Friday, June 17, 2016

Christ and the Hindu Diaspora

Posted on June 13, 2016

Paul Pathickal.  Christ and the Hindu Diaspora.  Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

In Christ and the Hindu Diaspora, Paul Pathickal discusses ways that evangelical Christians can share the Gospel with Hindus in the Diaspora.  Pathickal provides background about the history and religion of Hinduism.  He also talks about reasons that Hindus have migrated to the West, their experiences as immigrants, and where many of them are religiously.  He bases his knowledge about where they are religiously on surveys.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  The section that provided background information about Hinduism was helpful and interesting.  While I have learned about Hinduism from classes and reading, the information that Pathickal provided helped me to place what I knew in a context.  This was particularly the case with Pathickal’s discussion of three Hindu deities.  According to Pathickal, underneath the impersonal Brahman (ultimate reality, or universal spirit) are three deities: Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.  Brahma was the creator, and afterwards he was inactive, so Pathickal states that Brahma is “the least worshiped of the three gods” (page 21 of the mobi version).  Shiva is a god of destruction, but he destroys to clear the way for new creation, and Hindu ascetics are devoted to him because they want their lower selves to be destroyed.  Vishnu is a beneficent god and (according to Hindu legend) has appeared in many incarnations throughout history.  This description corrected misconceptions I had about Hinduism, placed things I knew in a context, and helped me to understand Hindu beliefs.

B.  Pathickal states that, for a number of Hindus, many Hindu deities are not as powerful in the Diaspora as they are in India.  In the Diaspora, the belief goes, Hindu deities would have to compete with other deities on those other deities’ turf.  Pathickal talks as if this is a widespread belief among Hindus in the Diaspora, even though his own survey indicates that it is not the majority belief among the Hindus that were surveyed.  Pathickal may be saying this to argue that a significant number of Hindus in the Diaspora are not overly attached to the Hindu religion, and thus they may be open to something else (i.e., Christianity).

C.  Hinduism is often seen as a tolerant religion, one that believes that there are many paths to the divine.  One of my favorite quotes in the book is a passage that Pathickal actually argues against: “The firm soul hastes, the feeble tarries.  All will reach the summit snows” (page 116; Pathickal cites a work by Edmund D. Soper).  I was thus surprised  to learn from Pathickal’s book that many Hindus are against Hindus converting to Christianity.  They are open to including Jesus in the pantheon of gods, but they are against Hindus rejecting the Hindu gods to become Christians.  A factor that Pathickal mentions is the responsibility of Hindu firstborn to honor certain Hindu gods and to support the family’s ancestors.  According to Pathickal, many Hindus have a problem when the Hindu firstborn become Christian and no longer practice these rites.


  1. Interesting book. I will have to get it. Couple of comments. I have not looked at the book but want to comment on the post quickly.

    There are two sorts of Diaspora Indians - the 1G's who are first generation Hindus and the 2Gs - the second generations ones. The 2nd generation ones have either been born and raised in the West or born overseas but raised in the West - like me.

    The character of the two groups is quite different and I will speak for the 2Gs since I grew up with many. The 2Gs generally tend to be conservative (altho this is changing) and not particularly religious. So barring watching an Indian movie here and there or having a rare visit to the temple they tend to be very typically American in culture. You deal with them the way you deal with anyone else here in the States.

    Re:C - Now among my 2G friends, I have never heard anything about Hindu gods competing with each other in any significant or in a to-be-taken-seriously-sort-of a way. Just my experience.

    Re:D - Yes. It is true that many Hindu's oppose conversion. I think however that its not for the reason of the firstborn's responsibilities or due to Hindu god rejection. The presenting issues are quite often not the real issues. While those are factors often enough, I think there are also other things a bit more under the surface and it is this:

    1. Marriage
    If you convert to Christianity, then how are you going to get married? Since many Indian marriages (Christian ones also!) are arranged, how will the Hindu parents arrange the marriage of their son/daughter when they
    (A) do not know any Indian Christians themselves - and its very important to marry an Indian - not an immoral American or a Brit - folks who will not take care of their parents in their old age.
    and more importantly,
    (B) do not know any Indian Christians of their caste?
    - Caste trumps everything!

    I think that the issue of marriage is what is quite often there behind the scenes carrying a surprisingly large weight.

    2. Indian Church History
    ~ A second issue is this. Sans the converts in the state of Kerala(likely Pathikal's state), many of early converts to Christianity in India were either untouchables or of the lower castes. So there has been a sort of a stigma with Christianity. The stigma is dying but it has been there. Currently the upper castes are converting in droves.

    The marriage issue comes up again. If you are a high-caste person and you convert, does that mean you will now marry a lower caste person? "Cuz. Look. We don't mind you marrying a Christian - just make sure its a person of the same caste. But wait... there are no persons who are Christians of the same caste around so... don't convert. Besides - what of our gods?"

    Ok... my 2 cents worth ...

    ~ Raj

    1. Thanks for all the background info.