Maybe Nobody is Hindu

(The following post is a "blast-from-the-past" article that I'm transferring over from my old blog especially in light of some new conversation going on at the Lausanne Global Conversation as well as at Cape Town 2010.  It is intended as "food for thought" and I look forward to your discussion.)

A friend of mine recently sent me a couple articles that I thought were worth passing your way.  The first here is an article by Lisa Miller entitled "We are All Hindus Now."  It appeared in an August 2009 issue of Newsweek. Miller's basic argument is that while Americans still tend to self-identify as Christians, their worldviews are becoming much more Hindu than Biblical. Miller's position is that America is on its way to becoming Hindu in terms of the worldview shared by most of the population.

In an October article published by Break Point entitled "Are We Really Hindus?", Regis Nicoll provides a well-conceived rebuttal.  He doesn't totally dismiss Miller's contentions, but provides a balanced perspective that should give the follower of Christ pause.  In Nicoll's mind, Americans aren't really becoming more Hindu.  Rather the problem is that American Christians have traded in a belief system based on creeds for one based on personal needs.

I thought both articles were interesting.  At the end of the day, I'm not sure it matters a whole lot for my daily life as a follower of Jesus engaged full-time in God's global mission of redemption.  Lost is still lost, regardless of the label.  It is essential to understand an individual's worldview and background, sure.  But I feel that believers sometimes read these kinds of articles in a doom and gloom sort of way. Like they'd be happier if people were lost but didn't believe in reincarnation.  I don't get that.

As for the question at hand, "Is America becoming more Hindu?" I'd like to suggest a totally different option.  That is, maybe no one is really Hindu.  Now, wait, I'm actually a little serious.  The word Hindu itself has very little meaning.  It is a term that was coined, it seems, by Persians to refer to the Indus river valley and the people who lived there.  Later generations of Arabs and other foreigners to India used the appellation to refer collectively to everyone living in "Hindustan" (India) regardless of their religious beliefs. It was only in relatively recent times that Europeans started using the term as a religious label, but they did this somewhat uncritically -- lumping different religious groups together that often had little in common. 

Literally, "hindu" just means someone from India, but the Hindi / Sanskrit word for India isn't even "India".  It is Bharat.  So, if "India" is no more than what foreigners call Bharat, can we really say that anyone is from India?  Are there really any Hindus?

More seriously, "Hinduism" can claim no universal tenets, doctrines, practices, or literature that explain why Buddhists are not Hindu, BAPS devotees are, and Jains are kinda-sorta.  Just try. Just try to explain what makes a Hindu a Hindu and not a Christian, Scientologist, Taoist, or Muslim.  Try.  Really, I'm not looking to be difficult, but I'd love to get a conversation going.


  1. Rayan T S3:32 PM

    According to the traditionalist 'Hindu' point of view, the reason the word 'Hindu' has no meaning is because, according to Jagadguru Chandrashekarendra Saraswati in his essay 'The Vedic Religion': "Only when there are a number of religions do they have to be identified by different names". So, according to the Hindu tradition, pretty much everyone is a Hindu, and so there is no real word the religion.

    I personally find this very similar to the Islamic concept. Islam in the traditional sense has two meanings: the modern religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad, as well as the heart of all the authentic religions believed by Muslims to have been revealed by God, at the very least including Christianity and Judaism, but also quite possibly including Hinduism, Buddhism as well, at least in their earliest orthodoxies. It is a fundamental Islamic belief that for every nation there was a messenger of God (this is in the Quran 10:47), and so all the other religions of the world today are "Islam" in one sense, in that they are, at the heart, the submission to God, which is at the heart of all traditional faiths. The idea that Judaism is the single source of monotheism in world religions is absolute rubbish. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are not the only monotheistic religions. Buddhism came out as a reform of Hinduism (just as Christianity of Judaism) and Hinduism was and in most cases still is today montheistic- ONE God. It's actually quite a remarkable 'coincidence' that Monotheism is so much more wisespread in this world than we are often led to believe, and in Islam, Hinduism, and many other faiths as well this is explained by the fact that there are many authentic, truthfully divinely inspired religions in this world.

