Review of Paul Lambert : Faith, celebrations and festivals, published by the Sathya Sai Organization of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Do you want to know why your Muslim workmate is fasting for a whole month or why the Hindu neighbours have put up strings of lights in their house? Australia has become multi-cultural and multi-religious and a Catholic school may quite possibly have some Sikhs or Buddhists among its children. Without understanding something of the different religions we can easily offend.
Paul Lambert, a member of the Sathya Sai Organization whose spiritual leader is Sai Baba, has put together a booklet (22 x A4 pages) entitled Faith, celebrations and festivals. He looks at the Aboriginal Religions, Bahá’í, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, the Sathya Sai Organisation, Shinto, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism, giving 3 pages to each group. Over two pages he describes the doctrinal element and on the third page outlines the festivals, the calendar of which, for the year 2001, accompanies the booklet.
The result has strengths and weaknesses. The great advantage of this booklet is its introductory quality. It gives at least a few ideas about each of the religions and so allows a preliminary understanding of the major festivals. The weakness is the need to describe a faith in two pages, whether the faith counts 1.9 billion adherents, as in Christianity, or 130,000 Zoroastrians.
Paul Lambert has taken every effort to avoid errors and apologises at the outset for the mistakes, which may have crept in. Despite his best efforts, a significant number of errors can be found. For example, in the Hindu section he lists the third caste as ‘Voices’, which should read ‘Vaishya’ and the fourth caste as ‘Sutra’ (which means a ‘string of aphorisms’), which should read ‘Shudra’. He lists five castes, but there are only four castes and the Untouchables are precisely ‘outcaste’. In the section on Christianity, despite the limitations of space, he reports a vague legend concerning Pontius Pilate and incorrectly presents the doctrine of Trinity. The same sort of thing occurs in the presentation of other faiths.
Can this booklet be recommended? Yes, because it does provide information not readily accessible. It must be read with caution, however, because of the many inaccuracies and, in fact, should be corrected in the light of other presentations – which, sadly, are in short supply.