I came across a very interesting question about Hinduism and Christianity here, by a guy who is neither Hindu nor Christian. He asks:

Will some one please explain to me why in school Hinduism is classified as a polytheistic religion while Christianity is not. The Christian Trinity runs on the same principle that Hinduism does; in Christianity there are three parts to one God (Father, Son, Spirit) whereas in Hinduism there are thousands of parts to one God (Shiva, Krishna, etc). Despite the difference in number it’s the same principle. One of the religions is either classified wrongly, or my interpretation is off (if it is point to my mistakes and validate your point with sources).

What would your response be? Personally I think that the classification is correct, that the similarities between the Christian trinity and Hindu trimurti are seriously overrated, and that his interpretation is off. But what about you?

  • Have you thought about this before?
  • How would you respond to him?
  • What sources would you cite?

9 thoughts on “Difference between Hinduism and Christianity?

  1. This guy is just expressing his own ignorance.
    The three fundamental aspects of the Hinud understanding of Reality are sat-chit-ananda or being-consciousness-bliss.
    In the Hindu cultural tradition there is a great variety of forms of exoteric religious worship, each of which is centered around a particular culturally prescribed Divine image, idea, and mythology. That focus of worship is regarded as ones Chosen Form of the One Divine Absolute. The understanding being that whatever Chosen Form a person may worship it is a CONSTRUCT through which he or she is moved to turn to the One Divine Absolute. Thus, it is understood that one’s exoterically worshipped Chosen Form is not the One and Absolute Divine ITSELF, but is rather the culturally prescribed means whereby one turns to the One Absolute Divine. Because the One Divine Absolute ITSELF is within the most profound developments of the Hindu cultural tradition, understood to transcend all contructs and all limiting conditions altogether.
    Westerners, and particularly Christians, often mistakenly presume Hinduism to be a form of polytheism or the worship of many different or separate gods, rather that worship of One God, or of the one Divine Absolute. However, the right understanding of the Hindu religious tradition is not that it allows for a great number of separate Absolute Divinities, or otherwise disallows the One Divine Absolute. Rather, the right understanding of the Hindu religious tradition is that it, without prejudice, allows for the approach to the One Divine Absolute via ANY of the many possible Chosen Forms, or Chosen-Form traditions. The many different “Chosen Forms thus worshipped are all presumed within the Hindu cultural sphere, to be virtuous, because they are all understood to be a means for turning to the Ultimate Divine, Which is everywhere understood to Be ONE, and to Be the ABSOLUTE and ONLY Reality.

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  2. this is a really tough one. explaining the inner-workings of the Trinity and the fact that the three are one is hard enough for Christians to grasp. i would say we can point to Scripture and show that from the beginning God’s people understood that God is one. the “shema” from Deut 6 points to this as a foundation for faith. God is one. Christ says that the Father and I are one. Christ speaks of the Father sending the Spirit. the oneness of the Triune God is seen throughout Scripture. i can’t say i know enough about Hindu’s gods to specifically refute, but speaking for Christianity, i feel whole of Scripture attests to the oneness of God…

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  3. I do not think the Christian trinity and the Hindu trinity are the same. However, that said, I would also say that the classification of Hinduism as polytheistic is incorrect.

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  4. “Hinduism” is part of a Western construction, arising from the Enlightenment conception of “religion” and “religions”. Some varieties of Hinduism are so far from being polytheist that they are monist, believing that all is one. I believe this applies to the Advaita Vedanta school. Others are polytheistic believing that there are millions of gods, but worshipping only one, or a few of them, or one avatar of one god. So there are Vaishnavites and Shaivates and many others. There are Hare Krishnas who worship one avatar of Vishnu. There are people who worship local deities. But they all come under the big tent of Hinduism.
    The Christian trinity is different — three hypostases in one ousia, three understandings in one being.
    But the essential difference betweeh Christianity and Hinduism is that Christianity distinguishes between creator and creature. Christianity is also polytheistic, in a way. The angels are gods, just like the Hindu gods, but the difference is that they are creatures.
    As for sources, well, I’ll look them up if I have to, but I’d need to know it was worth the effort!