    You may wish to consider this in your mission work:

    Islam is a growing religion in the west, particularly because the west is developing an ever greater and greater spiritual vacuum; religious tradition and faith of any kind are slowly bit by bit dissolving away from western society. Because this is happening in what otherwise is and is considered a "Christian" society, people are turning their hearts toward the East where the only obliteration of religious tradition for the worship of secularism and nationalism has been the result of American foreign policy. Islam will grow faster and faster because it is the only authentic tradition which is left in its purity that also holds a very pluralistic message: there are several right paths. In Christian orthodoxy, of course, there is only one path. And in relativistic modern times, people think there are infinite paths. So, although being extremely far from one another, the religions with the best answer to the modern dilemma of religious pluralism are Islam and Hinduism. In order to prevent itself from complete annihilation in the upcoming century, the Christian community must do a better job to seek to understand why religious plurality exists, and must come up with a reason even for the existence of other traditions, their rationale, and their relation to the Christian tradition. The Protestants are playing hardball, and while they should be steadfast in their beliefs, they also need to express some form of critical tolerance and participate in interfaith dialogs before they wipe themselves out in the storm of relativistic secular humanism that is in fact an accidental product of their own creation.

    Just some thoughts hope you appreciate some of them. Peace.
    December 21, 2009 @ 10:30 PM

  2. Rayan T S3:33 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Rayan, I am very grateful for your well-conceived and stimulating comment. To begin with, if your first paragraph holds true -- that all people are Hindu, then truly the term has no real significance. Etymologically, I've already explained why the term isn't actually descriptive of the so-called "Vedic" religions (perhaps better termed as "Dharmic" religions). But even if one completely suspends the etymological concerns and holds only to connotative definition, as you've pointed out, there is no real "Hindu" distinctives. Thus, as you've said, everyone is a Hindu or, as I've said, no one is a Hindu.

    I disagree with the notion that Islam is a fundamentally pluralistic or tolerant faith. Surah 10:47 refers to messengers of the Islamic faith. There is no room in this text to suggest that a Hindu guru, a Buddhist monk, or Tom Cruise could be this "messenger." The Qu'ran teaches that such individuals are Mujrimun who can only expect to receive torment from Allah. For more information on Islam in particular, try


    My own, OLD article on the subject is here

  4. Moving on.

    You've said that in most cases, Hinduism in monotheistic. This, of course, contradicts your use of the term Hindu from your first paragraph. Now, you are actually suggesting that Hinduism has certain distinguishing doctrinal and practical aspects that when taken together form some kind of discernable religious system. I, as I've made clear already, challenge that assumption. Nevertheless, I'll admit that there is a concept of Hinduism that has developed (perhaps only in the past century) and that is taught in world religion courses and books that seek to define Hinduism generally. The notions of Hindu theology spoken of at this level, I would argue, are not actually understood or believed in by the vast majority of people who would call themselves Hindu. In particular, the monistic (not actually monotheistic) concept of "high-hinduism" (i.e. "God is one"), isn't what 9 out of 10 Hindus believe. They don't believe that Krishna is Ganesh, the Ganesh is Jesus, or that Jesus is Tom Cruise. No, perhaps this is a problem of poor theological education of the laity within "hinduism", but that has always been a fundamental aspect of the so-called "hindu" faiths of South Asia -- that is, the theological curtain that has long prevented non-Brahmins from reading the Vedas or learning Sanskrit. Okay, fine.

    But even if I accept (which I don't) that the "God is one" concept is popularly held among even 51% of "Hindus", this is not tantamount to true monotheism. "There is only one God" is a much different doctrine than "God is one." The latter holds that everyone and everything is God. This is more pantheistic or monistic than anything else. And if everything is God, then the notion of "theos" ceases to have any real meaning. Instead of meaning "god" or "deity" it means something like "nouns" or "stuff". Monotheism, as held by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is a fundamentally different idea. God transcends creation and created the universe (trilok) "ad extra" or external to Himself.

