Confessions of a Western Universalist

(Rajiv Malhotra, Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, HarperCollins, 2011, 474 pages)

Rajiv Malhotra’s latest book challenges many Western assumptions. He invites his Western readers to see their worldview through the eyes of India. Having read a fair amount of postmodern philosophy, I was sympathetically inclined to his general perspective, but I am willing to confess that at the end of the book I remain, for better or worse, a fairly unreconstructed Western Universalist.

One of my problems with his argument is the way he contrasts the “Judeo-Christian” tradition with what he calls the “dharmic” traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism). He describes the dharmic traditions as based on each individual’s re-experiencing and testing of traditional religious claims in the crucible of their own internal and external firsthand experience. He then characterizes the Judeo-Christian tradition as about each individual overcoming the historical ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve (5-6).

In contrast, the kind of Christianity I practice and teach involves precisely the sort of pragmatism and cultivation of firsthand experiences with God that he describes as dharmic. And my perspective is far from anomalous. To name only the first two examples that come to mind, see The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics by Richard Rohr, a Christian monk in the Franciscan tradition, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart by Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest. Moreoever, progressive Christianity in general takes individual experience extremely seriously as a criterion for authority and would reject out of hand a view of Adam and Eve as actual historical figures, as opposed to meaningful mythological characters (see my post on “There Was No Historical Adam and Eve“). I could add further that neither Judaism nor Eastern Orthodox Christianity has an understanding of “original sin” in the way that Malhotra describes.

Similarly, when he talks about “Human Access to First Principles,” his championing of a “bottom-up” approach and emphasis on spiritual practices sounds like the entire Emergent Church Movement (62). And, importantly, this movement is not new-fangled. Rather, many scholars would argue that this perspective has always been present in Western Christianity in various forms (see, for example, Diana Butler Bass’ A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story). And I couldn’t disagree more that the Nicene Creed — which was written almost three centuries after the life of the historical Jesus — is “the gold standard of belief in Christianity” (343).

Almost at every point, the approach of myself and most of my fellow progressive Christians seems  much more like the so-called “Indian” perspective and much less like the problematic construct of Western religion being criticized. Ironically, Malhotra seemed to be unintentionally inverting and recapitulating the imperialistic gaze he was intending to criticize and deconstruct.

Yes, there is plenty to correct about Western Christianity. There is a sense in which it is problematic that, “In Catholicism a spiritual teacher is formally recognized as a saint only after he or she is dead for a certain number of years, thereby eliminating any threat to institutional authority from the living person.” But the author overreaches when he says that the Church “controls the history and the interpretations of the canonized saint’s teachings, free from any of the risks associated with the subversive teachings of those who practice and advocate director contact with the divine” (94). There is some truth in his critique, but to name only a few examples, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola are all well-known Roman Catholic saints whose writings strongly advocate direct contact with the divine.

Malhotra occasionally grants that there are exceptions to his rule. For instance, he highlights ‘dharmic’ Judeo-Christian thinkers such as Roger Kamenetz, Dom Bede Griffiths, and Raimondo Panikkar. But I would contend that progressive, ‘dharmic’ religious thought and practice is far more common in the West than Malhotra often acknowledges and may well be even more common in the near future (344).

We Westerners need to listen more to post-colonial voices, but Malhotra too often succeeds merely in knocking down straw men. Despite the vitally important differences in our religious and cultural traditions, we ultimately have far more in common — rooted in our common humanity — than we have to keep us apart.

We are all humans, living on one planet in the far corner of one galaxy, that is only one among more than 100 billion other galaxies. We do interpret our experiences of this one universe through the lens of different cultural-linguistic traditions, but we are still interpreting the same one universe. And in this one universe, I remain for now an unrepentant (Western) Universalist.

For Further Study

Update:

Given the unexpected flurry of comments on this book review, as well as the level of passion and persistence from the commenters, I did some research on the author Rajiv Malhotra, which led me the 2007 book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future by Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher I have long admired, who is currently the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. She records some disturbing accounts of attacks against the work of other scholars I greatly admire, including Wendy Doniger (the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago) and Jeffrey Kripal (the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, where he is also the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies).

The following is one excerpt from Nussbaum’s book:

The chief antagonist behind these attacks is Rajiv Malhotra, a very wealthy man who lives in New Jersey and heads the Infinity Foundation, which has made grants in the area of Hinduism studies. Had Malhotra decided to focus his energies on giving scholarships to students and graduate students in this area, he would greatly have enhanced the profile of Hinduism studies nationally. But in recent years most of his energy has been focused on Internet attacks against Doniger and scholars associated with her, on his website sulekha.com. Malhotra’s voluminous writings show a highly aggressive, threatening personality. His attacks are sarcastic and intemperate. He shows little concern about factual accuracy. Typically he makes no attempt to describe the book or books he attacks in a complete or balanced way; instead, his broadsides are lists of alleged mistakes or distortions, conveying little or no sense of what the book is about and what it argues. Malhotra also has associates, some both more able and more temperate than he (Vishal Agarwal is one of these). But all pursue a common enterprise: the discrediting of American scholars of Hinduism as sex-crazed defamers of sacred traditions. (248)

Although Malhotra’s most recent book (which is reviewed here and which is the only book by him I have read), seems to be of the “more temperate” variety, the history Nussbaum reports confirms my initial impulse to read his works with a skeptical eye.

This book review is a sponsored post that is part of the Roundtable at the Patheos Book Club.

Visit the Book Club website for more free resources related to this book.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

About Carl Gregg
  • Sanjay Sharma

    What Gregg ignores is that his Christian mystic exemplars named are already discussed in Malhotra’s book. Gregg must address the issues that Malhotra raises about them: First, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola were persecuted or at least sidelined, hardly the sign of what has been considered “Christianity” by the mainstream. Secondly, it is recent Hindu influence that has led many Christians to U-Turn back after years of immersion into Hinduism and upon return to Judeo-Christian identity, they have then mapped what they learned on to Christian sources. In short, much of the recent new understanding of Christian mysticism has been a reaction to the popularity of Hinduism, and has been a sort of plagiarism or appropriation.

    What gives this away is Gregg’s citing Ken Wilber as the authority on this. The well-established fact often explaied by Malhotra is that Wilber learned all his stuff from Sri Aurobindo, Kashmir Shaivism and Madhyamika Buddhism. Then he erased those sources, started to claim these as his “original” discoveries. The next stage was his turning all this into what he calls “Integral Christianity” – a Christianized version of Hindu philosophy.

    It is nice of Gregg to reaffirm that Nicene Creed is the core of Christianity. Now he has to explain how the history-centrism demanded in Nicene Creed (a construct of Malhotra that Gregg should not ignore) can possibly be reconciled with all this new age dharma that is fashionable to re-characterize as “Christianity”.

    • Carl Gregg

      A few things. One, keep in mind that my review is 800 words. I often only have time to do 500 words for these Patheos reviews — whereas Malhotra’s book is almost 500 pages. Sure, he occasionally mentions exceptions to his framework, but those exceptions are not as exceptional as he depicts them as being.

      Two, firsthand religious experience and mysticism are all over the Bible, Jewish history, and Christian history. (I didn’t even have time to address the ironic problem of how his construct of Judeo-Christian history — especially from the Jewish perspective — is parallel to the ways ‘Hinduism’ is a false construct.) Religious experience and mysticism are common experiences and practices in both East and West, not merely plagiarism or “appropriation without reciprocity” (although certainly there are instances of that).

      Third, I’m not sure you’ve read Wilber closely. He cites Sri Aurobindo and others in multiple places. And he has taken the work of them and others to another “integrated,” synthesized level.

      Fourth, you simply misread my sentence about the Nicene Creed. I said, I couldn’t DISAGREE more.

      • Joy Kurien

        I have been reading Wilber for a decade, and yes, he gives a few patronizing remarks from Sri Aurobindo. But he started his career acknowledging that he was merely going to translate Sri Aurobindo for westerners, because, to use his own words, “there is nothing like it in the Western tradition”. Only later after he had established a following of almost entirely westerners wanting to return home to their identity and bring back the goods from dharma, that he started what Malhotra calls the uturn.

