Are We All Hindus Now?
September 5, 2009
Recently Newsweek magazine published an article by Lisa Miller with the provocative title We Are All Hindus Now. It begins this way:
America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that’s the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu–or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan–nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.
The article makes the point that even though the vast majority of Americans identify with the Christian faith, we are becoming more like the Hindus who believe there are many paths to God. Just as there are many ways to climb a mountain, each religion offers its own way to God. None is better than any other. The article even quotes the familiar words of Jesus in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Those words would appear to be an utterly exclusive claim. But many churchgoers no longer really believe that according to the results of a 2008 Pew Research Poll. When surveyed, 65% of all Americans agree that many religions can lead to eternal life. And 37% of white evangelicals agree with that statement. Finally, the number of Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” has risen from 24% in 2005 to 30% in 2008.
What does it all mean? Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, points to American pragmatism:
It isn’t about orthodoxy. It’s about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great-and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too.
More and more Americans, including a healthy chunk of evangelicals, take a “Divine Cafeteria” approach to their faith. We pick and choose what we want to believe. “Hmmm. I’ll take a serving of God’s love, but I think I’ll skip the part about hell and judgment. Give me a small serving of church and a big helping of ‘Make Me Happy’ for dessert.”
We pick and choose what we want to believe.
Are we all Hindus now?
Maybe we are. Let’s take a simple test and figure out the answer. How many of the Ten Commandments can you name? Suppose someone offered you $20,000 to name the Ten Commandments in 20 seconds, could you do it? Believe it or not, you can go to YouTube and watch a video where a man with some money to spend is making that offer. If you are Christian, you’ve certainly heard the Ten Commandments many times. And even if you aren’t religious, you’re probably familiar with them. Could you name all ten? I’m going to give you some blanks to work with . . .
Americans Know the Big Mac
So how did you do? One recent survey suggests that the answer may be “Not so good.” Most Americans when surveyed did a better job naming the seven ingredients of a Big Mac: two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. 80% knew about the all-beef patties but only 60% recognized “Do not kill.” And only 45% knew “Honor your father and mother,” 34% knew “Remember the Sabbath day,” and only 29% recognized “Do not make for yourself an idol.”
Americans know our hamburgers, but we’re shaky about the Ten Commandments.
Americans know our hamburgers, but we’re shaky about the Ten Commandments.
Things are even worse on the other side of the pond. In the United Kingdom only 6% of those surveyed could name all of the Ten Commandments. Among those between the ages of 11 and 16, 28% could not name a single commandment. The survey revealed that many people prefer an updated version of the commandments God gave to Moses:
Meanwhile the majority of Britons think four of the Ten Commandments should be ditched in favour of more modern moral imperatives such as “protect the planet” and “respect all people regardless of race, religion or sexuality”.
Not being motivated by greed and not committing terrorism were also popular modern additions to the list, according to the poll.
The four that are judged no longer “relevant” in today’s society (by between 62 and 70 per cent of those polled) covered keeping the Sabbath holy, not making graven images, having “no other gods before me”, and not taking the name of God in vain.
Maybe that’s why we are all becoming Hindus now. Not knowing what God has said, we feel perfectly free to revise his Commandments to fit our 21st-century worldview.
He Did Not Stutter
And that thought brings me to what I regard as the most important part of the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus 20. I’m referring to the way the passage begins. This is Exodus 20:1.
“And God spoke all these words.”
In our attempt to get down to the “good stuff,” we rush right over these words as if they were a kind of ancient copyright notice. We flip past the title page to get to the first chapter. But that’s a crucial mistake because these words tell who is speaking.
Not knowing what God has said, we feel perfectly free to revise his Commandments to fit our 21st-century worldview.
“God spoke all these words.”
Who is speaking here? God!
What did he say? “All these words.”
So where do the Ten Commandments come from? God!
These are not “Ten Suggestions for Your Best Life Now” or “Ten Ways You Should Consider” or “Ten Habits of Highly Successful People” or “Ten Ways to Climb the Ladder” or “Ten Ideas That Might Work For You.” No!
God spoke all these words-therefore they have lasting moral authority.
God spoke all these words-therefore we don’t have to wonder about his intentions.
God spoke all these words-therefore we must take all of them with utter seriousness.
God spoke all these words-therefore we must give these words our primary attention.