  5. Interfaith dialog is, I believe, a valuable idea and one in which I spend most of my life engaged in. In fact, I'm doing that right now. However, I don't find interfaith dialog divorced from healthy and honest debate over theological and practical issues to be worth a whole lot of my time. This brings me to a final point. You have claimed that Islam and Hinduism (but not Christianity) provide the best answers to the growing "dilemma" of religious pluralism in the world. Islam's answer, according to the Qu'ran, it actually the Islamization of the planet which must involve either the conversion or subjugation of all adherents to other faiths. Hinduism, as we've agreed, provides no real religious distinctives whatsoever and so cannot be said to actually give an answer to anything.

    The word of God, the Bible (Pavitra Shastra) does however provide an answer. It was the same answer provided in the religiously pluralistic contexts of Abraham, Moses, Daniel, the Lord Sri Jesus and the Apostles.

    Nachu vidyatinyasmin kusminapee paritranum napee vasyanyetta kimapee naam swagasyardho manosheybyo duntun yudravrasman bheehee paritranum pratuvyum

    There is salvation found in no one else, for there is no name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. (acts 4:12)

    I have never lost a moment's sleep worrying about whether or not the number of Jesus-followers in the world is growing. I know the numbers are exploding in the global south in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. I am completely comfortable with the southern shift of the Church and will applaud it when I am in Cape Town for Lausanne 3 next year.

    Okay, well, I've taken enough time for one day on this. Blessings to you. And if you'd like to check out some nice interfaith dialog sites related to Hinduism and Islam, here are my recommendations:
    December 22, 2009 @ 7:21 AM

  6. Rayan T S3:38 PM

    Thank you for your words on Hinduism. All I have to say further on this is that the difference between "There is only one God" and "God is one" and between monotheism and monism is not a distinction that is entirely polar and separated by the borders that divide different religions, they are not entirely contradictory, many traditions fluctuate between the two, and most if not all traditions of one contain some elements of the other. This is particularly notable in the mystic traditions of our faiths, orthodox Sufism for example. Anyway, allow me to go briefly somewhat off subject once again to make, I believe, an important clarification.

    Regarding your statement: "I disagree with the notion that Islam is a fundamentally pluralistic or tolerant faith. Surah 10:47 refers to messengers of the Islamic faith. There is no room in this text to suggest that a Hindu guru, a Buddhist monk, or Tom Cruise could be this "messenger." The Qu'ran teaches that such individuals are Mujrimun who can only expect to receive torment from Allah."

    I have studied Islam for several years. You are correct in saying that any assertion that a modern Hindu guru, Buddhist monk, or Tom Cruise is a messenger of God is an abomination in Islam. In Islam, Muhammad is considered the "seal" of the Prophets, that he was the last messenger and so God will send none after him until the return of Jesus Christ. However there are several passages in the Quran, not just 10:47, that explain quite clearly that every nation, or we may assume, every greater community all over the world, received a Prophet from God. This is a perfectly accepted fact by the vast majority of Muslims. When you say "Surah 10:47 refers to messengers of the Islamic faith" you are absolutely correct. But do not forget that all the Prophets believed by Muslims to have been sent by God are considered Prophets of the Islamic faith. So Abraham, for example, is considered a Muslim in its meaning as one who submits to the one God, although not in the sense that he would ever used the word to describe himself, as his language was not Arabic. To suggest that the founders of the Hindu faith were in fact Prophets of Islam is actually an extremely common belief among many Muslims, and it is not heterodox to conclude that they may be. Most however, would argue that the religion's original monotheism is far lost. Only a minority Muslims suggest that it is still Islam at heart, although there are many who do. The same can be said of the Native Americans, etc. This is the general Islamic understanding: there are both true religions and false religions, both having existed all over the world throughout the course of human existence. The true religions are recognized in that they are all, at the heart, monotheistic, and thus, "Islam" in its esoteric and Quranic sense (although not in the sense of Islam as a modern religion, in which case the only Prophet would be Muhammad). This does not include Tom Cruise.

