“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of their choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly.” These remarks on religious tolerance were made by the Indian Prime Minister in February 2015. Hinduism is said to be tolerant to other religions because it holds that there are many ways which lead towards salvation (or spiritual liberation) and Hindus can select their deity from the wide pantheon of gods and goddesses conceived since time immemorial.
It is estimated that about 16% of the world’s population is Hindu. This increases to about 80% in India, Nepal and Bali (in Indonesia) and about 50% in Mauritius. The Hindu faith is polytheistic, although it is claimed that one supreme reality (Brahman) is manifested in many gods and goddesses. In this way Hinduism is different to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But is Hinduism consistent with the message of the Bible? Is it one of the ways to salvation and spiritual liberation?
True or false?
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.
The Jesus test
This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6 NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?
The gospel test
The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).
The fruit test
Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?
I have previously summarized Hinduism. These tests will now be used to assess the Hindu faith.
Testing the Hindu faith
The Jesus test
Hindus believe in one supreme god (Brahman) who created the universe. He is impersonal and all-pervasive. And he created many gods to be his helpers. There are thousands (and maybe millions) of Hindu gods that are considered to be different manifestations of Brahman. These gods and goddesses of Hinduism represent the many aspects of Brahman. So, Hinduism is neither only monotheistic nor only polytheistic, but has elements of both.
Brahman is not the same as the monotheistic personal God of Christianity, who is personal and is separate from His creation (Rom. 1:25). In Hinduism, God, the universe, human beings and all else is essentially one thing and everything is connected as part of the divine being. This means that Hindus worship literally everything and god is thought to be in every human being as Atman, the eternal Self. This is pantheism.
Because Hinduism involves image (idol) worship, it is included in those described by Paul as: “Yes, they knew God (through creation; v.19-20), but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. … They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created (idols) instead of the Creator Himself” (Rom. 1:21-25NLT).
Hinduism is also unlike the Christian trinity of one God in three persons. God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit have similar attributes whereas there is greater distinction among the Hindu deities, which have different mythologies and personalities.
Jesus isn’t mentioned in any of the numerous Hindu scriptures (as most were written before His time) and none of the legion of Hindu gods is like Jesus. So, the Hindu religion says nothing directly about Jesus Christ. But Hindus may think that Jesus was a holy man, a guru (teacher) or a god. However, they wouldn’t see Jesus as the only way to God. At best, He would be one god amongst the many gods that they worship.
Hindus believe that Krishna was the eighth “avatar” (incarnation) of the god Vishnu. Could Jesus also be an avatar? In Hinduism, an avatar is the bodily incarnation of a deity on earth. But Jesus was not an avatar because He is fully human and fully God. Hindus could also consider Jesus to be a great teacher like Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. But Jesus wasn’t the reincarnation of Krishna because after His death, He was resurrected, not reincarnated.
What does the Hindu religion imply about Jesus Christ? By worshipping many other gods instead of Christ, the implication is that these gods are greater than Christ. Like Hinduism, people in the Greek and Roman empires worshipped many Gods. What does the New Testament say about this? When the Thessalonians became followers of Christ, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us (believers) from the coming wrath” (1 Th. 1:9-10). The God who was living and true is contrasted against idols that were dead and false gods. They had learnt that God “doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve His needs—for He has no needs” (Acts 17:24-25NLT). The Corinthians were told to separate from idol worship (2 Cor. 6:16-17). John repeats this message that Christians should “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). The true God is said to be God the Father or God the Son (Jesus), while idols are false gods.
Paul described the state of the Corinthians before they became Christians as “you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols” (1 Cor. 12:2NLT). Their idols were lifeless! But how were they being “led astray and swept along”? The Bible says that idolatry is associated with demon worship (Rev. 9:20). And it’s the work of Satan (2 Cor. 6:15-16). So they were being led astray and swept along by Satan and his demons! That’s why Paul was “was greatly distressed to see that the city (of Athens) was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).
Because the Hindu faith is polytheistic it can be associated with the idea that all paths lead to God and that there are many paths which lead towards salvation or spiritual liberation. Hinduism emphasizes that everyone actually worships the same God, whether one knows it or not. This is pluralism (all worldviews are equally valid and there are many paths to salvation), which can help tolerance of other beliefs. But the Bible teaches that we can only know God through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). This means that the idea that multiple religions are true or equally valid (religious pluralism) is false.
Except in matters of ethics and moral conduct, there is very little in common between the teachings of Jesus and the main teachings of Hinduism. So, Hinduism clearly fails the Jesus test. Hindus don’t believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God whose sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection solved the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. They don’t believe that Jesus came to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.
The gospel test
The ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is liberation from the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation) and to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. This is the Hindu core belief or hope. There are two problems with this goal: the problem being addressed and the solution that is offered.
