WHY DOES AMERICAN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY LOVES HINDUISM?
Hinduism in America on the rise
Lord Hanuman (Anantashakti)
Festivities in a new temple dedicated to the Indian
monkey god Hanuman in Frisco, Texas, earlier this month remind us that a
minority of religions exists within the shores of the United States
that is relatively silent. The faith that is the subject here, of
course, is Hinduism, which in that North Texas town, at least, is enjoying an "expanding population," according to the Dallas Morning News.
Despite the fact that Indians have been quietly enriching the American
melting pot for decades to centuries, few non-Indians know much about
the colorful religion of Hinduism.
In actuality, the term "Hinduism" represents not a
monolithic faith but a conglomeration of more or less varied religions,
sects and cults largely originating on the Indian subcontinent and often
incorporating beliefs, doctrines and traditions dating back several
thousand years. What we perceive of as "Hinduism," then, encompasses and
embraces a wide variety of beliefs, to the extent that even recent
icons such as Elvis Presley, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa
have reputedly made it into the extensive Hindu pantheon of a
traditional "333 million" deities, demigods and saints, etc.
KHUSHBOO'S HAD it, Amitabh's had it, Bob
Marley's had it and now Elvis Presley and Princess Diana will get one
each. An award? No, too boring. A temple, no less."
According to his hairdresser-cum-spiritual advisor
Larry Geller, the "King of Rock and Roll" Presley, who was raised a
Christian, was fond of reading books about Eastern spiritual traditions.
The affection for Indian philosophy by members of the music group the
Beatles is legendary, especially in the case of George Harrison. Many
Indian gurus and yogis have found welcome on this side of the Atlantic
and Pacific, and the ancient physical and spiritual exercise of yoga in
a myriad of forms is practiced by up to 20 million Americans.
Yet, Hinduism remains a mystery to most Americans,
both at times intriguing and bizarre with its sundry gods and goddesses.
Part of the reason for this oversight is because Hinduism in its
fullness seems so alien to cultures largely dominated by either the
Abrahamic faiths with their aloof monotheistic God or the "New
Atheism," which has a tendency to ridicule and dismiss such lively
piety, and not necessarily without reason.
Hinduism plays nice in the U.S.
Hindu Temple at Malibu, California (G. Krishnamurthy)
Another reason Americans as whole are largely
oblivious to Hinduism is because its practitioners in general do not
rabblerouse, set up terrorist camps, call for the destruction of the U.S. Constitution, bilk the American public for millions,
establish bogus "charities," engage in unethical and seedy
"televangelism," lobby Congress for special favors and consideration,
challenge constantly the principle of separation of church and state,
abuse the First Amendment and all of the fun stuff (sarcasm) we are used
to seeing from fervent religionists in our country and elsewhere.
This lack of aggression by Hindus in America does
not reflect that they do not take their faith very seriously, as they
certainly do. Like Christians who proclaim that Jesus Christ is real
because they have had visions of him, devout Hindus often feel as if
their deities have made their very real presence known, as in the case
of Cheeni Rao, author of In Hanuman's Hands, who while going
down the destructive path of drug abuse was "saved" by the monkey-headed
god. Rao's experience was every bit as life changing as that of
Christians in a similar position—and this instance illustrates that the
form of a profound spiritual presence purportedly experienced is largely
if not entirely dependent upon one's cultural conditioning, not upon
any "ultimate reality" or "absolute truth."
"Hinduism" as a monolith has its flaws—and non-Hindus
both religious and secular will no doubt point them out—including
taking itself too seriously to the point where, in its native
land, a certain amount of strife and atrocity can be traced to Indian
beliefs, such as the rare but ongoing practice of widow-burning or sati
in various districts, as well as other sexism, prejudices—exemplified
in the brutal caste system—and violence committed by its fanatical
minority. The grinding poverty, cruel bigotry and debilitating
superstition that Hinduism has not only failed to solve but has actually
fostered in India—there are many problems with this ancient religion as
practiced overall in that nation, and we are not advocating its
adoption by anyone as the "one true faith."
However, we would like to emphasize the civil behavior
of Hinduism's better educated adherents in the United States. While
some "enlightened gurus" have been opportunists preying on a gullible
American public with enticing stories of metaphysical and supernatural
wonders, so far traditional Hinduism's practitioners generally have not
brought unsavory and violent "traditions" along with them to their new
homelands and demanded they be allowed to break the law of the land in
practicing them, unlike members of other faiths. If there comes a point
when Hinduism in America degenerates to the same fanatical state it is
in India, then it will need to be assailed further as a source of
unethical and corrupt behavior.
In the meantime, we can only hope that other
religionists in the United States and elsewhere will follow suit and
behave in a similar, more spiritually mature manner as the American Hindu
population, rather than bullying and elbowing their way in, exploiting
the system and creating enmity. Rarely if ever do we hear complaints or
derogatory news items about Hindus in America, while members of other
groups such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam
often make it into the news for disreputable and illegal behavior. Does
this frequent broadcasting of these three faiths result because they
are under a bigger microscope, or could there be a problem with the
Abrahamic monotheism itself, whereby it insists on its own way, to
compel and force itself upon people against their will, with dire
threats of eternal punishment for rejecting it?
Concerning the fanatical monotheism depicted in the Old Testament, from which the Abrahamic faiths arose, in Pagan Christs (17-18) John M. Robertson remarked:
Monotheism of this type is in any case morally lower than
polytheism since those who held it lacked sympathy for their neighbors.
Most of the Jewish kings were polytheists. What I am concerned to
challenge is the assumption—due to the influence of Christianity—that
Jewish monotheism is essentially higher than polytheism, and constitutes
a great advance in religion.... If the mere affirmation of a Supreme
Creator God is taken to be a mark of superiority, certain primitive
tribes who hold this doctrine and yet practice human sacrifice must be
considered to have a 'higher' religion than the late Greeks and Romans."
Monotheism in America will simply need to become
accustomed to the fact that this country is inhabited by polytheists
such as the Hindus as well as atheists, humanists and secularists, and
to stop being so aggressive and insistent upon its own way. That's
America under the U.S. Constitution, a fact that freedom lovers
everywhere will appreciate.
"We Are All Hindus Now"—says the headline of a lead article by Lisa Miller, Newsweek's religion editor, in the magazine's issue dated August 31, 2009.
Are US views on God and life turning Hindu?
According to recent poll data, Americans are conceptually "slowly
becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the
ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity," says
The article also quotes the Rig Veda,
the ancient Hindu scripture, which says: "Truth is One, but the
sages speak of it by many names," a doctrine that many Americans have
started to believe in the ways they think about religion and
spirituality. It points out that 30 percent of Americans call
themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 Newsweek Poll. Newsweek then cites Stephen Prothero,
a professor of religion at Boston University "who has long framed
the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as
"very much in the spirit of Hinduism...""
Miller further states: "So here is another way in which Americans are
becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in
reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll.
So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we're
burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans
now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America. "
America becoming less Christian, more Hindu
So concludes Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, after reviewing recent polling data. She’s not referring to immigration or conversion, but ways about thinking of religion:
The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this:
"Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu
believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is
another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all
are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been
taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their
religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the
truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."
Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum
survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to
eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most
likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of
people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty
percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious,"
according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen
Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the
American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very
much in the spirit of Hinduism. You're not picking and choosing from
different religions, because they're all the same," he says. "It isn't
about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works,
great.Julia Roberts has long been called America’s sweetheart.The star of the upcoming movie Eat, Pray, Love revealed in an interview in Elle magazine that she, along with her family, is a practicing Hindu.