Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Write-Up: Christ and the Hindu Diaspora

Paul Pathickal.  Christ and the Hindu Diaspora.  Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

In Christ and the Hindu Diaspora, Paul Pathickal discusses ways that evangelical Christians can share the Gospel with Hindus in the Diaspora.  Pathickal provides background about the history and religion of Hinduism.  He also talks about reasons that Hindus have migrated to the West, their experiences as immigrants, and where many of them are religiously.  He bases his knowledge about where they are religiously on surveys.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  The section that provided background information about Hinduism was helpful and interesting.  While I have learned about Hinduism from classes and reading, the information that Pathickal provided helped me to place what I knew in a context.  This was particularly the case with Pathickal’s discussion of three Hindu deities.  According to Pathickal, underneath the impersonal Brahman (ultimate reality, or universal spirit) are three deities: Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.  Brahma was the creator, and afterwards he was inactive, so Pathickal states that Brahma is “the least worshiped of the three gods” (page 21 of the mobi version).  Shiva is a god of destruction, but he destroys to clear the way for new creation, and Hindu ascetics are devoted to him because they want their lower selves to be destroyed.  Vishnu is a beneficent god and (according to Hindu legend) has appeared in many incarnations throughout history.  This description corrected misconceptions I had about Hinduism, placed things I knew in a context, and helped me to understand Hindu beliefs.

B.  Pathickal states that, for a number of Hindus, many Hindu deities are not as powerful in the Diaspora as they are in India.  In the Diaspora, the belief goes, Hindu deities would have to compete with other deities on those other deities’ turf.  Pathickal talks as if this is a widespread belief among Hindus in the Diaspora, even though his own survey indicates that it is not the majority belief among the Hindus that were surveyed.  Pathickal may be saying this to argue that a significant number of Hindus in the Diaspora are not overly attached to the Hindu religion, and thus they may be open to something else (i.e., Christianity).

C.  Hinduism is often seen as a tolerant religion, one that believes that there are many paths to the divine.  One of my favorite quotes in the book is a passage that Pathickal actually argues against: “The firm soul hastes, the feeble tarries.  All will reach the summit snows” (page 116; Pathickal cites a work by Edmund D. Soper).  I was thus surprised  to learn from Pathickal’s book that many Hindus are against Hindus converting to Christianity.  They are open to including Jesus in the pantheon of gods, but they are against Hindus rejecting the Hindu gods to become Christians.  A factor that Pathickal mentions is the responsibility of Hindu firstborn to honor certain Hindu gods and to support the family’s ancestors.  According to Pathickal, many Hindus have a problem when the Hindu firstborn become Christian and no longer practice these rites.

D.  Why does Pathickal believe that Christianity is true and Hinduism is false?  Pathickal occasionally uses apologetic arguments, such as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.  Mostly, however, his argument appears to be that Christianity can meet people’s needs better than Hinduism can.  For example, Pathickal contrasts the rather bland, vague (from a certain perspective) afterlife of Hinduism (after one has passed through various incarnations) with the joy that Christians think believers will experience in the afterlife.  I take some issue with Pathickal’s arguments.  For one, the fulfillment of biblical prophecies is disputable, or at least it is not as obvious as Pathickal presumes; many scholars argue, for example, Ezekiel foretold that events would transpire a certain way, but they transpired in a different way.  Second, just because a belief is unattractive, does that make it false?  Some Christian apologists would contend that a belief being unattractive may show it is true, for why would humans make it up?  Why would that not apply to the bland, vague (from a certain perspective) afterlife that many Hindus posit?  At the same time, I have to admit that there are features of Christianity that I think are fairer or more humane than Hinduism: Christianity lacks the caste system, for example.

E.  Speaking of unattractive beliefs, Pathickal talks about the Christian belief in hell.  Pathickal addresses the fear of ex-Hindu Christians that their ancestors are in hell for not believing in Jesus.  Pathickal assures them that we do not know what their ancestors’ eternal destiny is, but he also says that people’s ties to their family will not matter to people as much in the afterlife.  Pathickal refers to Scriptures to support this claim (i.e., Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:23-46 and parallels that there will be no marriage in the resurrection, and Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:48 and parallels that those who do his Father’s will are his family, more so than his natural family).  But that argument does not entirely rub me the right way.  If we are on earth to become more loving, as many Christians say, why would God want us to be less caring about our families in the afterlife?

F.  Pathickal wrestles with whether Hinduism is demonic, or a fruit of the human search for the divine.  He seems open to seeing it as demonic, in one place in the book, though he says that, out of love, a Christian should refrain from telling Hindus that.  Overall, though, his stance appears to be to treat Hinduism as part of the human search for God.  Humans want to bridge the divide between the human and the divine, Pathickal maintains.  Pathickal also states that some of Hinduism’s claims flow from a recognition of the truth.  According to Pathickal, the Hindu belief in multiple reincarnations before one arrives at union with the ultimate is rooted in the knowledge that humans in their sinfulness cannot be in the presence of a Holy God.  For Pathickal, Christians have the correct solution to that problem (i.e., atonement provided by Christ), whereas Hindus have a false solution (i.e., purification through reincarnations).

