Thursday, April 17, 2008

Catholicism & Hinduism: 10 Similarities

(I originally wrote this post about a year ago, but in light of the Pope's current visit to the USA, it seems appropriate to re-post it now. Let me know what you think.)

I know everyone will not be happy with this post. That's fine - healthy discussion is usually a very good thing.

After having lived in the USA and India, I have been exposed first-hand to both Catholicism and Hinduism. This pertains to both belief and practice. Let me say first of all that not all Catholics believe the same things or practice in the same ways. This is also true for Hindus. Therefore, the following 10 similarities are generalizations based upon what I have experienced both here in America and in South Asia.

I'd also like to point out that we have friends who are Catholics and friends who are Hindus. This post is not intended to be an assault on either religion, but rather a comment on similarities that I have observed.

That said, here we go:

Ten Similarities:

1) Repeated sacrifice
- At every Catholic Mass, Jesus is again "sacrificed." This is why the elements of the Mass are literally thought to be Christ's body and blood. When Hindus go to temple, they perform some sort of sacrifice, usually presenting an offering to the gods.

2) Rituals - The Mass itself is a type of ritual. Also, the Rosary is one of the most well-known rituals of the Catholic faith. At a Hindu temple, various rituals are performed such as ringing a bell to wake the gods, bowing before the gods, and chanting different mantras.

3) Prayer to multiple saints/gods - Many Catholics (not all) pray to various saints within the Catholic church. Most Hindus (not all) pray to various gods within the Hindu pantheon. Some of the most popular are Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Ganesh.

4) Priests - both Catholics and Hindus must go through a priest to get to god. There is no direct access to any god.

5) Cathedral/Temple - In both religions, all important practices occur at some type of building. There is little encouragement for meeting in homes because priests cannot be at multiple homes at the same time.

6) Images and Icons - In Catholic churches, pictures and statues of saints are common-place. These typically receive veneration. At any Hindu temple, there will be multiple statues of the various gods. These will include Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Hanuman, Lakshmi, Durga, and others.

7) Works-based salvation - In both Catholicism and Hinduism, salvation is based, at least in part, upon the works of the individual. This is far different from the cry of the Protestant Reformation: "Justification by faith alone."

8) Lack of knowledge of sacred writings - Within both religions, the typical follower of the faith has limited knowledge of the sacred writings of his religion. The same is true within Protestantism, but to a much lesser degree. Within Catholicism and Hinduism, the priest is heavily relied upon for scriptural knowledge and understanding.

9) Centered on Rome/Ganges River - Both religions are very centralized. Rome is the epicenter of Catholicism, is the home of the Pope, and is a destination for thousands of Catholics each year. For Hindus, the Ganges River is the site of pilgrimage. Many Hindus travel hundreds of miles to take a dip in the "holy river," in the hope that it will wash away their sins.

10) Death: purgatory/reincarnation - Both faiths teach that upon death, people do not go directly to heaven or hell. For Catholics, purgatory awaits. For Hindus, death leads to another cycle of reincarnation.

I will let you draw your own conclusions about the significance of these similarities. If you have any comments about why you think these exist, please let me know.

25 comments:

David Rogers said...

When I was India last Fall, I noticed the similarities between Hinduism, and Catholicism (especially as I have observed it in Spain). The similarity between the Lord Ganesh parades in India, and the processions, or "romerĂ­as," in Spain was spooky.

If you have ever read the book "The Two Babylons," I think you might find some clues regarding why.

Eric said...

David,

Thank you for the book idea. I'm going to have to take a look at it.

Eric

David Rogers said...

Eric,

I should have included a small caveat. From what I understand, the historical accuracy of a lot in "The Two Babylons" has been called into doubt. I, for one, am definitely not ready to go on the witness stand to defend everything it says. It is an interesting read, though.

Rhea said...

Eric:

I had never given much thought before to all the striking similarities between Catholicism and Hinduism...thanks for shedding some light on this for all of us :-)

Also, have you heard anything yet from the "pastoral search committee"?

Eric said...

David,

Thanks again for the heads-up on the book.

Eric said...

Rhea,

Thanks for asking. No word yet from the search committee. We are just praying for God's leading, and waiting for an answer.

Timothy said...

>"1) Repeated sacrifice - At every Catholic Mass, Jesus is again "sacrificed."

Nope. Jesus is NOT again sacrificed. The Catholic Mass is the one, same sacrifice at Calvary. God is outside of time and space. The Catholic Mass is one eternal sacrifice. At the Mass, a Christian is present at Calvary.

>"3) Prayer to multiple saints/gods"

Um, there's significant difference between a non-God saint and a Hindu God.

>"4) Priests - both Catholics and Hindus must go through a priest to get to god. There is no direct access to any god."

Um, no. Catholics do NOT have to go through a priest to get to God. Catholics always have direct access to God.

>"5) Cathedral/Temple - In both religions, all important practices occur at some type of building."

Define "important practices". Priest spend much time in homes saying Mass, distributing communion, annointing the sick, hearing confessions -- all of which are "important practices."