    Cody, your reply is as honest and respectful as it is intelligent. Thank you for your insight. God bless and peace.
    December 23, 2009 @ 5:34 PM

  7. Samir Sabin3:39 PM

    I think the problem we're having with this discussion is the over reaching broad generalizations. Christianity is not monolithic by any means and this assertion that it will somehow predictably succumb to the forces of Islam is utter nonsense.

    Religious trends can not be predicted. The reason for this is that religion broaches the irrational and lays outside of our limited intellectual faculties. If someone would have told me back in the 19th century that my faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints i.e. Mormonism) would have survived and transformed itself into a pragmatic and influential religious tradition in american society, I would have hysterically laughed.

    However, somehow an illiterate farmer gave rise to a new vibrant american religious tradition that has amassed beautiful temples in urban centers across the United States.

    My point is that we don't know what the future beholds for any religion.

    It's like trying to predict a song that you're hearing for the first time. Humans have been around for roughly 200,000 years. The invention (or 'revelation') of organized missionize religion is a relatively new phenomena in the general context of our species.

    Side note, Islam taking over the hearts and minds of the west is so nonsensical. You will never be able to defeat love and this is why you will lose. Islam is framed on submission. Christianity is framed on love.

    Love wins out.

    December 25, 2009 @ 10:43 PM

  8. Rayan and Samir, thank you for your comments here. First, Rayan, on your statement about monism and monotheism, I'll stick with my previous position on that. Basically, I agree with you that religious traditions (or at least movements within them)may sort of slide between a true monotheism and what is more panthesitic monism, it doesn't follow therefore that these are related or similar ideas. In fact, I believe that they are fundamentally different doctrines.

    On Islam, I agree with the clarifications you've made and had them in mind when I wrote my previous comment. Islam holds to the idea that all true prophets are Muslims, you are correct. Again, and I don't think you disagree, Islam doesn't however recognize all religions as legitimate paths to God.

    Samir, of course we can't predict the future. Not sure anyone here was trying to. Also not sure that the growth of Mormonism is any kind of evidence that Islam will not grow in the west while Christianity shrinks. While I don't believe that Islam will become the dominant religion in the U.S. any time soon, my position on the matter has nothing to do with the growth of Mormonism.

    It is my position, and that of TIBM, that Mormonism is a polytheistic, non-Christian religion. Since you are a polytheist, it might be interesting to get you to weigh in on the monotheistic issues we've been discussing.

    December 27, 2009 @ 9:32 AM

  9. Samir Sabin3:41 PM

    Polytheistic? I pray to only one God which is our heavenly father. There is only ONE point of origin for creation. There is only ONE creator. There is only ONE supreme authority. Everything that occurs in life happens by the will of ONE father.

    Yes, I do recognize that Jesus and the holy spirit are divine figures. However, accepting that other people can be divine doesn't make me non-christian or polytheistic. In early Christianity the thought exists with the church father St. Athanasius of Alexandria writing, "God became man so that man might become god."

    So why aren't mormons christians? Because we don't adhere to the ecumenical councils and reject your conception of the trinity? You do not have a monopoly on christ.

    What is a christian? I always thought a christian was someone who acts like Christ and imitates the lord in their daily lives. The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints is a church imbued with the love of the father and the love of their neighbor. Before you rush to label us as non-christians, come to one of our churches and see for yourself.

    Monotheism is a loaded term. Muslims consider all christians to be non-monotheists because of the nicene council conception of the trinity. Even maimonides, a famous 12th century rabbi, bended the meaning of the term further by categorizing many jews as polytheists or idolaters if they proscribed positive attributes to the divine or assigned corporeality to God.

