March 12, 2012

Hinduism Versus Christianity and Islam

            There are people who believe that a river is a god. Or a goddess. It’s called the Ganga. The believers are the Hindus. They think it originates out of the head of a god called Shiva. BTW, that god also has a snake wrapped around his neck.
There are other gods in Hinduism one of whom has four hands and holds specific stuff in them. A god with four heads is there. And a goddess with 10 hands.
You won’t think with these sort of imaginative creations (or creators) being part of its collection, Hinduism might put up a fight with the major monotheistic religions of the world to claim the title of being the most rational religion or the one that makes the most sense. But I think these folks notwithstanding, the overall religion makes more sense than other religions.
If you look at the other religions (I have Islam and Christianity in mind specifically), they propose that specific humans were representatives of an unseen god. In the case of Christianity, Jesus, and in the case of Islam, Prophet Mohammed, are supposed to be the vehicles that god used to send messages to us humans.


What about the gods themselves? They’re left undefined in shape, amorphous. How can a creator be without physical shape? It’s much better to imagine the gods as human-like creatures — let the gods have more hands or heads than ordinary humans. These Hindu gods may be thought of as approximations of the real gods (to help humans by making things easy) who can have any shape or form and take on any shape or form. So Hindus have well-defined gods some of whom are male and others female. Hollywood has to do the job for Christians and imagines god to look like Morgan Freeman or Jack Nicholson.
We have with us ancient texts that are supposed to be the defining texts of these religions. These texts contain the golden rules, which we must adhere to. These texts contain the laws that we must abide by to be faithful to those religions. There are rewards and punishment schemes too for the faithful and the naughty ones.
These texts were evidently written 2,000 and 1,500 years ago at which time mankind was clearly far less advanced than it’s today. The pace of change has not always been as fast as it’s today.
Look at the feverish pace of change in computer microprocessors or the frenetic pace of change in cellphone technology or new kinds of computing devices or TVs being invented. We have made airplanes and flying mundane. We venture into space with rockets. We live in a time of magical technology.
Just imagine how quickly technology becomes obsolete. We won’t use a cellphone that was five years old, let alone ten.
Surely books that are a thousand and two thousand year old are of no relevance to us. But it’s argued and people are persuaded that those books are infallible precisely because they are so old.
Hinduism, while some of its texts are even older than the other two religions, has evolved over the centuries. Its influence has waxed and waned.
The rituals and worship of various idols is a recent phenomenon. The elephant headed god Ganesh has become a hit only in the last 100 years or so. Different gods are popular in different states of India. There’s no monolithic, inviolable structure. There’s no hierarchy of human interpreters of gods though the Brahmins who conduct the various religious rituals are apparently supposed to have hotlines or special affinity to god.
 Hinduism though lets people have a direct relationship with god by imagining how gods look like and then having temples where those gods live. The believers can have direct conversations with the gods.
Christianity meanwhile has a rigid hierarchy of priests with the pope at the top who function as the intermediaries and who are supposed to be somewhat more than mere humans and somewhat less than full-blown gods.
This business of endowing fallible humans with godly qualities and therefore infallibility is hugely risky. Through long periods of history, lots of crimes have been perpetrated either in the name of these religions or by people with evangelical purposes. Islam makes it quite clear that spreading religion was the primary purpose of life and that one day Islam must conquer all other religions and be the sole and all-pervading religion on Earth. Too many wars have been fought and too many people have died in the attempt to spread this religion.
Hinduism doesn’t have blood on its hands.
The other religions that are also deeply peaceful at their cores are Buddhism and Jainism.
The problem with religions is that we are creatures of habit. No one is born a Hindu or a Sikh or a Jew. Kids are atheists at birth. They learn from their surroundings. If a kid grows up surrounded by Islamic rituals and observing them, he imbibes them. If the same kid were to grow up in Christian surroundings, it would have been equally receptive to them.
One can perform interesting experiments if it were possible to have multiple lives. One could live 3 or 4 lives taking up different religions in each life by having parents belonging to those religions.
But alas, that’s not possible. It’s strange that in civilized society, more emphasis is not paid on giving equal space to all religions — if at all religion is to be given any space. Educated people should have the wisdom to realize that one’s religion is merely an accident of birth. And because our religious affiliation is mostly an accident, we got to realize that our own particular religion is no better than any other religion. Then why focus exclusively on our particular religion and ignore all the others? Parents should teach the tenets of all the religions to their kids and let the kids decide which religion it wants to adopt.
But no. Religion in the modern world has become mostly a cultural phenomenon. Each religion comes with its set of annual religious events and now a days they are merely excuses to have a holiday and get a respite from our frenetic, stressed out work lives and enjoy a holiday and perhaps enjoy good food and do similar non-stressful, enjoyable activities.
People are happy to let religion play the role it does on the occasion of various important milestones in our lives. Most religions (or probably all) have a role to play in marriages, births, and deaths. We spend our lives watching whatever rituals are performed and become familiar with them.
Thus a Hindu becomes used to the idea of a dead body being cremated while Muslims and Christians are used to the idea of burying the dead body. This becomes such a deep-seated habit that contrary suggestions will make people hugely uncomfortable. Have you recently tried suggesting to a Hindu to bury a recently dead relative? They’ll be aghast as if the dead old man or woman would feel uncomfortable inside the grave … being cramped for space and unable to breathe inside the casket.
Similarly, if you suggest cremation to a Christian or a Muslim, they will protest as if the dead person might get burnt were the dead body to be cremated.
So, we live our lives with many silly notions and are loath to let go of any of them.
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