        Carl must read more to understand how much Wilber has blatantly plagiarized. He is successful precisely because folks like Carl take his word, and do not apply the rigor to draw attention to his appropriations.

        Basically, Carl is typical of Western Universalists who are unaware that this “universalism” they love so much is indeed dharma universalism that got repackaged by western frontiersmen like Wilber. Dharma has been the new wild east frontier for many pioneers. I meet them routinely in various ashrams of India even today – with tape recorders and note pads wanting to take back what they can sell to westerners as “original” Judeo-Christianity.

        • स्त्री शक्ति

          Again with the “judeo-christian” obsession. Does Wilbur self-identify as a “jew” or “christian”?

  • http://samprajna.org Christopher Shannon

    I think that on account of the long stay of the British in India, you will find much in contemporary Indian thought that looks familiar. However, that is only a starting point for recovering the dharmic tradition from its long spell of foreign dominance. You define yourself by first defining what you are not. That seems t be the project that Rajiv Malhotra’s book embarks upon.

    And so I believe that Rajiv and his co-civilizationists end up something quite diferent than Christianity (progressive or otherwise) because they would in themselves represent a radical departure from Christian thought and history.

    One departure is the Indic culture’s cyclical notion of history. Things do evolve over time within the cycles. However, the overall thrust of history is not the gradual improvement of knowledge and (spiritual) sentiment over time. Furthermore, the Indic conception of time is that of regress, not progress. The cycle of the four great ages (yugas) is toward the diminution of human spirit. This will lead to quite a different outlook than that of Western universalism, a different culture for sure.

    Though you are right about progressive Christianity not being so dependent (if at all) on historical accounts of its origins, the “progressivism” in progressive Christianiy is still an historical conception on which it depends. (No history, no progress.)

    So one of the points I feel Rajiv was making is that a religion whose historical trajectory is fundamental to its identity must eventually come into conflict with other peoples and cultures that lie outside of that particular conception of history. Peace efforts require getting others to accept the progressive account of History (at least the big ideas). Otherwise, the “other” will always be viewed as retrogressive and a fitting target for enculturation if not outright conversion.

    That I believe is the reasoning behind Rajiv’s suggestion that a religion that is fundamentally ahistorical is better at accommodating difference than a religion that depends fundamentally on some conception of history.

    Sincerely,

    Christopher Shannon

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Mr. Malhotra’s claim is that the dharma traditions are not history-centric; that key spiritual insights happen again and again to people who are seeking them, these are not the privilege of prophets and sons of god alone.

    We would thus expect such insights to arise even among Christian, Islamic and Judaic religious cultures. If they didn’t, Mr. Malhotra’s whole claim about the dharma traditions would be false, right at the start.

    The question is what happens to the persons who have such insights? Do they get punished for heresy? Does the orthodoxy try to suppress them? Are they brought up as exemplars or as aberrations?

    I don’t know about the Christian world, but Al-Hallaj was executed for his insight “Ana l-Haqq” (“I am the Truth”).

  • Surya

    Carl Greg says: ” I couldn’t disagree more that the Nicene Creed — which was written almost three centuries after the life of the historical Jesus — is “the gold standard of belief in Christianity.”

    Good for you that could not disagree more with Nicene creed.  Unfortunately, your opinions are not the view of Christian majority.  Nicene creed has been the core Christian dogma for most of Christian history.  That is what makes it a Gold Standard.  

    Nicene creed may be 300 years after Jesus, but its constituent dogma are not 300 years after Jesus.

    If you cannot accept Nicene creed because it was written 300 years after Jesus, that it has been accepted by Christian majority for 1700 years after that is sufficient to establish its primacy.  
     
    In your article titled “There was no Historical Adam and Eve”, you refer to a statistic that forty percent of people in the United States believe that there was a historical Adam and Eve, who literally were the ancestral parents of the human race.

    What made them believe this?  Not Christian teachings and heritage? Whether you and I like it or not, that is what Christianity is and has been for 2000 years.

    Your dislike for “Original Sin”, “Historical Adam andEve”, and “the Nicene creed” all point to your thoughts aligning with what Being Different says: History-centrism is too rigid.  

    Difference is that Rajiv Malhotra complains about rigidity of history-centrism because of its exclusivity and the resulting intolerance whereas you complain because it is too brittle, does not rid itself of notions proven to be wrong (anti-science, therefore anti-progressive) and this brittleness makes it vulnerable. It has been a thorn for progressive variants of Christianity.

    • Carl Gregg

      Don’t be too quick to assign the beliefs of the Nicene Creed to the majority. For example, the recent contraception kerfuffle in the U.S. is only the most current instance of how the behavior of the vast majority (98% of Roman Catholic women use birth control in the U.S.) is in direct opposition to the alleged gold standard of dogma. What the religious establishment claims and the actual case are often highly divergent. And, for me, behavior is much more believable that what people profess to believe.
      And I’m certainly open to nondual experiences, but see a strong place for history as well. I would love if Malhotra had addressed the scientific insights of Quantum physics more, although I’m sure that’s the ‘West’ coming out in me.

      • Surya

        You certainly shot down that contraception straw-man.  We both know that there is nothing in the Nicene creed about contraception. 

        How many Christians do you think believe that Jesus is the Son of God?
        How many believe that Jesus died for our sake? 
        How many Christians believe that Jesus resurrected after death?

        I bet most of those active contraception-using Roman Catholics believe in these core dogma of Nicene creed.

        • Carl Gregg

          I didn’t say there was anything in the Nicene Creed about contraception. It’s an analogy; hence, my use of the phrase “only the most CURRENT instance….”

  • Kartik M.

    On the Nicene Creed: it may have been written three centuries after the death of Jesus, but in spreading the gospel to a vast audience spanning the Roman Empire and all its institutional progeny to the present day… there’s no denying it was the Colonel Tom Parker to Jesus’ Elvis.
    Whatever one’s claims regarding “progressive Christianity”, one can hardly argue that the Nicene Creed doesn’t continue to be the basis on which various mainstream Churches continue to police their flock, to this very day.

    The rules of policing derive from scriptures, to which acceptance of the Nicene Creed (the version adopted by the First Council of Constantinople in 381) explicitly renders authority. The net effect is to marginalize Christians who adopt lifestyles or personal choices that can be condemned with recourse to scriptural justification; homosexuals, for instance, or women who insist on the legal protection of their reproductive rights.

    Equally, those who espouse a more personal spiritual exploration at variance with Church doctrine have, more often than not, found themselves policed and marginalized. Historically, the Church has followed a predictable course in dealing with Mystics whose ideas proved too pernicious to be smacked down outright: roast ‘em, consume ‘em, digest what you like, and then shoot what’s left out of the canon!

    In this context it is ironic that Mr. Gregg has cited the Christian Mystic and reformer San Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the Cross), who was imprisoned and tortured by the Calced Carmelites for his views in 1577. A century and a half later, those of his reforms as survived in the form of the Discalced Carmelite order had been assimilated by the mainstream Catholic church, having withstood the test of popular support over a period of time; and San Juan himself was “digested” with the respectability of canonization.

    Yet, even today, the personal spiritual explorations of San Juan are invoked by homosexual Christians, who see in his Christian Mystic writings a reflection of their own identity, repressed and marginalized by the religious mainstream (see “Dark Night of the Soul”, an essay by Toby Johnson, 2000.) Those whom the Church excludes as the “other” today find inspiration in the expressions of Christian Mysticism, much of which has traditionally been marginalized as the “other” by the same mainstream.

    This stands in stark contrast to Dharmic tradition, wherein personal metaphysical exploration by rishis and sadhus has never been “policed”, but considered an integral aspect of religious development, which provides the core impetus for the spiritual evolution of society.

