is the relationship between the various religions of the world and your models in God of Many Names?

Answer by Robert Brow   October 1999   (www.brow.on.ca)

When a religion (say Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism) is described in series of lectures in a University Department of Religion, a vast amount of information is needed to capture what is actually going on among the people described. The more one studies the more complex the subject becomes.

My interest is totally different. Beginning with many conversations in India, I wanted a method to analyze the explanation given by one particular individual. And it was obvious that such explanations might not be at all what their religion was meant to teach.

For example if you ask many Christians to explain their faith, they will often give you a typically Unitarian explanation. Many who imagine themselves to be Calvinists explain themselves in Arminian terms. And Hindus who have been in touch with Christian teaching will often give a Theistic explanation instead of the Monism which they may profess.

The explanatory models (grids, paradigms) I use are constructed, and tried out to see if they fit what the person is explaining. Since they are as analytic as mathematical models, they are not right or wrong, merely useful or not useful in trying to understand another person's explanation.

And as I point out in God of Many Names, if the model we construct does not capture what the other person is trying to explain, it is the model that needs to change. People have a right to give an explanation of their own personal faith in any way they choose. All I observed is that these explanations can be set out in 24 typical patterns (they can be subdivided at will) which I call explanatory models of religion and ideology.

Having said that, I think it is demonstrable that if people are taught a certain explanatory model their behaviour will be affected. Original Buddhists tend to live one way, Mahayana Buddhists another, and well trained Zen Buddhists are something else. Calvinists in Scotland and Geneva probably behave differently from Roman Catholics. But that is psychology that can be observed and discussed as right or wrong.

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