Enemies of hinduism don’t get much space in our journal, though we do report when Pat Robertson trashes our religion (as he did again recently on his Christian Broadcasting Network). That doesn’t mean Sanatana Dharma is deprived of adversaries. They are plentiful, and I for one hope they are strong, not caring much for a wimpy rival. It seems to be the Law of Things that good rivals make for great achievements, whether in sport or science, politics or religion. Consider Galileo, Gandhi, Socrates, Appar and Martin Luther King, Jr., five men whose encounters with fierce opposition made them better for the experience. I am reminded of the maxim: “A truly great man can be measured by the greatness of his enemies.” Wishing one’s enemies strength is somehow strength-inducing. In that spirit, much gratitude is owed to the antagonists of Hinduism. I have collected their criticisms, much like others collect first edition novels, baseball cards or exotic stamps. You may smile at this, but remember that a first-rate book will be gone in 500 years or so, while even a mediocre criticism will last 1,000, usually more.
One I’m particularly fond of is the slanderous story American missionaries spread in the press to blunt Swami Vivekananda’s unexpected triumph at the 1893 Chicago Parliament of World Religions. The tragic truth, reporters wrote 100 years ago, is that “Hindoos throw their infant children into the open mouths of river crocodiles.” There is a kind of evil genius in the sheer sim-plicity of that fatuous indictment.
You might think that folks living in these enlightened times wouldn’t peddle such preposterous drivel. You would be wrong. Case in point, a museum-quality derogation crafted recently by Chick Publications of Cucamonga, California. Opening their anti-Hindu, comic book style pamphlet called “The Traitor,” one reads, “This is a true story, India—1982.” A many-armed Kali stands ominously in the darkness, as a man kneeling at her feet sacrifices his son so the Goddess will answer his prayers. And that’s just page one! The gruesome stuff comes later.
No one teaches us in school how to cope with criticism, turning it to our advantage. They should, but they don’t. A gifted few will learn—the concert sitar-ist or aspiring opera singer for whom reproach and incessant evalua-tion are a professional imperative. Dancers, actors and athletes all pay niggling mercenaries for the privilege of being corrected, faulted and verbally assailed. Professionals blossom under it; others wilt and wail.
To rectify this, we offer here the world’s shortest course on “Censure Manage-ment.” Never cringe before criticism. Take it like a man, even if you’re a woman. Winnow the true from the false, then keep both. Smile at it. Better yet, under–stand it; best of all, learn from it. And never, never offer offenders quid pro quo. End of course. Now that we know how useful criticism can be, here is a short list of common charges levied against Hinduism:
• Hindus are idol worshippers with far too many gods. A trained adept will respond that Hindus are among the world’s most enthusiastic and energetic devotees. By no means could our worship be judged idle. Here you can smile innocently, letting the critic wonder if you even fathom his insult.
• Hindus worship cows. They honor cows, they worship God. Hindus abhor the killing of any creature on the Earth and one day will be esteemed for this long-held nonviolent ideal.
• Hinduism is life-negating and brings poverty to its followers. One need only visit the slums of New York, Tokyo, Bangkok or Beirut to know that no religion exists which has eliminated human suffering, though all make the attempt.
• Hinduism is too ritualistic, complex and contradictory. The problem here is that an outsider is trying to comprehend Sanatana Dharma as a single creed, when it is 10,000 independent religions, each allowed to believe as it chooses. I love ritual, the more elaborate the better. But there are many Hindus who hate the simplest rites, and no one asks them to betray their natural incli-nations.
• Hinduism has no hell, no understanding of Satan, no real fear of God. Nolo contendere. Guilty as charged.
• Hinduism is so fatalistic. Only if your definition of fatalism includes the belief that all experiences are of our own making, that God is in all things as love, that all of creation is sacred, that all paths are good and that all beings without exception are destined to attain oneness with the Divine. If that’s fatalism, then Hindus are incorrigibly fatalistic.
• Hindus sacrifice animals. I cannot defend against such a criticism, but can only hope that whatever few remaining expressions of an earlier time that may still persist will pass soon.
• Casteism in India is a terrible injustice. No pensive per-son will deny that. So is crime, home-lessness, job discrimination and social/ racial inequality in other nations. Neither one has anything to do with the people’s religion.
Those are the classic insults. Sadly, they are old and worn by use. It is rare to find an innovative invective. Not long ago, to my utter delight, I stumbled on an award-winning, fresh-as-the-morning-dew slur. It came courtesy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their April, 1989, magazine, Awake. Each month they print over 11 million of these in 54 languages, so we’re talking global character assassination here. According to the Jehovah Wit-nesses, the fatal flaw in Hinduism is—dare I even whisper it—toler-ance. That’s right, Hindus are too open-minded, excessively sym-pathetic of another man’s faith, and this tolerance, the article darkly warns, may open the door to lesser paths, to “bad religions.”
This mischief will find a cherished place in my col-lection. While the genius of the alligator allegation was its tall (should that be long?) tale, this one seeks to hurt Hindus with brute honesty. Nice try. An intolerant sect calling our faith too tolerant? Ouch! In a world far too full of hatred, bias and provincial consciousness, let us pray that we may one day deserve to be called such a name.