Hinduism: The New American Religion
Dr. Al Mohler’s column this morning raises the question- Are We a Nation of Hindus?
Dr. Mohler is referencing a column by Lisa Miller of Newsweek that states, “We Are All Hindus Now” and claims “America is not a Christian nation. …recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.”
Dr. Mohler begins by stating, “Those who argue that all religions are essentially the same reveal the fact that they know little about these very different belief systems. The worldview of Christianity is, for example, radically different from the belief structure of Buddhism (some forms of which may actually claim to resist the very idea of beliefs).”
I get this line all the time when I am witnessing and it seriously irritates me. 1) I find it ignorant, it shows the speaker does not know a thing about any of the religions. Most of the world’s religions are so very different that they are logically mutually exclusive- if one is right the others are necessarily wrong. 2) I find it incredibly arrogant of people to self-rigteously proclaim that “All religions are the same”. And yet it is THEY who accuse US of being arrogant in assuming that our religion is the only true religion. 3) People who make that claim tend to be intellectually and morally lazy.
“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.”
This is her key point, this is why she is saying America is now Hindu. More people are now saying that THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO GOD. While I would agree that more people in America are now agreeing with that, and it is a Hindu concept, I think it has more to do with American Pragmatism than it does Hinduism. Although, the influence of Hinduism on the Transcendentalists of the mid 19th century is well known and in the 1960’s the Beatles brought it some of that thought with their music and the Star Wars movies popularized it some more in the late ’70’s-80’s. The influence of yoga and Transcendental Meditation has also played some role.
So I would say that Pragmatic, intellectually lazy America rather shares a few concepts with Hinduism instead of saying we are becoming Hindu. Hinduism has a lot of other beliefs that most Americans would find silly. For one, Hindu religion does not really believe in one God who is personal. Americans are overwhelmingly monotheistic and believe in a personal God who hears and answers prayer.
“Then there’s the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the “self,” and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. 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, up from 6 percent in 1975. ”
Again, I think the fact that we are sharing some concepts with Hinduism does not mean we are Hindu. The popularity of cremation does not in any way contradict Christian theology proper, though it may seem to contradict Christian practice. Christians did practice burial because of a link with the doctrine of resurrection, while the ancient Greeks did often burn their dead. But, in my study of the Scriptures, there is absolutely no scriputral requirement for burial, nor is cremation prohibited. Theologically speaking, the cause of death and the condition of the corpse has nothing to do with the resurrection. Cremation increasingly makes sense due to the cost of caskets, graves and headstones. Again the practice is more pragmatic than Hindu.
However, the widespread and growing belief in reincarnation as opposed to resurrection IS a disntively Hindu idea and here Miller may have a point. But again, one of the characteristics that mark Pragmatism is an eclecticism. We Americans like the Luby’s Cfeteria approach to all of life- we a little bit of lots of things. Latching on to reincarnation is a good way to avoid dealing with death and the judgment that is to come. It is really quite American- if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Mohler says, “So what is Lisa Miller’s point? She suggests that contemporary Americans, including many who consider themselves Christians, are abandoning the exclusive truth claims of Christianity for a form of theological pluralism or relativism.”
Here I have to agree with Mohler. Americans ARE abandoning exclusive truth claims in Christianity. Within Baptist churches I have met many who no longer view John 14:6 as really being true. With a lot of Baptists, sincerity matters more than truth. If people mean well then they will go to heaven when they die.
Mohler’s best point is, “Another aspect of the story is this: Many Americans have such a doctrineless understanding of Christianity that they do not even know what the Gospel is — not even remotely. A greater tragedy is that so many who consider themselves Christians seem to share in this confusion.”
In the last month of my pastorate, in January of 2007, we were in the Fellowship Hall for a funeral meal and as I was sitting with the kitchen crew, they were talking about their favorite TV preachers. These three ladies who had all spent their entire lives in Southern Baptist Churches and whom I had pastored for 15 years and preached biblical, doctrinal sermons to, and they all agreed as to who their favorite TV preacher was. Joel Osteen. These women were all over 70 and had heard Baptist preaching and Baptist Sunday School lessons for over 70 years each. And now, in their golden years, they like Osteen.
Osteen has good karma I guess. Maybe we are all becoming Hindu.