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Religions and the elephant



Rob Gaudet rebukes me: "If you believe that either all religions are wrong or, at most, one is right, then you must have a fundamentalist view. [No; I think that is misusing the word fundamentalist. RH]. There is a more tolerant way to view religion. It is described in Diana Eck's books discussing Hinduism. She herself is a Christian.

Eck says that a blind person who touches a small part of an elephant (e.g. the ear, the tail, or the foot) experiences a very different piece of the elephant than a person who touches a different piece. There are all touching the same elephant but experiencing different parts of it. The same holds for world religions as different ways of experiencing the transcendent.

Finally, there are parts of the Old Testament which also require women to be stoned to death for intercourse of any type before marriage. They are every bit as atrocious as the practices in the NYTimes article. I doubt that Islam requires its adherents to stone women. It is probably more of a cultural or social practice rather than a Qur'anic one".

My comment: Rob is referring to three of Diana Eck's books:

  • Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India - Although the role of the visual is essential to Indian tradition and culture, most attempts to understand its images are laden with misperceptions. Darsan, a Sanskrit word that means "seeing", is an aid to our vision, a book of ideas to help us read, think, and look at Hindu images with tolerance and imagination.
  • Banaras, City of Light - A book about the Hindu holy city (aka Vanarasi).
  • Encountering God - In the summer of 1965, as young Americans everywhere struggled to come to terms with the war in Vietnam and the crises of the civil rights movement, Diana Eck was a college student learning Hindi in preparation for her first visit to India. It was a trip that would change her life, bringing her into relationships with non-Christians.

In the 60s it was trendy for young Americans to go to India and study Hinduism. Stanford's Dean of Religious Life, Scotty McLennan, was among them. Sorry, but I view Hinduism as strangely locked in a time warp. Its odd features, above all worship of various animals, take us back to Egyptian times. Why Hinduism got stuck there is a mystery. I believe in religious progress. One of the latest manifestations is Universal Unitarianism, which is what Scotty McLennan professes and which the elephant story alludes to. You may argue that there are many varieties of Hinduism, ancient and modern. In that case, we should specify which one we are talking about. Certainly the one represented by the Hindu religious party has no appeal for me. As for Vanarasi (Banaras), it is a filthy place, a center of the animal worship described above. The implication of Rob's story is that the elephant is God. I do not worship elephants, not even white ones.

As for the stoning of women, the Jews told Jesus that Moses commanded it. I have waited in vain for a reply to my question as tp when Orthodox Jews renounced the stoning of women. Perhaps they have not. The Muslims who stone women say their religion requires it. Perhaps Ed Jajko can tell us if that is so. Unless Ed has already left for Rome to occupy the papal throne.

Ronald Hilton - 5/24/02


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