Dialogues with Christians
By Yajnavalkya Dasa
“Do you accept Jesus Christ as the son of God?”
“But do you accept Jesus as the only begotten son of God?”
“But Jesus was special. He died for His people. Did Pradyumna die for his people?”
“If He never dies, then where is He?”
Sometimes God manifests Himself, and sometimes He is unmanifest (not visible to our eyes). He is like the sun… when the sun sets, does it die? No, it is just invisible to our material eyes. It is beyond the horizon, but it is still there.
“Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross is hardly an “argument to pity”. ..it is an expression of the love of God for the world. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)”
That sounds nice, but it does not answer the question. God is all-powerful. He can easily deliver everyone in an instant, if He so chooses. He has no need to send His son to his death.
Furthermore, death does not exist for the soul, so there is no question of one “perishing”. We have always existed, and we will always continue to exist, says the Bhagavad-gita (2.12).
It is important to understand the role intelligent thought has in our search for God. Emotional fervor can get in the way of common sense and logic.
“But only Christianity has a solution to the problem of sin: Adam the first man sinned. Man, down to the present day, inherited this sin at birth. In other words, man is born in sin, and he is destined for an eternity in hell. But, just by having faith in Christ Jesus, you can be saved. This is an expression of the love and mercy of God Almighty.”
“But God makes it easy to be free. Just have faith in Jesus. Jesus’ grace is not earned, it’s freely given. All we have to do is accept it. Those who don’t are lost forever.”
“You Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. So what is the value of reincarnation if you can’t remember your past lives? There is no rehabilitation there, either.”
The ultimate purpose of reincarnation is not for punishment (although the embodied soul certainly receives his due share of miseries from his embodied existences). The soul transmigrates to other bodies simply because that is the soul’s desire. God is very kind. If we want to live with Him, that is, if we truly desire to live with Him, we will be liberated from samsara, the cycle of birth and death. But if we want to remain here in the material world, trying our best to squeeze every possible drop of enjoyment from this world, trying to make a kingdom of God without God, then we will be given our desire… another material body. But, even when we receive another material body, we are given chance after chance to mend our ways and pursue our real self-interest… redeeming our relationship with God.
And after many, many millions of lifetimes, a wise person will begin to understand that no matter what material endeavors he makes, the results are finished at the time of death. He cannot take his wealth with him to his next body. Being materiallyexhausted, he can finally begin spiritual life. It is written that one can become serious about spiritual life only when he is materially frustrated. So, even material miseries can actually be a blessing in disguise. There is a Hindu saying that “if God likes you, He will give you everything, but if He loves you, He will take everything away.” In this way, by showing His special mercy, the living being quickly realizes that our relationship with God is the only thing that really matters.
“But just look at the bounty with which God has blessed America! Surely that is a sign he favors us Christians.”
If that was the case, then God must really favor the Muslims, since many oil-rich Arab states have the highest per-capita income in the world. You cannot equate material happiness with God’s blessings. Tyrants and ruthless kings have lived lives of luxury. It is important to understand that material wealth is not always in the living being’s best interests. He may come under the spell of illusion, thinking, “The material world is not so bad. Who needs God?” Real wealth is spiritual wealth.
By the way, it is questionable to consider the United States “blessed”. Drug use is rampant and crime haunts both the cities as well as the countryside. Millions of abortions are performed every year. In addition to these murders of the un-born, 45,000 adult murders occur each year on the street, in schoolyards and in private homes. Although Christianity has had a strong foothold here in the United States since the very beginning, it is still glaringly obvious that something has gone awry with the social fabric. And yet Christians criticize third world countries “backward ways” and want to export Western culture there? Even in your own Bible, Jesus admonished the sanctimonious hypocrites, saying, “Before you can remove the speck in your brother’s eye, first remove the log in your own.”
In Hindu’s homes around the world, the center of the home is the family altar, where spiritual values are shared. In America, the center of the home is the family television set, where the favorite fare is sitcoms, where anti-social skills are learned (the favorite source of “humor” in sitcoms is usually insult and sexual innuendo).
“If a person believes in reincarnation, he will think. “Oh, I can enjoy this time… in the next lifetime I will become serious about God.”
