Christians Exploring Hinduism in India

This listing of questions, created back in 1994, appears in no order of priority. They emerged from having read multiple (toward 55) sources (a few in part, most in full) aware that I would likely eventually focus on interreligious issues and themes during a DMin (Doctor of Ministry) degree program. These questions do not attempt to cover the gamut possible but reflect aspects of my curiosity when anticipating disciplined learning about Hinduism in India as a Christian Mennonite from the U.S. Not all of these will be examined during my DMin program; others will likely surface. But having begun to “live with” a possible DMin goal, which had not been a focus during the initial reading, the process of formulating them proved to be useful. I plan to return to the listing through the upcoming years of study/research. Writers’ names of those who deserve credit for an idea appear in parentheses.

1. Why has Hinduism not undergone more “transplanting” to places outside of India? Few other major world religions “operate (primarily) within the cultural sphere in which it originated.” (Hick) Is there something germane to Indian “religious soil” that makes Hinduism most authentic in India? Why is it not “missionary” oriented like Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism? Hindus validate and receive people of other living faiths and have had little “need” to promote their own cause elsewhere, to spread it. To think that one living faith should supplant another is offensive to many Hindus. So, why transplant it?

2. How will North American Mennonites learn the value of discovering what other faiths offer, if we remain connected only mostly with other Mennonites? How will we develop vision for a broader worldview? How will we learn about other authentic religious premises or content? Will we avoid saying that Christianity is superior but be free to claim that for us it is final?

3. From what residue of colonialism do Mennonite Christians in India need to continue to name and disengage? Will western Mennonites be blind or insensitive or impotent or guilt-ridden to such need? Do Christians ponder what we have to offer the world? Or become more isolated? Or, since God was in India long before any Mennonites, do they pose other questions: What authentic religious content permeates the experience of people of other living faiths in India? Are foreigners actively present with them in their pain and joy? How do people together recognize God’s presence? (See Sharpe)

4. How might Indian Christians be freed/encouraged to make Christian identity more authentically Indian? Or, do Indian Mennonites prefer to counter their surrounding culture? How might western Mennonites corporately repent for imposing western patterns, preferring to limit their knowledge and expression of Indian religious be-ing?

5. What are creative ways for people of different living faiths in India to together recognize the presence of God? Must all be willing to worship with each other, to read each other’s texts? Can Christians “discern the light of Christ” alongside a Hindu’s chanting of “Om/Aum”?

6. Are Christians/Mennonites trained to value difference, to accommodate paradox? Does not “paradox prepare the mind for a new experience?” (Klostermaier) Will westerners expect Indians to teach us about such difference? Does the fact of four gospel accounts about Jesus’ life and teachings prompt us to welcome how difference can enrich sacred meaning?

7. Have Mennonites, in India or the west, been encouraged to better understand the meaning of secular? With more Christians and Hindus becoming more secular, what needs, benefits, or risks correspond with that stance? Secular in India means not separation of government from matters of religion, but to “Let all religions prosper.”

8. Will North American Mennonites who attend Mennonite World Conference in India in 1997 assess the scope of their worldview prior to mingling with people of many nations? How have we defined and shaped concepts such as time, the cosmic, freedom, being, or neighbor? Need we be more intentionally philosophical, especially in order to connect with the Indian context? There, “time is symbolized by birth and death; the world is represented by the wheel of time . . . Every free act of each individual is a commitment on behalf of all . . . and Being includes non-being.” (Radhakrishnan)

9. What are some key commonalities and key distinctions about prayer and meditation between people loyal to Hindu and Christian faiths? Can we imagine a Hebrew prophet, Jesus, or Paul in the lotus position? Might Mennonites ponder such an idea, free of judgment? What other features of religious ritual are useful to examine? Is the lure to recite from the Bible less than from Vedic traditions? Dare Christians affirm that Hinduism offers the spiritual nourishment needed by most Hindus?

10. Concerning solidarity, what meaning, expectations, goals, or intended message might North American Mennonites who visit India have formulated about it? How is solidarity distinct from community? If expression of it might be more influenced by culture than religion, how flexible or teachable to we expect to be?

11. The Asian twin reality has been identified as: religious plurality and economic poverty. Someone compared these two features through theological terms of baptism and crucifixion. Are North American Mennonites prepared to let Indians teach us about how these features shape their Christian faith?

12. How might the North American Mennonite heritage (and expression) of peace and justice prepare or restrict us from comprehending Dalit experience and theology (see Nirmal content) in India? Are we willing to admit how class shapes western Christianity, if we presume to inquire about caste in India? Can we begin to understand India without insight into caste?

13. How might westerners most helpfully gain background into recent events and religious views surrounding Shah Bano, Satanic Verses, if Ayodhya? Although such incidents “more directly” affected Hindus and Muslims, how might North Americans prod Indian Mennonite Christians to teach us about the pain of being a bystander or the risk of taking a more public stand?

14. How will North Americans most effectively name and own our cultural influence of individualism? Do we wish to learn about self-autonomy in a more Indian religious sense? Have Indian Mennonites consciously understood the difference? What were factors that contributed to the number of Indian Christian denominations that struggled with internal conflict over the closure/exodus of western influence/money? To what extent might westerners confess this dilemma?

15. What insight or needs exist to distinguish the reality of what is religious, what cultural about Mennonite faith and experience, whether in the east or west? Does Mennonite identity both enhance and interfere in both settings? How does the exercise of power shape the vision, process, and outcome?

16. How might renewed Christian attention to the Spirit (of Christian Trinity) reconstruct the view of Divinity in a religiously plural context? Will Mennonites continue to isolate themselves from World Council of Churches endeavor and study? How will feminist insight into and value of biblical content about Spirit/Wisdom/Sophia enrich any shifts?

17. What might be an authentic way for Mennonites to be self-critical and confessional about our western history of negating or failing to study/understand Hindu thought? Did we relate only socially or preach primarily to convert? Do we welcome greater openness to serious religious dialogue? Will we ‘listen’ to the silences of others—“to comprehend those more intent to share insights into the mystery of Truth than to discuss religious ideas?” How do Indian Mennonites engage this cluster of questions? Will westerners support them?

18. Are western Mennonites prepared to approach or address fears about imagined syncretism or compromise related to views of Christ, in learning from Indian experience? Will Indians need to be silent about convictions because they cannot expect westerners to understand the reality of being neighbors with people of other living faiths? Or, have Mennonites been so intra-splintered, making trust difficult?

19. How might North American Mennonites most effectively learn from Indian Christians about how the sacred/divine permeates life in India and how this focus affects “being” Christian? Do Mennonites in India converse regularly with other Christians—both Protestant and Catholic—about the sacred? If so, how are their learnings made public? If not, might it be inherent agenda for Indian Mennonites to initiate?

20. Since India’s experience of democracy affects the largest number of people, what exchange about political issues is appropriate between Mennonites from there and elsewhere? Canada, India, and the US would all deny that a state religion has constitutional base. Religious freedom is to be honored. What differences exist from being part of the majority or a minority religious tradition within a democracy?

21. We might ask, Who are our partners? With whom do we combine to dialogue? Are Christians more driven toward dialogue? How might we respond to hearing that “India has nothing to learn from the west.” (Sarasvati) Do we admit that all religious traditions both liberate and oppress? Does to understand another faith involve being “tempted” by it in significant ways? (Parrinder) Do we trust in-depth conversation, worship, or work with people of other living faiths to strengthen our own religious identity?