(A rejoinder to Lisa Miller's "WE ARE ALL HINDUS" by Dr Mrs Hilda Raja)
(Lisa Miller's article can be read at
Understand Hinduism to become a Hindu
Dr.Mrs. Hilda Raja
18 August 2009
'We are all Hindus now" by Lisa Miller (Newsweek Aug 31, 2009) was a startling article. It has been known now that in the USA Christianity is on the wane. The same can be said of Europe. It is not shocking that convents and seminaries do not have new recruits. Many of the churches have closed down-Dioceses are unable to pay the heavy compensations the priests have been charged to pay for their sexual exploits and pedophilic escapades. According to a 2008 survey 76 percent continued to identify themselves as Christians yet the author asserts that, 'We are all Hindus now'
Christians need to be treated in two streams-the Catholics and those belonging to the Evangelical churches. As far as the Catholics are concerned there has been a steady decline in practicing Catholics. They are called lapsed Catholics. The Catholic Church and its teachings have come under scrutiny and doubt. Gone are the days when the word comes down from Rome and meekly the 'flock' accepts.
Today with the explosion of information-availability of the literature on the Dead Sea Scrolls Catholics have questioned the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church. For example as the author had pointed out the belief that there is a Last Judgment Day when all dead will resurrect and their bodies and souls will be united is today discarded as a fantasy. Where is this assembly going to take place- in space? How magical for the bodies to be reassembled from the dust. It sounds simply crazy. It was a good pedagogical narration to create in children the idea of considering the body unique and hence to care for it. But brainwashed at such a young age, on the Last Judgment Day when the Lord (masculine God) will appear as a Judge, affected the life long perception of the Maha Pursha. On this premise the rest was build-sin and evil-heaven and hell. The concept of God was thus a stock taker, a man who must be having an unimaginably gigantic account book! But in the process the Creator was dragged down to the level of a common shop keeper/accountant. No adult would accept such a God and Catholics are unable to teach this to their children today.
More questions than answers and more confusing than clarity and more ungodliness than godliness in the teachings. The catechism as is called for school children still carry on with this. Confession and forgiveness, sacraments and its administration, the concept of sacramental grace-sins-Original, venial and mortal seem to have done more harm than good in the salvation seeking story. A kind of a fear instilling mechanism was operated through such teachings. Steadily Catholics were pulling out of such a crazy world which made no sense and was seeking their own path of spirituality.
To the Indian Catholics Hinduism-the religion of their ancestors beckoned them. In the south one would find in the same family one branch continues to be Hindus-the religion of their ancestors-another Catholics (converts from Hinduism). Intermarriages-social functions between the families are attended by all without any holding back. So it is not small wonder that Hinduism is attracting Catholics. The same cannot be said of the Pentecostal churches and its followers. They are more rigid more conservative and will not tolerate signs and symbols even distantly connected with Hinduism. This is relevant to the Indian situation.
To get back to Lisa Miller and her exclamation 'We are all Hindus now' is a bit too far fetched. But this does establish the fact that Christianity is no longer what it was some 50 years ago even in Christian country like the USA. It has lost its sheen; its hold. The whole beliefs systems and dogmas are being questioned. So what immediately comes to my mind is then why are the churches indulging in an aggressive proseletyzation in India. Is it to make up for the numbers and is it because Indians are vulnerable and are easily led. Is it because what is being discarded in USA is being dumped into India?
I would not agree with Lisa Miller that the Americans are Hindus now. Hinduism is not a religion into which one can walk in and walk out. Hinduism is a philosophy, an ideology and a way of life. It permeates the whole range of one's life and activities. Unlike the Christian religion it cannot be kept in a separate compartment from the rest of one's various life activities.30 percent of the Americans according to a News Week survey call themselves 'spiritual' not ' religious'. By this Lisa wants to differentiate the two dimensions. To be spiritual one need not be religious. It is a subtle way of hairsplitting. It is only through a religion can one become spiritual.
