View Full Version : Understanding the Abrahamic Mindset

23 November 2010, 08:32 PM
Vanakkam Everyone,

There's an interesting article (http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2003/05/lewis.htm) by Bernard Lewis in The Atlantic that gives a very good description of the Abrahamic way of thinking:

To what extent is a religiously defined civilization compatible with pluralism—tolerance of others within the same civilization but of different religions? This crucial question points to a major distinction between two types of religion. For some religions, just as "civilization" means us, and the rest are barbarians, so "religion" means ours, and the rest are infidels. Other religions, such as Judaism and most of the religions of Asia, concede that human beings may use different religions to speak to God, as they use different languages to speak to one another. God understands them all. I know in my heart that the English language is the finest instrument the human race has ever devised to express its thoughts and feelings, but I recognize in my mind that others may feel exactly the same way about their languages, and I have no problem with that. These two approaches to religion may conveniently be denoted by the terms their critics use to condemn them—"triumphalism" and "relativism." In one of his sermons the fifteenth-century Franciscan Saint John of Capistrano, immortalized on the map of California, denounced the Jews for trying to spread a "deceitful" notion among Christians: "The Jews say that everyone can be saved in his own faith, which is impossible." For once a charge of his against the Jews was justified. The Talmud does indeed say that the righteous of all faiths have a place in paradise. Polytheists and atheists are excluded, but monotheists of any persuasion who observe the basic moral laws are eligible. The relativist view was condemned and rejected by both Christians and Muslims, who shared the conviction that there was only one true faith, theirs, which it was their duty to bring to all humankind. The triumphalist view is increasingly under attack in Christendom, and is disavowed by significant numbers of Christian clerics. There is little sign as yet of a parallel development in Islam.


For those taking the relativist approach to religion (in effect, "I have my god, you have your god, and others have theirs"), there may be specific political or economic reasons for objecting to someone else's beliefs, but in principle there is no theological problem. For those taking the triumphalist approach (classically summed up in the formula "I'm right, you're wrong, go to hell"), tolerance is a problem. Because the triumphalist's is the only true and complete religion, all other religions are at best incomplete and more probably false and evil; and since he is the privileged recipient of God's final message to humankind, it is surely his duty to bring it to others rather than keep it selfishly for himself.

23 November 2010, 08:53 PM
Point of the thread?

Eastern Mind
23 November 2010, 09:01 PM
Vannakkam: I'm sorry but I understand enough of it already. It says, "I'm right and you're wrong. This much I KNOW." That's enough for me. Thank you. (slamming the door on the way out)
Aum Namasivaya

24 November 2010, 12:09 AM
.......(slamming the door on the way out)
Aum Namasivaya
Easy, it hit me right in the face!

24 November 2010, 06:13 AM
If we consider the vedas as revealed knowledge, and the path of Dharma the right goal in life, what would set a Hindu apart from the same "triumphalist" position as noted in that article?

Should we look at history and see that intolerance and violence was never part of any Hindu movement trying to convert people (as far as I know)?

I ask this putting myself on the shoe of another person, who could just turn to me and say: "You also think the vedas are the ultimate truth and in the end you're being just as intolerant."

Insights deeply appreciated!

Om Tat Sat

Eastern Mind
24 November 2010, 08:40 AM
Vannakkam Pietro: There is a key difference. We don't see it as our duty to TELL everybody, and convince everyone. Of course I think Hinduism is the greatest religion on the planet. (If not, then I'd better switch off to the one that I do think is the greatest)

Whether it be Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons coming to my door, or large billboards promoting Jesus throughout India, bumper stickers on cars etc. , we Hindus just don't do that stuff. I would never go door to door, put a promotion of Hinduism outwardly on my car, or pay money for some billboard. Not many Hindus do. We're quiet and content about it, just being polite and confident that our own chosen path is the right one for us.

We have never sought converts, and never will.

Aum Namasivaya

24 November 2010, 09:04 AM
hariḥ oṁ


A cut 'n paste post is unattractive as far as I can tell has been asked by many to just be avoided¹.
It seems to me the 'value add' of a HDF member is to add insight to an idea, a position. To maybe compare and contrast the issue in the article one offers. This then draws the reader in and gets one to particpate, share an idea or two.

1. post: http://www.hindudharmaforums.com/showthread.php?t=2550
High on the list of 'unattractive' is cut 'n paste. There is little value to a cut 'n paste from another site that does not add definition, conclusions and points of reason one is to be considering. If one uses cut 'n paste, What does that sūtra, mantra, vallī, etc. mean to you ? to the conversation?

If the quoted works come from the wise take a stab at what the parable means, otherwise it is just ink on paper, nothing more. This is how we stretch our thinking , our concepts, our understanding. How will one reach the Infinite if we are content with limits?

24 November 2010, 09:36 AM
Two Points:

1. There are two reasons that we can never be "like them:" First: Reincarnation. Really, it's the reason that Dharmic religions aren't like the Abrahamics. You see, they're in a hurry. They feel that they MUST absolutely convert you or...you're gonna burn forever in a fiery "Hell." There is no such necessity when reincarnation is part of the picture. Hindus/Buddhists/etc. merely shrug and say, "Oh well. Maybe you'll get it right in the next life." Secondly: Moksha. You cannot attain it by force. You cannot suddenly become enlightened because someone forced you to do something. You can be forced into Christianity or Islam, but the very concept of forcing someone to be a Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, etc., is such a preposterous notion that few have tried it.