G.  Related to (F.), Pathickal’s approach to reincarnation aims to build bridges with Hinduism: to contend that Hinduism is aiming at something true or has a valid insight, yet Christianity is true.  While some may see that as rather condescending, the book would have been better, I think, had Pathickal used that approach more often.  Rather than saying that Jesus is better than Hindu gods and heroes, as Pathickal does, why not say that the self-sacrifice and fight against evil by Hindu gods and heroes are done more fully by Christ?

H.  Pathickal’s suggestions on how Christians can interact with Hindus and share the Gospel with them is helpful, overall.  He talks about how Christians can be good neighbors to Hindu immigrants, who are trying to adept to their new environment.  He informs Christians about Indian customs: for instance, he says that Christians should accept a drink when they visit an Indian house, since Indians offer guests a drink as an act of friendship and hospitality.  Pathickal states that Christians should attempt to clarify Christian teaching and tactfully correct any misunderstandings Hindus have about Christianity: a number of Hindus, he claims, judge Christianity negatively on account of how the British acted as colonizers of India.  There is nothing wrong with being a good neighbor, knowing others’ customs, and correcting misconceptions.  I am leery of the term “friendship evangelism,” which Pathickal uses, because it seems to me to be friendship with an agenda, or friendship with strings attached, or friendship that treats people as projects.  I read a quote that said “friendship evangelism is neither,” and I can identify with that!  Pathickal would undoubtedly deny that he is promoting this sort of friendship evangelism: he wants to love others genuinely, and to let people receive Christ when they are truly ready.  Fair enough.  But friendship evangelism can run into problems, if one is not careful.

I.  The book is well-written.  It can be repetitive, at times: Pathickal would discuss a topic or respond to an objection, then he would do so again later in the book.  Also, the part of the book that presents an example of how Christians can interact with Hindus had strengths and weaknesses.  The strength was that it presented Christians being polite and caring.  The weakness was that the dialogue eventually degenerated into a lengthy monologue in which the Christian was presenting Christian doctrine, with little interjection from the Hindu.
Overall, I found this book to be an enjoyable and informative read.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

  1. On Triablogue, Steve Hays linked to this post, and Sivraj Jarvis left the following informative comment:
    Interesting book. I will have to get it. Couple of comments. I have not looked at the book but want to comment on the post quickly.

    There are two sorts of Diaspora Indians - the 1G's who are first generation Hindus and the 2Gs - the second generations ones. The 2nd generation ones have either been born and raised in the West or born overseas but raised in the West - like me.

    The character of the two groups is quite different and I will speak for the 2Gs since I grew up with many. The 2Gs generally tend to be conservative (altho this is changing) and not particularly religious. So barring watching an Indian movie here and there or having a rare visit to the temple they tend to be very typically American in culture. You deal with them the way you deal with anyone else here in the States.

    Re:C - Now among my 2G friends, I have never heard anything about Hindu gods competing with each other in any significant or in a to-be-taken-seriously-sort-of a way. Just my experience.

    Re:D - Yes. It is true that many Hindu's oppose conversion. I think however that its not for the reason of the firstborn's responsibilities or due to Hindu god rejection. The presenting issues are quite often not the real issues. While those are factors often enough, I think there are also other things a bit more under the surface and it is this:

    1. Marriage
    If you convert to Christianity, then how are you going to get married? Since many Indian marriages (Christian ones also!) are arranged, how will the Hindu parents arrange the marriage of their son/daughter when they
    (A) do not know any Indian Christians themselves - and its very important to marry an Indian - not an immoral American or a Brit - folks who will not take care of their parents in their old age.
    and more importantly,
    (B) do not know any Indian Christians of their caste?
    - Caste trumps everything!

    I think that the issue of marriage is what is quite often there behind the scenes carrying a surprisingly large weight.

    2. Indian Church History
    ~ A second issue is this. Sans the converts in the state of Kerala(likely Pathikal's state), many of early converts to Christianity in India were either untouchables or of the lower castes. So there has been a sort of a stigma with Christianity. The stigma is dying but it has been there. Currently the upper castes are converting in droves.

    The marriage issue comes up again. If you are a high-caste person and you convert, does that mean you will now marry a lower caste person? "Cuz. Look. We don't mind you marrying a Christian - just make sure its a person of the same caste. But wait... there are no persons who are Christians of the same caste around so... don't convert. Besides - what of our gods?"

    Ok... my 2 cents worth ...


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