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Hinduism Hinduism , Chritianity And God

Jun 11, 2007
Hinduism , CHristiuanity and God

"When the British East India Company consolidated its hold over many parts of India and its administrators assumed the position of rulers, a very peculiar kind of hostility towards the Indian traditions became the hallmark of the colonial administrative policy. Of course, this hostility was there from the very beginning: in ‘Hinduism’, the ‘religion’ of the Hindus, they found everything that was reprehensible and repugnant. This hostility arose not merely because they ‘discovered’ that some of the Indian practices were intolerable or immoral, like child marriage, sati and what-have-you. Their repulsion had a deeper root: their understanding of religion taught them that such perversions are integral to false religions. Because ‘Hinduism’ was a false and degenerate religion, its perversions were not mere accidents but its necessary features.

We need to understand this well because the notion of false religion does not make sense to us. Therefore, let me put it in very simple terms. To the followers of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), only God can be the object of worship. When they speak of ‘God’, we need to keep two things very firmly in mind.

The first is this: this ‘God’ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. According to their scriptures, (the biblical) God created the world (for instance, as it is described in the book on Genesis in the Old Testament Bible). He is the God of the Israelites (of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendents), who punished the Jews, scattered them across the world for forgetting Him, and also promises to save them. In the hands of the Christians, (the biblical) God’s promise to save the Jews got transformed into the salvation of the entire humanity; the ‘God of Israel’ also became the singular, unique and unqualified ‘God’, even though He continued to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His promise, the Christians claimed, was redeemed in Jesus of Nazareth: Jesus was the promised messenger of this God. (‘Christ’ means the anointed one or the messiah.) The Jews did not think that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, whereas the followers of Jesus claimed that he was precisely that. (In this sense, one of the points of disagreement between the Christians and the Jews is about the status of Jesus of Nazareth: Is he the Christ or not? Has the Christ already come, as the Christians claim, or should one await his arrival, as the Jews insist?)

The second point is this. Satan, or the Devil, attempts continuously to seduce ‘people’ to stray from the path of worshipping (the biblical) God. In the hands of the Christians, ‘people’ refers to the entire humankind. Satan or the Devil (he has many names and his followers are ‘legion’) undertakes this task of seduction by making the credulous believe that he, the Devil, is the ‘true’ (biblical) God. Of course, he is not the ‘true God’; he is the ‘false god’. In this task, he is immensely helped by the human followers of the Devil: the ‘priests’. These ‘priests’ create all kinds of ‘rituals’ and mumbo-jumbo, deceive the credulous, hide the ‘true message’ of (the biblical) God, and so on and so forth. By doing all these, they encourage the ordinary people to worship the devil and his lieutenants: these are the ‘false gods’. So, we have one ‘True God’ (the biblical God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and multitudes of ‘false gods’. Because religion is the worship of God, we get two kinds of religions: the ‘true’ religion that worships the ‘true God’ and false religions that worship the ‘false gods’.

To the British Christians (and to the Islamic rulers before them), the ‘religion’ of the Hindus could only be false religion. Our devas and devis were false gods and merely different representations of the Devil and his lieutenants. To the Protestants (and to most of the Catholic missionaries), such a false religion could only be understood in terms of the seductive power of the Devil and the machinations of Devil’s ‘priests’, viz., the Brahmins. Such a false religion not only delivered the credulous into the clutches of the Devil and sent them on a one-way ticket to hell, but it also had to be intrinsically immoral. Consequently, any phenomenon they thought they saw in India, whether it was sati or child marriage, had to do with the immorality of ‘Hinduism’ and the wickedness of the priests of this false religion. They believed that such a false religion could only exist because a cunning and devious group of people (these are the ‘priests’ of such false religions) succeeds in deceiving the majority: in the Brahmins, they found such a layer of ‘priests’. How did these priests gain and maintain their power? In the ‘caste system’, they found the answer to this riddle. Somehow, the Brahmin priests invented the ‘caste system’ and somehow they imposed this immoral system on the larger society. Thus, this ‘caste system’ became an integral part of the false religion that ‘Hinduism’ was.

You must remember that the foundation and the framework of these ‘discoveries’ were not empirical investigations but their theological beliefs. Everything they ‘discovered’ was fitted into this framework. The discovery of the Upanishads and the Buddhist (and the Jain) traditions merely strengthened the framework. Thus, they came up with the three stages of the decay and degeneration of ‘Indian religion’: Vedic religion, Brahmanism and Hinduism. The Vedic religion retained the intimations of (the Biblical) God and His original message; Brahmanism was the corruption and decay of this religion in the hands of the Brahmin priests; ‘Hinduism’ is a further degeneration and corruption of the already corrupt religion of Brahmanism. The Buddha fought the ‘Brahmin priests’ and, because of this, in the eyes of the Protestants, ‘Buddhism’ was less ‘corrupt’ than Brahmanism. But ‘Hinduism’ was the most degenerate and corrupt ‘false religion’, which, unfortunately, was embraced by the majority of the gullible in India.

