For my write-up today on Ari Goldman's The Search for God at Harvard, I'll talk some about Goldman's chapter on Hinduism.
opens this chapter with a conversation between a Hindu teacher and his
pupil. The pupil repeatedly asks how many gods there are, and the
teacher first responds with 3,306, then 33, then 1 and 1/2, and finally
one. Goldman did not then do what I expected him to do----to say that
Hinduism believes that the millions of gods are manifestations of one
god (which I have heard, but I do not know if that's true or not).
Rather, Goldman proceeds to contrast Hindu pluralism ("the question of
God...can be seen from different valid angles", Goldman on page 80) with
the Western preoccupation with finding one truth, and to say that
Hinduism believes that "Reality...far exceeds what we can ever imagine
or express" (page 80). Goldman then characterizes Hinduism as
henotheistic, which means worshiping one god at a time. According to
henotheism, there is more than one god out there, but you pick one to
worship, and you then treat that one as the only god (or goddess).
Goldman tells the story of Vishnu and Brahma arguing over who
was the "ultimate Creator" (page 81). Each then enters the body of the
other to understand the other's point-of-view, they gain a new
perspective and honor each other as creator, and the fiery god Shiva
consumes them. Goldman says that many Hindu tales don't make much sense
to him, and I'd say the same thing in describing my own reaction, as a
Westerner----for, after all, how can both gods be the ultimate creator?
But, like Goldman, I still find the tale to be intriguing.
Later in the chapter, Goldman talks about two Harvard Divinity School students who were interested in Hinduism.
One was a Jew named Gary, who was interested in parallels and
"theological and historic links" between Hinduism and post-biblical,
pre-Christian Judaism. Goldman does not go into much detail on
this, but he does say that Gary showed him that Krishna is mentioned in
the Book of Esther. The text is probably Esther 1:14,
which mentions Carshena as one of the seven princes who advised King
Ahasuerus of Persia. (So was Krishna a human being before he was
divinized, according to this view?) The other was a lady with a United
Church of Christ background, Diane. Goldman did not talk much about her
interaction with Hinduism, but rather her spiritual journey and her
wrestling with whether or not she should become a minister.
and Diane are gay, and, according to Goldman, they liked Harvard
Divinity School because that was one of the few seminaries where being
gay was considered all right. As Goldman says on page 85: "At most
seminaries, being homosexual is a cardinal sin; at the Div School, the
cardinal sin is being homophobic----that is, discriminating in any way
against homosexuals." I found that to be true when I was there. On the
one hand, I still see (in retrospect) the atmosphere of Harvard
Divinity School on that issue to have been rather intolerant towards
those who regarded homosexual conduct as a sin. On the other hand, I
can somewhat understand the desire of the homosexual students there to
be at a place where they could be who they are and not be judged. Could
there be an atmosphere that draws from the best of both worlds: people
just being tolerant of those who choose to believe and live differently