RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: RESPONSE FROM INDIA
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: RESPONSE FROM
The mask of power and the non-availability of knowledge about other faith-traditions facilitated many an opportunity for Christianity to grade and criticize other faith-traditions and impose its conviction upon others. This tendency changed when colonialism gave way. People thus got freedom to express themselves freely in the newly independent nations. As a result, Christianity could no longer enjoy the one way privilege. Others now got a chance to tell, what they felt about Christianity. This is evident in
12.1 Change of Attitude
Religious pluralism challenged the superiority claim of religions. Most of the initiatives and suggestions concerning religious pluralism came from Christians.1 S.J. Samartha’s keen observation of the issue has resulted in devoting a full chapter to reflect upon the responses of people of other faith-traditions to the Christian initiated dialogue etc. Paul J. Griffiths writes, “Christians have said a great deal about how they see Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims and about what place they are prepared to allot the members of these communities in God’s plan for human salvation; they have as yet not learned to listen very carefully to what members of these communities have said and are saying about them.”2
There is a remarkable change in the approach of people of other faith-traditions towards Christians. E. C. Dewick says “but to-day the claim of Christianity to be the final and perfect religion for the whole world is being sharply challenged by a large number of people.”3 C. V. Mathew takes the readers way back and says, “in short, by the middle of the 19th century we see the slow but steady emergence of a resistant Hinduism in the national context.”4 it is alleged that the reason for resistance to the Christian initiated-dialogue is that this is an attempt to continue traditional Christian claims.
12.2 Fear and Plea
People of other faiths fear hidden agendas in the Christian initiatives.5 There is also a suspicion that dialogue may be used for purposes of Christian Mission.6 This perception of Hindus has been brought out well by Sita Ram Goel. He writes that “dialogue’ does not seem to be a sincere attempt at reconciliation; on the contrary, it is only a strategy for survival on the part of Christianity.”7 The fear is true because, this happened in the past. But it will be removed if people of other faiths carefully observe the rich wealth of various attempts Christians have made in order to bring about inter-religious understanding.
Along with this fear they also ask Christians to change their attitude. Sita Ram Goel has termed the efforts of indigenization, inculturation etc. as fraud. He writes, “it is high time for the Christian theologies to come down to earth and recognize every person’s right to seek truth and salvation in his or her own way.”8 The same plea has been highlighted by S. J. Samartha as, “neighbours of other faiths also ask humbly and sometimes not so humbly: what about our centers and our names?”9 It is time, Christian thinkers create opportunity in their endeavors to lead the people of other faiths to the conviction that Christians are not forcing the uniqueness of Jesus Christ upon others. Rather, the chief goal is to help every religion to co-operate with others in order to create a healthy society.
12.3 Reaction From Hindu Thinkers
Having realized the fundamental question and the plea that the people of other faith-traditions make, it will be appropriate to note a few reactions of some of the leading Indian Hindu thinkers. It should be kept in mind that Hinduism does not subscribe to a single line of thought pattern in matters of religion. Yet its aversion to the superior claims of Christianity is uniform. Hindus were unanimous in raising their voice against Christian Missionaries.
12.3.1 Swami Dayananda Saraswati
He was the founder of ‘Arya Samaj’. His major call was “back to the Vedas”. His chief contention was that Vedas contain everything needed for solving the problems of the world. It is said, “Dayananda firmly believes that the world would be better of without such an ensnaring and superstitious faith as Christianity.”10 Paul J. Griffiths quotes extensively from the Light of Truth to show the strong reactions of Swami Dayananda Saraswati to Christianity. Regarding the birth narratives of Jesus Christ he said “only people in a state of barbarism can believe them.”11 His reaction to the temptation of Jesus was that it proves that Jesus is not omniscient. Referring to the preaching of Jesus, he argued that if only righteous could be saved what is the use of Jesus. Again he said if all will be punished according to their deeds why preach about salvation? For Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Christianity is not at all necessary for the Indian soil. He writes, rather using harsh expression: “in a country where no trees are seen to grow, even the castor oil plant is considered to be the biggest and the best tree,” in like manner in a country where none but the ignorant savages lived, Christ was rightly considered a great man but Christ can be of no count among the learned and wise men of the present day.”12
He has every right to critique any religion. At the same time everyone should be aware that, now we are not in a state where we could claim superiority of one faith-tradition over the other. But what is inevitable is that all religions should work together for a healthy community life.
12.3.2 Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Ramakrishna’s influence on Hinduism was so deep that his greatness was responsible for the dawn of Swami Vivekananda. He always held that ‘all religions are branches of the same tree’.13 He also said ‘to a man who has realized, all religions are paths that lead to the same goal’.14 Another remarkable spiritual insight which is fundamental to any venture related to religion is the necessity of spiritual foundation. For Ramakrishna, “it is only by releasing a flood of enlightened religious feeling that society can be cleansed and men and woman made to grow to their spiritual heights.”15
Ramakrishna’s idea of ‘all religions are same’ is radically criticized by Harsh Narain. He writes: “now, the modern tendency of regarding all religions as true begins with Ramakrishna nick named Paramahamsa (1836-1886), practically an uneducated Saint.”16 he also maintained that, “to say, therefore, that all religions are essentially one or equal is a gross overstatement, unsubstantiated or unsupported by the nature and history of the various lines of religious development of humanity.”17 The differences between religions are to be acknowledged while attempting an inter-religious unity.
