| Where Recherche duTemps Perdu
---- meets Kirchliche Dogmatik
For a couple of days now, I've been finding myself in a cluster of cluster headaches. As always I'm thankful for Imitrex--two shots so far--and they help immensely, but wish I didn't have to use it at all. Not that, on the whole, I'm taking it as often as I used to have to. But that doesn't make me feel too much better right now.
Tomorrow [Friday] Nick and Meghan are going to "close" on the purchase of a house in the country. We are extremely excited for them.
*****Here's a valuable piece of information: The erudite and knowledgeable scholars of The Triablogue have written an e-book entitled The End of Infidelity, responding to John Loftus' collection of essays on the timeless theme of The End of Christianity, yet another Prometheus Books production. I'm saying that it's a "timeless" theme because from its inception people have predicted the imminent demise of the Christian faith. At times they tried to help its passing along by means of persecution, at other times by demonstrating its "evident" irrationality, and frequently by considering humanity to have outgrown the immaturity of its past. Hah! Is humanity more mature now than two thousand years ago? It wasn't fervent faith in Christ that led to Hitler's death camps, Stalin's genocides, the "Killing Fields," the plight of the Dalits in India, or child traficikng in S.E. Asia. And I might add that the people who ended barbarian practices all over the world over the last two thousand years were not atheists. I'm reminded of the words of Gamaliel, one of the tannaim, the sages of Talmudic Judaism. He said concerning the message taught by the apostles several millennia ago,
And now, I tell you, stay away from the men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God. (Acts 5:38, 39 HCSB).
It appears to me, that by now, Gamaliel's point should have started to sink in. Steven Hays and Jason Engwer show you why. Along with a good editing job by Peter Pike, they have taken the time to respond to the contributors to the volume by Loftus and their arguments. I congratulate Hays and Engwer on this work. It's tedious and wearisome to counter the same irrational claims in the name of rationality over and over again. But it must be done because the same half-truths and equivocal arguments keep showing up every generation. If people don't receive an alternative, they're going to start to believe the new atheists on their own self-acclaimed authority and join the arrogant blind who are leading the would-be-arrogant blind. Hays and Engwer play fair and give you all that you need to check up on their representation of the arguments advanced by Loftus et. al. If you're in contact with the "new atheism, "--and who isn't?--this is a great book to help you to catch up on the current spate of rhetoric and how to respond to it. Highly recommended. Again, it's an e-book, which you can access by clicking here.
I need to ask you to, please, hang in with me at least through the next paragraph, or you'll miss the point. I ended the last entry with a description of Krishna's last days, when he didn't exactly manifest his earlier attributes of an incarnate deity. Previously, he had been protected against various evil forces that were supposed to destroy him and he had seemingly unrestricted powers of his own. At the end, even though he tried to fight against the reality, Ghandari's curse and Narada's prophecy became his inevitable destiny. He was neither omnipotent nor omniscient, just an old man with the story of a colorful life coming to an end. I could add that, by contrast, Jesus had abdicated his privileges as God when he came to earth (Phil. 3:5), and he continued not to make use of them even when he could (Mt. 26). He went to his death willingly, even though he could have stopped it, and he was subsequently resurrected triumphantly. I think I showed in the previous entry that, once again, any supposed similarity between the deaths of Krishna and Jesus is confined to the minds of those who imagine it to be there.
But we need to be careful not to turn this contrast into a contest of who's greater, Krishna or Jesus--at least not without first of all adding an important qualification. What we see here is not only a contrast between Krishna and Jesus, but, perhaps more importantly, the distinction between a Hindu avatar and the unique incarnation of the one true God.
