It's said of certain scholars that they wear their learning lightly. Huston Smith, the eminent scholar of world religions, wears his great erudition like a Polartec fleece, and that's part of the secret of his charm. Here he writes the sort of book that sums up a lifetime of thinking about the biggest questions. He begins by sketching the human dilemma, both in its perennial aspect and in our historical moment (in Smith's view, we are living among the ruins of modernity). But most of the book is devoted to the fulfillment of our restless longing, again both in its perennial form (the "ur-Truth" underlying all great revealed religions) and in the particular form given to our civilization, which is to be found in the Christian tradition.

So winsome is Smith, so appealing is much of his telling of the Christian story, that I found myself wondering why The Soul of Christianity is likely to have very little impact. The fatal weakness, I think, is insufficient attention to the resistance of the real. There's hardly any genuine conflict in this book.

To recognize—as we must—that there is profound truth in Islam and Buddhism, for example, is not to say that these rival understandings of the universe are simply different ways of expressing the same truth found in Christianity, what Smith (with a nod to Noam Chomsky) calls "the universal grammar of religion."



Related Elsewhere:

The Soul of Christianity is available from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.

More about Houston Smith, including other books and videos, is available from his website.

For book lovers, our 2005 CT book awards are available online, along with our book awards for 2004, 2003, ...

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