The Candid Eye

June 13, 2009

Hinduism and Christianity: A Comparative View – Part 1

This informative article on Hinduism and Christianity by Dr.David Frawley of American Institute of Vedic Studies gives the detailed information on various sects of Christianity.

Hindus seldom study other religions properly and often have naïve or simplistic ideas about them. This is particularly true in regard to Christianity, which a number of Hindus idealize for various reasons that are not always correct.
In this regard it is important to take a deeper look at Christianity and its different branches. Christianity is not a monolithic block. There are several distinct groups within Christianity that relate to Hinduism in different ways. Most importantly, there are many people born in Christian countries that are only nominally Christian and may be receptive to the teachings of Hindu Dharma if these are explained to them properly. Hindus should be able to identify these people and should seek to work more closely with them.
First let us examine the different types of Christians. Most Hindus, particularly in India, tend to identify Christianity overall with Catholicism as they have been more exposed to the Catholic form of Christianity which runs many schools in India. Catholics, however, are only one major group of Christians, with Eastern Orthodox Christians and Protestants being the other two. Yet even these groups have differences within themselves.

Hindus seldom study other religions properly and often have naïve or simplistic ideas about them. This is particularly true in regard to Christianity, which a number of Hindus idealize for various reasons that are not always correct.

In this regard it is important to take a deeper look at Christianity and its different branches. Christianity is not a monolithic block. There are several distinct groups within Christianity that relate to Hinduism in different ways. Most importantly, there are many people born in Christian countries that are only nominally Christian and may be receptive to the teachings of Hindu Dharma if these are explained to them properly. Hindus should be able to identify these people and should seek to work more closely with them.

First let us examine the different types of Christians. Most Hindus, particularly in India, tend to identify Christianity overall with Catholicism as they have been more exposed to the Catholic form of Christianity which runs many schools in India. Catholics, however, are only one major group of Christians, with Eastern Orthodox Christians and Protestants being the other two. Yet even these groups have differences within themselves.

Catholic Christianity

Catholic Christianity operates many charities in India, which is largely a hold over from the colonial era, and many Hindus go to Catholic (Christian) schools and are taught by nuns. This makes Hindus overall sympathetic to Catholicism and even defensive about it. However, we should remember that to date the Catholic Church through its main leaders starting with the pope is not sympathetic to Hinduism and has made a firm pillar of its agenda for the coming thousand years, the conversion of Hindus.

The Catholic Church generally projects a negative and distorted view of Hindu Dharma as primitive and polytheistic. It presents itself overall as the only true faith, not accepting Hindu Dharma as a valid spiritual path. In fact, the Catholic Church does not recognize any non-Christian traditions as valid, whether the Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, or Pagan groups. Yet Catholicism additionally projects itself as only true Christian faith, as recent papal dictates indicate, criticizing non-Catholics as not being true or complete Christians or as having a valid path to salvation.

This means Hindus should not approach Catholicism uncritically or consider the Catholic Church somehow a friend or ally. The Catholic Church continues an anti-Hindu agenda to convert Hindus, though it has softened its rhetoric in light of modern political necessity and global communication. Individual Catholics, particularly in India, may be more open to Hinduism but we must remember that they do not represent the church overall or determine its policies.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

The oldest form of Christianity is not the western European Catholic form, which Hindus tend to believe, but rather the Eastern Orthodox churches, of which there are many like the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian churches are primarily of this type. The Syrian Christianity that has long existed in India was originally of this type, though it has taken on other elements.

Catholic Christianity, in spite of its claims to be the original Christianity going back to St. Peter, slowly emerged after the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and only became a distinct force by the time of the emperor Charlemagne in the ninth century. The Roman Empire shifted east to Constantinople in the fourth century, which became not only the center of the Roman Empire but that of early Christianity. For example, if one goes to Jerusalem, one finds that all the older churches there are Greek Orthodox. There are no Catholic Churches there dating from before the time of the Crusades.

The Eastern Orthodox churches are yet more mystically inclined than the Catholic Church and, most importantly, do not engage in proselytizing and have no real agenda to convert India or Hindus. Eastern orthodox Christians criticize the conversion efforts of Catholics or Protestants which are now directed at them as well.

This does not mean that Eastern Orthodox Christians necessarily have a favorable view of Hinduism. They often have the same negative and denigrating views as other Christians. The Russian Orthodox Church, for example, has tried to prevent Hindu groups from getting recognition in Russia. But Eastern Orthodox churches do not pose any real challenge for Hinduism in India, by way of conversion activities. And their members may be more receptive to Hindu spiritual teachings.

Protestant Groups

Both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches use images in worship and have saints and mystics, in which Hindus find some parallels to their own forms of practice. However, the Protestant traditions, which date from the time of the Reformation (sixteenth century), strictly forbid the use of images. They do not accept the role of the Madonna and dismiss Mary as no more than the human mother of Jesus. They reject the mass, the role of saints, and much of what Hindus think that all Christians follow and believe. The original Protestants destroyed Catholic Churches along with their images, and taught that the pope was in league with the devil. While Protestant Christianity has softened a great deal over time, it does not have much affinity with Hindu Dharma and its rich symbolism and yogic practices.

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