Peter Kreeft

Comparing Christianity & Hinduism

There are two basic kinds of religions in the world: Eastern and Western.

The main differences between Hinduism and Christianity are typical of the differences between Eastern and Western religions in general. Here are some examples:

When C.S. Lewis was converted from atheism, he shopped around in the world's religious supermarket and narrowed his choice down to Hinduism or Christianity. Religions are like soups, he said. Some, like consomme, are thin and clear (Unitarianism, Confucianism, modern Judaism); others, like minestrone, are thick and dark (paganism, "mystery religions"). Only Hinduism and Christianity are both "thin" (philosophical) and "thick" (sacramental and mysterious). But Hinduism is really two religions: "thick" for the masses, "thin" for the sages. Only Christianity is both.

Hinduism claims that all other religions are yogas: ways, deeds, paths. Christianity is a form of bhakti yoga (yoga for emotional types and lovers). There is also jnana yoga (yoga for intellectuals), raja yoga (yoga for experimenters), karma yoga (yoga for workers, practical people) and hatha yoga (the physical preliminary to the other four). For Hindus, religions are human roads up the divine mountain to enlightenment-religion is relative to human need; there is no "one way" or single objective truth.

There is, however, a universal subjective truth about human nature: It has "four wants": pleasure, power, altruism and enlightenment. Hinduism encourages us to try all four paths, confident that only the fourth brings fulfillment. If there is reincarnation and if there is no hell, Hindus can afford to be patient and to learn the long, hard way: by experience rather than by faith and revelation.

Hindus are hard to dialogue with for the opposite reason Moslems are: Moslems are very intolerant, Hindus are very tolerant. Nothing is false; everything is true in a way.

The summit of Hinduism is the mystical experience, called mukti, or moksha: "liberation" from the illusion of finitude, realization that tat tvam asi, "thou art That (Brahman]." At the center of your being is not individual ego but Atman, universal self which is identical with Brahman, the All.

This sounds like the most absurd and blasphemous thing one could say: that I am God. But it is not that I, John Smith, am God the Father Almighty. Atman is not ego and Brahman is not God the Father. Hinduism identifies not the immanent human self with the transcendent divine self but the transcendent human self with the immanent divine self. It is not Christianity. But neither is it idiocy.

Martin Buber, in "I and Thou," suggests that Hindu mysticism is the profound experience of the "original pre-biographical unity" of the self, beneath all forms and contents brought to it by experience, but confused with God. Even Aristotle said that "the soul is, in a way, all things." Hinduism construes this "way" as identity, or inclusion, rather than knowing: being all things substantially rather than mentally. The soul is a mirror for the whole world.

From Fundamentals of the Faith by Ignatius Press.