Many years ago I attended a rally for the Bible at a theater in downtown Los Angeles. The featured speaker for the event was Dr. James Montgomery Boice, the well-known pastor and author from Philadelphia. During the course of his address, he summarized what Christians believe about the Bible and its authority this way: “God has spoken and he did not stutter!” If you think about it, this is a profound and even radical claim. We believe that God has spoken to us in the Bible, and he spoke in such a way that we can know what he says. This claim stands squarely against the relativistic spirit of this age with its claim that no one can really know the truth.
Writing in the Manchester Guardian (October 28, 2003), Christina Odone describes the principle this way:
We believe in authority. In an era that prizes individual freedom, Christians believe in a supreme being who dictates our words and deeds. To modern ears, the concept sounds outrageously autocratic. From when to die to when to give birth, from whom to have sex with, to how to spend their money, the chatteratis believe they should enjoy unlimited freedom. But for the Christian, freedom is not an end in itself. Unfettered individualism can mean greed and selfishness, the evasion of personal responsibility, the destruction of the family. Christians believe that from an all-powerful authority stems a clear system of judgment which teaches that there is a right and a wrong.
Chuck Colson and the Hindus
We must not stutter where God has spoken clearly. And we must make clear the utterly exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. In one of his books Chuck Colson tells of speaking to a group of Hindus in India. As he shared his testimony about Jesus Christ, he found them extraordinarily attentive. They smiled and nodded and agreed with everything he said. Afterwards he commented to his hosts on how receptive his audience had been to the Christian gospel. “Oh no,” they explained, “You don’t understand. To the Hindus Jesus is just one among many gods. To them, your ‘accepting’ Christ is like them accepting another god into their list of gods. Jesus is just one of many gods to the Hindus.”
“God has spoken and he did not stutter!”
A few days later Chuck Colson spoke to another audience of Hindus and had a similar experience. But this time a Hindu scholar came up afterward and said, “I believe exactly what you believe.” Chuck decided to put him to the test. “I don’t think you really believe what I believe. When I say Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I mean he is God come in human flesh. He is not just one among many or even the best of many, but he is the one true God who appeared on earth in human flesh. You must give your complete and supreme allegiance to this Jesus Christ who came from heaven-to him and to no one else.” The Hindu thought for a moment and said, “You’re right. I don’t believe what you believe. Now I must go home and think about the things you have said.”
Jesus Christ must have the first place in your life.
That’s the issue, isn’t it? Jesus Christ must have the first place in your life. He will not share his glory with anyone or with anything. He must be first-not simply the first among many or the best of the rest-but he must be pre-eminent in all things.
Encounter with a Happy Muslim
While flying home from Oregon two weeks ago, Marlene and I had an unusual experience in the Minneapolis airport. Because we had a little time, we stopped at the Food Court for a quick bite to eat. Then we started the long trek to gate C22. We must have looked weary because a man driving a passenger cart asked where we were going. We told him and he said, “Hop in.”
As we drove along he remarked that he was glad to be getting off early that night. Usually he worked until 10 PM but that night he was going home at 7 PM. He was smiling about it because he said he had been fasting all day.
It happened to be the first day of Ramadan, the month-long period of fasting and prayer for Muslims around the world. He spoke excellent English with a bit of a Middle Eastern accent. He hasn’t had anything to eat since 5:30 AM. “But after 8:10 PM I can eat anything I want.”
He was cheerful and friendly and very talkative as he explained that, really, there is no difference between Christianity and Judaism and Islam. “We all believe in the same God,” he said. “So what is the difference?” he said, asking me.
But I decided to let him answer that question. “We believe in Jesus too.” But Mohammad is God’s prophet, he said. And Allah made everything. “We believe in God because he made everything.”
Jesus really is the difference.
When we got to our gate, we sat in the cart and talked for a few moments. Our Muslim driver could not believe that God could have a Son. “If he is God, how could they kill him?” “Because he was also a man,” I replied. “Oh no,” he said, smiling. “That is not possible.” “But he was the God-man, fully God and fully man,” I replied.
Just before we parted ways, Marlene leaned over and, “We believe Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead.” She had the last word before he left. “Jesus really is the difference.” He smiled and agreed with us. Then he drove off to pick up someone else.
Jesus really is the difference.
Are we all Hindus? No, and we’re not Muslims either. We are Christians who believe in the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Curing Cafeteria Christianity
I think Lisa Miller was on to something important in her Newsweek article. Many evangelicals have suffered a loss of nerve because we aren’t really sure about what we believe. And under the enormous pressure to “go along to get along,” little by little we’ve backed away from the hard edges of the Christian faith. Inside our churches we’ve some members who are more Hindu than Christian.
We’ve got Baptist Hindus.
