Sacred Stories: Wisdom From World Religions, by Marilyn McFarlane
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Carpe Diem Books in exchange for an honest review.]
Originally titled Sacred Myths, this book is a short and fair-minded compilation of stories from various world religions traditions. With the exception of the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, the stories translated from the Bible, or those I am aware of from other reading, are done without a great deal of additions, and are expressed in a language that is simple and straightforward, ideal for readers in their late childhood or early teenage years, the sort of people who would find a book like this particularly interesting. In terms of its contents, the book consists of thirty-five stories taking up less than 200 pages that span across seven different religious traditions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American, and Sacred Earth neo-paganism. The stories include birth accounts (of Buddha, Jesus Christ, Krishna, the Ganges River, as well as Gaia’s unusual self-creation), and also contain accounts whose elements are at least somewhat in tension, comparing the biblical story of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden with Mella’s relationship with the python healer. Before these stories the editor/compiler discusses the similarity of the Golden Rule across all these religious traditions.
It is commonly, but mistakenly thought that myth and truth are at odds, and that statistics and data and science are a more true picture of reality than narrative and story , a thought that has tended to lead to a great deal of hostility in the present world between the arts and the sciences, between qualitative and quantitative approaches. This book is clearly on the side of myth and story, seeking to encourage harmony between people of different religious beliefs because there is some core morality behind their different stories. One sees the spirit of this book in less detailed form in the various Coexist bumper stickers that are particularly popular here in the Portland area, where the author resides. Her car may indeed be one of those with this message, as that is the clear message of this book, which mixes stories together that are clearly historical, like those in the Bible, those that may be historical, and those which are clearly symbolic, like the various animal stories or nature myths, but which contain a certain level of truth to them, expressed in a variety of ways. Even those stories that are true in a historical sense are true in a yet difference sense as object lessons of various moral principles, of the sort that the author is most interested in, by taking them out of their particular original context in the Bible or Quran or various Vedas, and by placing them in the comparative religion context of this book.
It is also commonly and mistakenly thought that having a fervent or devout belief means that one sees other religions as completely false. As an open and avowed Christian who takes the whole Bible very seriously , I come to a book like this with a clear bias/perspective. So, presumably, does anyone else who reads this book. Yet although I read this book with my own openly acknowledged bias, and this book contained nothing in it that would affect that bias in any way, the bias I came to the book with did not include a belief that the other traditions discussed in this book were entirely untrue. Rather, as someone who believes that mankind was once taught the truths of God, and then in different ways fell away from that truth, it is little wonder that many commonalities should still remain, in cloaked form. The common human need to explain the reasons why things are what they are likewise accounts for many of the stories in this book. Additionally, a reader like myself will look at different aspects of the stories of this book and see partial fulfillments of that which is ultimately fulfilled in Christianity, and see what is noble about various heathen faiths as being a shadow and a hint of the nobility of God as He truly is, and as we will someday understand better. That is not likely to be the author’s own view, but all the same, those who understand our common creation in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father will not find any surprise that we should not be so different, in at least some ways, after all.
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