I have recently written two posts that were intended mainly to show non-Hindus what the Hindu religion is like, and convey the world’s reactions to Hindus. I have had some very positive comments and some that make me think that some people are not reading them the way that I intended. I am therefore writing a brief explanation of each post.
The If Christianity were like Hinduism Post
This post was intended to convey the Hindu attitude of inclusivity. I also wanted to show that there is a long history of inclusivity and tolerance, that Hinduism has never been hostile to those of other faiths just because of their beliefs. There was a very interesting article in Hinduism Today about the history of Judaism in India. The moving words of the Jewish author Dr. Nathan Katz made me very proud to follow Hinduism:
When Jews come to learn that some of us have lived freely, peacefully and creatively for so long in India, we are surprised and delighted, and we admire Hinduism as the only civilization immune to Jew-hatred. We learn that anti-Semitism is not universal, and that it is possible to preserve Jewish identity and religion in the absence of persecution. For this, we feel deep gratitude.
This is what the article was supposed to convey, but someone told me that it could also be seen as lumping all Christians together (this was an offline comment, not one left on the article), and saying that they were all the same as the Inquisition. One of the online commentators said “Christ’s teachings, unadulterated by the Church, are pointers to the Truth, easily recognized by most Hindus. Hence he occupies an exalted place in most Hindu homes.” This is very true, and there are some very spiritual and tolerant Christians. I was certainly not trying to lump them together with the Spanish Inquisition. I am not anti-Christian, many of my relatives are Christians. I am, however, “anti” many of the activities of some of the more extreme Churches, though they are probably in the minority. As I have written previously the message of Jesus is perfectly understandable to Hindus, perhaps more so than to many who listen to the church!
This post was intended to convey to non Hindus the way that Hinduism is often judged and portrayed by others. My perspective here is that of a Hindu in the West, so I am talking mainly about the attitude of people in the UK and Western media. The average Westerner knows very little about Hinduism, especially the underlying philosophies and beliefs. They will have heard about things like the Kama Sutra and sacrificing animals to Kali and believe that these are mainstream tenets of Hinduism , because this is what the media often portrays. This a natural affect of the coverage, many people in the UK think that a US policeman will shoot a criminal at least once a week because of what they see on crime dramas, whereas I have read that it is actually a very rare occurrence.
Also “strange TV” sells, so we have seen things like a recent tv program that shown Hindu Sadhus hanging large rocks from their penises. Many people have no idea that this is alien to the average Hindu! There have been programs showing Christians handling poisonous snakes, whipping themselves until they are covered with blood, and shouting in “tongues” at scared children they believe to be possessed, but people in the West have the background knowledge to know that this does not go on in most local churches.
The end result is that many people think they know about Hinduism when what they actually know is either a marginal practice carried out by a handful of people, or is wrong. Some have such an ingrained opinion that they will even argue when they are corrected.
Also, I wanted to show that Hinduism is often seen as fair game by people who want to ridicule it, even though they won’t ridicule Christianity or Islam. This often happens because the backlash if Christians boycotted them would hurt economically, and that Muslims are perceived as a threat – though of course they suffer from the problem that minority activities are perceived as mainstream by the public too. Can you imagine someone bringing out a film called “the Love Pope” or “The Love Imam”?
Anyway, one of the commenters interpreted the post as a cowardly attitude and self loathing. Well, I am not sure how it is a cowardly attitude. If the poster means that we should respond decisively and with violence when criticised then I would have to say that Hinduism does see violence as a last resort. The principle of ahimsa, or non harm means that violence has to be reserved for when non-violence would lead to a greater wrong. Some Hindus are complete pacifists, saying that violence should never be used. In my view the actions of those such as Gandhi show that ahimsa is not a cowardly option. I would disagree with this interpretation.
As for the accusaton of self loathing, I can see where that comes from but again I think it is completely misguided. To the followers of exclusive religions if someone expresses a view that differs from yours then they are excluded. “No Christian would ever do this, that or the other. The Christian Terrorists are not true Christians. The Branch Davidian not true Christians. The Catholics, Westboro Baptists or whoever that you don’t agree with are not true Christians“. This means that you don’t have to consider how Christianity can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, because “True Christians” never do that!
For inclusive religions on the other hand it does become a problem. At times it is necessary to say things like “meat eating and even animal sacrifice is seen as valid by some Hindus, but I disagree with it“. This could be seen as a self loathing by someone from an exclusive religion but I think it is a much more constructive way of looking at things. Of course not all Christians think this way, but I would think that those who try to be inclusive would not see criticism of other groups as self loathing.
The other aspect of self loathing is personal self loathing, and in my Opinion Hindu philosophies provide the greatest antidote to this. Whereas some religions teach that man is evil and corrupt by nature, Hinduism teaches us that we are all divine at heart. The Atman, spirit, or true self is of the same nature as God, just as a raindrop is of the same nature as the ocean. If you are at heart pure and good then how can you loathe yourself? You can be disappointed or ashamed not to live up to your divine nature, but to loathe yourself is to loathe God.