In this thought-provoking evangelistic tool, Subramanian, a real-life Hindu of the 20th century, observes a fictitious conversation between two religious figures as they respond to each other's views of the life and the afterlife. Soon, Subramanian joins in with hard question of his own. Meanwhile, Richard, a fictional character, eavesdrops, asking himself the most important question of all: Does it really matter what I believe?
Written by a Hindu who converted to Christianity, New Birth or Rebirth invites readers into a balanced and insightful dialogue between Jesus and a deity of the third largest religion in the world. The fourth book in the Great Conversations series by Ravi Zacharias, this creative narrative is for readers interested in knowing the facts about Christianity and Hinduism-and in discovering why faith really matters.
©2004 Ravi Zacharias; (P)2004 christianaudio.com
The target audience of this book are people superficially acquainted with both Christianity and Hinduism. For serious students of these faiths , this book is a joke at best. This book reminded me of Johnathan's Swift's "The Battle of Books" which was an entertaining satire. This book on the other hand is a tasteless polemic which is more likely to offend than to enlighten or entertain any serious student of religion.
To begin with, the Jesus in this work of fiction is merely author's own alter ego. It is not a Jesus grounded in any fact of history, although Ravi Zachariah (RZ) desperately tries to argue so in the last chapter. Similarly, the Krishna presented in this work is neither rooted in history nor in any authoritative tradition of Hinduism. RZ's attempt to pin Krishna down to the teachings of ISKON for quick refutation is an over-simplification of the subject matter. ISKON is by no means the only interpretation of Krishna that Hindus accept. Many Hindus on the contrary consider it to be a rather narrow interpretation of Hinduism and do not accept it as authoritative.
RZ's Krishna is merely a straw man he contrived to make Hinduism look contradictory and confusing. Throughout the book a counterfeit Jesus, or rather RZ's own alter ego, scolds this imaginary Krishna only to dismiss him in the final scene as completely imaginary. That a straw man fallacy is written all over the work would hardly be an overstatement of the missionary malintent which characterizes this work.
The author puts philosophical positions in Krishna's mouth, which are either clearly not Hindu or they lack proper context. Then he gets his fictitious Jesus to refute them in a patronizing and self-righteous tone. The imaginary Krishna thus get beaten with the stick of typical Western stereotypes of Hinduism throughout the book while RZ's 700 club variety of counterfeit Jesus evades even a minimal academic scrutiny.
RZ's perspective on Christianity is that of a pious believer but his attempted perspective on Hinduism is that of a rational skeptic. The work could perhaps have attained half of its intended value if even the latter had been based on dispassionate treatment of the subject matter. An exercise in comparative religion is fundamentally futile and dishonest if the author fails to apply the same units of measurement and protocols of inquiry to both the faiths under study, without exceptions. RZ makes several exceptions for his own faith, while reserving selective quotation, logical fallacy , and, sometimes, patently shoddy scholarship for the treatment of Hinduism. The result of all this is a highly imbalanced and flawed work, almost amounting to slander.
Let's look at a few of RZ's misrepresented positions which he tries to put in Krishna's mouth:
1. The Cow Stereotype: A work whose primary intent is to misinform people about Hinduism could not have begun without the hackneyed reference to the trilogy of "cow, caste and curry". I wonder why RZ left out curry when he does not spare the other two. Could this be because of being an Indian RZ has not yet been fully overcome his weakness for the curry?
On a serious note, the belief in the sacredness of cow is at best a peripheral Hindu belief and it is within the context of sacredness of all life for the Hindus and cattle being of central importance to an agrarian society. It is by no means the central belief of the Hindu practice. No Hindu worships cow as Supreme God. RZ tries to present a verse from Atharva Veda which identifies the cow with the visible universe in a reverent way. Again, RZ's counterfeit Jesus does not realize that the Sanskrit word "Go" (also source of English word cow) is used in dual sense in Vedas. It means a literal "cow" and at the same time it also means "light". If the verse from Atharva Veda is read with the latter implication of the term, the verse assumes altogether different meaning. The term "Go-vind" , Krishna's alternate scriptural name, actually means "The Lord of Light". The term "Go-chara" is also used to denote a branch of Vedic astrology as the "movement of light". It seems the 700 club Jesus of RZ is not interested in exploring the real meaning of the word "Go" beyond cow as it would demolish the popular stereotype used to trivialize and exoticize Hinduism.
