I have been asked why I am became a Hindu. In one way this is simple to answer, God called me to this path. What people really want though is a description of the manner and the process of this calling. I will attempt to describe this, though in some ways it is quite difficult. Writing things down makes it appear as though they are an ordered set of steps, one leading to another. In reality I am not certain which thoughts and ideas occurred before others, and many things happened concurrently. I have also left out certain influences and events concerning other people. Anyway, I will start at the beginning and end at the present, and even if the order in the middle is a little uncertain the gist will be correct.
My Christian Upbringing
I was brought up as a Christian, was a member of the Church choir and attended Church of England schools, both primary and secondary. These schools gave a full, well-rounded education. We learned about the age of the universe, the expanding universe and the Doppler effect in science, whereas in RE (religious education) we learned the creation story. We learned about the biblical idea of the Firmament, the dome of the sky which separated the waters above from the earth, which stood on columns over the waters below. We also learned about the medieval mappa mundi, the maps which centred the world around Israel. It was made clear that the old ideas had been supplanted with scientific knowledge.
I think it would be fair to say that the general attitude was that Christianity was seen as a basis for morality but not as a valid source for knowledge about the world, the creation stories were just stories that made sense to the people at the time. In RE lessons we had debates as to whether miracles really happened and from what I can remember the general consensus was that they did not.
Religious services usually consisted of prayers and hymns, and a general talk by the headmaster. These were pretty worthy and noncontroversial, like the need to put effort into our work, avoiding bullying, and so on. We learned relatively little about other religions, and what we did learn was not always correct. I think they spent more time telling us what was “wrong” with Catholicism than about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions put together. I am sure that in all the lessons in school put together we spent no more than two or three hours discussing other Christian denominations or beliefs. I think that all we learned about Hinduism was basically wrong, that it is polytheistic and an unsophisticated primitive philosophy.
Through the process of my education I had been going from child-like acceptance of Christianity towards seeing it as irrelevant to a lot of things. Science and technology were what could bring us a better world, not religion. The prayers and hymns and services were really rather irrelevant. Then one RE lesson did make an impression on me. An RE teacher said that the main thing that was wrong with other religions was that people might believe them and then they would certainly go to hell. This outweighed any seeming merits in morality, philosophy or way of living. I had previously been told that good people would go to heaven and bad people would go to hell. This was my first inkling that this was not in accord with Christian teachings, where the most evil Christian would go to heaven because of Jesus paying for their sins and the best non-Christian would be condemned to hell, as would unbaptised newborn babies because of original sin. This is when I first realised that Christianity’s moral basis was questionable. This seemed to lead to two possible conclusions, either the Christian God was not the “God of Love” they proclaimed or something was wrong with Christianity.
By the time I left school I would have still called myself a Christian, but the practice was largely irrelevant to me. I also had many questions as to the fundamental basis of Christianity.
The Wonder of the Universe
I was also influenced by a realisation of the wonders of the universe, the immense size, complexity and age. This contrasted with the Christian creation myth, where the universe is only a few thousand years old and small – either literally or in terms of importance. It was as though in a vast mansion the Biblical creation myth only considered the construction of a small cupboard.
One TV series that typified this worldview was Carl Sagan‘s “The Cosmos”. The spectacular images of far-off structures displayed a universe of magnificence, of which the earth is just a small part. It seems likely that intelligent life is not only located on earth. This universe is ancient and believed to be cyclic, expanding, contracting to destruction and then expanding once more.
A key episode which I remember talked about the Hindu concepts of time. I have found a site where Carl Sagan discusses this episode.
…the main reason that we oriented this episode of COSMOS towards India is because of that wonderful aspect of Hindu cosmology which first of all gives a time-scale for the Earth and the universe — a time-scale which is consonant with that of modern scientific cosmology. We know that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and the cosmos, or at least its present incarnation, is something like 10 or 20 billion years old. The Hindu tradition has a day and night of Brahma in this range, somewhere in the region of 8.4 billion years.
As far as I know. It is the only ancient religious tradition on the Earth which talks about the right time-scale. We want to get across the concept of the right time-scale, and to show that it is not unnatural. In the West, people have the sense that what is natural is for the universe to be a few thousand years old, and that billions is indwelling, and no one can understand it. The Hindu concept is very clear. Here is a great world culture which has always talked about billions of years.
Finally, the many billion year time-scale of Hindu cosmology is not the entire history of the universe, but just the day and night of Brahma, and there is the idea of an infinite cycle of births and deaths and an infinite number of universes, each with its own gods.
So, this was an inkling that the philosophies of Hindusim were not the primitive ideas that my school teachers thought. I later discovered that Greek philosophy was preempted by Hinduism, as were many mathematical discoveries.
So, my Chritian upbringing lead me to realise that the moral basis for Christianity and their view of God was questionable. I also had learned that the Bible was inaccurate in scientific facts, and that the real universe was much larger, older and more marvelous than could be conceived of in Christian philosophy.
continued in How I bacame a Hindu – part two