2. The definitions of "religion" as mentioned in the article: The Latin word "religio" was always applied to Polytheist, non Judeao-Christian religions before Christianity. In fact, the Polytheist religion of the Romans was referred to as "Religio Romana," or "Roman Religion." In fact, the term "ἄθεος" or "Atheos," (Atheist) was a Greek loan word to Latin, and was originally used to describe Christians, who denied that there were any Gods but their own. (As opposed to the Roman belief that all Gods were part of the same Divinity...) So to claim that the word "religion" only applies to Abrahamic religions is prima facie absurd, and should be ridiculed as having no historical basis in fact whatsoever.

24 November 2010, 11:34 AM
If we consider the vedas as revealed knowledge, and the path of Dharma the right goal in life, what would set a Hindu apart from the same "triumphalist" position as noted in that article?

Should we look at history and see that intolerance and violence was never part of any Hindu movement trying to convert people (as far as I know)?

I ask this putting myself on the shoe of another person, who could just turn to me and say: "You also think the vedas are the ultimate truth and in the end you're being just as intolerant."

Insights deeply appreciated!

Om Tat Sat

That vedas are revealed knowledge and an inderect proof (paroksha) of God is only the orthodox schools of hindu thought.

Even these orthodox schools who formed their philosophy on the infallibility of vedas ultimately defer to another superior form of proof of God, which is direct experience in meditation or devotion (aparoksha jnana), and in this direct experience is the only final validity and liberation.

The role of shruti or indirect knowledge is thus merely to serve the purpose of starting the meditation or devotion on God, whose existence is yet unknown to the ignorant mind, which none the less needs some proof to begin an endevour (and as serious as meditation). For some other orthodox schools the vedic way of life and ritualism is the best way mankind can exist in universe and dispence his duties towards it.

In either case a mere belief in books (without experience) has much lesser role in Hinduism and the unique concept of taking one's belief and God to the doors of "non-believers" without any direct experience of God or an iota of insight into existence is uniquely Islamic and Christian. It is this preaching combined with ignorance which make them so poisonous. But Hindu religion has none of the 2 characteristics (dwelling in ignorance/no direct knowledge AND preaching).

Finally for heterodox hindus like me, vedas are neither infalliable nor revealed word of God -- a mere testimonial to our cultural history. And all books whether shruti or smriti or tantras are testimonials of the human possibility (hence extremely valuable) and sometimes tools and knowhow one needs for a direct experience of God.

20 June 2011, 05:51 AM
Thanks to all who have posted, thought-provoking is never a bad thing to me :)
I wish simply to add a few observations of my own- as I understand it, the roots of much Abrahamic thought descend in part from both ancient Sumerian and Egyptian beliefs... the biblical flood/Noah story has been found to be greatly anteceded by a Sumerian version. While the Sumerians were pantheistic, and their version had humanity's existence preserved by some legal-loophole maneuvering on the part of wisdom-god Enki (as opposed to only one family being found worthy to live), the theme of cosmic regret concerning the state of creation (and especially humans) leading to an act of mass destruction is still to be found in both, and details such as construction of an ark and birds returning to the ship until land was found leave little doubt as to the ancestry of the Judaic version.

Although the concept of a soul or afterlife is found in both Sumerian and older Judaic tradition, it was not portrayed as a pleasant sphere of existence (no matter how blameless or upright a life one had led); the emphasis was on the fragility and fleeting nature of life, to make the best use of one's time while alive on Earth, because once dead, forever dead, and the grey, dusty, dark underworld or Sheol was all one had to look forward to.

I mentioned ancient Egypt because not only was there quite an elaborate cosmology and set of beliefs concerning "sin", the soul and an afterlife, but also because of the connection between Akhenaten and the development of monotheism in the area, as well as the concept of resurrection certainly described in the texts and rituals concerning Osiris, well before Judeo-Christian versions appeared. Of course, this is a very simplistic and abbreviated attempt to spur consideration of the historical and contextual roots of the "Abrahamic mindset"... No offense is meant to anyone, and I certainly claim no expertise on these matters.

However, if it is acceptable for Abrahamics to discuss the "mythology" of the Vedas, etc. I see no reason why I cannot discuss the "mythology" of Cain and Abel representing a "nomadic pastoralist" society's self-justification of superiority compared to the local "urban agrarian" culture. (I am referring to the story in which Abel's animal sacrifice/offering is accepted, while Cain's plant-based offering is not).

Again, I am not trying to provoke anyone, and have the greatest respect for sincere followers/devotees of YHWH, Jesus, or Mohammed.

As for me, my body, heart, mind, and soul belong to Maa... Jai Mata Di:)

22 June 2011, 08:14 PM
I think something to be kept always in mind is that the God of Abraham is a jealous God. He is to be found in only one place, the record of Abraham. Other Gods are at best a deviation from abidance in the Word of Elohim, and at worse they are an utter abomination.