During the last eight years a number of best selling books ridiculing religion have come on the market. The most well known among them are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett. All of these books are excellent critiques of religion. They all have one drawback, however. Their criticism is directed almost entirely at the three Abrahamic faiths. I believe the eastern religions (primarily Hinduism and Buddhism) are equally deserving of criticism. I am offering here a critique of Hinduism which may be developed further by others.

The beginnings of Hinduism are contained in the Vedas, especially the Rig Veda, the earliest of the four Vedas. A fundamental tenet of Hinduism is that the Vedas are infallible. So, if these books are truly infallible, why do they contain nothing about bacteria and viruses? Books which are infallible should surely contain information about medically significant facts! There is also nothing about calculus, chemical elements, neuroscience or any other useful information an infallible text should have.

Another central tenet of traditional Hinduism is the caste system in conjunction with the Law of Karma. The Law of Karma posits favorable consequences for the individual in a future life for morally meritorious deeds performed in this life. Any member of a lower caste is supposedly suffering punishment for misdeeds committed during a previous life! Such a doctrine is quite clearly a fiendishly clever doctrine designed to buttress the power of the Brahmins, the traditional priestly caste. Aside from the moral defects of the caste system, such a doctrine clearly discourages the striving for excellence and creativity necessary for the advancement of knowledge. Needless to say, absolutely no evidence has ever been adduced for the belief in reincarnation or for an afterlife of any kind. All of the "near death experiences" reported to date can be easily explained as hallucinations caused by extreme stress or trauma.

While the Bible claims the earth has existed for only six thousand years, the Vedas claim the earth , including Indian civilization, has existed for 1.9 billion years! Both time scales clearly contradict the painstakingly unearthed findings of modern science. Similarly, neither the Vedas nor the Bible mention the theory of evolution through natural selection. Fundamentalist Hindus, like their fundamentalist Christian counterparts, therefore reject evolution. Finally, the Vedas claim intelligent beings exist on other planets as well as on the sun! 

Many intellectuals would agree with the criticisms I have leveled so far but will maintain that the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded in the Upanishads is a deep and subtle system of thought. Such is not the case. As with other idealist philosophies, it cannot withstand the scrutiny of modern neuroscience. We now know how injury or deformity in specific regions of the brain lead to specific personality or mental disorders. Our mental faculties are clearly a function of chemical and electrical reactions in the brain. While the details of the interactions are still not completely understood, one can be certain that mental processes are an epiphenomenon of physical processes in the brain. No consciousness has ever been observed outside a brain!

A full discussion of these issues would require considerably more space than is available here. However, one can definitely surmise that a philosophy which considers the material world to be an illusion and material comfort to be unimportant is not likely to lead to material progress.

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Comment by James Yount on May 25, 2013 at 7:03pm

Joan, I was thinking of Buddhism specifically when I made that comment.  I haven't heard of Buddhists or Hindus hampering science and development the way that Christianity or Islam does. It could be that I'm just not very familiar with those religions though. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 25, 2013 at 2:49am

Brandi, You are correct, some white churches worked to end segregation, but I did not hear them stand up to their fellow religious and denounce them. You are very correct about black churches role in civil rights and I marched with Blacks in Washington, DC and worked with registering black voters. I also rallied on the Mall and was hit the side of my head by a horse mounted police officer. We were all peaceful. I taught in Valley Green Housing Project in a pilot study to teach high school graduating girls while not knowing how to read. I will be the first in line with religious groups seeking civil rights, and I also saw first hand how black churches were exploited by white churches in getting them to quiet down and stop marching and rallying. Those marches should never have stopped demanding their full citizenship.

I marched in 1968 when the city of Anacostia was burned just after MLK was murdered. I know.   

 

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 25, 2013 at 2:16am

James, yu wrote, "And frankly I'm not sure we should care what people believe as long as they aren't hampering scientific development or affecting politics on the basis of unreasonable religious doctrine."

That is exactly the point. religion impacts politics; for example the role of the souther strategy to maintain slavery and then segregation impoverished the south and still does. Driving across the southern tier of the USA, I saw signs of "Whites Only" or "Blacks enter i back". How does an economy not diminish with such nonsense. Commerce needs a free flow of labor and goods and services. If any part of that stream gets clogged, it becomes stagnant. 

Look at what happened to stem cell research! That is such an outrage, I can't believe sensible people allowed them to get away with such ignorance. 

Naming corporations as citizens is another dreadful idea that should have been stopped in its tracks. The People who knew better were afraid of losing votes of the religious. Well, lose their votes. Rejoice in losing their votes. 

We are a better people than the southern strategy people. It is us vs. them. No doubt about that. And it should be. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on May 25, 2013 at 2:08am

Ravi Morey, Thank you for this survey of  Hinduism and Buddhism. I suspect all religions are really ego maniacs trying to get their 15 minutes of fame by scamming gullible people. The fact that a caste system is part of their process tells us that flourishing of all people was not in their scheme of things, and they could manipulate and exploit at will. How many people bought into being untouchable? Dreadful! 

We face an Earth-wide challenge that deserves attention. Some very good writers and speakers come along that help clarify the issues and make it not only possible but necessary the dung gets cleaned out of the process.

The decidedly good news is, the log-jam is breaking up, and the flow can begin. I hope it happens before we destroy life on Earth as we know it. 
 

Comment by James Yount on May 8, 2013 at 8:20am

Most of us in the west don't have to deal with Hindu beliefs very often so we're not very familiar with them.  Those beliefs that you outlined are clearly worthy of ridicule but I'm not sure they are as equally deserving as the big 3 Abrahamic religions, which are more intrusive into western society (especially politics).  I haven't read the other books, but Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great seemed to spend time on each religion in proportion to how much said religion has damaged humanity.  

Many Buddists, including notably the Dalai Lama, respect atheism and scientific understanding.  You will even find atheist Buddhists here I think.  Those people view Buddhism as more of a philosophy than a religion.  Not that there aren't Buddhist traditionalists that follow wacky rituals and such, but Buddhism tends to be less legalistic and pushy.  And frankly I'm not sure we should care what people believe as long as they aren't hampering scientific development or affecting politics on the basis of unreasonable religious doctrine.

Those are reasons that we don't focus on less notable religions, but is not an excuse for ignorance.  I'll admit that being an American, I simply don't have a background in dealing with eastern philosophy.  So I look forward to reading any other responses to this blog.  Thank you Mr. Morey.

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