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  5. John, I am curious as to how you can say anything is absolute. I thought you refuted all absolutes. In fact one of your complaints about Christianity seems to have been that it’s overly absolutist. Could you explain? It sounds self contradictory.
    I am also curious about your comment that, “Because the One Divine Absolute ITSELF is within the most profound developments of the Hindu cultural tradition”. If it is a ‘development’ within the Hindu cultural tradition, then isn’t that tantamount to an admission that there is more to the tradition than you are describing here? That are other ‘undeveloped’ forms which have not taken this monistic track? At the very least I think there needs to be recognition of the difference between philosophical Hinduism and folk Hinduism. I agree with Steve, what we call Hinduism is an umbrella for all sorts of things.

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  6. Steve, I would agree that the way Christianity distinguishes between creator and creature is a major point of contrast between the trinity and the trimurti. Also, following from that, I would say the trinity is personal, all the way down, in a way Hinduism is not.

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  7. Kay, actually the more I explore religion the more I am finding the traditional labels of monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic and atheistic problematic when looked at through a critical-historical lens. As Steve notes, even Christianity is polytheistic in a way, in a sence that there is more going on spiritually than just the Spirit of God, so we need to look deeper to see the real difference.
    When you look through the Old Testament, you’ll find some prophets speaking of the gods as false, as fictions, affirming that there is only one true God. That’s the sort of stuff modernists expect to find. But how do we explain the bits where we find other prophets speaking of a sort of divine council of gods under God? Is that polytheism within the Bible? I would say no. The Old Testament makes abundantly clear that these ‘gods’ are not creators in the way that God is creator, they are apsects of creation, and they are not to be worshipped. Moving onto the New Testament Paul speaks of ‘powers’ in a similar manner. Whether these ‘gods’ and ‘powers’ should be equated with ‘angels’, well I am not so sure, but then, maybe the word archangels would cover it. Bottom line is, there is a lot more complexity to monotheism than modernity led us to expect.
    Moving onto to pantheism and polytheism, you know at times I wonder if the distinction between the two is warranted. Many so-called polytheistic traditions acknowledge a higher unified reality, and many so-called pantheistic traditions acknowledge multiple manifestations of the one. To me the main difference between the two seems to be the level of reality focussed on. Is the primary focus on the higher mystical plane or on the lower magical plane? As you can find both schools of though within the same religion the difference is not alway so black and white.
    I think therefore we need to speak more of emphasis than absolutes. Folk Hinduism emphasizes ritual and practical magic and working with the gods, so polytheism (and henotheism) are more appropriate words to describe it. Vedanta Hinduism emphasises the mystical so pantheism is a more approriate word to describe it. Christianity emphasizes worship of one God, quite distinct from any other created ‘gods’ we may come across, so monotheism is the more appropriate word to describe it.
    I find this sort of clarification is especially required when speaking of Buddhism. Calling that path ‘sexed up atheism’ as Dawkins does strikes as religious illiteracy of the sloppiest kind.
    Again, similar to Christianity, we need to pay attention not only to what is at the top of the power pyramid but everything else in between. Dawkins would be better off paying more serious attention to Atheist diversity in terms of ‘scientific’ Atheism and ‘ideological’ Atheism.
    So to sum up, I reckon there is much more going on in pantheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic and atheistic traditions than modernity would have us believe, and that we need to define those words in terms of how those systems work as wholes and not just in terms of the top layers. The absense of a high God does not make Buddhism atheist, the presence of angels does not make Christianity polytheistic, the practice of some Hindus, of devotion to a single deity, does not make Hinduism monotheistic.

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  8. Matt,
    Yes, the “personal” thing too, but that is much more a part of the contrast between Christianity and Buddhism.
    If you read some Buddhist texts, they seem to have a lot in common with Christianity. And the deeper you go the closer they seem to get, until they suddenly jump apart like same-pole magnets brought too close together — and the difference is that Christianity is essentially personal, while Buddhism is not.
    The same applies to some varieties of Hinduism, too, but perhaps not all, and perhaps not to folk Buddhism, but I have less experience of that.

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  9. Well, when it comes to Buddhism I think it depends a lot on whether you’re talking about Theravada Buddhism or Mahayana Buddhism. The devotional element is pretty much absent from Theravada but there are all sorts of bodhisattvas you can call on in Mahayana. Its different from Hinduism, but not completely different. The bodhisattva I am most familiar with is Amida (or Amitābha) from Pure Land Buddhism.

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