2. India's Present Day Material Poverty blamed on Hinduism: RZ's counterfeit Jesus tries to blame Hinduism for India's material poverty. He ignores the fact it is first time in India's history of thousands of years that it has come to be associated with material poverty. If RZ's counterfeit Jesus had read Will Durant's work "Case for India" he would have easily known that the Hindu India for most part in history was fabulously wealthy. Alexander came to Hindu India after hearing of its riches. Even during the time of Mughals, just before British colonization, India alone comprised about 30% of global GDP. India's current material state has got nothing to do with Krishna's teachings or any aspect of Hinduism. Bhagvad Gita on the contrary says no to self-denying asceticism as the sole means to the highest truth.
The ascetical extremes in the Indian thought were the result of the teachings of Buddhist and Jain spin-offs. Even though Buddha correctly taught the "middle path" but his later followers put extreme emphasis on renunciation. Even Jesus himself glorified poverty in the Gospels while Krishna never left his kingly mansions in the pursuit of enlightenment. He taught that enlightenment can be gained while being engaged in scripturally aligned material pursuits. So long as the West lived under the control of institutionalized Christianity, it remained poor. The journey of Western prosperity uncannily overlaps with its rejection of the organized Christianity. But do you really expect a counterfeit Jesus to acknowledge these inconvenient facts?
3. World as Puppet Show: RZ's 700 club Jesus takes a leaf out of Shakespeare and tries to pin it on Hinduism. While Krishna of Bhagvatam does say that the manifest world is a "Leela" or play but nowhere does he imply that in this cosmic drama the soul is devoid of free-will and incapable of forming its own volitions. Nor does Krishna say or imply that the "world is really unreal or drama and the real life happens back stage" (this is actually an undigested idea from Platonism). On the contrary Krishna says to Arjuna that "Untruth comes not into existence and Truth never goes out of existence". Where in this is the implication that "truth only happens back stage" as RZ's counterfeit Jesus tries to put into Krishna's mouth? In fact Krishna is just saying the opposite. Here RZ has got his Shakespeare and Plato mixed up with his shallow understanding of Hindu doctrines.
The concept of Karma pre-supposes individual free-will. Without individual free-will there can be no accumulation of Karma. This is not only clearly implied in Bhagvad Gita but in many other Hindu scriptures too. RZ has distorted a Hindu position and then refuted it as a straw man. No kudos for the 700 club Jesus here.
4. Sati: Ah, how could a book written to trash Hinduism be devoid of reference to Sati? And it is indeed a sobering spectacle to behold a witch-burning creed chastising a widow-burning one. But Jesus , being an all knowing personage, more was expected of him than repetition of tired old cliches. The all-knowing Jesus would have known that Sati originated in the mind-over-matter Yogic paradigm and in the ancient India even the men many times ended their lives with self-immolation. Alexander's Indian Guru, Kelanos (Kalyan) , lit his own funeral pyre and then entered it nonchalantly to his pupil's utter astonishment. Arjuna , the hero of Mahabharata, almost ended his life by entering the fire-samadhi. The Arab travelers record that sometimes even Indian men would enter funeral pyres of their dear friends. The Sufi Poet, Amir Khusro, a Muslim, has written glowingly of Sati regarding it as an ascetical yogic feat, showing mind-over-matter mastery. Of course, the practice was corrupted later on and made coercive on women which was manifestly wrong and evil, finding no sanction in canonical Hindu texts. But are only Christians entitled to their witch-burning ways while the other faiths must remain pristine - and unflinchingly so - in their practices? RZ's counterfeit Jesus is unwilling to indulge any faith other than his own, it seems. Let's not forget it's not the real Jesus but a missionary's not so clever contraption to spread disinformation.