    This sort of intense conflict between doctrinaire religious practice and personal spiritual exploration, or mysticism, is a manifestation of Difference Anxiety among Abrahamic faiths whose claim to authority depends on a specific historical narrative. Whatever the pretensions of liberal Christianity, its followers will be hard pressed to duck the millstone of Difference Anxiety while still maintaining their distinctive religious identity.

    To the extent that mysticism, personal spiritual exploration etc. may play a role in the praxis of some Christians today… it seems clear to me that these are the purloined and repackaged artifacts of a Dharmic tradition that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity. Unfortunately, the rightful inheritors of that tradition haven’t gone the way of the Aztec or the Mithraite; we’re still here, and at long last, we’re calling them on it.

    Mr. Gregg contends that the characteristic ideas of dharma as laid out in Mr. Malhotra’s book are all things that Christianity has come up with (all by itself) already. We’ll see. My bet is, given the privileged historical narrative that lies at the very heart of Christianity’s claim to exclusivism… such things are easier blogged about than done.

    • Carl Gregg

      The whole situation on both sides is much more messy, nuanced, and complex than Malhotra’s categories allow for the most part. When you say, for example, that, “To the extent that mysticism, personal spiritual exploration etc. may play a role in the praxis of some Christians today… it seems clear to me that these are the purloined and repackaged artifacts of a Dharmic tradition that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity” that seems to stunningly ignore the profound mystical religious experiences that pervade the Bible. There are legitimate critiques that can and should be made of the West’s past and present. But I remain unconvinced that Malhotra’s framework is a helpful way of framing the issues. There’s too much lionizing of the Dharmic traditions and too much stereotyping of the West. The West has certainly be more than guilty of the same behavior. But simply inverting the stereotyping process does not seem productive or helpful to me. The way forward is to own how much we all have in common as human beings on this one Earth, while also respecting and living together in peace despite our cultural-linguistic differences.

      • Joy Kurien

        Carl, You are naturally more comfortable in western categories, being a self acclaimed Western Universalist. Hence, it is natural for you to find Malhotra’s dharma categories to be inauthentic.

        What this shows is that there is no possibility at present our human conditioned level to have a truly universal set of categories.

        Hence, the best we can do is to hear each other as peers, while recognizing that the other will use his/her categories.

        So Malhotra is merely leveling the playing field because thus far the categories used in discourse have been invariably western ones.

      • Kartik M.

        Carl Gregg: “When you say, for example, that, “To the extent that mysticism, personal spiritual exploration etc. may play a role in the praxis of some Christians today… it seems clear to me that these are the purloined and repackaged artifacts of a Dharmic tradition that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity” that seems to stunningly ignore the profound mystical religious experiences that pervade the Bible.”

        This interesting assertion is problematic because it skirts the issue of what these mystical religious experiences described in the Bible represent.

        Are they divine revelation, pre-ordained epiphanies that occur through divine agency only to a specific set of pre-determined individuals? That is how I have always read them; for example, the vision of two angels experienced by Mary Magdalene as related in John 20:14-16. If so, they can hardly be compared to the consciousness that derives from the practice of adhyatma-vidya: the fruits of personal spiritual revelation that can be achieved by any diligent practitioner, and which are not contingent on having participated in a specific historical narrative regarded as supreme.

        If my reading of the Bible is right, then the distinction drawn by Malhotra between Christian history-centrism and Dharmic embodied knowing would appear to hold good.

        If, on the other hand, you are re-interpreting these mystical experiences described in the Bible as having been the product of spiritual exploration rather than divine revelation: where, then, are the accounts of such spiritual exploration in the Bible itself to justify such an interpretation? To what pre-existing tradition of spiritual exploration in the Levant is this supposed achievement of divine consciousness through systematic meditative praxis being attributed?

        Or is it alleged to have evolved out of nowhere, manifesting itself to a few specific individuals by virtue of divine grace (over a certain period of 40 days in Jesus’ case?) And if so, then how is it different from pre-ordained revelation that somehow privileges a handful of Israelis above and beyond the rest of the human race?

        On a related note, there are some who believe that, during the many years of his life that the Bible does not account for, Jesus visited India and studied the spiritual discipline of the Kashmir Shaivas. If indeed he did, and used this praxis to achieve a level of spiritual consciousness that was hitherto uncommon among his own people… then the very fact that such accounts are carefully omitted from the Greek New Testament and all of its subsequent editions would illustrate that Western digestion (without credit or attribution) of Dharmic traditions has been in effect for a couple of thousand years!

        There is no question that we all have much in common as human beings and that we need to live together in peace. Malhotra’s book only emphasizes the need for mutual respect between irreconcilably different spiritual traditions, as a crucial ingredient of lasting peace. In its comparative treatment of Western and Dharmic traditions, “Being Different” establishes the existence of those differences and discusses various historical and modern mechanisms that have been emoloyed by the West to deal with them.

        It is those mechanisms that remain a very real and highly toxic obstacle to the achievement of peaceful co-existence that you envision. What Malhotra’s framework achieves is to identify and critically evaluate such mechanisms; something that is hardly possible from an approach less explicitly Dharmic than the one he adopts. Sometimes the only way to reveal Western stereotypes for what they are, rather than the universal truths they profess to be, is through the approach that you describe as an “inversion” of the stereotyping process.

        Your primary criticism seems to be that Malhotra is trying to set the world to righs by turning it upside down. From a Dharmic point of view, this is not so; Malhotra is in fact teaching us to look upon the same world while standing on our heads, as a means to free ourselves of assumptions that have been forced upon us by Western universalism.

  • Rajiv Malhotra

    Hello Carl, glad to read your critique.

    I see that you practice Christian Centering Prayer, a system brought to Christianity in the 1970s by Father Thomas Keating from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation movement. The person who facilitated this transfer was Brother Wayne Teasdale, whom I knew, and who learned Vedanta and Hindu meditation in Bede Griffith’s ashram in India. Teasdale even wrote books like “Christian Vedanta” in which he pointed out the deficiencies in Christianity wrt mysticism and proposed that it should assimilate Hindu metaphysics to reinterpret itself.

    I have an audio tape of a talk given by Father Keating at Maharishi University in Iowa, back in the early 1970s, thanking them for teaching TM to his fellow Benedictine monks from Massachusetts. He acknowledges that Maharishi is the greatest authority on meditation, and says openly that Christianity must teach this in a manner that would be part of Christianity.

    Only many years later, after Benedictine monks from Massachusetts had learned a great deal from Maharishi, they started to disown that TM was their source. They remapped it on to Cloud of Unknowing as their Christian source.

    But they made some critical changes in TM to protect Christians from “paganism”.

    This is one of several similar factoids that will be in my U-Turn Theory book.

    Finally, I agree with your remark: “I would contend that progressive, ‘dharmic’ religious thought and practice is far more common in the West than Malhotra often acknowledges and may well be even more common in the near future.” This progressive dharmic religious thought prevalent in the West is the very subject of my U-Turn Theory. The debt to that tradition should not be disowned as part of the western heritage, and should not be replaced by some western sources merely out of chauvinism. Therefore, to be true to your own words here, may I suggest that you should think of yourself as a “human universalist” rather than a “western universalist”.

    Thanks.
    Rajiv

    • Carl Gregg

      I readily concede your suggestion that “human universalist” is a preferable term. My use of “western universalist” was intended to be a playful push-back on the aspects of your work that seemed overreaching to me, while owning that indeed (as others have described in the comments) my universalism is rooted in my being raised in a Western context. At the same time, it still seems to me to be both going too far and false to history to deny that there are significant ‘dharmic’ elements in the Jewish and Christian traditions — even if the dharmic elements are much stronger in Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

      I’d need to see much more documentation to be convinced of your specific claims of revisionist history. I could, for example, show you whole textbooks on Christian Spirituality that span the more than two millennia of Christian history; they don’t just start in the 1960s and 70s with the “turn to the East.” (I’m not saying you are unaware of such books; rather, that you should acknowledge their contents more fully.) And that doesn’t even get into the preceding roots of Jewish mysticism and firsthand religious experience. Nevertheless, I look forward to your future scholarship. Even if we continue to disagree on the history, I certainly hope that the dharmic perspective continues to prosper widely and to gain proper acknowledgement of its heritage from whatever many sources that may be. I celebrate the role your work is playing in encouraging the cultivation of firsthand experiences, nondual perspectives, and mysticism. The places where the true sources have been downplayed or denied because of embarrassment or chauvinism should, by all means, be brought to light.

