I just learned that Huston Smith passed away yesterday, at age 97. Smith was a renowned scholar of religion. He was a Christian who spent his life studying, understanding, appreciating and participating in not only his own faith but also Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam/Sufism, Taoism, Native American and African religions, etc. His work has had a profound impact on me because of his emphasis on appreciating what religions aspire to, rather than merely critiquing where they have fallen short. "Others will be interested in weighing the virtues of religion against its atrocities. That has not been my concern," he wrote in the introduction to his best-selling book The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions. He continued:
"Religion alive confronts the individual with the most momentous option life can present. It calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake, a projected journey across the jungles, peaks, and deserts of the human spirit. The call is to confront reality, to master the self. Those who dare to hear and follow that secret call soon learn the dangers and difficulties of its lonely journey--'the sharp edge of a razor, hard to traverse / A difficult path is this, the poets declare....' (Katha Upanishad). But they know its deliverances, too. When a lone spirit triumphs in this domain, it becomes more than a ruler. It becomes a world redeemer. Its impact stretches for millennia, blessing the tangled course of history for centuries. 'Who are the greatest benefactors of the living generation of mankind?' Toynbee asked; and answered: 'Confucius and Laotze, the Buddha, the Prophets of Israel and Judah, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed and Socrates.' The answer should not surprise, for authentic religion is the clearest opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human life."