5. Hindu Caste vs Christian Slavery: RZ's 700 club Jesus elaborately descants on the Hindu caste system armed with the popular cliches but is silent on Christianity's own track record of practicing slavery until 1960s civil liberties movement. He does not comment on "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear..." (Ephesians). Slavery was commonplace and institutionalized in Jesus's own time but there is not a single verse in Gospels or Acts calling it a disgusting practice, leave alone abolishing it. On the contrary, Krishna of Bhagvad Gita says that even the outcastes are the manifestation of the highest (Brahman) and that an enlightened Yogi sees the One in the Brahmin and the lowest outcaste. Again, you should not expect truth out of a polemical work meant more to mislead than to enlighten.
6. Author of Mahabharata: RZ's Jesus is certainly not all knowing. Otherwise, he would have known that Mahabharata was not authored by Valmiki. It was actually authored by Krishna Dwaipayana or Veda Vyasa. Valmiki was the author of Ramayana.
7. Brahma's supposed Incest: The Brahma and Saraswati story in Puranas is an allegorical device to convey a metaphysical theme. Puranic stories are never meant to be read literally. RZ has tried to use it with a scandalous innuendo. But, assuming it to be literal for argument sake, Krishna could have easily countered RZ's Jesus by referring him to Prophet Lot's literal incest with his own daughters. How come the 700 club Jesus talks of an allegorical Hindu incest but is silent on a literal Christian one?
8. Reincarnation: This also deserves comment because it is in the title of the book. RZ tries to argue through his sock puppet Jesus that the Christian idea of "rebirth" is superior to Hindu belief of reincarnation. Krishna should have asked Jesus as to why John the Baptist was considered to be Prophet Elijah reborn by Jesus himself and as to why a large number of the prominent Church fathers believed in reincarnation for the first six centuries of Christian history. Secondly, does an ontological truth get automatically invalidated if it does not conform with the human idea of poetic justice (especially, as understood by the likes of Ravi Zachariah)? There is a lot RZ's Jesus would have to explain and account for, which he does not. He just shoots and scoots.
9. Siva Lingam: 700 club Jesus purposefully selects an extreme fringe left-handed Tantric view of this ancient symbol as an orgiastic worship. Please note that left-handed Tantra is strictly prohibited to ordinary Hindus. Most are not even aware of its existence. Very large number consider it a reprobate sect. A lay person who has a superficial acquaintance with Hindu practices would be easily misled by the way RZ's Jesus engages in an interpretive mischief. Siva Lingam ("lingam" literally means "sign" , not phallus) symbolically represents the synthesis of male and female principles (Ying and Yang) in the sacred cosmology , through which all creation springs forth. Its sexual connotation is tempting, but deceptive. A lay conservative Hindu certainly does not associate it with gross sexuality as the 700 club Jesus seeks to insinuate. The proof of this is that Siva Lingas are of many varieties such as Jyotirlingas (Linga of Light) , Bhutalingas (Lingas of five elements) and so on. None of these can be linked with any form of human sexuality, at least not the gross scandalous form. Yogis try to locate Siva Lingam in the their "third eye" , a point in medulla oblongata, with mental concentration. Map this to real Jesus' quote: "If your eye be single , your whole body shall be full of light". It is a Lingam made of pure light (hence the name "Jyotirlingam"). Do look up Hindu texts and you would easily find that the symbolism of Shiva Lingam is more nuanced and esoteric than the scandalous insinuation of the 700 club Jesus. Krishna could have easily countered Jesus here by pointing out the the academic suggestion of crucifix being a phallic symbol carried from Mithraism into Christianity. There is enough evidence available from Egyptian and Babylonian sources in support of the view that Cross was initially a phallic symbol and that it was adapted into Christianity much later. Go figure out why Cross resembles the ancient Egyptian Ankh so much. Joseph Campbell said that even the Church steeple is originally a fertility symbol. Same goes the Christmas tree and Easter bunnies. Lets not forget that the organized Christianity is an uneasy mix of Sun-God (Sol Invictus, Mithra, etc) based pagan religions and Judaism.
