*Location names are avoided for the security of Christians living there.
Why is that dude looking into our car?
From my vantage point in the front seat, I surveyed the dusty streets, congested traffic, roadside vendors—and a figure gazing steadily in our direction; a knitted hat pulled low to his eyebrows.
He’s coming towards us.
Remembering a story my mom once told me about a night when two men tried to enter her car at an intersection, I checked my door’s lock. I’d known my ongoing mission to backpack 360° around the world in 180 days documenting Christian students’ experiences at secular universities might bring some misadventures. Still, I preferred that a carjacking not be one of them.
The car’s rear door opened from the outside. Simultaneously, a surge of adrenaline whirled me around to see the stranger himself leaping into the backseat! It’s really happening—we’re being hijacked!
But nobody else in the car seemed to care!
“Hi, Patricia!” the stranger waved.
“Hello!” I replied as if he hadn’t nearly stopped my heart. Nobody told me we were going to pick up a guy from church!
Eastern Spirituality and the Foundation of Man’s Word in Cultures
Fortunately, I didn’t mistake any other new friends for hijackers in this Asian “restricted access nation,” a country known for severe persecution against Christians. Only 2% of the population identifies as some form of Christian, with most people embracing forms of Eastern spirituality, including Buddhism and Hinduism.
I’d learned a little about Buddhism earlier in Thailand, one of the many countries I’d visited, which founds its thinking on man’s word instead of God’s. As I explained in my article about Thai spirituality, Buddhism’s denial of a personal God harmonized readily with Western concepts of human evolution, allowing forms of Buddhism to trend in Western classrooms and culture. A similar story, it turns out, likely helps undergird the West’s fascination with Hinduism, manifested in popular teachings and practices ranging from New Age mysticism to meditative yoga.
With over 330 million traditionally recognized deities,1 Hinduism might seem far removed from the atheistic cores of Western secularism or Eastern Buddhism, which is itself a spinoff of Hinduism.2 After all, unlike these worldviews, Hinduism presupposes a Creator—albeit an impersonal one, a transcendent universal force known as Brahman. Nevertheless, Hinduism easily accommodates the following beliefs:
Long ages: Hinduism poses that multiple universes, including ours, exist in endless cycles of creation and dissolution lasting billions of years.3
Evolution: Some Hindu teachings suggest that life follows a fixed pattern of evolution during each of these cosmic cycles.4 Similarly, the doctrine of avatarism holds that the Hindu deity Vishnu “evolved” through a series of reincarnations from fish-man to human, a philosophy which many Hindu writers connect with Darwinian evolution.5 Still, while other Hindus reject Darwinism,6 Hinduism is compatible enough with the idea of evolution that 19th-century Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda, a key player in yoga’s Western popularization, remarked:
“The idea of evolution was to be found in the Vedas [Hindu scriptures] long before the Christian era; but until Darwin said it was true, it was regarded as a mere Hindu superstition.”7
The authority of man’s word: In Hinduism, the self (atman) is part of Brahman. In other words, humans are essentially divine. Hinduism even recognizes human wisdom as the basis of its Vedas, while holding that no scriptures are inerrant or divinely inspired.8
Darwin and the Gurus
Do these messages sound familiar? That’s because long ages, evolution, and the authority of man’s word are key tenets of secular humanism, the worldview that—as one of my Canadian professors once stated—people created God. Western cultures adopted this worldview after human interpretations of science displaced widespread trust in God’s word beginning in Genesis, thanks especially to the popularity of beliefs, including long geological ages and biological evolution. As Vivekananda put it,
At the beginning of the nineteenth century man tried to find God through reason, and Deism was the result. What little was left of God by this process was destroyed by Darwinism and Millism.9
Notably, Vivekananda is one of the mystagogues who helped popularize Eastern spirituality in the West. Regarding Vivekananda’s Darwinian basis, Dr. Dermot Killingly of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies wrote:
“Evolution and involution are the foundation on which Vivekananda builds his doctrine of the inherent though obstructed perfection—not merely perfectibility—of each person. Having proclaimed this doctrine in Chicago in opposition to the Christian doctrine of original sin, he now applies it to the manufacture of yogis. Each of us, and indeed each living being, has a blissful and infinite essence, which can be released by breaking through the accumulation of karma and avidyā (ignorance), which appears to limit us. Yoga—which includes all forms of spiritual striving—hastens this process of evolution.”10
In other words, Vivekananda’s worldview began from the Hindu starting point that humans are inherently divine—a sentiment which suspiciously echoes the serpent’s promise in Eden, “. . .[Y]ou will be like God. . .”11 This ancient lie, reincarnated like a recurring nightmare across history’s cults, clearly opposes the gospel’s message that all humanity stands condemned by Adam’s sin—and therefore, requires a Saviour. Yet Vivekananda sold that age-old lie to Westerners by packaging it in the very paradigm that shook Westerners’ belief in Scripture: molecules-to-man evolution. As ichthyoid swamp dwellers evolved upwards to humanity, claimed Vivekananda, so man evolves to realize his godhood through spiritual disciplines, including yoga.
The claim that “You will be like God” certainly held sway with Westerners, forming the basis for belief systems including New Ageism, Theosophy,12 and even modern Humanism. So, it’s no wonder that Hinduism, which promotes this message while accommodating evolutionary beliefs, spread rapidly West—especially given Hindu and Western cultures’ shared foundation of man’s word.
Even so, modern Western cultures have more recently rejected the foundation of God’s word compared to the nation where I now stood, which has founded its thinking on man’s word for millennia. Now, teachings far removed from Scripture inundate every filament of society. Society is so grounded on man’s word that individuals who found their thinking on God’s Word instead face active persecution. As Jesus warned his disciples in John 15:18-25 (ESV):
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
The Moral of the Story
When I came to this restricted access nation seeking Christian contacts, I knew these dangers existed. (That explains my inelegantly heightened alertness regarding suspicious-looking characters, knitted hats, and hijackers.) Such risks are occupational hazards of following Christ in cultures that deny him.
Whether those cultures embrace Eastern mysticism or Western humanism, their man-made worldviews share roots in the same deception. This deception holds that humans can evolve to become their own gods, chart their own spiritual courses, and set their own moral standards. It’s the lie of personal autonomy apart from God that Darwin ultimately sold to the West; the same lie Vivekananda expounded from the East; the lie which has pervaded human cultures since the serpent first voiced it in Eden.
In Western societies that embrace this lie, pushback against dissenters who instead base their thinking on God’s Word is only beginning. But in the East, where nations like this one have centred their thinking on man’s word for untold generations, standing for Christ can cost a student everything.
How do Christian students here stay close to Christ? What insights could these students lend Western Christians about following Christ in places where it’s easy to feel alone–places like university? What lessons, aside from don’t assume that just anyone wearing a knitted hat must be a hijacker, would I learn along the way?
Stay tuned for Part 15!