12.3.3 Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda was responsible for the establishment and the spread of Ramakrishna Mission. He gave renewed energy to Hinduism when he spoke in the world parliament of religions. For him all religions lead to the same end. For example, “just as the rivers after traversing various hills and valleys, finally into the sea, Vivekananda said, all the religions of the world move towards the one Truth or God.”18 Apart from this he insisted upon religious tolerance. He is quoted to have said that ‘we believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions are true.19
Swami Vivekananda was also committed to the service of the poor and needy. For instance “once he said that the crying evil in the East is not want of religion, but want of bread.”20 His conviction was that “service was the finest form of religion. Since God dwells in man, He can be worshipped by serving man.”21 Needless to say, Swami Vivekananda too had great respect for the teaching of Jesus Christ, but not for Christianity as a religion.
Swami Vivekananda’s reaction to Christian propagation was so vehement. He believed that Christianity failed to satisfy the spiritual longing of educated and scientific folks.22 According to him, “what the nation wants is a religion of strength based on the inherent divinity of the human soul, and not a religion of weakness teaching that man is a born sinner.”23 This, of course, is his attack upon the Christian doctrine of sin.
For Swami Jesus ‘was unfettered, unbound Spirit’.24 But Christians have ignored the teachings of Christ and insist upon the divinity of Jesus Christ. In other words, ‘the whole teaching of the Master is degenerated and all the struggle and fight is for the personality of the Man’.25
All, including Hindus, are happy to regard the teachings of Christ, but not the Man Jesus and his divinity as a means of salvation. Swami Vivekananda’s view of religions is “let us, therefore, find, God not only in Jesus of Nazareth but in all the great ones that have preceded him, in all that came after him, and all that are yet to come… They are all manifestations of the same infinite God.”26
12.3.4 Mahatma Gandhi
According to D.S. Sharma ‘like every true Hindu, Gandhi believes that all religions are branches of one and the same tree – the Tree of Truth’.27 For him, as Truth is one, humanity is also one.28 Apart from the acceptance of the empirical realities of religion he also talked philosophicallythat “the one religion is beyond all speech.”29
Gandhi’s perception of religions is quite enriching. Nirmal Minz writes “all religions, he held, are appropriations of Satya under the condition of cultural limitation and human finitude… They are equal in the sense that no single religion has the absolute or exclusive truth.”30 In his view all religions are true, and the differences are due to cultural variations. In the words of Gandhi, “as all religions were rooted in faith in the same God, all were of equal value, while each was specially adapted to its own people.”31 He continues “after long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that: (1) all religions are true, (2) all religions have some error in them, (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism.”32
Mahatma Gandhi says, “it is my conviction that all the great faiths of the world are true, are God-ordained and that they serve the purpose of God and of those who have been brought up in those surroundings.”33
Mahatma Gandhi had a distinct understanding of Christianity, Christ and the activities of Christians. He had nothing much good to speak about Christians. But he declared that “though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained for ever indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me.”34
Mahatma Gandhi always accused Christians of busy in preaching and never practicing what they preach. In other words, “Christians generally seemed to him to be rather poor disciples of their master.”35 He accused them of pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods36 and being insensitive to the cultural and religious values of the Hindus.37
Gandhi firmly believed that it was not necessary for him to become a Christian in order to get salvation. Again he said “it was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a prefect religion or the greatest of all religions.”38 The reasons he gives are very crucial for Christians. That is, “the pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that lives of men of other faiths had failed to give.”39 This crucial point will be discussed again at the final section.
Mahatma Gandhi’s view of Jesus Christ can contribute to the formulation of a viable Christology in
. For him, “Jesus was a great teacher of
humanity but not the only begotten son of God … He is as divine as India Krishna, Rama, or Mohammed.”40 He also accepted Jesus as a model but not
the only model.41 It is also to be noted that Mahatma Gandhi
never considered Jesus as the perfect man.
He says, “I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice,
and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born”.42
Gandhi also proposes a way how one should propagate his/her religion. According to him “Religion is best propagated by the noble lives led by its followers.”43 For him, preaching the Gospel means to live the Gospel.44 Again he said, “religion can be defended only by the purity of its adherents and their good deeds, never by their quarrels with those of other faiths.”45 This is the need of the hour in
Mahatma Gandhi has therefore, suggested how religions should approach each other. For him, “the correct attitude is one of firm adherence to one’s own religion coupled with an equal reverence towards all other religions. It is not simply a question of tolerating other faiths, but of believing that all faiths lead to the same goal.”46 Again his attitude to religions was to “let Hindus become better Hindus, Muslims better Muslims and Christians better Christians”.47
Another remarkable contribution of Mahatma Gandhi for religious pluralism is the acceptance of common humanity. For example, Gandhi always appealed to the religion of humanity underlying all relilgions.48 He always disbelieved in the illusion of forming one single religion. Once he said, “if the Hindus believe that
should be peopled only by
Hindus, they are living in dreamland.”49 India
12.3.5 Dr. Radhakrishnan
Radhakrishnan was of the opinion that Hinduism does not lack anything. From the point of religious pluralism, he was thinking of an Absolute which is active and present in all revelations.50
Similarly, Radhakrishnan had a vision of the religion of the Spirit which he proposed as a possible solution to the problem of religious pluralism.51 He too subscribed to the view that all religions are the same, and they lead to the same goal.