  • Rajiv Malhotra

    Hi Carl,

    The textbooks on Christian spirituality spanning 2 millennia you refer to were banned and rejected in the west, even outlawed in many cases. Only after the dharma influenced America, and then many uturners went looking for similar sources in their own history-centric identity, did they “discover” these old texts.

    This, too, required massive extrapolation of what those words meant – again using dharma as the knowledge to re-imagine old Christianity.

    The New Thought of the West is actually the Old Thought of the east, repackaged to be seen as emerging from the West itself.

    As Thomas McEvilley, a recent scholar of Indian influences on Greece, argues:

    “The view of Plotinus as a kind of proto-Christian theologian may express, at least in part, a dread of finding possible Indian origins for the texts whose influence was to contribute to shaping the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Nicolas of Cusa, Meister Eckhart, and many later western thinkers. So it is not only that ‘to admit oriental influences on [Plotinus] was tantamount to besmirching his good name,’ but even more it would also besmirch that whole aspect of the western tradition that flowed from him. If Plotinus had passed massive Asian influence into the western tradition, there would be little point to calling it western tradition.” McEvilley, Thomas, The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, New York: Allworth Press, 2001, p. 550. (Emphasis added)

    Kindly do read in my book how and why Greek and Indian influences on the West are being treated differently by Westerners. Why the double standards?

    regards,
    rajiv

    • Carl Gregg

      To me it is significant that the old texts were there in the first place to be ‘re-discovered’ by the majority. Their reception history of interpretation is a whole other complicated matter. I can only speak for myself that I don’t have a dread of finding “Indian” or any other origins, and I certainly hope that your scholarship helps expose the ways that Indian/Buddhist/other contributions have been neglected in Western scholarship.

  • John the (Closet) Hindu

    Please read “Gandhi in Hell?” at: http://www.atone.me/?p=2509

    This will illustrate the term history centrism coined by Malhotra. Gregg should acknowledge this contribution by Malhotra as a solid critique of Christian orthodoxy.

    Now to Gregg’s side, please read: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/

    This shows Christianity reborn and reconstructed as we speak. Gregg belongs in this camp. But he wants to deny that this is a reconstruction, not the “original” stuff.

    So he should not defend “Christian Universalism” much less “Western Universalism” – that shows how limited a view he has of being human.

    He should have no problem acknowledging the massive inputs from Hinduism and Buddhism over the past 150 years to help re-invent Christianity. Why is that seen as a problem at all? Early Christianity openly took so much from pagan Greece, Rome and later from northern Europe. So why be parochial and not acknowledge the huge impact coming from Indian dharma faiths into Christianity?

    I feel that Malhotra already knows the nitpicking points Gregg makes, but he wants people like Gregg to notice his reversing the gaze: that there is no separate and distinct “West” with its own unique “universalism”.

    • Carl Gregg

      Christian “Orthodoxy” was one of many competing groups in the early centuries of Christian history. Bart Ehrman calls them “proto-orthodox” before their ‘triumph’ in some ways in the early fourth-century. I would commend Ehrman’s scholarship to you and others. But Rob Bell’s work is not new. Origen of Alexandria (c. 185–254) and many others even earlier in Christianity and Judaism were “universalists” of various sorts. For more, see my post on “I Hope Rob Bell Is a Universalist” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2011/03/i-hope-rob-bell-is-a-universalist/). In making the argument about Rob Bell, a contemporary figure, you are perhaps exposing your lack of biblical and historical knowledge about the themes similar to ‘dharmic’ tradition that are replete in Jewish and Christian history. They aren’t always the dominant voices, but they are there and often surprisingly prominent.

      • John the (Closet) Hindu

        1) It is unfair and flippant to dismiss those who disagree as lacking in biblical knowledge.

        2) Your final statement is valid: “biblical and historical knowledge about the themes similar to ‘dharmic’ tradition that are replete in Jewish and Christian history. They aren’t always the dominant voices, but they are there and often surprisingly prominent.” I never denied this. But the recent “discovery” of dharma by westerners is what triggered this hunt for old sources within Judeo-Christianity and then stretching the facts to fit dharma – i.e. digest it. Why is it so painful for you to acknowledge this fact?

  • senthil

    Carl,

    What if the first hand experiences tend to conflict with the tenants of the holy bible? The experiences become invalid, as it violates the holy text? Is it NOT?

    In dharmic traditions, there is no such baggage.. Every first hand experiencees is NOT benchmarked by any holy books, or any religious standards.. whereas, in the so called christian experiences, it is scrutinised and standardised.. Otherwise, christianity cannot withstand it.

    • Carl Gregg

      The issue you raise is not a problem for Progressive Christians. See the work of Marcus Borg and many others.

  • ANKUR KAKKAR

    1.“In contrast, the kind of Christianity I practice and teach involves precisely the sort of pragmatism and cultivation of first hand experiences with God that he describes as dharmic.”

    My response :-
    In that case, Mr. Carl, you should use a different term for the ‘kind of Christianity’ that you preach because it deviates sharply from ‘Christianity of the bible and the gospels’. Your ‘kind of Christianity’ is nothing but a convenient mapping of dharmic inputs into your religious world view.
    Also, since Malhotra has already discussed your case in his book, I will quote him at some length here. On pages 342-344 of “being different”, Malhotra outlines four broad sets of western responses to dharma:-
    i. Fundamentalist push-back
    ii. Open minded within the limits of history-centrism
    iii. Serious explorers into dharma : “a much smaller group of practitioners would be willing to call into question the core beliefs of the west. This group might include humanists, self-help advocates, social scientists and those who have had mystical experiences outside of conventional western religious paradigms.”
    Clearly, people like you will neatly fit into this category. Hence, your ‘kind of Christianity’ has already been anticipated by Malhotra.
    iv. “Rare is the western seeker who is able to follow through on his or her quest without such a volte-face. Rarer still is the one who is able to forge a completely new and individual path of spiritual achievement.”

    Clearly, you will find that as per the dharmic framework, you are yet to embark on an individual path of spiritual achievement. Nevertheless, I wish you good luck with that.

    2.“Moreover, progressive Christianity in general takes individual experience extremely seriously as a criterion for authority and would reject out of hand a view of Adam and Eve as actual historical figures, as opposed to meaningful mythological characters (see my post on “There Was No Historical Adam and Eve“).”

    My response :-
    Firstly, let us understand what ‘progressive Christianity’ is because this term can be quite misleading. It may appear to be a unique and modern version of Christianity, something that has nothing to do with the Bible or the gospels, but in essence it is the same dogma wrapped in a different garb. Let us trace a few steps back in order to understand how ‘progressive Christianity’ has evolved from its orthodox version.
    While the Bible and the Gospels are rigid about the history of Jesus and Christianity, such ‘history-centrism’ was later punctured by theological/Christological research. After several decades of Christological research, Rudolf Bultmann, Professor in the Marburg University of Germany, acknowledged as the greatest New Testament theologian of the twentieth century concluded in 1958 that “ we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are more fragmentary and legendary.” Due to lack of any evidence, the quest for the historical Jesus had to be abandoned (http://www.i4m.com/think/bible/historical_jesus.htm).
    Sita Ram Goel notes in his ‘Jesus Christ: An Artifice for Aggression’ that “Deprived of the Jesus of history and faced with the Jesus of fiction, the die-hard Christian theologians have had to console themselves with what they proclaim as the Christ of faith”. Subsequently, there was a marked change in their tone. Albert Schweitzer, who published the famous theological classic ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’ in 1910 (English version), said that “We must be prepared to find that the historical knowledge of the personality and life of Jesus will not be a help, but perhaps even an offence to religion…. It is not Jesus as historically known, but Jesus as spiritually arisen within men who is significant for our times who is significant for our time and can help it”. Rudolf Bultmann stated ‘the object of our faith is the Christ of the kerygma (the Christ of Christian preaching or proclamation) and not the person of the historical Jesus”. Thus, we see a major step towards ‘progressive Christianity’.
    ‘Progressive Christians’ may go as far as dismissing many of the stories presented in the Gospels. They may not have a consensus on details like Jesus’ date of birth, death etc. But how many of these ‘progressive Christians’ are willing to abandon their fundamental assumptions. Are they willing to disown Jesus as the only son of God? Are they willing to respect other religions as equally valid paths to god? No matter what they call themselves, unless these ‘progressives’ are willing to shed their assumptions, they remain only ‘veiled Christians’. Malhotra’s own experiences (some of which have been documented in BD) in several inter-faith dialogues testify to the fact that most of these ‘Progressive Christians’ shy away from their fundamental beliefs.

