The Candid Eye

June 16, 2009

Hinduism and Christianity: A Comparative View – Part 2

Filed under: Christianity,Hinduism — thecandideye @ 6:29 AM
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This article is continuation of the previous one on Hinduism and Christianity by Dr.David Frawley of American Institute of Vedic Studies.

Mainstream Protestants

Protestants in the West are now divided into two rather distinct groups. First are the older mainstream Protestant denominations like the Church of England, the Methodists and the Lutherans. Their views have moved away from a strict acceptance that the Bible is the literal word of God, and they have brought in many rationalistic and humanistic currents into their thoughts, though they seldom promote any mystical or spiritual practices. They now include modern liberal Protestants who do not regard Jesus as Divine and have reinterpreted the Bible in line with modern political or historical concerns, including rejecting large portions of it as out of date.

These mainstream Protestant Churches are not as likely to overtly attack Hindu dharma. They contain many groups that are socially liberal. However, like the Eastern Orthodox churches, it would be wrong to think that they have a positive view of Hinduism. While they are not as directly involved in conversion efforts as are the Catholics, they still engage in such activities and would like to see Hindus convert to Christianity. They often covertly attack Hinduism by a support of human rights in India that contains many anti-Hindu statements in the background.

Evangelical Christians

The second Protestant group is the evangelical Christians, largely based in America. This includes the Southern Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses and many smaller sects coming out of the United States. These evangelical groups have their own internal differences but have much in common in beliefs and practices.

Evangelical Christians arose mainly in nineteenth century United States among the farmers and in the southern slave states. They still dominate the American farm belt and the southern region of the country. They are often anti-science in their views and have been responsible for restricting the teaching of evolution in some American schools, which is now occurring in several American states. They take the Bible very literally and are looking for the impending end of the world and the return of Jesus.

Evangelical Christians are the most overt enemies of Hindu Dharma. They are still projecting the image of Hindus as idolaters and devil worshippers, condemned to hell. They see India as a land of spiritual darkness and confusion. They project a theology that includes the impending end of the world and the return of Jesus, with all non-Christians thrown into everlasting damnation, especially Hindus. They are the most anti-Hindu of all Christian groups and the most aggressively engaged in efforts to convert Hindus in India and abroad. They are particularly active in South India today, and have trained some Indians as preachers as well. Though their theology is very primitive, they are adept at using technology, television, radio and the internet to promote their narrow view that all who those do not accept their form of Christianity are rejected by God. They also have money and sometimes the support of various American institutions and businesses.

Evangelical Christians are not only seeking to convert Hindus, they target other Christian groups and even Muslims. They are associated with right wing political and military agendas in the United States. They are the main force behind the Bush administration in America and its aggression in the world. There are some more liberal members of evangelical churches, one might add, like former President Jimmy Carter, but they are a minority that does not represent the movement as a whole.

The important thing to note is that Evangelical Christians are the fastest growing Christian group in the world, particularly in the United States. They are replacing many of the mainstream Protestant Churches in the United States and making inroads on the Catholic Church in South America as well. These are the Christians that Hindus are more likely to find trying to convert their children. Hindus should understand their theology and their agenda, which is not to be taken lightly.

Evangelical Christians are far removed from the Catholic nuns and priests teaching in schools in India, and are much more aggressive in their conversion agenda. Their Christianity is not one of live and let live but join us or suffer eternally by God’s wrath. While many of us in the global age might just dismiss them as uneducated and backwards, they do provide a sense a sense of security and community that can still be appealing to people today who want certainty, even at the cost of truth. The decline of the family system in the West has made people vulnerable to such emotional faiths that promise God’s protection.

Non-Believers in Christian Countries

However, besides these practicing Christians, there are many people in Christian countries or of Christian backgrounds who are not practicing Christians and may not call themselves Christians at all. In Russia less than a third of the people practice Christianity. In some western European countries the number of people who attend church regularly may be less than ten percent.

Such non-Christians in the West include New Age groups, followers of Yoga, Hindu and Buddhist practices and neo-pagans, as well as other individuals who may not follow any religious or spiritual path in particular. Such people may be influenced by negative views of Hindu dharma that prevail in the media, but if one talks to them one often finds much receptivity to the teachings of Sanatana Dharma.

One must remember that no one is originally born a Christian or anything else. Everyone is born in the dharma, which is universal, not in a religious belief that is man made. And all cultures have a pre-Christian religious background. For example, Europe had older pagan traditions before Christianity. Some of these pagan traditions persist to the present day as in Celtic groups in Britain. Not all of Europe became Christian at the time of the Roman Empire. Northern Europe, including Scandinavia and Russia, did not become Christian until the tenth century or later. Lithuania had pagan kings until the fourteenth century and still maintains its older tradition. There have been pockets of pagan hold outs throughout Europe. This means to speak of one’s native religion is not a simple matter of accepting the current dominant religion of one’s community.

In addition, not everything good in western civilization derives from Christianity, as Hindus would naively believe based upon their usual Christian education. Much of what we honor in western culture has a pagan root, particularly in the pre-Christian Greek and Roman cultures. This includes the main trends of western philosophy, art and science and also the western political orientation towards democracy. All these predate Christianity in the West and declined during the period of church rule. They came to the forefront after the Renaissance through a restriction of the power of the church.

When Hindus encourage western people to return to their Christian roots, as they often do, they are doing them a disservice. The true spiritual roots of western people may not be Christian at all. Hindus would be better directing western seekers towards dharma and to Self-realization, not to reviving Christianity, which only goes to support the Christian agenda to convert Hindus.

Conclusion

Hindus need to discriminate between the different forms of Christianity and also treat people born in Christian cultures at an individual level, rather than simply treating all people born in the West as devoted Christians.

Relative to Christian conversion efforts, the Evangelical Christians are the biggest threat to Hindus. The Catholic Church is not far behind and is trying to keep up with them. Mainstream Protestant groups are not such a powerful threat, but still work in that direction. Eastern Orthodox groups are not a direct threat but may not understand or accept Hindu Dharma either.

Liberal Christians may be open to interfaith dialogue with Hindus, but this is far short of any real acceptance of Hindu Dharma. And even these liberal Christians so far represent only a small fraction of Christians and are seldom willing to take a stand against Christian conversion efforts aimed at Hindus.

More importantly, Hindus need to communicate to the non-believers in Christian countries and those open to Dharmic traditions, including those following older pagan and native beliefs. Hindus should not condemn all westerners to Christianity because they were born in Christian countries, but should work tirelessly to bring Sanatana Dharma to all.

Rather than look to gaining recognition from Christian groups, who are often inherently hostile to Hinduism, it is better for Hindus in the West to seek political power and recognition. It is the religious pluralism of the West at a political level, which is rooted in Greco-Roman pagan ideas, which is allowing Hindus to build temples and practice their religion in western countries. It is not owing to the kindness of any of the churches, none of which are based upon a spiritual pluralism that accepts many paths to truth, including outside of Christianity. This does not mean that Hindus should be hostile to Christians. Hindus should respect the Divine nature of all individuals, but they should be realistic about what the churches stand for and what they are actually doing.

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