A few days ago Acharya Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley) had written a very concise and lucid theological view of Christian cosmology, specifically the concept of ‘Salvation’ as professed in Christian theology, as viewed through the dharmic lens. (One may read it here).
As the articles of this nature usually do, the article generated lot of interest and some expected back and forth in the comments section with few comments by followers of the Christian doctrine presenting oft-repeated claims and assertions. Nothing out of the ordinary of what you would usually expect, but what would you do if a follower of the Christian tradition were to tell you that the Church or Institutional Christianity, so to speak, distorted the teachings and doctrines of Jesus; that they agreed with refutation of such a doctrine as propounded by the Church and essentially there isn’t much difference between dharma traditions and original teachings of Jesus (which the Church ignored and continues to ignore for any number of reasons, politics and power-play being some of the reasons among them); and in essence dharma traditions and the real teachings of Jesus ultimately talk about the same things excepting some corollaries which differ, so Hindus should give these real teachings of Jesus a fair and patient hearing instead of making the mistake of rejecting them along with the inaccurate doctrines of the Church which do not reflect the real teachings at all.
Quite a stupefying conundrum one would say. Stupefying, if one is not well-versed and clear about the basics of one’s own tradition.
To quote from Acharya Vamadeva Shastri’s article – “We must be very clear about our concepts in interfaith discussions.” This is a very important point for obvious reasons. Unless we’re certain about our own position how can we be certain about the position of those we engage with? There’s also an implication which arises out of inter-faith discussions, that of unwittingly being uncritically accepting of the validity of a claim and granting it a veneer of credibility if one has not properly done one’s homework and consequently is ill-equipped to analyse the propositions being put to us.
Hindu tradition is always about a fair and patient hearing and assessing the tenability of the proposed concepts about engaging with reality before accepting or rejecting the proposed concepts and hypotheses, instead of a dogmatic doctrinal acceptance or rejection. To quote Dr.B N K Sharma, eminent Tattva-vadin – “The worth of a philosophical system is to be judged by the extent to which it is able to explain experience, rather than explain it away.” The first point to keep in mind is that Hindu tradition has no scope for such a narrow word as ‘religion’. There is no artificial dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. So we will view and try to assess the Christian doctrine, presented as the real Christianity as opposed to the usual Institutional Christianity propounded by the Church, as a philosophical system giving rise to a belief or ‘मत’, as we call it in the Hindu tradition. It is but natural for a philosophical system to give rise to certain beliefs based on the logical conclusions of the enquiries made by it, with the validity of such beliefs contingent upon the conceptual soundness of the system and process of enquiry. And although we analyze it as a philosophical system giving rise to a belief, we should keep in mind, as we shall see later, that in the case of monotheisms the case is reverse: a belief is first stated and a philosophical system constructed to validate the belief system.
Now to summarize the view presented as the actual and real teachings of Christianity or Jesus, which asserts that the work of God is clearly visible in all the religions in vogue in the world. That all religions are, therefore, valid. The only difference is, the core belief in God being the same, only the corollaries differ among different religions owing to the different cultures and sub-cultures.
There are several problems with this view, and not all theological, but let us just address the theological basis of this assertion and try to gauge if at all, this is, any different from the so called mainstream or ‘Institutional Christianity’.
Granted that a concession that all religions are valid sounds very pluralistic, and superficially an attempt might be made to club this pluralism as being identical with the plurality inherent in the Hindu view; but as is often the case with such assertions put forth even by ‘Institutional Christianity’ in inter-faith discussions, this is very subtly underhanded and deceitful. It doesn’t address the real issue at hand but rather attempts to extract an unwitting validation for one’s own system from a less than careful observer by a clever jugglery of words. It is not the corollaries which are the real problem, but it is the core itself which is different. What is the core here? We should be able to define a core and assess whether it is different or rather the same as this claim asserts. The core in this argument is essentially defined by the cosmology to which the system subscribes. If two systems subscribe to two different cosmologies then the core cannot be said to be the same.
The difference between Indic/Hindu thought process and the Abrahamic thought process is the same as the difference between reasoning and rationalizing. Hindu view does not begin with an assertion but rather attempts to reach to a conclusion by identifying the phenomena underlying the varied expressions of reality. The Abrahamic thought process on the other hand begins with an assertion and then looks to retrofit evidence to build towards an already assumed conclusion. The difference is subtle but profound. The difference is of positing the query and beginning the enquiry with ‘Who am I’ vs ‘There is no God but God’. Therefore, the cores are not the same but rather a complete inversion of each other. To attempt to say that both are same is being disingenuous and not in the spirit of an honest discussion or enquiry.
To say that the work of God is visible in all religions is another way of saying ‘There is no God but God’ (by extension the implied claim being that all people subscribe to the same cosmology even if at a subconscious level for some people and cultures, thereby implying in other words that your ‘gods’ are okay but ultimately ‘false’); which is to say this manner of assertion and this assertion is not very different from and rather the same as the one decried as ‘Institutional Christianity’ which propagated the ‘wrong doctrines and teachings’ by proponents claiming to represent ‘real teachings’ of Jesus.
It is, however, interesting to note the sophistication and subtlety of the new arguments being developed by evangelists and it only serves as another reminder to be very clear about our own concepts.