Sheldon Pollock, Sanskrit, Hinduism, Christianity: and A Reply to Sheldon Pollock

                                     By: Shreepal Singh

Sheldon Pollock is an American Orientalist and is the proponent of a newly invented theory that holds that Hinduism, as we know it today, is an artificial creation, which is not found in the ancient Sanskrit sacred books of India. He says there is no continuation of Hinduism from ancient times to our present times and Hinduism as we know it today is a newly and artificially created entity, which he terms as “Neo-Hinduism”.

He alleges that the foundation of this Neo-Hinduism was laid down by Swami Vivekananda and that the Swami was much influenced by the concepts of Christianity in creating this “Neo-Hinduism.

In order to give his theory a logical foundation, he proposes two things: Firstly, Sanskrit language, in which the Hindu sacred books are written, should be detached from – divested of its – divinity or sacredness; and, Secondly, after so divesting, Sanskrit should be read, understood and interpreted as a linguistic-political tool.

By applying these two theoretical premises in his studies of sacred Sanskrit books of Hinduism, Pollock comes up with his conclusions that Sanskrit was a literary tool of oppression not only of the political nature (by poetical eulogy of the king of the time) but was also oppressive to other vernacular languages of India.

These allegations of Sheldon Pollock have been examined threadbare and replied with great intellectual caliber by Rajiv Malhotra in his book “The Battle For Sanskrit”, which is a must-read for everyone who loves India and Indology.

The first issue is whether scientifically it is justified to divest a sacred book of its divinity or sacredness and to deconstruct the language (Sanskrit) in which that book is written in order to get its real meaning.

Here is an article written by Surya K. on this issue.

Surya K. applies the theory of Sheldon Pollock by simply replacing “Hinduism” with “Christianity” and the “Sacred books of Hinduism” with “ Sacred Bible”

 

                                         By; Surya K.

In his deliberations on Christianity, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his Autobiography:

I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept”.

Now, Gandhi can say this as a non-believer. He was not a Christian. But he did not push these views on Christians as “scholarship” the way Pollock is pushing.

Gandhi was not alone. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of America, compared miracles in the bible, and hence divinity of Jesus, to dung hill.

In 1813, in a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote:

“… We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

Jefferson created for himself a “clean” version of bible called the Jefferson bible from which he stripped all divinity. Again, Jefferson, like Gandhi, did not palm his views off on Christians as actual history.

Would Christians or Muslims accept interpretations of their books by excluding divinity?

After reading the story in the bible, one is invariably struck with the following question:

What did Jesus really accomplish? There are many good – very nice – people who were killed mindlessly in the last two thousand years. Look at Mahatma Gandhi. He fought for a well-defined cause, made great strides towards that cause using only peaceful means, and finally died during the process but leaving behind a success story. In contrast, Jesus achieved no improvement to the society and died in vain. Gandhi successfully used civil-disobedience to bring justice to millions of his people. Perhaps, Jesus could have had the same effectiveness if he had used it.

This is not a new thought. Speaking on Mahatma Gandhi’s death, Nobel prize nominee and legendary missionary E. Stanley Jones described Mahatma Gandhi as “the greatest tragedy since the Son of God died on the cross.”

Theodore Beza wrote in his work the Anti-Bellius in 1554:

There is one way that leads to God, namely, Christ; and one way that leads to Christ, namely, faith; and this faith includes all those dogmas … If Christ is not true God, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, how is He our Savior? How is He our sanctifier? How is He victor over sin, death, and the devil? Unless He is true man, save for sin, how is He our mediator?”

If we take away divinity from Jesus, we are left with a Jesus who did not do any miracles (just a human so they must all be magic tricks). His speeches no longer qualify as moral teachings but political anti-establishment speeches. He was crucified then as one of many others who were crucified by Romans. Jesus then lived the life of a trouble-maker who died without achieving anything. Without divinity, all that Jesus has going for him is that he is a nice guy who accomplished nothing for his people and died in vain.

This basic argument was not lost on Christian thinkers.

C.S. Lewis, one of the most celebrated Christian apologists, says that if we do not accept Jesus as God, then we have to either consider him a fool, a madman, or a devil.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: MacMillan, 1943), pages 55-56

I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacherHe would either be a lunatic–on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse.. I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

Without Divinity, Christianity is Meaningless Drive

How does Jesus lead humanity to salvation?

In his letter to th Church of Corinth, Paul writes:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want you to remember the Good News I told you. You received that Good News message, and you continue to base your life on it. That Good News, the message you heard from me, is God’s way to save you. But you must continue believing it. If you don’t, you believed for nothing. I gave you the message that I received. I told you the most important truths: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say;  1 Corinthians 15:1-

This is a quote from the Bible.

Paul is saying in no uncertain terms that, for Jesus to bring salvation to Christians, Christians have to believe that Jesus died to atone for the Original Sin of humanity.  If Jesus were just another human being, with no divinity, such a belief would be meaningless drivel.  Jesus had to have had divine origin fo the belief to be meaningful.  If he not he is not the Lord, Jesus is either a liar (he outright lied about his miracles) or a lunatic (imagined self-aggrandizement).

Divinity is crucial for Christianity to find honorable meaning in the bible and in the life of Jesus.  In fact, belief in divine origin of Jesus is so critical that all major Christian denominations require divine origin of Jesus.  Every major Christian denomation has codified the core belief of divinity of Jesus as part of their version of “Nicene Creed”, a statement(the  of belief that all members of that Christian denominations have to hold.


Divinity of Jesus is a core belief, an essential axiom, for Christians.  It is foolish for a Christian to accept an argument based on the supposition that Jesus is merely human with no divinity.  It is up to Christians to say what the axioms or the statement of their beliefs are and insist on only engaging in arguments that presuppose beliefs of divinity of Jesus. (Why is it a presupposition and not history?  Divinity is beyond common human experience and cannot be recognized as history even though history-centric religions claim history as confirmation for their beliefs.  Even if we grant that Jesus was born of a virgin mother, performed miracles, died on the cross and resurrected, it still does not follow that he is son of God.  Worse, one cannot take those human-observable events to be true.)

Just as Christians insist in acceptance of divinity as a presupposition for any valid interpretation of the Bible, so should Hindus insist on acceptance of divinity as a presupposition for any valid interpretations of Sanskrit Hindu sacred works.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Saravanan K
    Mar 04, 2016 @ 20:09:51

    Going through this ,gives an impression that all the books followed by every religion has been foisted and hence the need to maintian the “Truth” that they are of divine origin is needed to maintian faith.

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  2. Stephanie Ellison
    Feb 08, 2016 @ 22:10:50

    The reason for the cleaving of the spiritual from Hinduism/Saṃskṛta is to take out the power, the ability to elevate Christians above their present state into Dharmis, before it’s “too late” for them. Shelly is part of the education arm of the Western Christians in power today. That point is made very clear in the last paragraph of this article! Jai Hind!

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