The apogee of Hinduism extends far beyond the borders of India. And though Hindus do not proselytize (most believe you need to be born Indian to be Hindu), the religion is exported with the emigration of its adherents. Our church is nestled near the epicenter of the largest population of Indians outside of India—Durban, South Africa. Hinduism is not monolithic, it is a diverse kaleidoscope of beliefs, attitudes, and practices. It is mystical and enigmatic, but it does contain certain threads of commonality woven throughout its diversity. These threads reveal a religion that is fundamentally flawed as a deadly trap of false hope, with tragic results in this life and the life to come. I wanted to share one tenet which makes this religion harmful to its adherents, namely the famishing fetish they have with the sacred cow.
Most Westerners can hardly tell the difference between any old cow and the sacred cow of India. This ignorance is excusable when one considers how ordinary the holy cow seems. It grazes, chews the cud, and after allowing for the masticated mess to move through the seven sacred stomachs, it fertilizes the field just as any other cow would. If one were tramping through that field—or were a pedestrian in Delhi—and happened to plant your foot in that freshly fertilized spot, you might fail to appreciate the privilege of encountering a holy cow pie. And every report I’ve heard from visitors to India include a special mention for the ubiquitous postprandial packages strewn all over the city streets. So holiness is often in the eye of the beholder. To a Hindu the cow represents something wholly different than it does to, say the average MacDonald’s customer.
The reverence and respect for the cow is a facet of Hinduism found in almost all forms of the religion. The cow is the living symbol of Mother Earth and on the bounty she bestows on all mankind (though Mother Earth is not seen as deity per se). Cows represent the source of all life, presumably because of their udders (mammary glands were used to represent life giving force from nature and also from the gods in early forms of Hinduism). Thus Hindus do not kill cows for food, leather or anything else. Cows are considered to be a higher life form than what humans are, and are given free reign in India.
Feeding cows is an act of worship, harming one is an act of sacrilege. Thus, though the nation is starving, cows are given food, but not used as food. Even the cows urine is applied to the worshipper’s body in certain “purifying” rituals. Hymns are written to the cow, for example:
“Worship, O Cow, to thy tail-hair, and to they hooves, and to they form! … For from thy mouth the songs came, from thy neck’s nape sprang strength, O Cow. Sacrifice from thy flanks was born, and the rays of sunlight from thy teats … The Cow is heaven, the Cow is earth, the Cow is Vishnu, Lord of Life.” (Atharva Veda X:10). Needless to say, ordering a hamburger is frowned upon.
When ordinary objects and animals are conferred the status of holiness, it is due to the depravity of man “Claiming to be wise, theybecame fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things”(Rom 1:22-23). When the ordinary becomes holy, the Holy is profaned. Paul called religion that forced abstinence from food, “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:3). I am reminded that food does not commend us to God, 1 Cor 8: 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
Footnote: When evangelizing a Hindu, it is best not to bring up the defects as you perceive them in their religion. Rather focus on the completed work of a personal Savior who has perfectly lived the life we cannot live. Focus on the personal relationship that we as creatures can have with our loving Creator, and present the glorious truth of the Fatherhood of God.
I conclude that it is an act of worship for you to eat a medium rare beef steak (1 Cor 10:25), giving thanks (1 Tim 4:4) to the glory of the God (1 Cor 10:31) who gave all good meaty things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17).