Don't feel like you belong?
by Edward T. Babinski
Have you heard of a classic sci-fi novel called Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein? It's about a boy raised by Martians who then travels to earth, and truly feels like a stranger in a strange land, like he doesn't belong. It's a great story, and also involves man's search for religious truth as a major theme. It was very popular during the 60's along with Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Also, Woody Allan's comedic prose works are also classics, in the humor section of any major bookstore, GETTING EVEN, WITHOUT FEATHERS, and, SIDE EFFECTS. They are all written I suppose from the point of view of someone who doesn't belong, which is to say from the viewpoint of a Jew in modern day society, in this case a neurotic obsessive one, obsessed with such basic matters as religion, sex, and death. The stories he invents in "Hassidic Tales" as told by "famous rabbis" of the past are fall-off-your-chair funny.
Also, there was a letter sent to the website www.billhicks.com years ago. I can't find it at the moment. But it was the tale of a kid who felt he didn't fit in. He wanted to do something dreadful to himself, because he felt like nobody truly understood him. Then he discovered the comedy of Bill Hicks, and felt for the first time like somebody else really understood him. It was a great letter. Moments like those are great.
I thought I was going to pieces when I was a fundamentalist and when I began to realize how much other people believed in their religions. They were sure as I was, and just as compassionate and kind.
Which reminds me of an e-mail I rec'd just the other day which said, "I think the Chr. Reconstuctionists make a good case that other religions, such as Hinduism produce terrible consequences for humanity."
And I replied:
I have no particular love for any particular religion. But certainly Christians of all people, have no right to criticize the consequences and history of another religion. For all of Hinduism's faults, it never produced slavery. The caste system, yes, but slavery, no. Heck, even Medieval Christianity had a _caste_ system of _inherited_ nobility, kings, lords, all the way down to peasants. And during the Medieval ages when king Asoka ruled India he made it a rule that all religions should be respected. There was peace during his reign and freedom of religion, while in Europe and the Middle East there was the Thirty Years' War. Asoka even entertained Jesuits in his court, and allowed them to speak their views..
I also have read about the marvelous attempts by some Hindus to spread the news about birth control, which the Catholics in their country are attempting to thwart. One female who works with poor Indians and who teaches them birth control says that the families that have only a few children are much better off, since they can concentrate on those few children and they grow up well and whole, while the old way of having as many children as possible, and wearing down the health of the wife and stretching the budget for the children until some inevitably die, is a much worse way to go. She has proven this is true via the lives of the women she has worked with. Yet Mother Teresa tells India and the world they must go the other way.
Interesting is the fact that the 1996 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion was Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (which also subsidizes Josh McDowell Ministries!). But the very next year the winner was a Hindu, Shastri Athavale, whose spiritual and social activism was inspired by the The Bhagavad Gita. Athavale has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to spend two weeks or more visiting India's poorest villages where they seek to advance the self-respect and economic condition of those they visit. For more than four decades Athavale has taught that service to God is incomplete without service to humanity.
Perhaps you've heard of Sundar Singh, the Sikh convert to Christianity? He was quite famous in his day. But he made plain his view that, "There are many more people among us in India who lead a spiritual life than in the West, although they do not know or confess Christ...It is of course true that people who live in India worship idols; but here in England people worship themselves, and that is still worse. Idol-worshippers seek the truth, but people over here, so far as I can see, seek pleasure and comfort...The people of the West understand how to use electricity and how to fly in the air. The men of the East have sought the truth. Of the three Wise Men who went to Palestine to see Jesus not one was from the West.'". Heiler, p. 217.
Neither was Sundar afraid to raise his voice in favor of "universalism." He could never deny to all non-Christians the possibility of entering heaven (as fundamentalist and hard-line evangelicals, like McDowell, do). In 1925 Sundar wrote, "If the Divine spark in the soul cannot be destroyed, then we need despair of no sinner... Since God created men to have fellowship with Himself, they cannot for ever be separated from Him...After long wandering, and by devious paths, sinful man will at last return to Him in whose Image he was created; for this is his final destiny.". Sundar Singh, Meditations on Various Aspects of the Spiritual Life (London, Macmillan, 1925).
In February, 1929, the year Sundar disappeared on his final missionary trip to Tibet, he was interviewed by several theology students in Calcutta, India, where he answered their questions: "(Question #1) What did the Sadhu think should be our attitude towards non-Christian religions? - The old habit of calling them 'heathen' should go. The worst 'heathen' were among us [Christians].
By the way, C.S. Lewis' close lifelong friend, Bede Griffiths, became a Catholic monk and ran a Chrisitan-Hindu ashram in India for decades, devoting his life to inter-religious dialogue, and grew to love Hindus and Hinduism so much he wrote books praising Hindusim's most sublime aspects, even defending it against papal ignorance and misunderstandings. Griffiths also got Lewis to admit in a letter that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it may make him very much worse, a "devil," as Lewis himself admitted to Griffiths in one of the last letters Lewis penned.
HINDUISM AND EASTERN RELIGIONS
In the little self-contained Christian "world" view of evangelists there is no room for Hinduism. Yet for millions of devout Hindus there remains room for Christianity and Christ's divinity. Hinduism in that sense encompasses a wider range of faith than Christianity.
There are even what one might call "fundamentalist" Hindus, like the one who asked Joseph Campbell, "What do scholars think of the Vedas [the most ancient Hindu holy books]?" Campbell answered, "The dating of the Vedas has been reduced to 1500 to 1000 B.C., and there have been found in India itself the remains of an earlier civilization than the Vedic." "Yes," said the Indian gentleman, "I know; but as an orthodox Hindu I cannot believe that there is anything in the universe earlier than the Vedas.". Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), p. 54.