In spite of resistance from some Buddhists to the Christian-initiated inter-religious relations, many committed Buddhists believe that the message of Buddha has resources for the growing world situation. S. J. Samartha highlights the Buddhist point of view as, “the Buddhist response to Christian initiated dialogue is not one of confrontation and controversy, but of responsible participation in the conviction that the message of the Buddha has a distinctive contribution to make to the world today.”53 Every one has to accept that today no religion can be expected to change its position or to accept others. But what is crucial is that all religions should work together to make their distinct contribution to the world.
The Muslims are of the view that Christian missionaries from the West came to destroy the religion of Islam and help the foreign powers, especially the British, to conquer and subjugate
At times, they even, demanded that all missionaries from the Islamic
states need to be removed in order to strengthen Christian, Muslim relations. India
However, of late, there is a seeming positive attitude towards Christianity. S. J. Samartha points out that “a significant response to Christian initiatives is the Muslim attempt to work out a theology of dialogue based on Islam even as Christians are seeking to develop a Christian theology of dialogue.”55
On the whole, in the past the people of other faith-traditions were unhappy with the way Christianity hurt their sentiments. But now there is a growing positive relationship between them.
1 S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, Toward a Revised Christology, (
SATHRI in association with Word Makers, 1992), p. 15.
2 Paul J. Griffiths, Christianity Through Non-Christians Eyes (New York: ORBIS Books, 1998),
3 E. C. Dewick, The Gospel and other Faiths (
London & Edinburgh:
1948), p. 13.
4 C.V. Mathew, The Saffron
(A historical) Analysis of Modern
Hindu Missionary Mission
Ideologies and Practices (Delhi: ISPCK, 1999), p. 56.
5 S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 16.
6 Ibid., p. 22.
7 Sita Ram Goel, Hindu of Hindu – Christian Encounters (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1989),
8 Ibid., p. 5.
9 S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 18.
10 C. V. Mathew, op. cit., p. 74.
11 Paul J. Griffiths, op. cit., p. 198.
12 Ibid., p. 201.
13 D. S. Sharma, Hinduism Through the Ages (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967),
14 Ibid., p. 136.
15 Ibid., p. 122.
16 Harsh Narain, Myths of Composite Culture and Equality of Religions, (
: Voice of New Delhi
17 Ibid., p. 63.
18 CH. Sreenivasa Rao, ed., op. cit., p. 32.
19 D. S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 150.
20 Ibid., p. 151.
21 Swami Gokulananda, “Vivekananda – Unifying Vision and
and Our Response”, Mission
NCC Review, Vol. CXIII, No. 8 (September 1993), p. 507.
22 C. V. Mathew, op. cit., p. 128.
23 D. S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 155.
24 Paul J. Griffiths, op. cit., p. 210.
25 Ibid., p. 213.
26 Ibid., p. 214.
27 D. S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 193.
28 Nirmal Minz, Mahatma Gandhi and Hindu – Christian Dialogue (Madras: CLS, 1970), p. 1.
29 Mahatma Gandhi, Fellowship of Faiths and Unity of Religions, ed., by Abdul Majid Khan
: G.A. Natesan and
Co., No. year), p. 17. Madras
30 Nirmal Minz, op. cit., p. 23.
31 Mahatma Gandhi, op. cit., p. 20.
32 Ibid., p. 12.
33 Ibid., p. 24.
34 Paul J. Griffiths, op. cit., p. 225.
35 Mahatma Gandhi, op. cit., p. 19.
36 Paul J. Griffiths, op. cit., p. 217.
38 Paul J. Griffits, op. cit., p. 224.
40 Nirmal Minz, op. cit., p. 39.
41 Mahatma Gandhi, op. cit., p. 19.
42 Paul J. Griffiths, op. cit., p. 224.
43 D.S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 193.
44 Nirmal Minz, op. cit., p. 47.
45 Mahatma Gandhi, op. cit., p. 46.
46 D. S. Sharma, op. cit., pp. 193-134.
47 Mahatma Gandhi, op. cit., p. 20.
48 Niramal Minz, op. cit., p.50.
49 Mahatma Gandhi, op. cit., p. 1.
50 Bibhuti S. Yadav, “Vaisnavism on Hans kung: A Hindu Theology of Religious Pluralism”,
Religion and Society, Vol. XXVII, No. 2 (June 1980), p. 32.
51 CH. Sreenivas Rao, ed., op. cit., p. 32.
53 S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 31.
54 Sam V. Bhajjan, “Muslim – Christians Dialogue in
NCC Review, Vol. CVII, No. 9 India
(October 1987), p. 547.
55 S. J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 24.