    3.“I couldn’t disagree more that the Nicene Creed — which was written almost three centuries after the life of the historical Jesus — is ‘the gold standard of belief in Christianity’”

    My response :-
    Read the Wikipedia entry of ‘Nicene Creed’ and particularly, the section ‘Views on importance of Nicene Creed’- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed#Views_on_the_importance_of_this_creed

    4.“Malhotra occasionally grants that there are exceptions to his rule. For instance, he highlights ‘dharmic’ Judeo-Christian thinkers such as Roger Kamenetz, Dom Bede Griffiths, and Raimundo Panikkar. But I would contend that progressive, ‘dharmic’ religious thought and practice is far more common in the West than Malhotra often acknowledges and may well be even more common in the near future”

    My response :-
    This has already been covered by Malhotra in BD and his comment on this blog. I will simply add what Sita Ram Goel said about such people as Raimundo Pannikar “I have told my friends such as Raimundo Pannikar that if they are sincere about a dialogue with Hindus, they should denounce the missionary apparatus. They smile and dismiss me as a Hindu chauvinist.”

    5.“Despite the vitally important differences in our religious and cultural traditions, we ultimately have far more in common — rooted in our common humanity — than we have to keep us apart”

    My response :-
    Firstly, Malhotra is not denying that commonalities exist between different religions. However, the objective of “being different” is not to explore these commonalities. Rather, the endeavor is to understand the fundamental differences which are often obscured (intentionally or unintentionally) because of such commonalities which give a false impression that all religions are ‘same’.
    Secondly, we need to figure out at what level commonalities exist between the Judeo-Christian and Dharmic traditions. It is possible that commonalities exist only at a superficial level, and when we go deeper to the basic assumptions – we see fundamental differences. If we are genuinely open-minded, we should consider all possibilities in our exploration, even if we find that our observations contradict our previous notions.
    As Malhotra says, “At the level of popular culture, India and the West may meet as equals. But at a deeper level, where the core assumptions of a civilization reside, the playing field is tilted”. Hence, it would be naïve to assume that commonalities and differences exist at the same level and both are equal in every respect.
    Thirdly, as Sita Ram Goel said “They (Christians) want us to accept that Christianity has a lot in common with Hinduism, that Christianity is a great and unique religion, that Jesus is a spiritual power and that Hindus should have no objection to Christian missions. We will not walk into the trap.”
    A blatant example of elucidating the rules of purva-paksha described by Malhotra in BD, is the following statement by S.R.Goel “Jesus has a relevance to the dialogue (between Hindus and Christians) if the Christian side allows us to present him as we and not they see him”.

    • Carl Gregg

      What I teach and practice doesn’t deviate sharply from the Christianity of the Bible and the Gospels, despite the insistence of some commenters here that it does. See my previous comments about works such as Diana Butler Bass’ “The People’s History of Christianity” (http://amzn.to/xzK2vZ).

      Also, I am aware that Malhotra has discussed my case in his book. I have both read and reviewed the book. However, as I’ve said above I do not accept all of his ways of framing the issues at hand. Simply because he has addressed an issue does not necessitate that all readers will deem his discussion as adequate. And I’m unclear how you think you know enough about me to say, “you are yet to embark on an individual path of spiritual achievement. Nevertheless, I wish you good luck with that.”

      On “Adam and Eve” being understood as mythological not historical, this is understanding is far from a new for progressive Christianity. Indeed the whole argument around these historicity is mostly a post-Scientific Revolution debate. See, for example, James Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now” (http://amzn.to/u9nKUi).

      Regarding your Bultmann quote, many of his students in the late twentieth-century and into today have long disagreed with his conclusions that the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” is over. They have greatly benefited from Bultmann’s insights, but have carried his work forward in ways he was unable to anticipate. See, for example, the scholarship of John Dominic Crossan, widely regarded as the greatest living scholar of the historical Jesus. To say that “Due to lack of any evidence, the quest for the historical Jesus had to be abandoned” is to fail to account for the shelves upon shelves of quality Post-Bultmannian historical Jesus scholars in recent decades.

      
Also, the view of progressive Christians are present not only in the early decades of Christianity (see the work of Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and many others), but also throughout Christian history. Indeed what you and other commenters insist are “fundamental beliefs” for Christians have never been accepted for all Christians (again, see Bass’ work).

      On Pannikar, I have no problem denouncing Christianity’s missionary impulse. Interfaith dialogue should be able relationship, not conversion. That’s the way myself and all my friends were trained to operate in a mainline seminary. My denomination has the same policy.

      • ANKUR KAKKAR

        1.“What I teach and practice doesn’t deviate sharply from the Christianity of the Bible and the Gospels, despite the insistence of some commenters here that it does.”

        My response:
        Since there are innumerable verses which reflect intolerance, absurdity, violence etc., I shall only be able to quote a few of them (owing to space and time constraints). The following verses are from the New Testament:-
        Corinthians 2 (2:12)”Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. (2:13) “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual”.
        John 2 (2:22) “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”
        John 5 (5:19) “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”
        Peter 4 (4:17) “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”
        John 1 (1:9) “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the son.”
        John 1 (1:10) “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:”

        I wish there were a book containing all these verses, not only would it make every ‘debate’ convenient to resolve, but it would also run into thousands of pages, contradicting every preaching of ‘progressives’.

        2.“And I’m unclear how you think you know enough about me to say, “you are yet to embark on an individual path of spiritual achievement. Nevertheless, I wish you good luck with that.”

        My reponse :-
        I apologize for making this personal comment. However, I wanted to point out that because you belong the ‘third set’ as per Malhotra’s categories, you have not yet crossed over to the ‘fourth set’ and I wish you good luck for reaching that stage.

        3.“See, for example, James Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now” (http://amzn.to/u9nKUi).”

        My response :-
        In your entire blog and your replies, you are consistently REFERRING TO SECONDARY SOURCES, and this attitude reflects your inertia to face the ‘sola scriptura’. You have NOT CITED A SINGLE VERSE FROM BIBLE OR the GOSPELS to prove your point.
        Why should someone tell me ‘how to read the bible’? Why should I adopt anybody’s ‘interpretation’ of the Bible or the gospels? I can read and understand them on my own. If Christianity were truly liberal, it would encourage everyone to read the scriptures on their own and interpret as per their minds. Of course, I would consult a theologian if I were to have any specific doubts. However, this ‘guidance for understanding scriptures’ should not be pre-empted. There should be no fear of ‘interpreting the wrong thing’. That is exactly my point here. Hinduism considers every individual capable of reading and interpreting the scriptures in their own way. There is no ‘interpretation’. A truly pluralistic religion is never afraid of unlimited possibilities, which the west would see as ‘anarchy’.

        4.“To say that “Due to lack of any evidence, the quest for the historical Jesus had to be abandoned” is to fail to account for the shelves upon shelves of quality Post-Bultmannian historical Jesus scholars in recent decades.”

