Could Robin the Boy Wonder have been Hindu?
Holy Eastern Religions, Batman! Robin used to call EVERYTHING holy. Holy cow, holy guacamole, holy hole in a doughnut, and my favorite – Holy Haberdashery! In fact, Burt Ward who played Robin on TV said he used the “Holy” phrase about 378 times which came out to around three times per episode. The belief that everything is holy or that everything has part of the divine essence of God within it, is consistent with Hindu beliefs. Hinduism, like Christianity believes there is only one God. They call God, Brahman. But a Hindu person believes God is manifest in every aspect of creation while Christians believe that God is separate from creation. On TV and in the popular media, people have joked about the Hindu worship of cows as gods, but that misrepresents the complexity of the Hindu religion. It would be like saying Christians are cannibals because we feast on the body and blood of Christ. It reduces something we believe to be holy to be a mockery of those beliefs. Knowing what others believe helps us to become more understanding, more accepting, and more loving toward people of other faiths. And at the same time, it helps us better understand why our own faith is important to us.
Call it the Progressive Insurance Method of Christianity.
You’ve seen those commercials on TV where Progressive Insurance offers you quotes from other insurance companies. The person in the commercial always looks on in disbelief, as if Progressive Insurance is crazy for showing you what other companies offer. But they are so confident in what they have to offer, they are not afraid of the others. In a way, that’s what this is. We are exploring different faiths to come to a better understanding of our own, and through that understanding build a solid foundation for our own faith to rest upon (Matthew 7:24-29). Our faith is strengthened when we understand what others believe. Bad theology begins by an incomplete understanding of OUR faith, not the faith of others. Hopefully, our exploration of other faiths will help us grow even closer to God. Today, we’re going to explore the Hindu faith.
Again I need to preface this by saying I am not an expert in Hinduism.
These are some of the very raw basics about the Hindu faith and we need to realize there are many different variations in Hinduism just as there are different variations of Christianity. As the basis for our study together, we’re looking at Adam Hamilton’s Christianity and World Religions. In it Hamilton tells us that there are three fundamental characteristics of understanding the Hindu faith – dharma, karma, and samsara. Dharma, karma, and samsara. Dharma is the idea that good works coupled with spiritual knowledge sets us free. Hinduism teaches that dharma or “duty” is needed to be done to build up good karma. Karma literally means “deeds.” At the end of our lives if we have built up more good karma than bad, then we will be better off in the next life. If not, then we will be worse off and we will suffer more for it. Suffering, however, is not seen necessarily as punishment, but a tool to help us gain spiritual knowledge so we can obtain a state of self that frees us from this cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This cycle is called samsara. Samsara. And we are not free from this cycle until we have emptied ourselves of bad karma. When we do, we reach nirvana. But nirvana is not a place. It’s not like the heaven we often imagine in our Christian faith. Rather it is the condition of the divine within us rejoining with Brahman. We become part of the divine once again.
These concepts are part of what separates us from one another in our faith.
We’re going to take a look at a reading from Scripture that helps us better define our own faith. This passage captures the essence of our ideas of salvation and how we obtain it. When you read it, think about how our view of salvation is very different from the view Hinduism shares with us and think even about how our definition of what salvation is is very different from theirs.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
As Christians, we believe we are sinners.
It defines who we are. It is the building block from which we understand our relationship to God. A fundamental aspect of who we are is that we are sinners seeking redemption. From Adam and Eve to the modern day, every aspect of our lives as Christians is to seek this redemption in the eyes of God. And we believe this is only accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of one man – Jesus Christ. Not in the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation of all men, but by the life-giving actions of the Son of God. We don’t believe Jesus was just another human who was more in touch with his divine self. We believe that Jesus and only Jesus was fully human and fully divine. He truly embodies the name Immanuel – God with us. And only by the grace of a loving God are we offered salvation, “not by works, so that no one can boast.” We are saved by God’s grace alone.
This is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and Hinduism.
We cannot save ourselves. There is no amount of “good karma” we can earn that will help us obtain salvation, because we believe humanity is inclined to sin. In Hinduism, we are not seeking redemption but awareness – awareness of the divine within us. In the Hindu faith, spiritual knowledge and karma help us obtain that awareness. But it is propelled by the individual. It is through the individual’s actions they break the cycle of samsara. As Christians, we need the grace of God – not the divine god within us, but the one who created us. We believe human beings are a separate creation from God, that each of us is unique. And while we do believe the Holy Spirit resides within us to guide us and journey with us, we are not the Holy Spirit ourselves. Our relationship to God is like our children’s relationship to us. Part of who we are goes into making them and we feel an instant connection to them because a part of us is within them, but they are not us. They are distinct, unique, wonderful creations separate from us. And when we die, we believe there is a place we go to be with God. We don’t believe we actually join with God. Instead, we get to ENJOY being in the presence of God.
There are a great many valuable teachings in the Hindu faith.
Most people who follow Hinduism are good, loving, interesting people who are out to make the world a better place. They have families they love and strive to take care of. They worship earnestly the revelation of God in their lives. But for us as Christians, what God has revealed to us through Scripture, the prophets, and ultimately through Jesus Christ himself, is at times at odds with the tents of the Hindu faith. This does not make us enemies. This does not mean they don’t earnestly seek God. It simply means our understanding of God is different. We believe that we are God’s creation, that we are his children. We are not part of the divine, but we live in a state of sin. We need the grace of God for our redemption and that is only possible because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not believe we can save ourselves or that any amount of good work can redeem us. We seek redemption through resurrection, not release through reincarnation. Those differences are why we view the world from a different perspective.
Something Hamilton wrote in his book made me think deeply.
He talked about how different it would be to approach a family with these two different faith backgrounds and as a pastor what you would say. In our faith tradition, we have hope for the life that comes after because of Jesus and the promise he shares of a home in Heaven. We can feel comforted knowing that our Creator waits for us with loving, open arms, and those we have cherished in this life who have gone before us will be there when we arrive. It wouldn’t be much comfort to me to think we simply come back over and over again, throughout time, hoping to do a little better each pass through this life. After centuries and millennia of existence, I can see why Hinduism looks at the ultimate goal of life not as a new beginning but as an ending. I can see the appeal of a release from suffering if you think you had to return to the grind and the pain of being in the world until you got it right. As Christians, we believe God is our Creator. That he is knowable. That he loves each and every one of us. And that in the end, we are saved because of the grace and mercy of our savior and for that we can truly be grateful. We are a people who live in hope for a brighter tomorrow. See you next week. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.