Comparing Christianity & HinduismPETER KREEFT
Kreeft outlines the main theological and practical differences, as well as the important common elements, between Christianity and Hinduism.
are two basic kinds of religions in the world: Eastern and Western.
differences between Hinduism and Christianity are typical of the differences between
Eastern and Western religions in general. Here are some examples:
is pantheistic, not theistic. The doctrine that God created the world out of nothing
rather than emanating it out of His own substance or merely shaping some pre-existing
material is an idea that simply never occurred to anyone but the Jews and those
who learned it from them. Everyone else either thought of the gods as part of
the world (paganism) or the world as part of God (pantheism).
If God is in everything, God is in both good and evil. But then there is no absolute
morality, no divine law, no divine will discriminating good and evil. In Hinduism,
morality is practical; its end is to purify the soul from desires so that it can
attain mystical consciousness. Again, the Jews are unique in identifying the source
of morality with the object of religion. Everyone has two innate senses: the religious
sense to worship, and the moral sense of conscience; but only the Jewish God is
the focus of both. Only the God of the Bible is absolutely righteous.
- Eastern religions come from private mystical experiences; Western religions
come from public revelations recorded in a book and summarized in a creed. In
the East, human experience validates the Scriptures; in the West, Scripture judges
- Eastern religions are esoteric, understandable
only from within by the few who share the experience. Western religions are exoteric,
public, democratic, open to all. In Hinduism there are many levels of truth: polytheism,
sacred cows and reincarnation for the masses; monotheism (or monism) for the mystics,
who declare the individual soul one with Brahman (God) and beyond reincarnation
(“Brahman is the only reincarnator”). Truth is relative to the level of experience.
- Individuality is illusion according to Eastern mysticism.
Not that we're not real, but that we are not distinct from God or each other.
Christianity tells you to love your neighbors; Hinduism tells you you are your
neighbors. The word spoken by God Himself as His own essential name, the word
“I,” is the ultimate illusion, not the ultimate reality, according to the East.
There Is no separate ego. All is one.
- Since individuality
is illusion, so is free will. If free will is illusion, so is sin. And if sin
is illusion, so is hell. Perhaps the strongest attraction of Eastern religions
is in their denial of sin, guilt and hell.
- Thus the two essential
points of Christianity — sin and salvation — are both missing in the East. If
there is no sin, no salvation is needed, only enlightenment. We need not be born
again; rather, we must merely wake up to our innate divinity. If I am part of
God. I can never really be alienated from God by sin.
matter, history and time itself are not independently real, according to Hinduism.
Mystical experience lifts the spirit out of time and the world. In contrast, Judaism
and Christianity are essentially news, events in time: creation, providence, prophets,
Messiah, incarnation, death and, resurrection, ascension, second coming. Incarnation
and New Birth are eternity dramatically entering time. Eastern religions are not
- The ultimate Hindu ideal is not sanctity but mysticism.
Sanctity is fundamentally a matter of the will: willing God's will, loving God
and neighbor. Mysticism is fundamentally a matter of intellect, intuition, consciousness.
This fits the Eastern picture of God as consciousness — not will, not lawgiver.
When C.S. Lewis was converted from atheism, he shopped around in
the world's religious supermarket and narrowed his choice down to Hinduism or
Christianity. Religions are like soups, he said. Some, like consomme, are thin
and clear (Unitarianism, Confucianism, modern Judaism); others, like minestrone,
are thick and dark (paganism, “mystery religions”). Only Hinduism and Christianity
are both “thin” (philosophical) and “thick” (sacramental and mysterious). But
Hinduism is really two religions: “thick” for the masses, “thin” for the sages.
Only Christianity is both.
Hinduism claims that all other religions are yogas:
ways, deeds, paths. Christianity is a form of bhakti yoga (yoga for emotional
types and lovers). There is also jnana yoga (yoga for intellectuals), raja yoga
(yoga for experimenters), karma yoga (yoga for workers, practical people) and
hatha yoga (the physical preliminary to the other four). For Hindus, religions
are human roads up the divine mountain to enlightenment — religion is relative
to human need; there is no “one way” or single objective truth.
There is, however,
a universal subjective truth about human nature: It has “four wants”: pleasure,
power, altruism and enlightenment. Hinduism encourages us to try all four paths,
confident that only the fourth brings fulfillment. If there is reincarnation and
if there is no hell, Hindus can afford to be patient and to learn the long, hard
way: by experience rather than by faith and revelation.
Hindus are hard to
dialogue with for the opposite reason Moslems are: Moslems are very intolerant,
Hindus are very tolerant. Nothing is false; everything is true in a way.
summit of Hinduism is the mystical experience, called mukti, or moksha: “liberation”
from the illusion of finitude, realization that tat tvam asi, “thou art That (Brahman].”
At the center of your being is not individual ego but Atman, universal self which
is identical with Brahman, the All.
This sounds like the most absurd and blasphemous
thing one could say: that I am God. But it is not that I, John Smith, am God the
Father Almighty. Atman is not ego and Brahman is not God the Father. Hinduism
identifies not the immanent human self with the transcendent divine self but the
transcendent human self with the immanent divine self. It is not Christianity.
But neither is it idiocy.
Martin Buber, in “I and Thou,” suggests that Hindu
mysticism is the profound experience of the “original pre-biographical unity”
of the self, beneath all forms and contents brought to it by experience, but confused
with God. Even Aristotle said that “the soul is, in a way, all things.” Hinduism
construes this “way” as identity, or inclusion, rather than knowing: being all
things substantially rather than mentally. The soul is a mirror for the whole
“Comparing Christianity & Hinduism.” National Catholic Register. (May,
Reprinted by permission of the author. To subscribe to the National
Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.
Kreeft has written extensively (over
25 books) in the areas of Christian apologetics. Link to all of Peter Kreeft's
Kreeft teaches at Boston College in Boston Massachusetts. He is on the Advisory
Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
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