Author : Ram Swarup
Publication : Hindustan Times
Date: October 9, 1995.
ON March 23 this year, Pat Robertson led a television programme in which he attacked Hinduism. He called it "demonic" and said that Hindus should be kept out of the United States. He said that they worship "idols" and "hundreds of millions of deities," which "has put a nation in bondage to spiritual forces that have deceived many for thousands of years." He spoke against the doctrines of karma and incarnation. Then not forgetting the practical side, he appealed for funds: "Help us carry the light to a nation in darkness," he said.
Such sentiments are not new to American evangelists or to the world. But their importance in this particular case lies in the fact that they were made by Rev. Pat Robertson, a national figure of America. He stood for Presidential election in 1988; and he heads a 1.4 million member Christian Coalition which has great influence in the new Republican-controlled Congress.
Pat Robertson is also very powerful in the media. He is the head of a Christian broadcasting network, the world's largest television ministry beaming its evangelical programmes to 70 countries. Its 700-Club is notorious for bashing non-Christian religions. On the said date, Robertson was speaking under the auspices of this programme.
To understand him better, it may also be mentioned that earlier in the year, he had visited Andhra to take part in a Ceremony of converting Hindus - to set them "free from a lifetime of fear and demonic oppression" as he puts it.
Evangelism is an important component of the American psyche and we should take due notice of it. We owe it to us as well as to those who hold such opinions about us. While helping them to outgrow their prejudices we should also isolate the" elements and prevent them from spreading their poison. Hinduism should learn to speak out. I will help better relations and understanding between the two peoples.
In America itself, these remarks would have gone unnoticed as usual among the Hindus had not Hinduism Today, an excellent monthly journal published from Hawaii by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (no NRI but a native white Hindu monk) with the help of his talented group taken up the issue. It published those remarks adding its own reasoned rejoinder. It made many Hindus sit up and some wrote letters of protest. To one such protest letter, Pat Robertson made a reply which while retaining its theology intact was more restrained in language.
The reply is in some ways more than a fulmination; it is a credo, an ideological statement and therefore deserves a different kind of notice. It also reveals blocks which are not of Robertson's alone but are widely prevalent in the Christian world. Therefore to discuss them has its larger usefulness.
In his reply, Rev. Robertson says that he has no intent "to offend anyone", that he wants it to be understood that he believes in "religious freedom"; but that while he respected the rights of others, he adds, he has also "a responsibility to speak the truth". Fair enough. And then continuing he tells us that the truth is "that the Hindu faith has absolutely nothing to do with God!" Then quoting the Bible for his authority, he says in lively Americanism that "there is only one way to hit the mark and that is to come to Jesus Christ." At the end, he
modestly says: "I don't make the rules - God, makes the rules."
The reply is interesting; it is brief but, rich in traditional Christian theology. It reveals in a clear profile the unchanging face of Christianity, a Christianity which still lives in medieval times and refuses to change. It gives in a few sentences the important elements of Christian theology: a single and exclusive God, an equally single and exclusive channel of reaching him, and a conception of truth which is ready-made, which requires to self-preparation, and which can be had by simply looking it up in a particular book.
First about Hindus having no God, though they have often been accused of having too much of him and too many like him. Let us however readily admit that Hindus do not have a god of the Biblical tradition, the god of Robertson's familiarity. Their god is not Jehovah, an exclusive god, a jealous god, a god who denies other gods. In the Vedas, the oldest scripture of the Hindus, gods are often invited to offered "conjoint" praise and it does not
offend any one of them. They even believe that praise offered to one is meant for others too and actually received by them together. Vedic gods live in friendliness; they do not deny each other.
This approach is not peculiar to Hindus. It was shared by the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans and most other advanced cultures and peoples. Like the Hindus they could easily see their gods in the gods of others. Greek and Roman gods were habitually regarded as indenting and Caesar and Tacitus routinely identified the deities of Gaul and Germany with those of their own. The Greeks had no difficulty in recognising their gods in the gods of the Hindus. It is the Semitic tradition which sees their devils in the gods of others.
This negative view derives from another basic biblical concept - that their god is one and the only true god. True, this view implies that there are other gods too, but it is freely and repeatedly stated that they are "false" and they are "abominations" and they are to be dethroned.
They are often the gods of their neighbours. Hindus have no god of this description. True they too often describe their god as one (ekam), but they also call him many (aneka). Moreover he belongs to an entirely different thought-system, a different spiritual view, a different universe of discourse.
Strictly speaking, Hindus do not believe in one God, they believe in one reality, ekam sat. They do not say there is only one God; they say God alone is. The unity of Hindu God is spiritual, not numerical; He pervades all; He is one in all and the same in all; He is also beyond all. Semitic religions have no such concept.
Now we turn from an exclusive god to an exclusive saviour. The two don't stand apart; they go together. In this too, Rev. Robertson is saying nothing new but repeating the old Christian doctrine of No Salvation outside of Church, now modified in this ecumenical age to No Salvation without Christ. In his support, he quotes the Bible as his authority. This is a curious way of arguing. You assume what you have to prove, put it in your own book and then cite it as your authority or proof. It would be con scared dull-witted in a sophomore, but in a Christian preacher it makes a bright and clinching argument.
Revelatory religions work through mediators and intermediaries. In these ideologies, first there is a god of strong preferences and hatred; he chooses a people but even to them he does not reveal himself directly; on the other hand, he makes his will known to them through a favoured intermediary; who in turn has his apostles to broadcast his message; and the next link in the chain are evangelists - read televangelists in the modern
conditions - or as in Islamic tradition jihadis or crusaders. It is how revelatory ideologies function. The message is received by one but preahed and relayed by, others who had no share in the revelation. Their merit is greater if they do it with strong hands and in full faith and are troubled by no intellectual scruples or conscience.
In this too the Hindu tradition differs completely. In this tradition, God resides in man's heart, and he is accessible to all who seek him in sincerity, knowledge, truth and faith. In this tradition God is man's own innermost truth and the seeker finds him in the cave of his heart, to put it in the Upanishadic language. In this tradition, God reveals himself directly to the' seeker and needs no specially authorised saviour, no go-betweens. Also, since Hindu spirituality recongnises God in man, it also recognises great goodness in him. On the other hand, ideologies which deny man's secret godliness also deny his essential goodness. They find man basically sinful and unfortunately also treat him so. Finally, to Rev. Robertson's idea of truth and his responsibility to speak it. In Hindu conception, one's truth cannot be greater than one's seeking . In this conception, truth does not lie in a some quotable passages of a book. It has to be known through a culture of the spirit, through great seeking, tapas, purity, and self-inquiry. Let Rev. Robertson himself find out how far he is ready for this larger truth.
Hindu spirituality is yogic; it is found everywhere thought not always equally developed. It is found among the wise men of Egypt, Greece, Mexico, China, Today, it is found in its most preserved form in Hinduism. Hinduism preserves the ancient wisdom of many nations and cultures, their Gods and their insights which they lost under the onslaught of monolatrous creeds. Spiritual humanity needs renascent Hinduism for its self revival.