I do not understand Stephen Prothero—religion professor at the Boston University his theory on the American propensity for the 'divine deli cafeteria religion' as very much in the spirit of Hinduism, because according to him 'You are not picking and choosing from different religions, because they are all the same' it is not about orthodoxy, it's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great-and if going to catholic mass works, great. And if going to catholic mass plus the yoga, plus the Buddhist retreat works, that's great, too'. Something of this and something of that and something of everything-great! It makes no sense to me.
Spirituality cannot be easily attained. There are no quick fixes. A pill for headache-another for body pain, another for sleep-whatever suits and whatever be the need are just short remedies. Spirituality calls for a life long search-a going into oneself and then coming out like the spires that reach the heavens. It calls for discipline, for continuity, for perseverance.
What is true is that Hinduism had never been an exclusive, monolithic, and dogmatic. It can never be. So may be having been in one the Christians feel that it has no discipline and not rigorous. Far from it-the difference is it gives space for self discovery-does not dictate and thrust dogmas and stifles thinking. It encourages and liberates one to follow in one's own pace the Ultimate Reality. The quest for truth and the freedom of enquiry are the hallmarks of Hinduism.
I would like to make a distinction by quoting Swami Jyotirmayananda in his book, 'India's gift to the world is the light Spiritual': "Ours is an inclusive pluralism and holistic Catholicism". There are many ignorant Hindus who glibly parrot that 'all religions are the same'. They even exhort us to have 'Sarvadharma Sambhavana'…But the facts are that the exclusivists' faiths are distinctly different from our Sanatana Dharma. The two cannot be equated'.
Swami Ramdas (India's Gift to the World Light Spiritual) has highlighted the essence of Dharma: "Dharma means that which upholds and elevates. Hence the basic principle underlying all manifestation of life is, in the real sense, Dharma. This principle is what we call God or Truth. Dharma therefore signifies the knowledge of the great Truth which upholds all things. From the light of knowledge alone can the life of a human being be harmoniously adjusted in all its various aspects. So the aim of Dharma is to infuse into all activities of life the splendor, bliss and peace of the Divine Reality". Dharma is central to spirituality and universal in message. But Dharma cannot be equated with religion. Sanatana Dharma is popularly known as Hinduism. Spirituality cannot be attained by a mixture of this and that from all religions. It is a life long quest based on Vedanta which leads to Vedantic vision of Reality.
By accepting cremation the Catholic Church has only sought out what is most convenient. As far as my knowledge goes till date not a single priest or nun has been cremated in India. The acceptance of cremation is based on convenience and hard facts. In India there is no place for burial of the ordinary Catholic especially the poor. The lands belonging to the church have all been misused by the church and sold to developers. But for priests and nuns burial land has been reserved-in these lands the ordinary Catholics cannot find a place.
This is a simple fact and as time passes land is shrinking and usage of land becoming money spinning business. Will the Pope be cremated? So where does the belief of body and soul sacred which is 'self' stand today? Lisa cannot use the cremation as an indicator to claim that 'Americans are becoming more Hindu', the comparison is misplaced. One cannot become more Hindu and less Hindu and the cremation which is a mode of convenient disposal of the corpse be a testimony to that. A whole lot of insights precede and culminate in 'jivanmukti'-cremation is part of this.
Lisa Miller's "We are all Hindus Now", statement is like the plagiarism, pilfering and poaching that the Christian churches and its evangelizers have resorted to. It sounds too flippant and too superficial and exhibits a poor understanding of Hinduism. But at the same time it is a testimony of the ever fresh spring of Life-that is Hinduism- small wonder that it has suddenly become like an oasis beckoning the Americans. If the Americans want to identify as Hindus it is a welcome step in the right direction. This is what the great Indian monk Swami Vivekananda dreamt of and worked for. But it calls for study, acceptance of Sanatana Dharma-and Dharma as way of life.
(Dr.Mrs.Hilda Raja is a Retired Professor of Social Science from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She is now settled in Vadodara).