10. Historicity of Jesus: In the final chapter RZ resorts to a blatant archaeological perfidy to establish Jesus as a historical character and present Krishna as a mythical one. It is supposed to be the ultimate "test of truth" or something close to it. He believes that present day Jerusalem and Bethlehem are proof the existence of historical Jesus. The truth is that all of these shrines got their status in very un-historiographical ways through magical discoveries by later believers and then held up retrospectively to be the "historical" sites of Jesus's birth. Bethlehem was supposedly discovered by Constantine's mother in a dream after it had been razed to a rubble three centuries earlier . Does this comprise a historical proof of Jesus's existence? Yes, but only to those belonging to the crackpot 700 club. On the other hand, recent discovery of the lost underwater city of Dwarka and Krishna's seal, mentioned in Puranas, give distinct possibility of a historical Krishna. Archaeologically, the proof of the existence of historical Krishna is much more solid than that of Jesus.
11. Misrepresentation of Krishna as War-Monger: RZ's counterfeit Jesus also presents Mahabharata war out of its epical context to present Krishna as a war-monger. Those long preceding sections of the epical text are not quoted where Krishna made desperate efforts to prevent the feud between the two clans. He even got Pandavas agreed to accept the rule of just five villages instead of demanding back their entire kingdom, usurped through deceit by the cousins. Krishna's earnest but unsuccessful peace mission to Kaurvas, which the counterfeit Jesus does not quote, are an important and highly detailed part of the epical narrative.
Further, the 700 club Jesus slanders the Hindu Warrior Order by saying that the duty of the Kshatriya is to kill. No, that is not what the text says. It says that the Kshatriya is a "defender of virtue". Elsewhere, the epic says that the greatest virtue in the universe is to forgive others (Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Section XXVII).
I could probably write a book on factual and interpretive errors in this book but would like to stop here.
I really would have loved to see Krishna interrogating Jesus to investigate origin of Christian beliefs from the pagan religions of Mithra and Horus. Krishna should have told Jesus that even his birthday, the story of his resurrection, the idea of salvation as pact between God and man, virgin birth, twelve disciples, birth in manger, sacrament of blood sacrifice, etc have all been ripped off from pre-Christian Mithraic beliefs with which Christianity still bears an uneasy schizophrenic relationship.
Krishna should have interrogated Jesus about the origin of the Greek word "Christ" which is not present in Aramaic language spoken in Israel but bears uncanny resemblance to Latinized adaptation of Krishna's name. We know through Arrian's work that Greeks were well aware of the Indian Herakles (Hercules) , i.e. Krishna, at least three centuries before Jesus' birth. We also know with certainty that Krishna, and his twin deity Balaram, were revered as "Lord of Strength" by Indians and were identified with Hercules by the ancient Greeks who travelled to India. Could it be that early Christians mapped Jesus to the latin cognate of "Krishna", i.e. "Christos" . It is to this day customary in Hinduism to ritually "anoint" the deities in the temples. Krishna's other name "Hari" also literally means the "uplifter" or the "saviour". To quote Blavatsky: "Christian philologists try to limit the meaning of Krishna's name to its derivation from Krish, "black"; but if the analogy and comparison of the Sanskrit with the Greek roots contained in the names of Chrestos, Christos, and Chrishna, are analyzed more carefully, it will be found that they are all of the same origin."
I would have loved to see Krishna quoting Christian theologian Albert Schwitzer who pointed out doctrinal and factual differences between the versions of Christ found in Gospels and Acts. That would have been a really engaging discussion. What about discussing how Paul embossed his own Mithraic beliefs of contractual salvation through blood sacrament on Christianity and taught a version of Christianity not taught by Jesus of the Gospels. It would have been nice to see Krishna taking Jesus to task for the imperial and ecclesiastical intrigues of first 600 years of Christian history that led to the infusion of Hindu concept of Trinity into Christianity (through Platonic route) and the practice of the belief of reincarnation by early Church fathers until it was banned by an imperial decree in 553 AD.
But then , if RZ's Jesus did all that he would he really remain the 700 Club Jesus....he would rather get busy telling lies about Krishna whose sprit, as Carl Jung had presaged, is entering the Western soul at a rate too uncomfortable for this raptured papa.
*Narrator's Performance: The only thing I liked about this audio book was Simon Vance's performance. Thats perhaps the only saving grace for this polemical work for somebody very familiar with both the great faiths.
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