Yes, he might think like that. But he may not be in a position next time around to become serious about God. If he has been extremely sinful in this life, his next body may be that of an animal or a flea… or even a bacterium inside the bowels of the flea. This human form of life is actually very rarely obtained. Instead of pursuing sense gratification, which is so easily obtainable in other life forms, we should fully utilize this human form of life for God realization.
“So this concept of reincarnation in other species of life is related to your concept of non-violence and vegetarianism. But animals have no souls. According to Genesis in the Bible, man was given dominion over all the animals. So there is no sin in killing animals. Animals are here for our enjoyment.”
As for man being given “dominion over the animals”, look in the dictionary for what the word “dominion” means. It means “authority or control”. A man has “dominion” over his children, but that does not give him the right to kill and eat them! And as for the pernicious doctrine that “animals have no souls”, there is absolutely NO place in the Bible where it is stated, or even hinted, that animals have no souls. This doctrine is not found in the Bible at all, but is derived from the speculations of Aquinas and Augustine who preferred meat eating. Animals feel pain, we feel pain. We fear death, animals fear death. Animals seek pleasure and warmth, and so do we. Even the ancient Greeks, such as Plato, observed that animals dream (as evidenced by dogs barking and twitching in their sleep).
“But humans are extremely intelligent. That is what makes them special, that is evidence of their soul.”
A baby child has less intelligence than a dog. Does that mean the child has no soul? What about people in a degenerative mental state or the retarded? Do they have no soul?
“But if all life forms have the same quality of soul, why are not animals as intelligent as humans?”
Because they can express themselves only through the body they are in. Here is an example: suppose an expert computer programmer has to program two separate computers. One computer is an 8-bit, 1 mHz microcomputer, and the other is a 32-bit, 50 mHz mainframe. In this example, the programmer represents the soul, and the computers are the brains of the different bodies the soul may inhabit. If you were looking at the output of the two computers, you would see the output of the mainframe is much faster and more efficient than that of the smaller computer. So you might assume that the programmer of the mainframe is much smarter than the programmer of the micro-computer. But, in reality, it is the same programmer! He is just limited by the capacity of the computer he uses. In the same way, one may think that a human soul is different (and much more advanced) than an animal soul.
By the way, this analogy is also useful when explaining the results of brain injuries. After a brain injury, a person may act confused, or lose his ability to control his emotions, etc. But the soul is undamaged. It is just that the soul’s mechanism for expression (the body and brain) has been damaged. Just as a computer with a faulty keypad would seriously hamper the computer’s efficiency, even though the programmer is unchanged.
The Bhagavad-gita explains it in this way: some embodied souls are compared to smoke-covered fire. These are the souls encased in human bodies, where a dim glimmer of God consciousness can be perceived. Other souls are compared to dust-covered mirrors, which are the souls in animals… the spiritual nature of these beings is almost imperceptible. And, finally, other embodied souls are compared to an embryo encased in a womb, which represents the souls in plants, where consciousness is so covered that it is imperceptible.
“So the injunction to not kill other living entities seems important to you. Then why is it not mentioned in the Bible?”
It is mentioned, in Exodus 20:13, where the list of the Ten Commandments is given: “Thou shalt not kill.”
“We interpret this to mean, “Thou shalt not murder (another human being).”
“Interpret”, according to the dictionary, means “to explain in familiar terms that which is obscurely worded”. The sentence “thou shalt not kill” is hardly obscurely worded. It is crystal clear, and needs no such “interpretation”.
“But, that’s part of the Old Testament. We, as Christians, are mainly concerned with the New Testament, and the teachings of Jesus. Why did Jesus not say anything against meat-eating?”
Actually, Jesus made the commandments even stricter. In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus quotes the commandment “thou shalt not kill”, and then said that even one who is angry is in danger of jeopardizing his salvation.
Besides, how do you know that Jesus did not speak out against meat eating? Jesus lived for 33 years, yet the Bible only speaks of his childhood, and the last three years of his life. All of the Jesus’ speeches in the Bible would take less than an hour to read. After 33 years, only one hour’s worth of speeches? Some scholars believed that Jesus was an Essene Jew, many of whom practiced vegetarianism.