The problem being addressed in Hinduism is the seemingly endless cycle of birth and death (reincarnation). The Bible shows that humanity is the special creation of God, created in God’s image with both a material body and an immaterial soul and spirit. People are distinct and unique from all other creatures—angels and the animal kingdom. The Bible teaches that at death, while a person’s body is mortal (it decays and returns to dust) their soul and spirit continue to either a place of torment for those who reject Christ or paradise (heaven) in God’s presence for those who have trusted in the Savior. Both categories of people will be resurrected, one to eternal judgment and the other to eternal life with a glorified body (Jn. 5:25-29). The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This makes it clear that humanity only dies once and is then judged on the life they have lived. One is not born again in an endless cycle of death and rebirth, and its opportunities to improve one’s karma. The Bible never mentions people having a second chance at life or coming back as different people or animals. As Larry Norman sang, “you live once and you die once, with no re-incarnate episodes”.
We have seen that the idea of reincarnation is a false teaching. But this is the main problem addressed by the Hindu faith! Their core belief or hope is the product of human imagination! On the other hand, the Christian faith addresses the problem of sin (rejection of God’s revelation in creation and in Jesus Christ) and its consequences. We will now look at the solution being offered.
Because the Hindu social division and hierarchy is believed to be based on rebirth and karma, good works and striving to please God play an important role in a Hindu’s way of life. A Hindu may seek to earn salvation and liberation through good works and a good life. Other ways that Hindus seek salvation are True Knowledge (scholarly study), devotion to a god, or meditation. These are also things that people can do to attain union with the Brahman (god). Yes, good works do please God, but only the good works and the good and sinless life of Jesus. The Bible says that it was Jesus’ good work (sacrifice) on the cross that will get us salvation and liberation!
Ways that Hindus can overcome sin and impurity include: fines and punishments, confession (but this is not mandatory), penances, fasting, virtuous conduct, self-control, celibacy, nonviolence, truthfulness, austere living, practice of silence, concentration, rituals, sacrifices, prayers, mantras, recitation of sacred texts, rituals, pilgrimages to holy places, bathing in sacred rivers, yoga, meditation, meeting Hindu saints and gurus, virtuous conduct, and charity. Once again, these are all good works.
Our good works are not good enough. Larry Norman also sang, “you can’t hitchhike to heaven or get there by just being good”. The Bible says that most of the work of salvation is done by God and not by us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
Because one’s past karma determines our current life, the idea of incarnation and karma leads to fatalism. This means that the accumulated good or bad in our past lives defines the conditions of our current life. The only hope is that one’s good works will lead to salvation in the next life. This is different to Christianity where through God’s grace we can have our sins forgiven and the hope of heaven.
The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Hinduism is a religion of salvation by works.
A Hindu’s salvation is never guaranteed; they don’t know how much meditation or yoga they need to do or how many lives they will live before reaching moksha (Hindu heaven). By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).
So, Hinduism fails the gospel test.
The fruit test
Hinduism is often said to be a tolerant religion. But India is included in the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Following an increase in religiously motivated (Hindu) nationalism, India has climbed to its highest ever ranking of 15. It was ranked between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. This is equivalent to a “very high” level of persecution. Most of the countries where it is more difficult to live as a Christian than in India (except North Korea) are Islamic.
Open Doors reports that since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in 2014, radical Hinduism has increased steadily. Some of those who have left Hinduism to follow Jesus have been attacked and even killed by their own parents. On average, more than 15 Christians were physically attacked every week in India in 2016. Some of these attacks have come from Hindu extremists. They particularly target believers who have converted from Hinduism; these believers face daily harassment and have been beaten, hospitalized and even killed. Protestant Christian communities are the second main target because of their involvement in outreach activities and conversions.
Christians are also facing increasing pressure on a national level. Several states have implemented anti-conversion laws to prevent people from leaving Hinduism and the ruling BJP desire to make these laws nation-wide. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians. With the Indian government refusing to speak out against the atrocities being carried out against Christians and other minorities, the situation is expected to get worse. Hindus that convert to Christianity are rejected by their family. Their family is affected as well by suffering shame in their Hindu society.
In February 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report on “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India”. They note:
– “Anti-conversion laws” in seven Indian states, and discrimination based upon caste and religion.
– Since 2014, when the BJP took power, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion (to Hinduism) have escalated dramatically.
– Although discrimination due to caste is prohibited in the constitution, the caste system, which is discriminatory at its root, remains a fundamental part of Hinduism. Under this system, the “untouchables”, or Dalits, have faced unique discrimination, the only parallel of which was apartheid in South Africa. Many Dalits are Christians. In fact, Dalits account for two-thirds of India’s Christian population, who number more than 80 million, or 7% of India’s total population.
