(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In The Soul of Christianity, Huston Smith, a renowned scholar of world religions, attempts to explain and defend Christianity against its secular detractors in the modern world. Although he uses symbols and analogies drawn from sources as diverse as quantum mechanics and Muscle Beach body builders, his outlook is basically that of traditional, even “establishment” Christianity, referencing the early church fathers, Church councils, and the classical tradition of Christianity’s first millennium as the “gold standard” for Christian belief. Smith is, however, scrupulously fair. He readily admits that others’ interpretations may differ from his and that this does not invalidate either their positions or his own. While speaking “from the inside” as a practicing Christian, he also brings the perspective of a scholar who honors the insights into the divine force held by the other great religions.

Smith asserts that the scientific revolution has been a disaster for Western culture because it has enshrined as the dominant worldview a scientific outlook, one that holds that only those things that can be seen or measured, or worked out based on observation or measurement, are real. Proof of this outlook’s pernicious effects is seen in the barbaric events of the twentieth century, which far exceed the worst that happened in prior centuries, Smith argues, and even technology, the vaunted offspring of science, has removed us from the natural world and led to the poisoning of it. The things that give most people’s life meaning—their thoughts and feelings, and above all, their religious faith—are devalued because of their lack of fit with the scientific belief system. That way is madness, Smith feels.

Fortunately, there is a cure for our plight, according to Smith. Once we realize what went wrong, we are free to seek what is missing. The fatal mistake, he says, is that scientism confuses the absence of evidence with evidence of absence. Because the scientific method cannot produce evidence of a divine order does not prove its nonexistence. To explore the higher level of truth that religion is concerned with, however, requires some different tools. Science and religion work with different realms, and each uses a specific technical language. Science’s primary technical language is mathematics. Religion’s technical language is symbol. Only symbols can negotiate the paradoxes that religion poses in exploring the multiple levels of reality.

With these preliminary guidelines, Smith takes up the task of introducing Christianity to the reader. The Soul of...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bryan, G. McLeod. Voices in the Wilderness: Twentieth Century Prophets Speak to the New Millennium. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1999. Autobiographical reflections by a religious scholar on five prophetic voices of the twentieth century: Clarence Jordan, founder of the interracial Koinonia farm in Americus, Georgia; civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; C. F. Beyers Naude, Afrikaner pastor who battled apartheid; Jaroslav Stolar, Christian leader in Communist Czechoslovakia; and Smith. Sheds light on Smith’s thoughts about Christianity.

Griffin, David Ray, and Huston Smith. Primorial Truth and Postmodern Theology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. This debate between Griffin, an exponent of process theology, and Smith, a leader perennialist, reveals their differing views of Christianity.

Holst, Wayne A. “A Devoted Christian.” Review of The Soul of Christianity. The Gazette, May 6, 2005, p. G5. A sympathetic review of Smith’s work. Notes that the author is known for his book The World’s Religions (1958) and his television program.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. Review of The Soul of Christianity. First Things 163, no. 55 (May, 2006): 55-57. Reviewer sums up Smith’s statements and beliefs.

Smith, Huston. Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions. 1972. Reprint. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992. A powerful, personal statement that presents in depth Smith’s theory of a common framework shared by most religions.