The strength of the universalistic Hindu position

Introduction

Passions are raised whenever the standard universalistic Hindu position, ”All religions are valid” , is discussed.  Well meaning Hindus feel, passionately no doubt, that such a claim is an unilateral surrender by Hindu religious leaders  who are at best naive and at worst defeatist.  Some also accuse Hindu leaders of the dreaded S word (S for sameness).  Some people also claim that such a position will mean acceptance of conversions. A defence of the, “All religions are valid” position by quoting the Bible itself cuts no ice to its critics who say that while Christian scholars try to bring down the prestige of Hindu scriptures, Hindu scholars invent quotes from the Bible to show its similarity to Vedanta.

I have in this short piece put together a defence of the standard Hindu position.  I hope to show that,  this position has deep hidden powers not fully understood by its critics and that the statement “All religions are valid” is not the same as “All religions are same”.  I also hope to show by giving one example that a close study of the Bible, specially the Gospels, does not in fact entirely support the Christian position about the teaching of Jesus.

Meaning of “All religions are valid”

The statement “All religions are valid” simply means that there is a common spiritual aspect in every religion that talks of a higher power, that all religions are true. It does not mean that these religions are free of all errors. The theologies of these religions, specially the Abrahamic ones, are in fact full of errors. Nevertheless, these religions are true precisely because they accept a higher power. Also since no Hindu can accept the theologies of the Abrahamic religions, the statement “All religions are valid” does not imply that “All religions are same”.

Is the standard position defeatist?

I would argue that the answer to the above question is a clear negative. Let us look at how this particular Hindu claim appears to followers of Christianity and Islam. The followers of these aggressive religions have been brain washed to believe that only a believer in Jesus is saved and no one else.  Similarly a follower of Islam thinks that only followers of Islam would end up in heaven although they give some privilege to followers of the book. To the followers of these faiths, the Hindu position appears to be aggressive!

The net result of the Abrahamic position is that either Christianity is right and all other religions are wrong or Islam is right and all other religions are wrong or the more likely case as argued by atheists is that all religions are by products of insane minds! The strong growth of atheism in many western countries supports my claim that the Abrahamic position is in fact a weak position. The Hindu position by accepting the spiritual validity of all religions clearly rejects Abrahamic  claims  and positions Hindu dharma in a unique position in the market place of religions. This position does not support conversions since, one should not convert to another religion that does not accept the universalistic claim of Hindu dharma. What would happen if Hindu dharma mimics the Abrahamic position that only it is valid and all other religions are wrong? Then it would vacate its unique space and would be one of many religions that are making the same dubious claim. I would say that such a thing would be a calamity for Hindu dharma.

Do the Gospels support the Christian claim?

The critics of the Hindu position usually argues that the Christian position of uniqueness that only Jesus can save is in fact deeply rooted in the Bible and Hindus are not in any position to tell the Christians how they should interpret the Bible or not. For example, Jesus said in the Bible that, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the Father, except through me”.  Given this direct  claim by Jesus, it is futile for Hindus to claim that Christian theology is in error or that Jesus spoke Vedanta! In fact the critics claim is that Hindu scholars have to invent a “Hindu Bible” in order to make the usual “all religions are valid claim”.

I would like to show here that the modern English Bible is in fact an invention of the Christian scholars. Firstly, there are at scores of English translations of the Bible each claiming to be the correct version. Catholics have a catholic Bible and most protestant sects have their own version where motivated scholars have tweaked the English translation to bring the Bible in line with the dogmatic claims of the particular sect.  Secondly, I would like to make the point that there are doubts about the translation even about famous Jesus sayings about which all sects agree . This doubt is not dependent on whether there was a historical Jesus but is based on the precise translation of the Koine Greek language in which the Gospels were written. The Koine Greek original of the famous saying (I am the way…) is:

Ego eimi ha hodos kai ha alatheia kai ha zoa; oudeis erketai pros ton patera ei ma di emou.

The key word here is erketai. This is an extremely present-tense form of the verb.  The exact translation would be,”I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man can presently come to the  Father, except through me”. Jesus did not make the claim that he was the only way for all people and for all eternity. He made the modest claim that he was the only way in Palestine of 2000 years ago. Christian scholars know about this problem but deliberately mistranslate this statement. There are numerous such translation issues in the English Bible. Given this situation should we accept Christian claims about the Bible?

Conclusion

Conversions are occurring in India not due to the universalistic position of Hindu dharma but due to poverty and illiteracy. The illiberal attitude of Christian and Islamic clergy would in the long run weaken those 2 religions. This weakening process is already visible in many Christian lands and would be visible in Islamic lands at some future date. It would be foolish on our part to give up our universalistic position and strengthen the fundamentalist strains of the Abrahamic faiths.

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