It's obvious that the study of the world's holy books by historical, archeological and literary scholars continues to provoke tension and discomfort in "Vedic believing" Hindus, "Koran believing" Moslems, and "Bible believing" Christians (like McDowell).. Philip H. Ashby's The Conflict of Religions (published around 1960), describes the conflict in the major world religions between modern scientific knowledge and old religious traditions. Christianity is not the only religion being "attacked" by "devilish liberals." Traditionalists in all the world's religions feel threatened by the insights that scholars bring to light whenever such scholars are free from having to parrot inherited dogma. So there is nothing "unique" about "Bible believing" Christians in that respect.
Furthermore, there are millions of devout Hindus more moved by the story of Krishna in the Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, than by the story of Jesus. As one Indian Catholic priest candidly told a British journalist, "Although my family had been Christians for generations and I had been through the full rigors of a Jesuit training, I still, in my heart of hearts, feel closer to the God Krishna than to Jesus.". Mark Tully, "Lives of Jesus" in The Illustrated London News, Christmas Issue, 1996, p. 33. (In Indian courts of law, people swear with their hand on The Bhagavad Gita not the Bible, and there are even popular Indian books with titles like, The Bhagavada Gita for Executives by V. Ramanathan.)
There are also millions of devout Buddhists more moved by stories of the Buddha and his disciples. See Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, The Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy (1997). than by stories of Jesus and his. Anagarika Dharmapala, a nineteenth century Buddhist, commented, "The Nazarene carpenter had no sublime teachings to offer, and understandably so, because his parables not only reveal a limited mind, but they also impart immoral lessons and impractical ethics...The few illiterate fishermen of Galilee followed him as he promised to make them judges to rule over Israel [appealing to relatively 'base' desires according to Buddhist teachings - ED.]." To such Buddhists, "Jesus is a spiritual dwarf before Buddha, the spiritual giant." A J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs, 2nd Ed., Revised and Enlarged (The Flatwood Free Press: Alabama, 1995), p. 237.
Oddly enough, one version of the Buddha's life that reached Europe from India underwent subtle changes along the way, until the Buddha became a Christian saint! According to that version the "prince" who "lived in India" was named "Josaphat," and he was a "Great Renouncer." Research into the origins of "Saint Josaphat," revealed that the Latin name, "Josaphat," was based on an earlier version of the story in which the Greek name "Ioasaph" was used, which came from the Arabic "Yudasaf," which came from the Manichee "Bodisaf," which came from "Bodhisattva" in the original story of the Buddha. (A "Bodhisattva" is a person who achieves great spiritual enlightenment yet remains on earth to help others.) Thus the Buddha came to be included in Butler's Lives of the Saints.. See Leonard Swidler, "The Buddha Revered As A Christian Saint," The Catholic World, May/June 1989, p. 121; and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Towards a World Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1988), pp. 7-11.
Also, some of the earliest Jesuit missionaries to China, who read the Far Eastern book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching, returned to Rome and requested that that book be added to the Bible, because it contained teachings on non-violence, love and humility that paralleled and preceded Jesus' teachings by hundreds of years. (Many of those parallels are commented on in The Tao of Jesus: An Exercise in Inter-Traditional Understanding by Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A, Wan-Li Ho, and Chang-Shin Jih.)
Eastern religions also feature stories of miracles and visions, along with stories of saintly Hindus and Buddhists who died beautifully and serenely. In some cases a sweet flowery odor is said to have come from their corpses. In another case a corpse allegedly turned into flowers at death. All in all, the stories rival those of Catholic saints and their miracles. In fact, "sainthood" is a phenomenon common to all the world's religions.. Richard Kieckhefer and George D. Bond, eds., Sainthood: Its Manifestations in World Religions (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988). Needless to say, reading about Hinduism and Buddhism in books written by Josh McDowell is no substitute for reading books written by Hindus and Buddhists. A tour of any large bookstore can provide plenty of interesting titles by both Hindu and Buddhist authors.. Here is a list of books on Hinduism (none of which were written by hard-line Christian apologists): The Hindu Phenomenon by Girilal Jain; Hindus and Others by Gyanendra Pandey; Hinduism for the Next Generation by V. Krishnamurthy; Recovery of Faith by Radhakrishnan; An Autobiography by M. K. Gandhi; Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda; The Mind of Swami Vivekananda by Gautam Sen; The Mind of Adi Shankaracharya by Y. Keshava Menon; Ramakrishna and His Disciples by Christopher Isherwood; Living Biographies of Great Religious Leaders by H. Thomas & Dana Lee Thomas; Truth is Two-Eyed by John A. T. Robinson (Christianity as seen through Eastern eyes and Hinduism as seen through Western eyes). Not to forget the magazine, Hinduism Today.
Right now secular and governmental charities feed more people worldwide than religious ones do. One thanksgiving there was an aritcle in USA Today that listed the three major organizations in America that feed the hungry and not one of them was related to any particular Christian denomination or even to Christianity as a whole. Check out the United Way sometime and the listing of all the charities in your area. See how many of them are "church-related." Church-related charities do a good job of parading around their righteousness in the public square like the Pharisees.
If it wasn't for a host of scientists who happened to be either lapsed churchgoers, heretics, apostates, infidels, agnostics, or atheists, and their successes in the fields of agricultural and medical science, hundreds of millions would have starved to death or suffered innumerable diseases this past century. Those agricultural and medical scientists "multiplied more loaves of bread" and "prevented/healed more diseases" in the past fifty years than Christianity has in the past two thousand.
Also, Florence Nightengale, the woman who made nursing a legitimate profession, was a lesbian who disdained institutionalized religion. The founder of the International Red Cross, Andre Dunant, was gay. The founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, was a freethinker. And Helen Keller, the blind and deaf woman who proved an inspiration to sufferers of severe disabilities, was a humanist.