“Well, maybe only an hour of his speeches was recorded, but everything we need to know that is important is there in the Bible.”
That is an audacious thing to say. Remember, Jesus never compiled the books for the New Testament, nor did he choose which books were going to make it into the canon, nor did he even write any of the books. Other people did, and they were guided by unknown motives.
“If Jesus was so concerned about animals, why did he multiply the loaves and fishes? Why not just loaves and vegetables?”
Jesus told his disciples to bring whatever was available, and they replied, “We have only these five loaves and two fish.” But, even if this really happened, that does not condone animal slaughter. If you live in a place like the Middle East, that is one thing. But to slaughter animals when the grocery shelves are full or grains, fruits, and vegetables is another thing altogether. To cause any sentient living entity to suffer needlessly is a great offense.
“Speaking simply from a practical, realistic standpoint, if we did not eat the animals, they would overpopulate the Earth.”
This is nonsense, a truly narrow vision. Farm animals are forced to reproduce, especially by artificial insemination. To encourage the breeding of livestock, and at the same time, saying, “We have to eat them, or they will overrun the Earth” is truly demoniac thinking.
“But what about wild animals? With the animals’ natural predators gone, their populations must be curbed. Human hunters take up the ecological ‘niche’ left behind by the disappearance of the predators.”
Human hunters hardly fill the ecological “niche” of the natural predators. Natural predators attempt “easy” kills, so they will automatically attackonly the weak or the sickly prey, which leaves only the fittest and strongest of the preyed species to survive, passing on their genes for the benefit of the species. Human hunters, on the other hand, will invariably go after the “trophy”, the biggest and strongest member of the herd. Thus they do not weed out the sickly members of the herd that a natural predator would target. This is entirely contrary to the laws of nature.
If hunters were truly sincere in their claims that they are doing this to help restore nature’s balance, they would immediately stop their slaughter of the natural predators, and help restore areas for wildlife to flourish.
“It seems to me that you Hindu’s worship the creation and not the Creator.”
Both respect for the creation and the creator go hand in hand. It is said, “those who abuse the creation heap contempt on the Creator.” How can you claim to worship someone if you scorn his creation? If you were to vandalize your landlord’s property, what value is your claim that you respect and admire your landlord?
“There is enough human misery in this world. Why waste the time and energy being concerned for animals? First, let’s take care of our fellow man, and then we’ll worry about the animals.”
First, it takes no time or energy to stop our abuse of animals. Second, this material world will always be a place of misery. You can attempt to minimize the suffering, but there will always be suffering here. So to say “wait until we have solved mankind’s problems” is irresponsible because it will never happen. Third, it is quite clear that our use of animals for food is responsible for a tremendous amount of human misery (starvation, disease, etc.) Fourth; our abuse of our fellow creatures is also hurting us. For instance, wetlands are important in flood control (by acting as a giant “sponge” to absorb excess rain, and then slowly releasing the excess). By destroying the wetlands, we are only hurting ourselves. Man’s tampering with nature only hurts mankind in the end. And finally, there is the subtle law of karma. Man’s malicious treatment of other living entities will revisit him in the form of sinful reactions in the future. Therefore, anyone truly sincere in his desire to alleviate the suffering of his fellow man will avoid causing unnecessary pain to his fellow creatures.
“How do you know your scriptures are valid? We say your scriptures are useless. And, apparently, you think our own Bible is worthless as well.”
Speaking for myself, I can say that following the Vedic principles has made me a better person. As for the Bible, we do not accept the Bible as a revealed scripture, but we most certainly do not consider it useless. It was valuable to help elevate the people of that ancient time and place to a higher level of consciousness. Basically, the Bible instructs, “Be good. Don’t kill or steal. Worship God. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
But we believe that our own scriptures, the Vedic literature, being divinely transmitted to man, places us on a more direct path to God, on a higher level of consciousness, and on a far higher ethical and moral plane.
It is like the science of numbers: First you have arithmetic; then you move up to mathematics. Still higher is algebra, and higher still is calculus. The existence of calculus does not negate, contradict, or even minimize, the importance of basic arithmetic.
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