Why I am not a Hindu by Peter Meyer
In India when a man opens his business in the morning he may, if he is a Hindu, perform a small ritual honoring Lakshmi, Ganesha or some other god or goddess, say a prayer while standing before an image of the deity, and recite a mantra a few times. He believes (or at least hopes) that this will induce the god or goddess to look favorably upon his business for that day. (Chinese do something similar each morning with Chinese gods and goddesses.) Very nice, endearing even. And all over India hundreds of millions of people revere these deities, which are also admired by many Westerners who have travelled in India (and among my few personal possessions there are pictures of Ganesha, Lakshmi, Shiva, Parvarti and Saraswati). But there is about as much evidence for their existence (other than in the minds of their devotees) as there is for the existence of the Christian god, which is to say, very little. But there is an important difference. Devotion to Ganesha, Lakshmi, etc., has few, if any, harmful effects, and perhaps has positive ones. In contrast, devotion to the Christian god (and to the Jewish god as well) has justified many men (so they believed) in the murder of many others. Whatever Jesus is alleged to have taught in the New Testament, the historical fact is that Christianity is a genocidal religion.
Hinduism, however, although it has a pronounced xenophobic character, is not known to have been used as a justification for purges and genocide. Hindus may regard non-Hindus as lacking proper spiritual understanding, but feel no need to convert them, still less at the point of a sword.
That's not to say that Hinduism is all sweetness and light. The original thugs were Hindus who worshiped the goddess Kali by garrotting people they found travelling in isolated places (a practice known as thugee, rightly viewed by the rulers of British India with horror, and they succeeded in suppressing it, along with the gruesome custom of suttee). And animal sacrifice was, and still is, common in India. (Of course, the number sacrificed is very small compared to the millions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cows slaughtered daily, without so much as a prayer, in the slaughter-houses of Western countries.)
To be specific, the main reason I am not a Hindu (apart from no great desire to be one) is that I was not born a Hindu. Hinduism, like Judaism, is an ethnic religion, and, strictly speaking, the only way to become a Hindu is to be born a Hindu.
Also I'm not fond of superstition, and Hinduism is 95% superstition: beliefs and practices which have been handed down, carried over, passed on, transmitted, from one generation to the next for many centuries, but which have no basis other than this. One of the least-admirable Hindu superstitions is the belief in caste, that a person is born into a certain caste as reward or punishment for actions in previous lives. (That does not mean that high-caste Hindus always have an easy life; there are plenty of rickshaw drivers in India who are brahmins.)
The belief held by caste Hindus that they are superior to "outcasts" (previously called "untouchables", then "harijans", now "Dalits") is rife in India, and is a form of racist bigotry. Caste Hindus were recently reported as demanding that Dalits remove their shoes in the presence of those caste Hindus, beating them if they refused. These caste Hindus regularly attack Dalits, and drive them from their homes, with impunity (the police in India do nothing to stop this). Dalits (which include millions of "tribal people", the original inhabitants of India) are now fighting back, as we see in the Naxalite insurgency in Central India.
In village India girls are engaged to be married before they are old enough to speak. Traditionally they were married off at the age of 8 or 9, but now (due to government intervention) it's usually 12 or 13. No consideration is ever given to what the girl thinks about it. And, once married, she is, according to Hindu tradition, her husband's slave.
Although the gruesome practice of casting a widow upon the funeral pyre of her dead husband ("suttee") was suppressed by the British in the 19th Century, there are customs still common in Hindu India that are equally barbaric. For example, the practice of killing one or both of a boy and girl from the same sub-caste ("gotra") who marry. As one traditional Hindu woman said: "What can you do with a girl who insists on marrying within her gotra other than kill her?" India is a land of horrors. Anyone who spends a few months reading the daily newspapers (at least in India the press is free and thriving) will obtain ample evidence of this.
However, Hinduism does have a few things in its favor, the major one being the value given to actual spiritual experience (which is denigrated in Christianity and Islam in favor of faith and subordination to authority). The "holy men" of India are revered not because they hold some position in a church hierarchy but because they are believed to have (or have had) actual experience of a divine reality which transcends everyday physical reality, a state of consciousness in which the ego is snuffed out and there is awareness only of an undifferentiated universal unity. The possibility of this is viewed with skepticism in the mainstream Western view of the world (which regards all reality as physical, a belief which is the root cause of the present mass insanity afflicting the West).
There are some similarities between Hinduism and traditional Chinese religion, since both have a pantheon of deities, to whom offerings and prayers are made daily (though Hinduism lacks the ancestor worship which is a major part of Chinese religion). Offering incense and prayers to Lakshmi or Kuan Yin would seem to be a harmless practice, and to my knowledge no-one was ever murdered because they refused to do so, in contrast to the Abrahamic religions, where at various times and places your refusal to acknowledge the Jewish, Christian or Muslim "God" — as the one, true "God" — would result in your being killed.
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