>"7) Works-based salvation - In both Catholicism and Hinduism, salvation is based, at least in part, upon the works of the individual."

Um, no. Catholics believe and teach salvation is by grace alone. Only non-Catholics believe and teach that Catholics have a works-based salvation.

>"8) Lack of knowledge of sacred writings - Within both religions, the typical follower of the faith has limited knowledge of the sacred writings of his religion. The same is true within Protestantism, but to a much lesser degree."

Yes, it would be great if more Catholics were familiar with sacred writings like the Didache and the ante-Nicene fathers, but I haven't found Protestants all that knowledgeable regarding the sacred writings of Christianity.

If this was a reference to the Bible, Catholics hear and recite more of the Bible at their Sunday Mass than a comparable Protestant at a Protestant service. I do agree that it would be better for Catholics to be more knowledgable about all the scripture that they have memorized and use every Sunday. It is somewhat embarassing to hear Catholic recite "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord" in the middle of Mass and not realize that they are quoting from both Isaiah and the Revelation of John.

>"10) Death: purgatory/reincarnation - Both faiths teach that upon death, people do not go directly to heaven or hell. For Catholics, purgatory awaits."

Nope. Catholics DO teach that people do go directly to heaven and do go directly to hell. Catholics, like Orthodox Christians, do teach the ancient Christian doctrine of final purification that some heaven bound people need purification prior to entry, since the Bible mentions it several times. The word 'purgatory' is the English term for this act of mercy by Christ.

I would encourage you and your commenters to take some time to discover what Catholics truely believe and teach versus the popular non-Catholic urban legends and myths.

God bless...

+Timothy

Eric said...

Timothy,

Thank you for your lengthy response.

It looks to me like we are using the same vocabulary but a different dictionary. I'm not going to spend time arguing each of these points with you; that is not the purpose of this blog or this post.

What you are describing looks like a form of evangelical Catholicism that would certainly be in the minority of Catholics.

Anonymous said...

Your understanding of what Catholicism actually is is...elementary at best. You seem to paint both religions with a very broad brush. I'm not here to debate the various mistruths regarding Catholicism that were uttered (like, for example, that Catholics must go through a priest to get to God or that there is a separate sacrifice at each Mass). Next time you compare religions, perhaps a bit of study regarding them would be best; simply "living" in the USA and India and giving a comparison of your interpretations of the religions does not qualify a legitimate comparisons of the religions themselves.

Eric said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for taking the time to comment on this blog. However, I much prefer to interact with actual people as opposed to dealing with "Anonymous."

In your response what you have basically said is that I do not know what I am talking about. However, you give no specifics. I find it interesting that you are willing to basically make the argument that you know more than I do while at the same time hiding behind an "Anonymous" name.

Although I appreciate your willingness to respond to this post, I'll stand behind what I have said.

Daniela said...

Hello I want to say thank you for your analysis I was thinking the same thing about Hinduism and Catholicism. I am experiencing Hinduism and it is very similar to Catholicism even if people disagree they are very similar. Also, I agree with you about different Catholics and I must confess that Catholics in the US. are very different for Catholics from Mexico. That being said can I contact you?

Eric said...

Daniela,

Thank you for the comment. Feel free to contact me via e-mail. See my profile for that.

Eric

Kenneth said...

I have also noticed a lot of similarity between Hinduism and Catholicism. I've spent much time in Europe and have seen mass in several cathedrals, both in small towns and large cities, ranging from the vatican to the notre dame and many others. I also have some experience with Hindu rituals and temples and have travelled extensively through India. Here are my observations:
1) In many cities that are largely Catholic, Pictures of the Virgin Mary can be seen on sides of buildings and housing complexes with flowers and candles and in many other places. In India, pictures of deities can also be seen in many places such as the side of buildings and housing complexes.
2) In many cathedrals, specific shrines to Mary can be seen with candles, flowers, money and other offerings. In a church in Dijon, France, I saw a statue of Mary that was dressed in robes that are often changed. This is very similar to Hindu tradition in which deities' robes/clothing are frequently changed and they are offered money, flowers, water, food, candles and other offerings.
3)Catholic mass is a prescribed formula of worship that includes rituals, procession, ceremony, and readings of scripture in the ancient language of Latin (a language not understood by most lay people and that must be interpreted by the priest). Hindu worship also includes prescribed rituals, ceremony, procession, and readings of scripture in the ancient language of Sanskrit, which is also not understood by most lay people and must be interpreted by the priest. In both religions, the ancient words carry meaning in and of themselves and, lay people often accept the words ritually without knowing htir exact meaning.

Anonymous said...

I recently took a college course in Hinduism and I was totally surprised at the amount of similarities between Hinduism and Catholicism. (I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for 8 years, so I was thoroughly innundated).
Everything you said is correct.
The Hindus only believe in One God, the gods and goddesses are equivalent to the Catholic saints.
The Hindus have the "Trimurti" (the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva)...the Catholics have the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Catholic mass is a ritualistic sacrifice. It is believed that the priest has the power to turn the bread and wine at the altar into the body and blood of Christ. The priest does this through specific words and actions (similar to the mantras and mudras at a Hindu sacrifice).
I could go on and on.
The similarites are incredible. I walked into that class thinking I was a Catholic and walked out realizing that I was Hindu.
The Hindus had all of these ideas first. I have the impression that the Catholics basically rewrote it a bit and then made it their own.