        My response :-
        I am not surprised or over-whelmed by ‘shelves upon shelves of quality Post-Bultmannian historical Jesus scholars in recent decades’ because it only reinforces the history-centrism embedded in Christianity. It further extends what Malhotra has described as the obsession with historicity of Jesus.
        I am not familiar with many of these post-bultmannian scholars and neither would I be much interested in them because for a dharmic person, obsession with historicity of God is a futile exercise. It is a never ending quest whose objective is irrelevant. As Malhotra has quoted Sri Aurobindo in his book “What difference would it make whether an actual historical Jesus ever lived on this earth, so long as we can recreate the Jesus within us.”

        5.“Also, the view of progressive Christians are present not only in the early decades of Christianity (see the work of Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and many others), but also throughout Christian history. Indeed what you and other commenters insist are “fundamental beliefs” for Christians have never been accepted for all Christians (again, see Bass’ work).”

        My response :-
        I am not denying that ‘progressive views’ exist. However, ‘progressive views’ have never been in the mainstream (at least until end of 20th century) and their precise definition has changed invariably over time. We are concerned about the predominant idea in the west. The idea that motivates people to a way of life, the idea that justifies the actions of the followers of a system is our concern.
        Saying that ‘progressive idea’ has dominated the history of the west is a blatant denial of reality. If Christian society had ‘progressive instincts’, what led to the onset of ‘dark ages’ which had a devastating impact in nearly every sphere of human endeavor. Why did these ‘progressives’ not prevent the innumerable horrendous crimes committed in Christian society for over two millennia. Due to space and time constraints, I will cite just one among many examples of the havoc wreaked by the Church – the inhuman medical practice of bloodletting. I will quote from Panati Charles’ Extraordinary endings of practically everything: The most common medical practice between the sixth and sixteenth centuries used for every malady became “bleeding”. Christian monks taught that bleeding a person would prevent toxic imbalances, prevent sexual desire, and restore the humors. By the sixteenth century, this practice would kill tens of thousands each year. Yet, when a person died during blood-letting, it was only lamented that treatment had not been started sooner and performed more aggressively.
        Wikipedia says” It was the most common medical practice performed by doctors from antiquity up to the late 19th century, a time span of almost 2,000 years. The practice has now been abandoned for all except a few very specific conditions. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the historical use of bloodletting was harmful to patients.”
        Of course, there have been Christians who fought against the tyranny of the Church. We also saw the renaissance as a result of a separation between Church and state. However, not only did it come too late, but it was also embedded in the same assumptions of uniformity. Hence, we are still seeing the effects of the doctrine. Malhotra already covers this point in BD.

        6.“On Pannikar, I have no problem denouncing Christianity’s missionary impulse.”

        My reponse :-
        I am glad you denounce christianity’s missionary impulse. However, are you prepared to denounce it publicly? Are you willing to help dismantle the missionary apparatus currently operating in India? Are you willing to tell your fellow Christians that ‘guys, we have wreaked havoc around the world for a long while now. It is high time we stopped our missions in every part of the world.’
        If you are willing to do all this, then you should call yourself a humanist and not a ‘western universalist’.

  • Truth Seeker

    If Carl’s Progressive Christianity genuinely rejects the Nicene Creed and history-centrism, accepts that there needs to be mutual respect between religions and rejects ‘missionary push sales’ techniques – then it is certainly to be welcomed. Carl and Progressive Christianity would then satisfy the requirements of ‘Sapeksha Dharma’ which is the core Dharmic universalist message that Rajiv Malhotra’s book stresses on.

    The attempt to justify these universalist principles as deriving from your own heritage and traditions would also ordinarily not be a problem for Hindus / Dharmics – in fact Hinduism strongly favors the idea of cultures evolving and justifying change based on their own traditions rather than as an imposition from outside.

    However, the fundamental issue and reality of today is that this liberalism of Hinduism is not reciprocated – and there is an existential threat in the home base of the liberal Dharmic culture – from intolerant history-centric creeds. The vast amount of funds for conversion and demographic change being pumped into India by various evangelical Christian organizations – are certainly NOT coming in with a “Progressive’ worldview. History-centric Christianity and Islam pose a serious danger to what you call the ‘progressive’ worldview, in the very land where this worldview took birth.

    In light of this – in order not to be ‘digested’ (this is a phrase used with specific connotations by Rajiv Malhotra) it becomes important for Dharma to explicitly point out the massive uncredited borrowing from Dharmic sources in many, many areas (including in spirituality and many secular areas of knowledge).

    Just to give you another perspective – whole geographical parts of the ancient Indian subcontinent were lured by what’s called Sufism (a supposedly ‘progressive’ version of Islam that was again largely developed in India) and have over time converted to the more fundamentalist Wahabbi version of Islam thanks to massive conversion funds from places like Saudi Arabia.

    If ‘Progressive’ Christianity is not to play a similar ‘good cop’ role, that ultimately leads to the ‘bad cop’ history-centric Christianity winning out – I think there needs to be a stronger stance taken and a much stronger alliance between the progressive elements of Christianity, Dharmics, and possibly Taoists to proactively take steps to curtail the menace of conversions and prosetylization. If that is not done – we will find large swathes of Asia that have traditionally followed ‘progressive’ religions gradually converting to the intolerance of history-centrism – which those of us out here on this forum seem to agree is not a very happy outcome.

    • ANKUR KAKKAR

      well said. As orthodox christainity has crumbled in the west – falling attendance at churches – its political version has gained momentum in India.
      Today, for indians, Christianity is a tool that is being used to create divisions within India. Read Malhotra’s “breaking india”.
      we need to resist these forces ‘breaking india’.

  • http://dogmatoxin.wordpress.com DogmaToxin

    the discrediting of American scholars of Hinduism

    If you care about developing a deeper understanding of these issues…
    you may be interested in learning more about how the professors you seem to respect – Wendy, Jeffrey and others – and the Dharmic criticism/perspective of their works, in this excellent book “Invading the Sacred” http://www.amazon.com/Invading-Sacred-Analysis-Hinduism-Studies/dp/8129111829

  • Truth Seeker

    Hi Carl,

    I just noticed the ‘Update’ that you have added to your writeup above.

    The exchange between Wendy Doniger and Rajiv Malhotra is very well-known to those who track Dharmic studies. You might want to read two extensive articles by Rajiv Malhotra that provide a detailed background to the affair. These are publicly available online – and can be brought up through a google search for ‘RISA-lila 1′ and ‘RISA-lila 2′. You might want to draw your own conclusions after going through these. Also you might want to evaluate whether the kind of ‘scholarship’ championed by Jeffery Kirpal on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is something you necessarily endorse as a Progressive Christian.

    It probably is important for readers of ‘Being Different’ to really understand the extensive history of demonization of the Dharmic traditions both historically and currently ongoing in the West. Its only when one truly understands this – can one relate to the book as a response to this phenomenon.

  • Srinivas

    Malhotra is not denying the existence of mysticism in Christianity and instead offers that it is prevalent in all traditions. What is contended as a difference is how a tradition accepts & promotes such a culture as against suppressing or grudging acknowledgement of it.

    The last update, an ad-hominem attack, by the reviewer is unfortunate. The reviewer should stick to critique based on reason and reality. This trend is most disturbing especially since the reviewer found the ground beneath his feet shaken after Malhotra pointed out the “digestion” in action in the reviewer’s own tradition. I would welcome any references or arguments against this u-turn theory rather than premature personal attacks. Just quoting a few scholars titles means nothing in spiritual pursuit. Instead of “Western Universalist”, this is more of a “Western Escapist” ideology.

  • ANKUR KAKKAR

    1.“What I teach and practice doesn’t deviate sharply from the Christianity of the Bible and the Gospels, despite the insistence of some commenters here that it does.”

    My response:
    Since there are innumerable verses which reflect intolerance, absurdity, violence etc., I shall only be able to quote a few of them (owing to space and time constraints). The following verses are from the New Testament:-
    Corinthians 2 (2:12)”Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. (2:13) “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual”.
    John 2 (2:22) “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”
    John 5 (5:19) “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”
    Peter 4 (4:17) “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”
    John 1 (1:9) “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the son.”
    John 1 (1:10) “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:”

    I wish there were a book containing all these verses, not only would it make every ‘debate’ convenient to resolve, but it would also run into thousands of pages, contradicting every preaching of ‘progressives’.