– Religious minorities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of judicial consistency.
– Religious freedom in India will never be achieved unless the country is willing to make substantial amendments to its constitution and legal framework.
The findings of this report were rejected by the Indian external affairs ministry.
In April 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report which noted:
– Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers perpetrated numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits. These violations were most “frequent and severe” in 10 of India’s 29 States. National and State laws that restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations helped create the conditions enabling these violations.
– While the Prime Minister spoke publicly about the importance of communal tolerance and religious freedom, members of the ruling party have ties to Hindu nationalist groups implicated in religious freedom violations, and used religiously divisive language to inflame tensions.
– Police and judicial bias and inadequacies have created a pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.
Although it’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively, these three separate reports mention persecution of religious minorities and a lack of religious freedom in India. And there is even discrimination against low-caste Hindus.
What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Hindu faith encourages?
Results of the tests
We have seen that the Hindu faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
In a previous post it was noted that Hinduism is both polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P). This is not surprising because most of the Hindu scriptures were written between 1500BC and 500BC. During this period, the deities of the following nations were also polytheistic and pantheistic (P&P): Egypt, Phoenicia (Canaan), Babylon, and Greece. In fact, this was probably a characteristic of all the Gentile nations at that time. It was also characteristic of previous nations (such as Mesopotamia) and following nations (such as the Roman Empire). By the way, pantheistic religions are probably polytheistic, but are polytheistic religions pantheistic?
What does the Bible say about such P&P religions?
– About 2000BC Abraham left the P&P religion in Ur of the Chaldeans (in Mesopotamia) to live in the land of Canaan and to follow the monotheistic God who created the universe.
– About 1750BC when Jacob left Paddan Aram (in upper Mesopotamia), his wife Rachael stole her father’s P&P household gods (Gen. 31:19, 30, 32, 35). When he arrived back in Canaan, Jacob buried all their foreign P&P gods (Gen. 35:2-4).
– About 1450BC when the Israelites left Egypt in the exodus, God told them to stop practicing the P&P religion of the Egyptians and gave them commands on how to follow the true monotheistic God.
– About 1500BC when the Israelites conquered and settled in Canaan, God warned them not to follow the P&P religion of the Canaanites and the surrounding nations.
– Between 1380BC and 1050BC the Israelites forsook the God that brought them out of Egypt and followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them (Jud. 2:10-13). They intermarried with these peoples and served their P&P gods (Jud. 3:5-6). Consequently, the Israelites were punished by God and brought back to serving the true monotheistic God by a series of judges.
– Between 930BC and 722BC Israel was divided into two kingdoms and the northern kingdom followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire.
– Between 700BC and 586BC, the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah) often followed the P&P religion of the peoples around them. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of the consequences of following these false religions. They were punished by God when they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
– the 70-year exile in Babylon decimated the nation of Israel and seemed to cure those who returned to Judah from following P&P religions. But it took over 900 years for them to learn this lesson!
– In the 1st century AD, the New Testament apostles, such as Peter and Paul, preached against the P&P religion of the Roman Empire.
Note the similarities between Hinduism and the P&P religions mentioned in the Bible. Hindus have household P&P gods like Laban. Since 2000BC God has distinguished Himself from P&P religions. By reading the Bible we can see repeated warnings against P&P religions. These warnings were given over a period of more than 1,500 years. Why not check this for yourself by reading the Bible?
Paul said that P&P gods are not real gods (Acts 19:26). He knew that they “cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Dt. 4:28; Dan. 5:23; Rev. 9:20). And that they are the work of Satan and his demons (2 Cor. 6:15-16; Rev. 9:20).
The clearest biblical arguments against pantheism are the numerous commands against idolatry. The Bible forbids the worship of idols, angels, celestial objects, and items in nature. If pantheism were true, it would not be wrong to worship such an object, because that object would, in fact, be divine. If pantheism were true, worshipping a rock or an animal would have just as much validity as worshipping God as an invisible and spiritual being. The Bible’s clear and consistent denunciation of idolatry is a conclusive argument against pantheism. So, Hinduism, which is based on pantheism, is a false religion.
Hinduism regards itself as an ancient religion. However, this is not a good attribute because such ancient P&P religions were soundly denounced many years ago by the Bible. In this sense, Hinduism is a retrograde religion. It’s like the religions that were denounced by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament.
Some Hindus are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is Hindu teachings, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Hindus are “trusting in deceptive words that are worthless” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case, the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets were that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Hindu meditation. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement! In Hinduisms case, the deceptive words come from Hindu teachings which are false. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Hindu teachings, Hindus follow many “other gods”.
We have tested Hinduism against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which is the product of human imagination, and which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Hindus don’t worship the same God as Christians.
Written, August 2017