During the years I have functioned as religion editor of United Press International, I’ve been asked a great many questions by newspaper readers (and, I might add, by newspaper editors, who are every bit as curious as they are popularly supposed to be, although perhaps not quite as omniscient). Some of the questions are evidently rhetorical. To this category I assign such inquiries as "How can you write such tripe?" and "Where on earth did you get the ridiculous notion that . . .?"
Of those that are seriously intended to elicit information, a very large percentage seem to begin with the words ‘What’s the difference. . . ?" I have concluded that there are quite a number of people around — intelligent, well-disposed, fair-minded people — who want to know how their religious beliefs differ from those of their neighbors.
It is for them, primarily, that this book was written. But I will confess that I also cherish the hope that it may prove helpful to an altogether different type of reader — the person who hasn’t any well-thought-out convictions of his own and who is looking around to see what religious options are available to modern man.
The opening chapters deal with basic differences that mark off broad areas of religious spectrum. In Chapter 1 we will consider how theistic religion (a category that includes Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) differs from pantheism and atheism.
In Chapter 2, we will focus on the two theistic religions that are of principal importance in America — Christianity and Judaism.
Chapter 3 takes up differences between Catholics and Protestants. And Chapter 4 examines the main camps into which Protestants are divided.
The remaining chapters are devoted to a study of the distinctive aspects of various Protestant denominations, and other religious faiths which have not been covered previously. The reader who plugs away to the bitter end will acquire at least a smattering of information — I would hope more than a smattering — about most of the religions, from animism to Zen, that command the allegiance of significant numbers of human beings in the world today.
I am sure that I shall live to rue that last sentence. I can see the letters now: "How could you overlook Neo-Zoroastrianism? We have five people here in Fickle Falls who meet every Tuesday night to discuss this new faith, and we are thinking of building a church. . ."
So let me apologize in advance to any reader who feels that his particular religious viewpoint has been overlooked, or given short shrift. Without writing an encyclopedia, it would not be possible to deal separately and adequately with each of the 275 religious bodies listed in the Yearbook of American Churches. In the space available, I’ve tried to concentrate on the religious differences that seem to be most basic, or which affect fairly large numbers of people.
Let me give fair warning, however: This is not an "objective" book, if by objective you understand that the author is neutral, impartial, or indifferent. I do not see how it is possible for anyone to be truly neutral about religion; some of the most viciously slanted books I’ve ever read were written by people who make a great noise about their "objectivity."
So I think you are entitled to know that I write as a committed Christian, who has been nourished in the Protestant tradition. I look at other religions, inevitably, through Protestant Christian eyes, and I am sure that this orientation will be quite obvious to the discerning reader.
However, I have also been trained, during more than twenty years as a wire-service reporter, to be as fair and accurate as humanly possible in presenting the other fellow’s point of view. Even if UPI had not pounded this maxim into my head, I hope that my own conscience would not permit me to malign or knowingly misrepresent any person’s religious faith. If anyone feels that I have been unjust to his beliefs in this book, I do not merely apologize: I humbly beg his forgiveness.