    2.“And I’m unclear how you think you know enough about me to say, “you are yet to embark on an individual path of spiritual achievement. Nevertheless, I wish you good luck with that.”

    My reponse :-
    I apologize for making this personal comment. However, I wanted to point out that because you belong the ‘third set’ as per Malhotra’s categories, you have not yet crossed over to the ‘fourth set’ and I wish you good luck for reaching that stage.

    3.“See, for example, James Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now” (http://amzn.to/u9nKUi).”

    My response :-
    In your entire blog and your replies, you are consistently REFERRING TO SECONDARY SOURCES, and this attitude reflects your inertia to face the ‘sola scriptura’. You have NOT CITED A SINGLE VERSE FROM BIBLE OR the GOSPELS to prove your point.
    Why should someone tell me ‘how to read the bible’? Why should I adopt anybody’s ‘interpretation’ of the Bible or the gospels? I can read and understand them on my own. If Christianity were truly liberal, it would encourage everyone to read the scriptures on their own and interpret as per their minds. Of course, I would consult a theologian if I were to have any specific doubts. However, this ‘guidance for understanding scriptures’ should not be pre-empted. There should be no fear of ‘interpreting the wrong thing’. That is exactly my point here. Hinduism considers every individual capable of reading and interpreting the scriptures in their own way. There is no ‘interpretation’. A truly pluralistic religion is never afraid of unlimited possibilities, which the west would see as ‘anarchy’.

    4.“To say that “Due to lack of any evidence, the quest for the historical Jesus had to be abandoned” is to fail to account for the shelves upon shelves of quality Post-Bultmannian historical Jesus scholars in recent decades.”

    My response :-
    I am not surprised or over-whelmed by ‘shelves upon shelves of quality Post-Bultmannian historical Jesus scholars in recent decades’ because it only reinforces the history-centrism embedded in Christianity. It further extends what Malhotra has described as the obsession with historicity of Jesus.
    I am not familiar with many of these post-bultmannian scholars and neither would I be much interested in them because for a dharmic person, obsession with historicity of God is a futile exercise. It is a never ending quest whose objective is irrelevant. As Malhotra has quoted Sri Aurobindo in his book “What difference would it make whether an actual historical Jesus ever lived on this earth, so long as we can recreate the Jesus within us.”

    5.“Also, the view of progressive Christians are present not only in the early decades of Christianity (see the work of Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and many others), but also throughout Christian history. Indeed what you and other commenters insist are “fundamental beliefs” for Christians have never been accepted for all Christians (again, see Bass’ work).”

    My response :-
    I am not denying that ‘progressive views’ exist. However, ‘progressive views’ have never been in the mainstream (at least until end of 20th century) and their precise definition has changed invariably over time. We are concerned about the predominant idea in the west. The idea that motivates people to a way of life, the idea that justifies the actions of the followers of a system is our concern.
    Saying that ‘progressive idea’ has dominated the history of the west is a blatant denial of reality. If Christian society had ‘progressive instincts’, what led to the onset of ‘dark ages’ which had a devastating impact in nearly every sphere of human endeavor. Why did these ‘progressives’ not prevent the innumerable horrendous crimes committed in Christian society for over two millennia. Due to space and time constraints, I will cite just one among many examples of the havoc wreaked by the Church – the inhuman medical practice of bloodletting. I will quote from Panati Charles’ Extraordinary endings of practically everything: The most common medical practice between the sixth and sixteenth centuries used for every malady became “bleeding”. Christian monks taught that bleeding a person would prevent toxic imbalances, prevent sexual desire, and restore the humors. By the sixteenth century, this practice would kill tens of thousands each year. Yet, when a person died during blood-letting, it was only lamented that treatment had not been started sooner and performed more aggressively.
    Wikipedia says” It was the most common medical practice performed by doctors from antiquity up to the late 19th century, a time span of almost 2,000 years. The practice has now been abandoned for all except a few very specific conditions. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the historical use of bloodletting was harmful to patients.”
    Of course, there have been Christians who fought against the tyranny of the Church. We also saw the renaissance as a result of a separation between Church and state. However, not only did it come too late, but it was also embedded in the same assumptions of uniformity. Hence, we are still seeing the effects of the doctrine. Malhotra already covers this point in BD.

    6.“On Pannikar, I have no problem denouncing Christianity’s missionary impulse.”
    My reponse :-
    I am glad you denounce christianity’s missionary impulse. However, are you prepared to denounce it publicly? Are you willing to help dismantle the missionary apparatus currently operating in India? Are you willing to tell your fellow Christians that ‘guys, we have wreaked havoc around the world for a long while now. It is high time we stopped our missions in every part of the world.’
    If you are willing to do all this, then you should call yourself a humanist and not a ‘western universalist’.

  • John the (Closet) Hindu

    Carl, wait a minute! Just when I was starting to feel that you made some valid points, albeit filled with unconscious supremacy in places, you now bring up this Martha Nussbaum excerpt that is irrelevant to the thesis of this book.

    What this shows is the western penchant to quote each other and build legitimacy when the fact and reason based arguments run out of steam.

    For one thing, Nussbaum has been soundly thrashed since she wrote that piece. But you are being selective in what you quote from her.

    Below is what Malhotra’s “Breaking India” book said about Nussbaum, in a section named after her:

    Martha Nussbaum

    Martha Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, and is widely seen as a powerful voice of American liberalism. But when it comes to India, she is aligned against Indian civilization and embraces radical Eurocentrism. For example, she stated that a Hindu nation is not ‘a benign establishment like the Lutheran Church of Finland’ but something that would treat Muslims as second-class citizens. (An entire section in Chapter 17 and also Appendix H are devoted to examining the role of the Lutheran Church in India.) Her interest in India started while working for Amartya Sen in an intimate relationship that she has bragged about.

    After some foreign academics were found to be linked with secessionist movements, the Indian government wanted foreign participants to get permission to come to conferences. Nussbaum threatened, ‘We’ll see how bad publicity (which I intend to give them, here and elsewhere) may bring pressure to bear against them . . . .’ At a Yale seminar on anti-Semitism, her focus was to link Hinduism with fascism, as reflected in the notes that she distributed to the participants:

    “In India the perpetrators of violence are not Muslims (who are usually poor and downtrodden, but not involved in perpetrating violence, except in the special instance of Kashmir), but Hindus who sought their ideology in Fascist Europe and who model their stance on European antisemitism of the 1930′s.

    She further informed them that the Hindu political ideology was derived from ‘European romantic nationalism and its darker aspirations to ethnic purity.’ While her academic specialty is the philosophy of Aristotle, Nussbaum has written extensively to condemn Indian civilization. Her book, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future, is a recent example. Here she supported the divisive position that the Indus Valley Civilization was Dravidianist before the Sanskrit-speakers moved in. She wrote:
    The people who spoke Sanskrit almost certainly migrated into the subcontinent from outside, finding indigenous people there, probably the ancestors of the Dravidian peoples of South India. Hindus are no more indigenous than Muslims.

    She not only presents a controversial speculation as a historical fact, but extrapolates it into the present Indian political discourse. She equates the modern Hindus with ‘Sanskrit-speakers who migrated into the subcontinent’ and excluded Dravidian speakers. This is very similar to the world view of Risley in colonial times, and of Dravidian separatists today. In explaining the Aryan ‘invasion’ scenario, she simply omits that it has been rejected by archeologists universally, and while grudgingly distancing herself from the invasion scenario, she supports the ‘Aryan migration’ scenario which amounts to the same thing. Those Indian scholars who are outside the supervision of the Western academy and funding agencies, and who critically examine the western interpretation of ancient Indian history, are branded as part of the Hindu Right.