We’ve got Methodist Hindus.
We’ve got Lutheran Hindus.
We’ve got Presbyterian Hindus.
We’ve got Bible church Hindus.
Many evangelicals have suffered a loss of nerve because we aren’t really sure about what we believe.
These folks come to church, sing the songs, pray the prayers, give their money, and sometimes they serve in leadership position, all the while believing on the inside that there really are many ways to God. In the 1950s the noted theologian Richard Neibuhr summarized liberal Protestant theology in words that seem as true today as they were a half-century ago:
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
What can we do about this state of affairs? The only real answer is to teach the truth of God to fortify the souls of our people and make them strong once again. I propose to do my part in the battle by entering upon a series of messages on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. I want to focus on those doctrines that deal with the supernatural elements of our faith because those are precisely the areas most under attack in our day.
We as Christians must reassert the supernatural basis of the Christian faith. </h6 class=”pullquote”>
To believe in God is to believe in something that is supernatural. To believe in creation over evolution is to believe in something that is supernatural. To believe in angels, demons, heaven, hell, and the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, is to touch that which is supernatural in its essence. We as Christians must reassert the supernatural basis of the Christian faith. That conviction undergirds every message in this series. It is not enough simply to say that we are Christians. It is not enough to say that we hold certain doctrines. We must proclaim the supernatural foundation of the Christian faith. That’s important because if you remove the supernatural from Christianity, you have gutted our faith and turned it into nothing but a set of ethical instructions.
All Truth Is Narrow
Over and over again Jesus called people into a personal confrontation with the truth he was proclaiming. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the truth.” In John 17:17 he said, “Your word is truth.” In John 18:37, standing before Pilate, he said these words, “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone on the side of the truth listens to me.” Pilate responded in the words of a true first century relativist, “What is truth?” What a question to ask when the truth was standing in front of him!
We need once again to hear these words from Psalm 119:142, “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.” Verse 151 says, “You are near, O Lord, and all your commands are true.” Verse 160 says, “All your words are true.” That leads me to make a very important point that I will come back to over and over again.
All truth is narrow. Two plus two equals four, not 17. Harrisburg is the capitol of Pennsylvania, not Pittsburgh. George Washington was the first president, not Teddy Roosevelt. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, not in 1923 even if you can make a rhyme like me. A pentagon has five sides. A trio has three singers. A duet means two performers. Sixty seconds equals exactly one minute.
All truth is narrow.
All truth is narrow. If something is true, then many other things must not be true. If everything is true, then nothing is true. If truth depends on your opinion or on the latest Gallup poll, we can never know the truth about anything. That is why Christians insist on the concept of absolute truth. Without it, we have no faith to believe, only some warm, fuzzy sentimental feelings in our heart. That is not enough. We need to reassert once again to this crazy, mixed-up, confused generation exactly what the Psalmist said regarding God, “All your words are true.”
All that I intend to say in this series is based on one fundamental conviction that I can state in three words. Christianity is true. Therefore we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by a careful examination of what we believe and why we believe it. In more shocking terms, if Christianity is true, we need to believe it, and if it is not true, we need to know that so we can find out what is true. We need hard-nosed, tough-minded, open-eyed faith.
Truth Demands a Commitment
If you are not sure about what you believe, that’s okay. You don’t have to believe on the basis of what I say. You may have some doubts about certain aspects of the Christian faith. You may even be a Christian, a member of a church, and have serious doubts about some of the things we believe. Doubt is not a sin. The only sin is refusing the search for the truth. So the best thing we can do for non-Christians is to share what we believe and why we believe it.
Christianity is true.
Truth always demands a commitment. Jesus said to Pilate, “Everybody on the side of truth listens to me.” Are you on the side of truth? It is not enough to intellectually say there might have been somebody like Jesus 2000 years ago. It is not enough to intellectually accept that there was a man named Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. That is not enough. If you just say that and stop, you are not on the side of truth. You are just giving intellectual assent to certain propositions.
There are only three things you can do with the truth:
1) You can deny it.
2) You can ignore it.
3) You can believe it.
Those are your only options. So I ask you, what have you done with the truth about Jesus Christ? What have you done with the truth about the Bible? What have you done with the truth about salvation? I am sure you have heard of blind faith. God never asked anyone for blind faith. You have heard of a leap into the darkness. Faith in Jesus Christ is not a leap into the darkness. Christian faith is standing on God’s truth and leaping from the darkness into the light. You may be in the darkness now, but there is light on the other side and it is not far away. You will never know until you take that first step. The next move is up to you.