Open Letter to a Hindu

mind_the_gap_logo_by_rrward

Sometimes we say things to edify one audience that inadvertently hurt another.

Such was the case for me last week. Noticing an unusual number of visitors to my blog coming from an unfamiliar site, I decided to track down the source. My heart sank when I saw its title: When They Call Your God a Demon.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

I groaned as I read the rest of the post, feeling the pain I had caused this American Hindu. This is not the first time I have felt myself caught between two worlds, able to see from opposing perspectives but unable to reconcile them without tossing integrity out the window. Hindus graciously accept all sincerely pursued paths as leading to the same God; Jesus claims to be the exclusive way to God. While I clearly fall on one side of this gap, I want to remain sensitive and relevant to those who live on the other.

The following is my attempt to love my neighbor without compromising my love for God. It also explains why I have taken down my earlier post about Toppling Giants.

Hi Deepika,

I am the author of that article. To remain silent would be to continue the breakdown in dialogue between us, so I have been praying for wisdom and grace in my reply.

For starters, I commend you for your fair treatment of my article. You neither attacked me nor exaggerated my position.

I confess that, at times, I too have struggled to understand and accept the aspects of my God that are violent or exclusive. When I read His Scriptures and talk about Him with others, these are not what I focus on. I marvel at His love and His beauty, His slowness to anger and His quickness to forgive. I wonder at the vastness of His creation and the intimacy of His relationship with so many different kinds of people, including me.

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Acts 17:29-30

And yet, if I am honest with the claims He makes about Himself, I cannot deny that an integral part of His character is His claim as the Most High God and His call for the loving allegiance of all He has created. I feel the offensiveness of this, especially when I consider it through the eyes of the many Hindus I have the privilege of calling my dear friends. I want to find a way around these claims, to redefine the aspects of my God that conflict with their core values and faith so that we can carry on in relationship similar to the one you described in your article.

But to do so would be to invent my own god. We can choose which god we worship, but if we start picking and choosing which of His characteristics we accept and which ones we reject, we are really just creating our own illusion.

So I am stuck between conflicting loyalties. And at the end of the day, I choose God. I believe that He is the source of my love for others, and that He loves them more than I do. But I still don’t understand how that all plays out, and I would be lying if I said that I am perfectly comfortable with it.

The truth is, I cannot be true to my God and change what I believe about yours.

Having said all that, I hurt with you over the disrespect you felt over my article. How can I say derogatory things about your god without insulting you? This is the dilemma I have felt for years. The truth is, I cannot be true to my God and change what I believe about yours. But the last thing I want to do is insult or attack you. I may think and pray along the lines of what I wrote, but I feel it was inappropriate (and perhaps even unloving) of me to write it in a public forum. Please forgive me. I have removed the article from my site, and will try to be more careful in what I publish in the future.

There is this ongoing tension between airing opinions that are true to ourselves but offensive to others. I’m not sure where the line should fall on that. To be frank, I usually avoid sites like yours because your opinions are associated with experiences that have been extremely painful and damaging for me. I know you don’t mean it that way, and I am not implying that you shouldn’t write freely about what you believe. But there truly are two sides of this coin. I imagine you are familiar with the tantric side of Kali. We used to live down the street from a tantric ashram, with skulls stacked up at the entrance and fearful rumors among the poor in the neighboring Hindu community that each month one of their children went missing as a human sacrifice. I know this is the not the aspect of Hinduism that you promote, but it is there within the system. For me, even a benevolent picture of the mother goddess brings back dark memories.

So I resort to affirming my love for Him first, but also to affirming my love for you.

So what is the way forward in demonstrating love and respect towards each other even as we experience major hangups over each other’s gods? I don’t think either of us would suggest that we give up our own gods. I am aware of my own competitive, selfish tendencies enough to know that the love and compassion I feel for you is a product of the Spirit of God flowing through me. Apart from Him, I would be a pretty lousy friend. So I resort to affirming my love for Him first, but also to affirming my love for you. I hope you can accept me on those terms.

Sincerely,
Tiffany

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7 thoughts on “Open Letter to a Hindu”

  1. This is Rumi’s advice…

    Put what salve you have on yourself.
    Point out to everyone the disease you are.
    That’s part of getting well.
    When you lance yourself that way,
    you become more merciful and wiser.

    1. It would seem that the Christian version would critically include getting salve from others and help from others. For example, Gal 6:1–2. I’m not sure if this is actually contradictory with what you’ve said, but I would like to emphasize the community aspect. There is also this:

      And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor 12:26)

      Sadly, many Christians do not seem to believe this. I have no idea what most other religions believe, although I know at least some forms of Buddhism would instinctively agree with the above.

      1. I was just sitting in a N.T. Wright lecture last night and was inspired all over again with the centrality of being part of a new creation, one in which “brothers live together in unity” (Psalm 133) and followers of Christ manifest His humility, self-control, reverence, and love in a way that “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:10)

        Sadly, when it comes to interfaith dialogue, we tend to polarize ourselves into either ignoring Jesus’ claims for the sake of unity or lobbing “Bible-bombs” for the sake of truth. I have to believe that it is possible, but not necessarily easy, to speak the truth in love. I think the starting point is to first put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Prayerfully, this letter is the starting point for that process.

      2. You may like Morgan Guyton’s “Against you alone have I sinned” (the solipsism of evangelical morality), and perhaps even my comment there.

        I hear you on “Bible-bombs”; fortunately, 1 Cor 12:26 is probably one of the less-offensive passages. My wife and I recently had lunch with a former Consulate General and he was telling us how in the East, frequent famine forced many people to be deeply aware of their need for the community. And so, I wouldn’t be surprised if your average Buddhist/Hindu believes 1 Cor 12:26 more than your average Christian!

        Thanks for the reminder of Ps 133; it was well-timed. 😀

  2. Yes, Tiffany, Love is the answer for us all. It will not matter one hoot what we believe in as long as we live within enlightened Love. This is the way to God, But, our Human love is limited. We are flawed. We will want to know better than the other, have more, be more and end up being less. We are a funny lot!!!
    What I like about you Tiffany is your yearning for the truth, you will probably hit the mark and find yourself completely lost just a quickly. One thing I have learned-is that,finding God is never boring. Enjoy the chase, it’s full of surprises isn’t it!

    1. “Hitting the mark and finding myself lost just as quickly” sums it up incredibly well. Humbling, but also a beautiful reminder of God’s grace in loving me as I come. If only I would be more consistent in returning the favor, to Him and to others.

      And what I love about you, Collette, is your willingness to embrace the mess. You reflect His parent-heart so beautifully that way!

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