Christian philosopher Michael Sudduth has announced his conversion to Vaishnava Vedanta (he seems to think the “Hindu” label is misleading). Bill Vallicella (who I criticized yesterday) has posted a long letter from Sudduth explaining his conversion (HT: Mark Vuletic). Here’s a sampling:
Despite my long-standing adherence to the Christian tradition, my spiritual journey has now moved me eastward and outside the framework of Christian theism. For the past few years I have been increasingly drawn to the Indian philosophy of Vedanta, specifically the bhakti tradition of Vaishnavism. By being “drawn” to Vedanta I mean both a philosophical attraction to the ideas of Vaishnava Vedanta (and GV in particular) and an experiential attraction to the person of Lord Krishna in my spiritual/devotional life. This began with my readings in the Bhagavad Gita over the past several years (including a reading of Ramanuja’s Gita Bhasya), dramatically intensified in 2011, and culminated in a powerful religious experience of Krishna in the fall of 2011. It was this personal experience of Krishna that inspired me to visit Audarya, a Gaudiya Vaishnava ashram in northern California, during Thanksgiving of last year. There I discovered what I had in a sense known for quite some time: the depth of my love for Lord Krishna as the person who now reveals God to me in a way essential to my spiritual life.
I don’t actually want to trash Sudduth here, because I think he deserves some credit for being willing to consider beliefs outside the culture he was raised in, even if I think those beliefs are wrong. But the above paragraph still sounds to my ear like a parody of a born-again experience, like someone took one and went through replacing “Jesus” with “Krishna.”
From one angle, there seem to be a lot of born-again tropes in there: personal experience of Krishna (Jesus), love of Lord Krishna (Lord Jesus), the role Krishna (Jesus) plays in his spiritual life. I suspect that Hindu-raised Hindus (or Vaishnava Vedanta adherents or whatever) don’t talk that way. Since this doesn’t actually seem to be a parody, I think maybe this should be counted as an example of religious syncretism. And maybe Sudduth would even accept that interpretation, since he says, “I still retain many of my former Christian beliefs.”
The other thing I wonder is whether this feels like a parody of Christianity to Christians. Does what Sudduth says strike Christians as kind of silly, in the way it strikes me as kind of silly? If so, that should help them understand why Christianity can seem kind of silly to atheists. On the other hand, some Christians may be too outraged at this horrifying piece of heresy/apostasy to find it silly. (One data point: Steve Hays of Triablogue seems to find Sudduth both horribly heretical and obviously silly.)