I have spruced up my online version of my article Jesus: The Avatar I Never Knew, originally published by Southern Evangelical Seminary in the Journal of Apologetics. There are a lot more important points in that article than I can cover in this post, so please, if possible, read it. For our purposes right now, we need to realize that an avatar is a temporary manifestation of a god, more like the appearances of God (theophanies) in the Old Testament, such as when He visited Abraham. Another parallel might be docetism, the early Christian heresy concerning Christ, which said that he did not have a true human nature, but was human in appearance only. Vishnu's famous ten avatars tend to be more tangible than others, with the last ones even leading full human lives. However, a full life is not necessary for many of the creatures that were avatars. Vamana, the dwarf avatar, returned to his form as Vishnu during the process of tricking the asura Bali. When Varaha, the boar, was done with his mission, Vishnu became the temporary avatari, Mohini, the seductress. I assume that Parashurama had eliminated as many Kshatriyas as necessary before he fought against the next avatar, Rama, and lost his immediate access to eternal bliss. (Perhaps I should not combine the Parashurama of the Ramayana with the Parashurama of the Vishnu Purana. However, even if that's the best way to go, my point that there is a certain incompleteness in the lives of the avatars still stands.)
Rama's death, according to the Ramayana's ending, was rather anti-climactic as well. (Some people believe that this was a later insertion, but that really doesn't matter for us because it still represents one authentic understanding of the nature of avatars.) For many years Rama and Sita, the perfect couple, had governed a perfect kingdom, residing in the capital city of Ayodhya. Then, after all that time, for some reason Rama raised questions concerning Sita's fidelity and purity again. You may remember that this issue had come up when Rama had first rescued Sita from the demon Ravana. At the time Sita had volunteered to demonstrate her purity by going through a fiery ordeal, but this time she wasn't about to repeat that. Sita (the avatari of Lakshmi) had been "borne" by appearing out of a furrow in the earth. Now she called on Bhudevi, the earth goddess, to take her back. Again a slot opened in the earth and Sita disappeared in it. A while later, by giving a careless order that backfired on him, Rama had to sentence his faithful brother, Lakshman, to death. Shortly thereafter, Rama performed the ceremony of jala samadhi (lit. "water trance"), which consisted of walking into the Sarayu River and giving back his earthly life.
So, what I'm saying is that if you have read these entries and are catching the obvious differences between Krishna and Jesus, you need to realize that, as the expression goes, we are comparing "apples and oranges"; the differences are not only in the details, but also in the fundamentals. Using strict language, Jesus was not an avatar as Hindus use that term, and Krishna was not an incarnation in the sense in which that term is meant in Christian theology. An avatar comes and goes. He is a temporary manifestation of a god, such as Vishnu, in finite form. Balarama illustrates the ad hoc nature of avatars rather well. He was supposed to be the next life of Lakshman, but he also was an avatar of Vishnu or, in Gaudya Vaishnava, of Krishna. But let us not forget about Shesha, the snake that indwelled Balarama, making him, according to some points of view, an avatar of Shesha as well. It gets confusing. However, we shouldn't mean that as a criticism. I'm quite sure that individual Hindus don't accept all of the traditions concerning a divine person if they get too inconsistent. But such a selectivity then also underscores the fluidity in the characters of avatars.
Let's be clear on this: Hinduism is not under any obligation to suit our preferences for orderly and systematic arrangements. If avatars are somewhat Protean figures, changing identities and attributes as needed, we, who are not Hindus, can't say that the mythology makes internal mistakes that need to be corrected (though, we can, of course, say that, from an external point of view, it is false). But we are entitled to say that, if such is the nature of avatars, to refer to Jesus as an "avatar" can be highly misleading.
By way of contrast, the member of the Trinity whom we call "Christ" has existed for all eternity as one of three persons in which the single divine nature subsists. At the point of the incarnation he joined himself permanently to a complete human nature. He has a full divine nature and a full human nature--even now. These are some fundamental points of Christianity and, whether you agree with them or not, you can't change that this is what orthodox Christianity teaches. I need to be careful that I represent other religions as correctly as possible, keeping in mind that for some of them variety is the most dominant attribute, and folks who follow other religions need to respect what Christians hold to be true as well rather than impose something alien on it.
Christianity and Hinduism are two different religions, and the difference lies right at their core. They are intended to serve different purposes--reconciliation with God and escape from samsara respectively--and, as far as I'm concerned, we do not honor either religion by dissolving their distinct beliefs into an untenable syncretism.