Modern Pagans consider many religions to be our spiritual cousins: Shinto, Vodou, Santeria, First Nations religions, etc… One of our spiritual cousins, from our point of view, is Hinduism: a religious movement as diverse and fluid as our own Paganism. Some Hindus feel the same way towards us, as evidenced by the presence of the Hindu American Foundation at PantheaCon last year.
One thing I recall vividly from observing the HAF panel last year is how Hinduism is taught as monotheism, but Hindu practice uses the language of polytheism. It’s a fascinating thing, especially as the nesting-doll theology (All Gods Are One) is very similar to much of Wiccan theology.
What deepens my confusion and frustration with Hinduism today is a link that I shared on social media yesterday from HuffPo. Arvind Sharma explains patiently and, to a Pagan point of view, offensively that Hinduism isn’t “pagan” because “pagans” are polytheists and idolators.
The Abrahamic religious traditions, as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are collectively called, associate paganism with the worship of many gods, and their many idols. The former is condemned as polytheism and the latter as idolatry; and the two are viewed as inextricably intertwined forms of worship, which has been superseded in the aniconic monotheism and which these religions self-consciously uphold and propagate.
Hinduism at first blush appears to conform to paganism. It seems to worship many gods and seems to do so by worshipping different images. It thus comes across as polytheistic and idolatrous and therefore pagan. This perception fuels the missionary zeal of the Abrahamic religions to destroy such paganism.
It is precisely this sort of misinformation and appeasement that holds minority religions back. I don’t know a single Pagan who worships an image, and to see a Hindu spout this “ignorant statue worshipper” nonsense is disheartening. Frankly, Catholics have more taboos and superstition regarding their icons and symbols than we have regarding our religious artwork. Muslims most certainly do.
Hinduism is diverse. There are plenty of polytheistic Hindus. Hinduism in it’s practice is as polytheistic as Wicca or NeoPlatonism, which both hold that there is a Universal One behind all of the Gods. There are also monotheistic Pagans, but they rarely try to convince Abrahamic religions that they aren’t Pagan in order to gain acceptance.
The truth is that claiming an essential monotheism underlying a polytheistic practice isn’t going to stop the coercive conversion. It’s not going to stop discrimination. It’s not going to buy you a seat at the table. It’s not going to keep Abrahamic faiths from denouncing your religion. Making a great effort to distance yourself from Modern Pagans in the West only serves to alienate your natural allies, who don’t care whether you are monotheistic, pantheistic, henotheistic, panentheistic, polytheistic or atheist.
For Modern Pagans to read articles like Sharma’s is disheartening. We feel that not only are we being thrown to the wolves by our spiritual cousins, but that the grand, verdant diversity of Hinduism is made invisible by such statements.
Sharma’s semantic argument boils down to we are not like the “evil” pagans, we are just as good as you. And that makes me very sad.
If I could say one thing to Sharma, it would be that perpetuating misinformation only harms your cause, and polytheism is a wonderful thing. You shouldn’t be ashamed of being associated with it.
What do you think? And check out the conversation this sparked over on G+. What do you think of the comments made by Rodney Orpheus and Greg Harder?
Also, it appears members of the Hindu American Foundation will be at PantheaCon this year as well (Sunday, 9 AM: Pagans and Hindus Together: One Billion Strong). If you’re going, it’s worthwhile to check them out and hear what they have to say, particularly regarding the challenges they face regarding coercive conversion in India.
And for the record, whoever came up with the idea that to be truly polytheistic you must worship every single God (at the same time), have you ever actually met a polytheist and what kind of crack are you smoking? Seriously?