Therefore, all the ills of Indian society and culture were traced back to ‘Hinduism’. They are intrinsic to this religion, the British claimed, and integral parts of the same. Lie, when repeated often enough, becomes the truth; nonsense, when propagated widely, begins to make sense. Such is the case with respect to the story about the Indian ‘religions’, especially ‘Hinduism’.


The Indian intellectuals of yesteryears swallowed this story wholesale. (The ‘why’ is a very big question, which I shall ignore in this piece.) Thus, two extreme reactions came into existence: at one end of the spectrum, some people wanted to ‘reform’ the religion of the Hindus. They wanted to go back to the ‘purer’ religion of the Vedas and the Upanishads. At the other end of the spectrum, rabid defenders of ‘Hinduism’ also came into existence. As is usual in such cases, any number of intermediate positions between these two extremes also crystallized.

The ‘reformers’ tried to build a purer form of Hinduism: they accepted that the pujas in the temples and at home constituted ‘idol worship’ and, therefore, were intolerable; they discovered that, indeed, the Upanishads did not talk about the ‘rituals’ that the people practiced and, therefore, the ‘Brahmin’ priests had corrupted this purer religion of the Indians; and so on. Having agreed with the British about almost everything they said, these intellectuals began the process of constructing a pure religion called ‘Hinduism’ that was modeled upon their understanding of Protestant Christianity. They discovered the ‘Nirguana Brahma’ that some people had spoken of earlier; they found out that the Indians too had spoken of ‘God’ in the singular; etc. In short, their only ‘disagreement’ with the Protestant Christians was this: could the ‘Indian religion’ be reformed to resemble some or another respectable variant of Christianity or not? The Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj, the Prarthana Samaj, etc. began to create ‘respectable’ versions of ‘Hinduism’ that would not overly shock the sensibilities of Protestant Christians. Like all ‘respectable religions’, these versions of Hinduism identified its ‘scriptures’ and codified them into clear sets of beliefs; they also had ‘God’ at the centre of their ‘doctrines’; had their own versions of ‘ethical commandments’ and their ‘vocation’ of service to fellow-human beings. And, much like their Protestant brethren, they wanted to ‘reform’ Hinduism, abolish ‘the caste system’ (and all such ills), and looked down upon the ‘ignorant’ mass of the Indians who were not knowledgeable about the subtle tenets of the Upanishadic doctrines and were sunk in superstitious practices.

Even though these reformers were intolerant of the Indian culture and its manifold traditions, the rest of India tolerated them as yet another contribution to the variety and diversity of the Indian traditions. The Arya samaji’s, for instance, were as much ‘Hindus’ as the ‘Vaishnavites’ were; the differences between them merely exemplified the different paths that India had been used to over the millennia. So, these reformers could survive too, the way many others before them had survived.

When the British noticed that the majority of Indians are ignorant of their scriptures, the reformers tried to respond to this by going back to some texts from their traditions; when the British criticized this or that practice, the reformers tried to modify or replace that practice; when the British thought that Indians were immoral, the reformers tried to come up with a set of moral rules from their texts to show that ‘Hinduism’ could be moral as well… In many ways, these reformers merely acquiesced to the demands and criticisms of the British and tried to sculpt a ‘Hinduism’ that could meet the criticisms. However, in the midst of all these, they failed in doing that one thing which would have helped them: understand the culture of the British and the nature of their religiously inspired criticisms. They merely assumed that the British were justified in the criticisms of the ‘Hinduism’ of their time and tried to show that underneath the contemporary corruption, a ‘purer’ form of religion was waiting to be found. In this too, even where they did not know this well, they followed the British and European portrayal of India and the degeneration of her ‘religions’.

Why is this story important to us today? There are two reasons. The first is this: the portrayals of the Indian culture and the nature of her traditions, which the western culture has provided over the centuries, have become standard text-book trivia today. Even though the picture the West has painted is incomprehensible without presupposing the truth of the Christian doctrines, the claims about the so-called ‘religions’ of India appear comprehensible even to those who do not know anything about Christianity. Intellectuals in the West and in India believe in the truth of the western descriptions of the Indian culture. Most of us in the West believe that ‘the caste system’ exists in India; that the Brahmins have oppressed the so-called ‘Dalits’ in India over the millennia; that Buddhism was a rebellion against the ‘ritualistic’ domination of the Brahmin priests; and so on. Indian intellectuals believe in this story as well: witness our ‘reservation policy’ and the ‘conversion’ of the so-called ‘Dalits’ into ‘Buddhism’, as mere examples of our commitment to the truth of these western stories about India.

There is an additional reason as well. Today, most Indians in the West respond to the questions and challenges posed by their milieu the way the Indian reformers responded to the British criticisms and challenges. In which way are our responses today similar (if not identical) to those of the reformers from yesterday?"

Why Understand the Western Culture?
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Shabad Vichaar by SPN'ers

By the 5th Guru Arjan Dev, the shabad is on Ang 616 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, translation by Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa.

ਸੋਰਠਿ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥
Soraṯẖ mėhlā 5.
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