Louis Cassels was for many years the religion editor of United Press International. His column “Religion in America” appeared in over four hundred newspapers during the mid-nineteenth century.
What’s the Difference was published in 1965 by Doubleday & Company, Inc. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Cassels provides a useful guide to understanding the beliefs and unique characteristics of the different religious groups in the United States.
Coming from a background of religion editor of United Press International as well as a committed Protestant Christian, the author proposes to present the distinguishing beliefs of the varying theistic religions with emphasis on Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- Chapter 1: The Varieties of Faith
An outline of the rudimentary beliefs of atheists, hedonists, humanists, materialists (communists), pantheists, animists, polytheists and monotheists.
- Chapter 2: The Jewish-Christian Heritage
The survival of the Jews as a self-conscious entity for forty centuries – twenty of them in often bitter estrangement from Christianity – is a historical mystery, and deserves careful analysis of the evolution of Semitic monotheism both in the Jewish understanding of covenant, Torah, messiah and obedience as well as Christian concepts of new covenant, atonement, sin and grace.
- Chapter 3: The Catholic-Protestant Differences
Although Catholics and Protestants have been moving cautiously toward each other, real minor and major differences still separate them, including their understandings and interpretations of grace, faith, authority in governance and teaching as it relates to scripture, the role of Mary, and the sacraments.
- Chapter 4: Is the Bible Infallible?
The Protestant embracing of the principle of private interpretation of scripture instead of the Catholic teaching of acceptance of its doctrine led to the development of "verbal inerrancy" and Fundamentalism as answers to the loss of authority symbolized on one side by Papal inerrancy and on the other by the demythologizing of liberalism. In the process Protestantism received benefits in the form of the social gospel, modern orthodoxy, and evangelicalism.
- Chapter 5: The Protestant Faith Families: The Great Reformation Churches
While noting the blurred lines separating Protestant denominations in our mobile society, Cassels goes on in this chapter to describe important differences among Lutherans, Presbyterians and Anglicans by tracing their origins and particular characteristics.
- Chapter 6: The Puritan Heritage
The English Reformation produced Catholic and Calvinist factions. In this chapter Cassels traces the Calvinists who evolved in American Protestantism as Congregationalists with their emphasis on democratic government, individual freedom and social concern, and Baptists with their insistence on adult baptism by immersion, congregational autonomy and church-state separation.
- Chapter 7: More Movements Born of the Church of England
Of the offshoots of the Church of England, Methodists grew greatly from humble beginnings under Anglican priest John Wesley to become the second largest Protestant denomination in America, first as a kind of “poor man’s” church and more recently as a middle class church. The Society of Friends with their emphasis on simplicity of life and faith has remained small but influential, as did the Mennonites from continental Europe with their anabaptist roots and pacifist beliefs.
- Chapter 8: The Faiths Born in America
America has eight native religious movements, each centered around a central doctrine or emphasis, including the Disciples of Christ and nondenominationalism, Unitarianism/Universalism and creedlessness, Mormons and the Book of Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventists and the sabbath, Christian Science and Science and Health, Pentecostals and the “gift of tongues,” Church of the Nazarene and sanctification, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Armageddon.
- Chapter 9: The Eastern Orthodox
Six million Americans count themselves adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church in its various national expressions imported by immigrant groups, all of which evolved from the “Great Schism” between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches mainly over the issue of papal authority.
- Chapter 10: Islam and the Moslems
Islam is the youngest of the world’s major religions, whose monotheistic beliefs established by the prophet Mohammed are intended to correct and compete with Judaism and Christianity. Its theology is straightforward and is buttressed with specific religious duties and moral rules that have made it particularly effective in attracting converts in the emergent nations in Africa and Asia.
- Chapter 11: The Oriental Religions
Hinduism is primarily the religion of India, has no central figure, is essentially polytheistic and primitive, and focuses through multiple writings on concepts of karma as retribution requiring reincarnations to allow the individual opportunity to escape the cycle of suffering into nothingness. Buddhism began as a reform movement within Hinduism led by Siddhartha Gautama and issued in monastic rules to lead one’s escape from suffering due to desire into Nirvana. Both are found in the United States – Hinduism in the small Theosophical and Vedanta societies, and Buddhism in Americans of Japanese descent.
- Chapter 12: Does It Matter What You Believe?
The author concludes that Christianity, with its proclamation that God revealed himself uniquely in history through Jesus Christ, can never accept a syncretism of all religions in which its uniqueness and claim to definitive divine revelation would be subsumed as one part of a more general and comprehensive universal religion.