Catholic Perspective on Hinduism
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
By Luke Lancaster
The Hindu religion is massive, with over a billion members in it. It is principally an Indian religion and possesses a pantheon of gods. Some Hindus believe that all the gods are just the forms or avatars of one god, making them seemingly monotheistic. Other Hindus believe that each god is distinct, making them fit more naturally into the polytheistic category. Still others believe that the gods are manifestations of a spiritual force called “brahmin” and is where the spiritual soul returns too.
Hinduism is a religion that is not very organized, but that is not necessarily uncommon in the world's religions. Their disorganization even involves who their chief god is. Around 2/3 of Hindus believe that the god Vishnu is the greatest god within the pantheon. Yet many other Hindus (i.e., millions) believe that Krishna, Rama, or some other god is the greatest. Now, their idea of “god” is radically different from Western belief, for Hindus blur the lines between god and everything else in the world. This results in pantheism.
As seen with these three views on the pantheon, Hinduism has many different sects, for multiple Indian beliefs are grouped together under the umbrella of Hinduism. There is no Hindu canon to settle exactly what Hinduism is, for everything is debated. However, there are a few things that many (but not all) Hindus agree upon. A short, non-exhaustive list has been compiled by Wendy Doniger, the World Religions professor at the University of Chicago, and author of the book, On Hinduism (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2014). Here are a few of those she compiled:
1. The Vedas. These four ancient books are somewhat like the Christian Bible. These books originate from around 1500-900 BC and cover things like hymns, chants, and ritual offerings.
2. Karma. This causes the cycle of reincarnation, where after death the individual enters another body on earth to live life again. Karma means that actions one does in this life will determine what happens in his or her next life form.
3. Dharma. Referring to “what is firm” or cosmic law. It is broken when somebody does something immoral or unethical.
4. Cosmology Centered on Mount Meru. This mountain is seen as the center of the world (literally or figuratively). Comparable to the Greek notion of Mount Olympus. Many Hindu Temples are fashioned after Mount Meru.
5. Bhatki. This refers to the devotion one has to a particular god within the pantheon of Indian gods.
6. Ritual sacrifices. Various kinds of offerings to the gods, such as butter, fruit, flowers, and animals.
7. Vegetarian. Many Hindus refuse to eat meat or believe that avoiding meat is best.
A Few Catholic Critiques
The first issue to tackle is pantheism. Catholic philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft said in his “Comparing Christianity & Hinduism” article for the National Catholic Register that, “Individuality is an illusion according to Eastern mysticism. Not that we are not real but that we are not distinct from God or each other” (May, 1987). This pantheistic worldview implies several conflicts between Hinduism and Catholicism, such as the reality of a creator God. For Christians, God is outside of time and created everything. This makes sense considering that the current state of cosmology states that the universe originated 13.8 billion years ago. The creation, then, is radically different from the Creator.
The next issue involves the implications flowing from Hinduism’s teachings on pantheism. Dr. Peter Kreeft continued in his same article, “Since individuality is an illusion, so is free will. If free will is an illusion, so is sin. And if sin is an illusion, so is hell…Perhaps the strongest attraction of Eastern religions is their denial of sin, guilt and hell.” This totally contradicts Catholicism, which states that man freely sins against His true Father, God, and that God punishes serious, non-repentant sinners with an eternity of miserable separation from Him in Hell.
Another issue is reincarnation/karma - whereby a dead person's soul switches from one life form (personhood) to another (plants, animals, other persons) after death. Although the doctrine involves a notion of justice, whereby evil people are reincarnated into lives of suffering, it ultimately contradicts both natural and supernatural revelation. (1) From natural revelation, the early Christian writer Tertullian refuted reincarnation with the argument that infants and animals do not act like mature adults. If they have been reincarnated from older adults, then babies and animals should communicate eloquently. (2) St. Irenaeus (180 AD) critiqued reincarnation with the fact that people are not aware of their previous lives. People do not have any old memories. If every person has been reincarnated, then they should remember what life was like before their reincarnation. From supernatural revelation, it is known from Hebrews 9:27 that people die only once. So, the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation is not true.