Quick Notes: Hindu Education, Pagan Alliance Festival, A Polytheist’s View of Christianity

Quick Notes: Hindu Education, Pagan Alliance Festival, A Polytheist’s View of Christianity May 27, 2012

Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday.

A Hindu Education: While there are a growing number of Hindu temples and house of worship in the United States, it can still be hard for American Hindus to find a place to practice their religion. Even more frustrating is when there is a local temple, but its teachings don’t line up with your own beliefs. Religion News Service reports on how some Hindus are getting together to provide religious education for their children, mixing tradition with views that can be more progressive than is found in some temples.

Manjusha Kulkarni (center left) and other moms play the role of Brahmin or priests, while their children, the untouchables, stand at the edge of the room during a lesson on caste. The self-organized Bal Kendra group teaches Hinduism from a progressive perspective. RNS photo courtesy Santa Monica Bal Kendra

“At a Hindu temple, the religious leaders might be defensive about an issue like caste, said Manjusha Kulkarni, the executive director of South Asian Network and one of more progressive parents in the group. Kulkarni says she never enrolled her daughters in a formal religious education program because she had bad experiences at temples. One priest, for instance, told her that women shouldn’t work outside the home, Kulkarni recalls. After Hurricane Katrina, another priest dismissed her five-year-old daughter’s questions about suffering.”

It’s an interesting article, not only because it illustrates the diversity within American Hinduism, but because it shines a light into a situation that may soon be true of modern Pagan faiths as well. There’s been a lot of talk about building temples, community centers, and houses of worship for our community, but it’s inevitable that such institutions, even at their most broad-minded, won’t please everyone. To a certain extent, no matter how much infrastructure we end up building, we’ll always embrace a hybrid of home-based grass-roots teaching alongside more formal attempts at religious education and collective worship. For more on Hindu-Pagan relations, please see my entry on our joint PantheaCon panel.

The Sights of the Pagan Alliance Festival: Photographer Greg Harder, a member of PNC-Bay Area, has posted a photo-set from the recent 11th Annual Pagan Alliance Festival in Berkeley, California.  The 2012 Keeper of the Light is T. Thorn Coyle, pictured below, during the parade.

Thorn Coyle, photo by Greg Harder

You can see more photos, here. Here’s a video of Lady Yeshe Rabbit performing at the event. Here’s another video, shot by the folks from Oak Myth Masks, who seemed to enjoy the experience.

A Polytheist’s View: Inspired by my recent post about Pagans and Jesus, and my rebuttal to a Catholic blogger’s “praise” of ancient paganism, author and scholar P. Sufenas Virius Lupus provides a lengthy meditation on Christianity through a polytheist lens. Here’s just a short excerpt of a very smart, must-read, essay.

Ancient Roman bust of Antinous. Hadrian age (AD 117-138), National Archaeological Museum in Athens

“I find myself arriving at the following conclusion. I am a polytheist (and an animist) because I find that these viewpoints best describe my own experiences to me, and they are the framework in which I can best understand and use those experiences toward productive ends for myself and for many (though not all) others. Yes, I love my gods and I love that they have been a part of my life: that is the very basis for my experiences. But when understanding myself theologically, this is the position I find myself in, and I think it’s a good one. My viewpoint on the gods tends not to invalidate their possible existence in other religions, thus I am very happy to concede that Iao Sabaoth, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Allah, various angels and saints, and a number of other divine beings exist; I still worship and interact with a few of these from time to time, to varying degrees of success, and some of them have had transformative and powerful influences on my own spiritual development and experience over the years in the past, which I do not wish to ever forsake or invalidate. However, I’m under no obligation to think of these deities in the same manners as those who are members of religions who consider these deities to be the “only” deities in existence. Gentlidecht, as well as the practices of many other people that I respect a great deal as spiritual colleagues and co-religionists, do not have difficulties with the beings of these other religions, and some of the practices and ideas that arise from them; but, they’re still polytheists, at the end of the day. While monotheists’ own theologies within their religions are perfectly valid for themselves (unless they actively harm others, which they do far more often than all of us non-monotheists would prefer), I will not by any means grant them a validity outside of that relative validity; even the best-intentioned among them would do more than that for me, and I’m fine with that.”

