The Lotus Position

Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian
Paul F. Knitter
Oneworld, $22.95, 336 pp.

In 1997, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger predicted that the threat to the church posed by Marxism would be exceeded by the threat of Buddhism. Paul Knitter’s new book will do little to assuage any lingering fears Benedict XVI might harbor in this regard. (I, for one, do not share in this concern about Buddhism.) Nevertheless, Knitter has written a book about his Christian faith and his embrace of Buddhism that is challenging to say the least.

This is a remarkably personal book. Knitter has included comments on his working-class Catholic youth, his studies for the priesthood in Rome and Germany, and even citations from his personal journal. He does not tell us much about his subsequent intellectual itinerary, however. In Germany, studying with Rahner, he decided that a Muslim friend was not, as Rahner would have it, an “anonymous Christian.” Later, he would follow John Hick to a pluralist theology of religions. Given his commitment to social justice, Knitter was sensitive to the charge of relativism being leveled at the pluralists. With this in mind, he then went beyond Hick by claiming that all religions share a common truth, soteria, defined as “eco-human well-being.”

In the past, I have speculated about Knitter’s next step in this journey. Soteria, in my view, favors some religions while marginalizing others—very bad manners in the pluralist scheme of things. Religions that emphasize the devotional or mystical need a tune-up. Religions with...

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About the Author

James L. Fredericks in the theology department at Loyola Marymount University.