    It's a socially constructed term used to show the outsiders versus insiders in a particular sect. Therefore, based on the religion you belong to, it's going to have a vastly different meaning than the next. (e.g. I know many hindus who claim that they're monotheistic). In short, There is no objective meaning of monotheism in any sense.
    December 31, 2009 @ 12:37 PM

  10. Samir Sabin3:41 PM

    This link should help you understand my position better:
    December 31, 2009 @ 12:56 PM

  11. Your citation of a wiki-type article on the FAIRMormon website is interesting, though I don't feel it is ultimately helpful to your cause. The article's author either doesn't actually understand the concepts he/she is addressing or else is being intentionally misleading. For example, the author writes, "But Trinitarians are not Monotheists by definition (just ask a Jew or Muslim)." As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the definition of Trinitarianism or monotheism (even the definitions given by the author) that requires that the two are somehow contradictory. Further, just asking a Jew or Muslim doesn't really mean anything. Actually, it is a really dumb thing to say in an article that is pretending to be authoritative. What if my whole argument was, Mormons are polytheists, just ask an Evangelical Protestant?

    Well, of course, that isn't my point. Polytheism, even using the definition given by the article you've cited is "worship of or belief in more than one god." Strictly speaking, Mormons do believe in the existence of more than one god whether or not they actually worship more than one. The article itself admits belief that the Father and Son are distinct gods and that humans can become gods. Mormonism is thus, a polytheistic religion. I don't mean that pejoratively, but rather descriptively.

    Later in the article, a quotation is provided that suggests that the "only reasonable definition of polytheism requires that plural gods be worshiped", but this definition contradicts that given by the same article earlier. I simply ask, why does polytheism require the worship of (and not simply the belief in) more than one god? Well, I could keep on about the article, but I won't take more time on it.

    My point stands, Mormonism adheres to the believe that there is more than one god in the universe -- that the creator of our earth has equals in other worlds. This belief is contrary to a Biblical world view which adheres strictly to absolute monotheism. (BTW - Trinitarianism is absolute monotheism)

  12. Now, a few more thoughts . . .

    Please demonstrate that Athanasius believed in the kind of deification of man that Mormons espouse.

    And, you asked, "So why aren't mormons christians? Because we don't adhere to the ecumenical councils and reject your conception of the trinity?"

    My answer is, Yes, that's pretty much exactly why Mormons aren't Christians in any meaningful sense of the term. If we define Christian as being someone who calls themselves a Christian, then okay, you're in. If we define Christian as one who follows the Jesus Christ of the Bible, then sorry. Mormons follow a "jesus" of their own invention that does not match up with the Jesus revealed in the Bible. For a short, simple article on the subject,

    You can also check out James White's videos related to mormonism at

    Thanks for the invitation to visit your church. If I go there, will I discover that actually mormon theology is rejected by mormons? If not, there is really no need to attend. I'm not saying that you guys are super nice and good-looking and all. Just that theologically you are not Christian.

    Now on to a very interesting quote from you, "Monotheism is a loaded term. Muslims consider all christians to be non-monotheists because of the nicene council conception of the trinity. Even maimonides, a famous 12th century rabbi, bended the meaning of the term further by categorizing many jews as polytheists or idolaters if they proscribed positive attributes to the divine or assigned corporeality to God."

    Can I ask you, how is monotheism a loaded term? Nothing in your paragraph actually explains why you think this is the case. Basically you are saying, "Monotheism is a loaded term because Muslims and Jews don't think Trinitarians are monotheists." But this isn't really much of an argument. Monotheism isn't really a difficult idea to grasp. It is the belief that there is only one god. What do you intend to communicate by saying "even Maimonides . . ."? Is this man supposed to be some kind of authority on determining what is and isn't monotheistic? Please explain.

    Lastly, you have claimed to know "many Hindus" who are self-proclaimed monotheists. How many? I'd be willing to bet a large sum of money that I know many times more Hindus than you personally and none of those that I know are monotheistic in their beliefs or self-identification.
    January 1, 2010 @ 9:17 PM

  13. Samir Sabin3:52 PM

    "My point stands, Mormonism adheres to the believe that there is more than one god in the universe -- that the creator of our earth has equals in other worlds."


    No one is equal to the glory of the heavenly father. Everything in the universe submits to his will. I would highly recommend taking the time to speaking with qualified individuals on the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints rather than learning from anti-mormon propaganda.