Really, go read the whole thing, you’ll be glad you did.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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  • The Religion News Service article on “Hindu Education” is actually a fairly typical example of soft-core anti-Hindu propaganda. The author, Megan Sweas, is a professional Catholic media operative who has worked for U.S. Catholic magazine, the USCatholic.Org website, and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

  • Zan Fraser

    Thank you very much, Mr. Platonicus, for that information concerning Ms. Sweas, of which (as I do not follow Catholic journalism so much), I was unaware. I agree, that is very interesting information to have, in encountering Ms. Sweas’ work in future.
    Be that as it may, I have to say that (based upon my own experience as a White Guy Pagan drawn to Hinduism for some reason in my being): as there is a large Hindu population in New York City (where I live), and as I say, I find myself attracted to Hindu Spirituality, and as therefore, I have spent time (over a dozen years now) in Hindu Ceremony, Temples, and Ashrams across the five boroughs of New York, in the company of Indian Hindus (specifically among the Hare Krishna congregations): I can attest, there are as many different Pathways, Viewpoints, and Spirituality-Off-Shoots among NYC Hindus (that I can see), as there are among NYC Pagans (of whom I also have a fair knowledge).It seems to me, therefore, that for what may be Ms. Sweas’ agenda in this matter, Jason’s basic observations hold as informative. Hare Krishna.  

  • Rombald

    Although caste is a serious social issue in India, I think that is unfair to raise the issue whenever Hinduism is discussed, partly because most countries have some form of caste-like organisation, at least historically (e.g. there is a good case to be made that the US white-black conflict was one of caste rather than ethnicity), and also because there are Hindu societies, such as Bali, that do not have an Indian-type caste system.

    I actually think the difficulty between Hindus and Western Pagans has more to do with sex. Most Hindus that I’ve known have held sexual values close to conservative Christians, whereas most Pagans have been emphatically children of the sexual revolution. I’m sure there are exceptions on both sides, but, in broad brushstrokes, I do see a problem here.

  • Peter Dybing

    I have been to Bali and they very much do have a cast system. Very unlike India, but a cast system just the same.

  • Are you aware of any existing human societies anywhere on planet earth that do not have some sort of caste system?

  • Here is a slightly more detailed analysis of how the RNS article on “Hindu Education” is an example of anti-Hindu propaganda.

    First of all, it turns out that the Temple-based religious education program discussed in the article has a waiting list for new students. This is buried almost at the end of the article. Up until that point the article clearly tries to give the impression that there is a growing trend of dissatisfaction with the education provided at American Hindu Temples generally.

    Second of all, the article deals only with a single Temple and a single “do-it-yourself” alternative. If Jason’s commentary is any indication, however, the article nevertheless does a very effective job of implying that some sort of trend has been discovered and revealed in this article.

    Third of all, about a third of the article focuses on “caste” and does so in a way clearly intended to disparage “traditional” Hinduism as intrinsically oppressive. More importantly, the Temple-based education program mentioned in the article is run by the Chinmaya Mission, which was founded in 1953 by Swami Chinmayananda explicitly for the purpose of making the teachings of Vedanta available to all regardless of “nationality, caste, or group”.

    And then there is the transparently self-serving characterization that for American Christians “being part of a worshiping community and regularly attending worship is part of the demands of the faith”, but for Hindus, “you show up, you do your little ritual and then you leave”. This is passed along by Megan Sweas (who as an American Catholic certainly knows better) as gospel truth supposedly coming from an objective academic expert (when in fact the source is by a Christian theologian, Gordon Melton, who turns out to be yet another Christian missionary who specializes in “new religious movements”!!)

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  • Ryan

    Of note relating to the caste issue in Hinduism is that the caste system exists and flourishes among non-Hindus in the region as well- Muslims and traditional Christian groups as well.
    Furthermore, many of the oldest texts express a mobility amongst castes that does not exist in the system as it has risen up. From the Rig Veda:
    Rig Veda 9.112.3—I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother’s job is to grind the corn.Clearly, Caste is not related to birth in the oldest scriptures.Just saying, this is a cultural and social issue mroe than a religious one. People will always try to use religion to back up prejudice, but that doesn’t make it valid.And the sexual value difference makes me very sad, as most of the conservative Christian values amongst my fellow Hindus seem to be related to rules started during British and Muslim rule in teh subcontinent. In short, I agree with you regarding the unfairness of mentioning caste with relation to Hinduism and I lament the new, less progressive sexual mores of many…