From Krishna to Christ

Friday, June 02, 2006

Krishna Consciousness and Many River Theology

“Many River Theology” goes something like this: Just as many rivers take different paths to the same ocean, so similarly the many religions of the world serve a divine purpose in guiding the diversity of mankind towards salvation. This is theological diplomacy, so to speak, at its savviest or most insecure, depending. Here is how it manifests itself:

· First is Universalism. God loves everyone, but more importantly God could not possibly be a “good” or all powerful God if He does not redeem all of His creation and everyone in it. For those familiar with Christian theological terminologies, this could perhaps be called “Hyper-Many River Theology.”

· Next there is the more mainstream believer who reaches a particular difficulty when it comes to the reality of hell. Hell seems no doubt the most sensitive doctrine in all of religion. In orthodox Christianity it is a place of eternal separation from God's grace, and therefore the ultimate offense to anyone who does not approve. In Krishna Consciousness hell is a place of customized karmic punishment, however the tenure there is considered only temporary (even if it lasts several million lifetimes). This can still be highly offensive, but there is a little room on the table for human opinion to negotiate its worth. Regardless of the belief system involved, within Christianity, ISKCON, or any other faith, there always seems to be a number of followers who just can’t swallow a doctrine of divine punishment. The resulting inclination towards Many River Theology here stems from this refusal to believe that God would cast out anyone from a false or concocted faith so long as it is pursued with good intentions. More often than not, what follows is a subsequent belief in annihilation or death as non-existence for those most vile sinners or unbelievers in general.

· Then we have religious agnosticism. This was where I personally found myself spending the most time in the years between Krishna and Christ. God is considered to be undeniably real, but as to exactly who He is, nobody can be so certain. With this foundation, any claims of an absolute truth by others tend to become an insult of arrogance. At times this line of reasoning is put forth in a typical Universalist fashion, but under other circumstances the argument is more likely to be clothed in false humility, suggesting that to believe otherwise is to judge beyond human warrant. Thus all religious efforts are validated by nothing more than man's ignorance and the presumptuous demand that God respect it.

So up to this point we have three general sub categories of Many River Theology: 1. everyone is saved; 2. we might not all be saved but surely no one is damned; and 3. let’s not act so pious as to pretend to know who is right.

So what are we to make of these compromises? They are most definitely not exclusive to any one religion. Even solid Christians have fallen into this type of reasoning before. But what makes ISKCON so interesting is that they present their own twist, a fourth compromise. This is the idea that all other world religions are good, just not the ultimate good. Other faiths are but stepping stones in the reincarnate evolution of man to become more spiritual and to conquer the bondage of the material world. If you are a good Christian, your reward shall be with Christ after this life (the major assumption here being that Christ does not reside in the ultimate heaven). Or if you are a good Buddhist, you shall go to be with Buddha. Etc, etc. But upon these inheritances, one resumes the quest of salvation all over again, albeit on a possibly higher platform. With this interesting twist one is allowed to believe in a certain system, an ultimate salvation that comes from such a system, as well as a doctrine of punishment for missing the mark. And still all rivers can flow towards redemption. Vedic philosophy, in and of itself, is Many River Theology at its most intricate. It confirms the efforts of divine universal redemption, it allows for hell in the process, it denies eternal damnation by a doctrine of reincarnation, and at the same time it attempts to shake hands with all other theologies by using a big ‘T’ or little ‘t’ for truth.

What is most interesting is how many devotees over time become dissatisfied practices that elaborate these compromises and attempt to broaden them even further. Perhaps now Krishna will not punish (even temporarily) for small amounts of intoxication. Or perhaps it is not such a big deal if ekadasi (holy day of fasting from grains) is broken. Maybe mangal arati (morning worship) is no longer a priority. The important thing is just to know who Krishna is and live a good life. As Plato would suggest, bhakti yoga is to be considered only the “ideal”, not the “real”—and Krishna no doubt understands this. God looks upon the heart, right? "I have his promises and he will be merciful." This is the way the thinking goes. With every possible compromise already in place, there is still a search for just one more until even Krishna becomes bearable.

Being that this is a site explaining a journey from ISKCON to Christianity, I felt it very important to mention the unique perspectives involved here. You see, in order for me to explain anything right about Christ I am also forced to mention how and where Krishna falls short. If I do not, the "Many River Devotee" will just agree with me and adorn my efforts with a little ‘t’. But I am not here to witness about how my new faith fits into my old one. If Christ is right, then Krishna is not God. That is the gravity of the situation at hand.

So it is with the coming posts and continuation of this blog that I intend to lay out the distinctions that separate Christianity apart as absolute truth, particularly from ISKCON’s fundamental theology and also apart from the reasoning behind those who attempt to further soften Krishna Consciousness as a shelter from reality.

But before signing off it would feel unproductive if the following point was not made. Please consider it carefully:

When it comes to God, human opinion has absolutely no influence on what is true or what is not. This is the nature of our place as created beings. God is who He is. It makes no difference if one believes something different with all might and soul. We are either in alignment with His truth and reality, or we are not. Therefore true faith and religion have nothing to do with personal preference, but rather acknowledgement of and submission to divine reality.

So goes the paddle of human sovereignty. Now maybe we can discuss the rivers.
Michael 3:22 PM | 2 comments |