Monday, December 21, 2009

Christianity: West's default religion?


I had to read and re-read Christianity: West's default religion by Sandhya Jain. On first reading, I took offence at the intimation that the problem of Islam should be sicced on the West – and it still bothers me.

Contrary to what the author says, the recent Swiss vote to ban minarets does not represent "a frontal return of Christianity." Europe is largely secular in its orientation and post-Christian (the same cannot be said about America). Since WWII, Europe has lost the will to fight, if it ever had the will to fight: the U.S. and British, in an opportunistic alliance with the Soviet Union, crushed Nazism on its Eastern and Western fronts. By abandoning Christianity, Europe has no ideology that can effectively counter Islam.

Western politicians have sold out their people through alliances with Muslim states for oil. The philosophy of cultural relativism has also eroded Western confidence in itself. I see the Swiss vote to ban minarets as a baby step by its citizens to reclaim its culture and its way of life. This does not mean a Christian resurgence in Europe, the return of The Crusades, and expanding missionary activities.

Upon re-reading this article, I do have to agree with the author on the following:

The Swiss vote has caused a frisson of excitement in traditional and secular circles in India, with some Hindus hallucinating about a ‘natural’ alliance with the Christian West to mutually crush Islam. This foolish hope once soared after the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, and Hindus in particular and Indians in general failed to comprehend why Pakistan emerged as the West’s leading non-NATO ally.

… Should Hindus respond to a Western Crusade against Islam, the result will be similar to our experience in World War II, where the 2.5 million-strong Indian Army won the war for the colonial West, only to be betrayed back at home. The British eventually quit India in 1947 only because of the military mutinies inspired by Subhash Chandra Bose, and they successfully cut up the nation before leaving, retaining critical territory in the form of a land bank called Pakistan …

Neither the Government of India nor Western government have the guts or will to stand up to Islam and its expansionist aims on society. Both are in denial. Even if there were awareness and will, India is not strong enough on its own. India will have to employ cunning (something it lacks and which Pakistan and China have in abundance) and enter into opportunistic alliances, as the Americans and British did with the Soviet Union in WWII.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Vedanta Society and ecumenicism


I received an email announcing new titles in the Vedanta Catalog. Prints of this picture of the Madonna and baby Jesus are offered for sale as a greeting card or art print:

According to the Vedanta Catalog,

It was in Jadulal Mallik's garden house where Ramakrishna first saw the painting. He intently studied the image of the Madonna and Child thinking of the wonderful life of Jesus. Rays of light emanated from the bodies of Mother Mary and the child Jesus, entering Ramakrishna's heart. The overpowering experience forced Ramakrishna to forget his Hindu awareness. He even forgot to visit the Divine Mother in the temple so strong was his love of Christ.

I agree with Pt. Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley) that the Ramakrishna Mission ascribes too much to Ramakrishna's forays into other religions. According to him, Sri Ramakrishna's forays into other religions were highly unorthodox and lasted only a few days apiece: for most of his life, Sri Ramakrishna was content to be a priest for Kali at Dakshineswar.

On the basis of these brief forays into other practices, Vedanta temples are decorated with symbols of different religions. Swami Vivekananda expressed the need for a temple that united Hindus of all sampradayas under the symbol of "Aum."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Other reviews of The Hindus: An Alternative History


To follow up on my review of The Hindus: An Alternative History, here are links to two other reviews:

Doniger Imagined History
The Hindu American Foundation poses two questions to Doniger and the Academy:

1) Do academics that study religion as non-believers share a responsibility to consider or respect the religious beliefs ascribed by adherents to their scripture?

2) Is Freudian psychoanalysis relevant to deconstructing scripture, its divine and human characters (the latter now dead) and its earliest believers (also now dead) from several millenia ago, and what, if any value do these interpretations offer?

Oh, But You Do Get It Wrong!
Aditi Banerjee fisks (deconstructs) the points that Doniger made in an interview with Outlook India. Banerjee writes in her introduction:

[Doniger] (1) falsely and unfairly brands all of her critics as right-wing Hindutva fundamentalists, and (2) grossly mischaracterizes (and misquotes) the text of the Valmiki Ramayana, calling into question her “alternative” version not just of the Ramayana, but also of Hinduism and Hindu history as a whole.

Ms. Banerjee notes that Doniger plays "both the sex card and the race card" to claim that her critics ("the Hindutva types") are discriminating against her. More accurately, Doniger plays three cards: religion (she's not Hindu), caste (she's not Brahmin, which follows from her not being Hindu), and gender (she's a woman).

The second part of Ms. Banerjee's opinion piece is a lengthy descontruction of Doniger's interpretation of Valmiki's Ramayana. Doniger's interpretation is rife with inaccuracies, error, and of course, her obsession with sex.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Review of The Hindus: An Alternative History


The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago is really not a history at all. In her book, Doniger retells Hindu stories and provides snarky interpretations. One story is about fusing the head of a Brahmin woman onto the body of a Dalit woman. Doniger provides several variants of the theme of transposed heads.

As I read The Hindus: An Alternative History, I became aware of a pattern: it was as though several authors were writing as Wendy Doniger.

Chapter 18, Philosophical Feuds in South India and Kashmir: 800 to 1300 CE, follows the historical timeline, but is thematically out of place. This chapter discusses the influences that South Indian Shaivism and Kashmiri Shaivism had on each other. This topic could be the subject of its own book.

The whitewash of the plight of Hindus under Mughal rule in Chapters 19 and 20 should come as no surprise. Doniger dedicated her book to William Dalrymple, who romanticizes Mughal India. In her acknowledgements, Doniger singles out Dalrymple for giving her the inspiration to write this book. For a deconstruction of the coverage on Mughal rule of India in The Hindus: An Alternative History, read the essay Hinduism Studies and Dhimmitude in the American Academy by Professor M. Lal Goel.

On the other hand, Chapter 21, Class, Caste, and Conversion in the British Raj, is a sober, even somber exposition of the plight of Hindus and Hinduism under the Raj.

Chapter 23, Hindus in America, reads as though a high school student wrote it, as its skips through examples of how America pop culture has appropriated Hinduism. The chapter does not discuss the establishment of Vedanta centers (for example, St. Louis has had a dedicated building since the 1950s, and the presence of a swami since 1938), waves of Hindu migration to the U.S., acceptance in American society, or establishment of Hindu organizations and institutions, including temples. Although Doniger stridently defends her right as a non-Hindu to tell the story about Hindus and Hinduism, this is one chapter that a Hindu American should have written.

The changes in tone between chapters suggest that there were many writers. Doniger acknowledges the role of her students in contributing to individual chapters, but I suspect that there is more to it to that: namely, the time-honored tradition of having students doing the professor’s work. Call it Doniger's "transposed heads."

Doniger writes in her book The Hindus: An Alternative History, “…the wild misconceptions that most Americans have of Hinduism need to be counteracted precisely by making Americans aware of the richness and human depth of Hindu texts and practices” [page 653], which, according to her, is the purpose of her book.

After completing The Hindus: An Alternative History, I doubt that Americans who read this book without prior introduction to Hinduism would come away with any admiration for Hinduism. It saddens me that one of the appeals of this book to American readers is the dropping of references to pop culture.

I recommend The Hindus: An Alternative History only to those readers who have had a prior introduction to Hinduism. This book requires critical evaluation. Americans who would like a better understanding of Hinduism should consult sources like the Vedanta Catalog for good books on Hinduism. If I might be so immodest, I also recommend that they browse my website and blog, and shop my eStore for books about India and Hinduism.