    Nussbaum disregards that the foreign Aryan model was vehemently rejected by Ambedkar and many others unrelated to any Hindu Right. She ignores that the model had been highly popularized by the British soldier-turned-archeologist Mortimer Wheeler, who declared pompously that the Vedic deity Indra stands accused of committing massacre in Mohenjo-Daro. This was not a ‘casual’ mistake of hypothesis, as Nussbaum wants her readers to believe. Edmund Leach, the famous British anthropologist, notes:
    Common sense might suggest that here was a striking example of a refutable hypothesis that had in fact been refuted. Indo-European scholars should have scrapped all their historical reconstructions and started again from scratch. But that is not what happened. Vested interests and academic posts were involved. Almost without exception the scholars in question managed to persuade themselves that despite appearances the theories of the philologists and the hard evidence of archaeology could be made to fit together. The trick was to think of the horse-riding Aryans as conquerors of the cities of the Indus civilization in the same way that the Spanish conquistadores were conquerors of the cities of Mexico and Peru or the Israelites of the Exodus were conquerors of Jericho. The lowly Dasa of the Rig Veda, who had previously been thought of as primitive savages, were now reconstructed as members of a high civilization.
    Without the required qualifications or training to speak with authority on the subject, Nussbaum proceeds to pontificate on the date of the Vedas, concluding that any claim of Vedic antiquity before 1200 BCE or claims of cultural continuity of the Harappan culture to the present day brand a person as belonging to the Hindu Right. Fig. 14.2 compares a few of Nussbaum’s positions on Indology with those of secular scholars of various backgrounds.

    1. Claims by Nussbaum: Older dates to Rig Veda that place it as early as 3000 BCE are a ploy by the Hindu Right to establish Vedic-Harappan identity. (Nussbaum 2007, 219)
    Claims by Secular Scholars: Upinder Singh, a historian, points out that scholars using astronomical references have dated Vedas variedly: ‘Dates falling within the late 3rd millennium BCE or the early 2nd millennium BCE (calculated on the grounds of philology and/or astronomical references) cannot be ruled out. The date of the Rig Veda remains a problematic issue.’ (Singh 2009, 185) Prof Nussbaum cannot label Upinder Singh as historian of Hindu Right as Upinder Singh is the daughter of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a historian by her own merit.
    2. Claims by Nussbaum: Criss-cross pattern of ploughing noticed in Harappa can be noticed in the Haryana farms today. Martha Nussbaum rejects this continuity of civilization as ‘hardly remarkable.’ (Nussbaum 2007, 221)

    Claims by Secular Scholars: The veteran Indian archeologist, B.K. Thappar, who headed the archeological exploration of the Harppan site at Kalibangan, stated that the pattern of pre-Harappan ploughed field showed ‘remarkable similarity to modern ploughing in that area.’ (Thapar.B.K and Shaffer.J.G 1999, 278)

    3.Claims by Nussbaum: Identification of red pigment by archeologists at the parting of hair seen in the terracotta figurines of Harappa is dismissed by Nussbaum with these words: ‘The paint on the terra cotta figure is so badly worn that it is hard to tell what was red and what wasn’t . . . the style is not like of any Indian woman known to me.’ (Nussbaum 2007, 221)

    Claims by Secular Scholars: Jonathan M. Kenoyer, archeologist from University of Wisconsin (Madison), mentions female figurines dated 2600 BCE with traces of red pigment at the parting of the hair, as a significant indicator of the continuity of traditions. (Kenoyer 1998, 44-5)

    [Fig. 14.2: A Comparison of Claims by Martha Nussbaum and Secular Scholars Regarding Ancient India ]

    Clearly, Nussbaum promotes her political ideology over the other alternatives that fit the hard facts of archeological excavations. Though she is a non-specialist with regard to archeology, or linguistics, or culture, and her exposure to India is limited to contemporary politics, she dismisses the entire Indian archeological academic establishment as belonging to the ‘Hindu Right.’ She dismisses the cultural continuity of Indian civilization from Harappan times as ‘suppositions and not serious scholarly claims.’ This is proven false by archeologists Jim Shaffer and Diane Lichtenstein who, in the context of the relation between the Harappan and post-Harappan in India, state that ‘available data indicate that South Asian cultural history must be studied within a context of indigenous cultural continuity, not intrusion and discontinuity.’

    Nussbaum advances her balkanization view of India through clever uses of ancient Indian history. Her account of Indian history begins with the invasion of/migration to India by the Aryan Hindus, who are different from the Dravidian natives of India; any Indian scholarship that questions this is considered a Hindu right-wing conspiracy. Where the western bias becomes too extreme to be deniable, she considers the errors as unintentional, but Indian scholarship, regardless of its merits, is said to have political motivations.
    She alleges that India has jumped on the bandwagon of fighting terrorism as a ploy to justify its own violence against religious minorities. Terror is a pretext to cover up India’s ‘values involved in ethnic cleansing,’ which she wants to be ‘a definite deterrent to foreign investment.’ After providing extensive gruesome details and highly sensationalized and exaggerated atrocity literature of Gujarat violence (including claims that have been exposed as fabrications), she cautions the world about Indians: ‘The current world atmosphere especially the indiscriminate use of the terrorism card by the United States has made it easier for them to use this ploy.’

    She accuses the Indian government of using al Qaeda as ‘a scare tactic’, without providing any basis. She outright denies the existence of any India-based Islamic terror-network with Pakistani connections. India is not justified in enacting any special laws to control terror cells, she insists. She laments that the United States is not monitoring India as a threat to world democracy:

    “What has been happening in India is a serious threat to the future of democracy in the world. The fact that it has yet to make it onto the radar screen of so many Americans is evidence of the way in which terrorism and the war in Iraq have distracted Americans from events and issues of fundamental significance.

    Many of Nussbaum’s political stances are full of contradictions. For instance, in 2007 she argued against British unions that were boycotting Israeli academic institutions that were accused of political bias. But she took the opposite stand on Indian academic institutions and individuals, criticizing the world’s failure to not utter ‘a whisper about boycotting’ the Indians.

    Nussbaum diluted the attempts to deal with the Mumbai terror attack of 2008, stating that ‘it’s important to consider Indian terrorism in a broader context. Terrorism in India is by no means peculiar to Muslims.’ In discussions on the Mumbai attacks of 2008, she quickly diverts the discussion away from Islamic terror by citing the 2002 violence in Gujarat and the 2008 Hindu-Christian violence in Orissa, without giving the full context of either. By manipulating the contexts, she equates local communal incidents with terrorism: ‘All of this is terrorism, but most of it doesn’t reach the world’s front pages.’ In this manner she has been effective in removing attention away from anti-India terrorism.

    Lacking her own direct scholarship on the complex issues concerning ancient Indian civilization, Nussbaum has parroted others who fit her politics. What many uninformed readers of Nussbaum do not realize is the fascist origins of many of the ideas she spreads concerning the nature of ancient India, the so-called ‘Aryans,’ and the origin of Vedas and Hinduism. The old Race Science ideas explained in the fifth chapter of this book are alive and well in a cabal of scholars, even though only some of them operate explicitly as white supremacists, while others write similar things using liberal frameworks. For instance, it is interesting to compare Nussbaum’s intellectual positions on ancient India with those of notorious white supremacists such as Roger Pearson, a British anthropologist and former colonial officer in the British army in India.

    Bottom line: Gregg has lowered himself with a cheap shot, one that is irrelevant to the discussions.

    Also, his selective quoting of one side only in fact proves the point of the book.

    westerners are unable to deal with reversal of the gaze. In this case the gaze reversal shows Gregg not being fair.

  • Rajiv Malhotra

    The addendum by Gregg citing Nussbaum is a case of desperation, grasping for straws. Introducing more Western chauvinism to try and buttress the prior western chauvinism. Why not just admit that his Western Universalism is as much dharmic in origin as it is Judeo-Christian and Hellenistic? Does that puncture the history centrism?

    • Carl Gregg

      I’m not grasping for straws. I was researching the experience of other scholars with you and your work.

  • Carl Gregg

    Ok…. After 3 days and 35 (mostly lengthy) comments, we seem to merely be talking in circles. The comments all will remain for those who want to read them in the future. But I am closing the comments section on this post.


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