    Think of LDS theology in this manner: We believe that the Father is the primordial creator of our universe. The Father created Jesus (his son) and the holy spirit. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are divine figures. However, all of us (including them) will always be subjected to the reign and will of the Father. We use the term gods in reference to holy spirit and Jesus because they're divine and are not confined to the laws of nature as we know them. They're not Gods in the sense that they are supplant the role of The Father. Just because they have divinity does not mean they are equal or on par with the Father.

    The glory will forever belong to The Father. This is why mormons only pray to the Father because we recognize that he ALONE is the source of existence.

    "Thanks for the invitation to visit your church. If I go there, will I discover that actually mormon theology is rejected by mormons? If not, there is really no need to attend."

    I think you'll realize that you've been indoctrinated with a misunderstanding of mormon theology. I'm not a mormon because I want to become a God. I'm a mormon because I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. I'm a mormon because I love God. I'm a mormon because I love my neighbor.

    I went to the links you posted and they demonstrate the lack of understanding you have of our beliefs. You need to understand the basics of my beliefs before I elaborate on exaltation or theosis because of the potential for misunderstanding.

    "Can I ask you, how is monotheism a loaded term?"

    It's a loaded term because its inherently subjective and has shifted in meaning over the centuries. The notion there is some 'pure' or 'objective' definition of monotheism is nonsensical. I quoted Rabbi Maimonides who is the authoritative figure in Judaism to demonstrate that highly learned men rooted in biblical tradition can come to a different conclusion than your own on what it means to be monotheist.

    Now before you rush to call mormons polytheists or non-christians, please take the time to get to know and understand our beliefs. Let go of your preconceived notions and approach my faith with an open mind. Anything short of that is a demonstration of prejudice and ignorance.

    May I suggest that you watch this video:

    The one above is my favorite but watch all the videos to get a general sense what it means to be mormon. I would also take the time to cruise through and browse through the resources they have.

    “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)

    January 3, 2010 @ 12:24 AM

  14. Thanks again for your comments, Samir. Unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to everything you've said. Let me just say two things.

    1. In your last comment, you have confirmed that you believe in more than one "god" or "divine being". At minimum, you believe that the Holy Spirit and Jesus are "gods" existing in ontological distinction from the Father. This is contrary to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity which affirms a distinction of persons but unity of essence or being. That is, Trinitarianism teaches the existence of only one God who eternally exists in three, co-equal persons. At minimum, as I said, then you believe in 3 gods, the greatest of which is the Father. This is tri-theism, a form of polytheism.

    2. Do you believe this statement: "As man is, God once was, as God is man may become"? Do you believe that God the Father once lived on earth as a man like us? If so, did He ever sin?

    Thanks and blessings,

    January 5, 2010 @ 6:07 PM

  15. We have at the moment the Archbishop of Canterbury visiting Bangalore and having an inter-faith dialogue with the some of the Hindu leaders. I think this is an important move in building Hindu-Christian relations. I think more of such meetings should take place both in public and private.

  16. I agree wholeheartedly in the value of dialog. I love my "Hindu" friends - both those who follow Christ and those who don't and value listening to them and learning from them. This doesn't change the fact that I am a devotee of Jesus Christ and believe He is the Sarvalok EakaNatham, the unique Lord of all worlds. Thanks for your comment, Arun. Blessings.

  17. Thank you for responding to my note. Thank you for stating your position so clearly. I appreciate. I have come across some of the preachers emphasize being a disciple of Jesus Christ as more important than being just a devotee of him. How would you view this?
    God bless,

  18. Discipleship also is a nice concept within the Hindu worldview, so I don't have a problem with using a term like "shishya" interchangeably with "bhakta". But, bhakti or devotion is a very powerful concept within the Hindu frame of mind that not only allows for more effective communication of the message and person of Christ, but also highlights an important Biblical concept that Westerners tend to overlook. It's late and I'm far from home, but when I get back, hopefully I'll remember to look up an article on this and recommend it to you. Blessings!