Echoes of Christ

"Echoes of Christ" Continued...

Issue: "Lord of the Rings," Dec. 20, 2003

So, even though Shudra were rendered spiritually inferior -a Shudra "is not competent to utter swaha and sadha or any other Vedic mantra"-they could still join other castes in despising humans considered even lower, the Dalits ("untouchables"). Crucially, this dehumanization was all decreed by the gods, and acquiescence was good because current suffering would lead to better placement in the next life. Submission created good karma. The law of Manu decreed that the four castes existed "for the sake of the prosperity of the world," and those at the bottom had one calling only: "to serve meekly."

What was the Christian reaction to casteism?

Christianity at various times in European history was the religion of the poor and oppressed-but by the time European and Indian Christians began having a lot of contact 500 years ago, Indian Christians were sharing many rituals with the Hindu aristocracy. High-caste Hindu infants were (and to this day, are) bedecked with a "sacred thread," so Christian infants received the same, but with a small cross added. (Of course, the "sacred thread" may have grown out of some Christian influence, since it is often not one thread but three.) Similarities in birth and marriage rituals suggest either Christians caving in before Hindu influences, or-if the Deivanayagam theory is correct-Indians echoing Christian influence.

In any event, many Christians became part of the Indian elite. Many apparently did not touch untouchables, and they were welcome at Hindu temples. Instead of proselytizing the poor, they in essence became a special, respected caste within the Indian system. Weakened by idol worship and other indications of theological syncretism, some Christian churches may have forgotten that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither Brahmin nor untouchable. Today, though, they are coming out of that malaise, and Christian churches and churchgoers in India are among the leaders in touching the untouchables and showing that Christ's grace is for people from every ethnic and economic group.

The Deivanayagam theory

And what about the Deivanayagam theory? Much more research is needed, as its adherents themselves acknowledge. One supporter in Chennai, Dr. David Baskara Doss, acknowledges that "unless you have the knowledge of the Bible, it's very difficult to decipher the remnants of early Indian religion"-but the danger is that those with such knowledge will read into the evidence more than it can bear.

Another thoughtful supporter, Michael Prabhu, found it "difficult to swallow parts" of the Deivanayagam theory but was "overcome by the dedication and sincerity" of the dad and daughter. He said their concepts "help me to relate Hinduism to Christian principles. Hindus don't have an advantage over me." But sincerity does not necessarily yield truth, and the study of history is not for the purpose of gaining advantage; it's to find out how God has worked in space and time.

And yet, seeing the failure of Christianity to build more than a beachhead in India also provides a new perspective on Western culture. Christianity's success in Europe was a close call many times. Historians have written about how, when the Roman Empire ended, the Irish saved civilization. Yet what about an earlier close call: when, as Acts 17 relates, Paul had Athens leaders hanging on his words until he spoke of the resurrection of the dead? That's when most of his listeners began to sneer, but a few-including a man called Dionysius and a woman named Damaris-believed.

What if Paul had not been content with that meager catch? What if he or his successors had reasoned that they could win over more Athenians if they merged Christ's story with Greek mythology? What if they had come up with a trinity of Zeus the father, Hercules the son, and Hermes as a fast-moving Holy Spirit? Or, if they wanted a female form within the trinity to increase their appeal to some women, how about Athena as the Holy Spirit?

If the church had taken that turn 1,900 years ago, Christians would probably not have had to hide in the catacombs or undergo martyrdom. Greek and Roman temples could have been retrofitted with Zeus, Jesus/Hercules, and Hermes/Athena sculptures displaying the new Trinitarian family. Jesus/Hercules could have become a superhero appearing in our imaginations whenever trouble loomed. We could pray not for a second coming but a 10th or a 100th.

Paul, though, did not compromise the truth. He knew that the gospel is discontinuous with all religions that say we can save ourselves, or that we can choose who will save us. Christianity affects cultures as the moon does the sea, creating tides of reform. In other religions we sometimes can hear echoes of Christ. In response, Christians must stress that salvation comes only through Christ: Accept no substitutes. As Christmas approaches, we can be thankful that when we are tempted to syncretize Christianity and other religions, the Bible sets us straight. As Paul proclaimed, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21).

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…