By Elias Ayala (M.A.T. & Mdiv)
When doing apologetics it is often the case that our apologetic is geared towards some form of atheism, agnosticism, or some form of gross metaphysical naturalism. However, what happens when we encounter someone from a religious perspective? Take the Hindu for instance. You may or may not encounter a Hindu in your day to day interactions, however, everyone’s context is different and so I think it would be helpful to provide a brief look into how to answer the Hindu perspective should the situation call for it.
What is Hinduism?
We will not discuss the intricate variations of the Hindu religion since as is the case with many religious perspectives, Hinduism is by no means monolithic. However, at base it is important to recognize a key component of the Hindu metaphysic. Hinduism holds to a pantheistic perspective as it relates to the nature of reality. Pantheism as a form of metaphysical monism, in terms of which all reality is one, posits that the multitudinous differentiation that we observe in our experience is illusory. Because all is one, it follows that the differences and distinctions we observe do not provide for us a true picture of reality. In fact it is the stated goal of Hinduism to break through this world of “maya” (illusion) so as to see the world as it truly is and thus enter nirvana, or a state of enlightened oneness. Since rationality and logical thinking presupposes differences and distinctions in the world, nirvana is not reached through rational reflection, but rather the state of nirvana is reached through mystical experience. It is only when one reaches nirvana that the cycle of reincarnation is broken. Hinduism is often understood as a polytheistic religion, however, with its over 300,000,000 gods, is can be understood that these deities are just different manifestations of Brahma (The One).
This form of pantheistic and monistic thought self destructs when considered closely. In apologetics it is very important to be able internally critique a perspective so as to demonstrate its coherence or lack thereof. A view that is coherent will have to be analyzed in one way as opposed to a view that is incoherent. For a view that is incoherent can be demonstrated to be false merely by pointing out the incoherency. According to logical rules, incoherencies cannot be true. That is to say, that a perspective whose foundations violate the law of non-contradiction cannot be true because contradictions produce incoherency. A worldview that is contradictory cancels itself out since one of its foundational truth claims contradict other foundational truth claims within its own system. The ability to provide internal critique of a worldview so as to bring these points out are very important to rational thinking and apologetics.
Internally Critiquing Hinduism
Let us return to Hinduism’s central claims. On the pantheistic outlook, all of reality is in fact one; and the various distinctions that we make are wrongheaded since our distinctions do not reflect the reality that all is in fact one. Hence, through various practices, rituals and exercises one may break through the illusion of diversity and come to the realization that all of reality is one. However, this position seems demonstrably fallacious and self contradictory. Consider the following:
- If all reality is one, then how is one able to make the differentiation between the state of illusion (recognizing diversity in the world) and the state of enlightenment (Recognizing that reality is one)?
- It seems that if one were to make the differentiation between the two, then one is already assuming diversity. However, if all is truly one, then diversity does not exist.
- Furthermore, if one were to hold to a strict pantheistic monism in which all of reality is genuinely one, then to even linguistically state this position, one would have to assume diversity, since language itself presupposes diversity and a distinction between the letters, words, and concepts which comprise the sentence.
- Lastly, if a worldview of strict pantheistic monism were true, knowledge about anything would be impossible. Since to assert that reality is one is to reject the validity of the laws of logic. Logic by necessity presupposes diversity and distinct identity and difference. A strict pantheistic monism rejects the law of identity (something is what it is, and is not what it is not). It rejects the law of contradiction, since this law assumes diversity and the reality that things cannot be contradictory).
- Without logic, there can be no coherency, and hence, no knowledge. However, a worldview which posits that knowledge is impossible is itself contradictory, since one would have to “know” that knowledge is impossible.
These points do not necessarily apply to all versions of pantheistic thought, however, I think these are helpful to identify the importance of consistency in one’s worldview. In the final analysis, when engaging with any form of non-Christian belief, it is essential to ask questions so as to accurately understand and hence critique the view with which you are interacting. For apologetics, this is importance since to identify a contradictory worldview is to establish its falsehood.