Your teens have probably heard that embracing different religions offers freedom from the "narrowness" of Christianity. They are told that there isn't just one way to God but a variety of ways. All they have to do is "look within." This inner search is attractive to many, especially in a technology-oriented world that lets us customize just about everything. Why not religion, too?
Your teens may not realize that these ideas are not new. In fact, this buffet-style approach to spirituality is one of the hallmarks of Hinduism. In many ways, American religious pluralism mimics (and has been influenced by) some core tenets of Hinduism. The exotic images of Hindu gods and goddesses may not seem particularly relevant, but this religion's perspective on spiritual truth has seeped deeply into our culture.
Hinduism, like religious pluralism as it is practiced in America today, is built on the belief that all religions provide genuine, equally valid paths to God. Given this starting point, it's not surprising that Hinduism itself offers multiple perspectives on the nature of God. On one hand, practitioners of this polytheistic religion venerate a vast number of gods and goddesses—more than 330 million. Simultaneously, however, a more philosophical strain of Hinduism is pantheistic, and sees all facets of creation as parts of an infinite impersonal reality called Brahman. Everything is god, including you and me.
When we shine the light of Christ on these beliefs, however, we can see how they fall short of the truth found in the gospel. At one end of the Hindu belief spectrum are many personal but finite gods; at the other end lies the infinite but impersonal god Brahman. Hinduism fails its followers in the gap between them. Because of their finite nature, the multitude personal gods of polytheism can't exhibit ultimate power. Because of its lack of personhood, the infinite god of pantheism can't relate to humanity. The tragedy of Hinduism is that the infinite and the personal never meet. It is only in the person of Christ where we see that beautiful union.
Many teens—Christian and non-Christian alike—would probably be surprised by the suggestion that their belief system resembles Hinduism. And yet a closer look reveals some striking similarities. They may not be bowing down to multi-armed idols, but in our technologically advanced society, the attention given to the next must-have gadget or Web site can easily border upon worship. (Consider, for example, the fact that the average American teen today spends almost 72 hours per week engaging electronic media.)
Similarly, the temptation to create your own religion by fusing together bits of this one and that is ultimately a Hindu way of thinking about spiritual truth. After all, if truth is found within, it can be whatever you want it to be. Hindu thinking encourages us to discover our own divinity rather than look outward to the Savior or recognize our need for salvation. This self-deification is a more subtle form of idolatry that is very attractive to our individualistic, self-reliant culture. And, conveniently, focusing on the harmony within is also an inviting alternative to struggling with moral choices.
C.S. Lewis explained that, in the final conflict between religions, Hinduism and Christianity would offer the only viable options: Hinduism absorbs all religious systems, and Christianity excludes all others. In contrast to Hinduism, Jesus Christ is too unique to be absorbed into a pantheon of multiple gods and goddesses. It is only at the cross of Christ where we see the most intimate connection of God with humanity and the most satisfying answer to evil and suffering—one of engagement and victory, not detachment and defeat.
As we help our teens navigate the spiritual waters of our pluralistic world, it's important to help them identify the source of the ideas they're ingesting. Hinduism promises personal spiritual fulfillment, but it lacks the ability to deliver because it deviates from the truth. Only Christ can deliver the salvation we long for. But it's on His terms, not ours.
Alison Thomas is an apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Published May 2007
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