Dot said...

I couldn't agree with you more. There are so many similarities between Hinduism and Catholicism that I would even go so far as to say that Catholics aren't Christians. Being an ex-Catholic myself, I know what they believe and all of the rituals that happen there, and I see it as a "religion" - not a relationship with God. It is a religion that "honours with their lips, but their hearts are far from me".

Nancy said...

Wow Dot. What an accusation. It's really not even worth commenting on.

Kay said...

This is super interesting to me. Another similarity is in each religion's art. You often see the hindu gods with their palms turned outward in the same way as the catholic saints. Also, in pictures of the hindu god's, they often have a halo-like aura painted around them, very similar to the saints' halos.

Raveen Mudundi said...

Namaskar. I find it very refreshing that you are willing to admit the similarities between hinduism and christianity. Please visit my blog and share your opinions as we hindu greatly respect the path which you follow. I am new to blogging and encourage suggestions for topics to speak on comparing Hinduism/Christianity and Indian/American cultures Namaskar.

Eric said...

Raveen,

Thank you for reading my blog post and for commenting. Please let me be very clear: this post was about the similarities between Hinduism and Catholicism. It was not about any similarities between Hinduism and Biblical Christianity.

Biblical Christianity and Catholicism are very different things. The bible tells us that Jesus Christ has accomplished all for us through his death on the cross. If we place our faith in Him, we will be saved. It is a salvation based on the grace of God alone. It alone gives real peace.

If you would like to know more about this, please email me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

@Timothy... your comment is correct but only ideal, not real. Have your noticed what majority of Catholics do? Try to speak in reality, not in what you just want to say...

minnallagari said...

Eric, it's a nice blog about similarities between Hinduism and Catholicism. To me it looks it needs a lot of research, at least in the Hinduism front. Some of the points you've used look as though you're just trying to justify the number "10". Although it doesn't mean there are no similiarities,b'se even I have many times wondered there are lots of similarities between the 2 religions: mainly the ritualistic part. If one thinks and researches carefully one can find more than 10 similiarities, easily.

Coming to the ritualistic part, mainly chanting, the proper catholic chanting does, to me, sounds like hindu sacred hymns sung according to the rules. And the vanity is almost similar in both the religions too(I'm not a catholic but a Hindu: so my catholic perceptions might be wrong.) The vanity and ritual side of the Hinduism is hardly 10% of Hinduism, which is what almost 90% of the Hindus follow and which is exactly what the world sees as well.But, the proper spiritual side is seldom seen b' coz, this side of spiritualism is not professed openly nor is it ostensibly shown. This is much to do with one's own private issue, I think it is that peronal bond each Hindu feels with his/her own favourite God again which no one shows it. For example the meditation and aspects attached to it (even Yoga) There are many Gurus who mostly have left behind the ritualistic part and have progressed into the other more glorious part and have never come back to the normal beings to explain what they have experienced, only a vey few like Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi etc(just the recent ones, if I leave the ones who have been there before Christ; thousands of years before, have explained to a little extent. This reminds me the answer one of the Gurus to a question : like what is God? He said once one experiences that God one rarely crosses the barrier and come back into the mortals world to explain it. And mostly, the Hindu sacred texts are more than just ritualistic hants. They also contain: science, economy, spirituality, archery,medicine("ayurveda"), yoga, justice , political science( ex:"Chanakya neeti")and planning(for ex: war, citie



The main points, of your blog, that are completely contradictory to a non-pundit Hindu like me, even in just a glance are points 1, 3 & 4

1) Repeated sacrifice: You have used the term "offering" in Hindu context. Well, sacrifice and offering are completely different. The subtle meaning behind ~Hindu offering is completly different to the one behind catholic "sacrifice". An offering is made to the Gods according to the rituals after "avahana" or inviting the God(S) into one's home or temple ( if the pooja takes places at a temple ). This is like one has invited God as guest and want to offer according to one's own capacity. They don't want to send the guest without an offering(equavalent to our coffe/tea offering).

3) Prayer to multiple saints/gods

Hindus do pray to multiple Gods, but this only happens in the lower realms of spirituality, the higher one goes it all becomes 'advaita' meditation without a form/deity. (there are two forms "dvaitam" and "advaitam" in Hinduism)I think "advaitam" is missing in Catholicism, there is no progression after the ritual practices(I might be wrong in this again!, I wouldn't be surprised). Almost all the Hindus know about this concept, that God is within us and about 'advaitam', but it takes a while to progress and some may not even progress that further. They just want to pray to their favourite God, but this is exactly is said in Bhagavad Gita, that "whoever one prays to all the prayer go to the same Lord and that there is only one Lord".

minnallagari said...

4) Priests -Frankly speaking a priest is not necessarily a middleman between God and man in Hinduism. There is a direct access to any God in Hinduism, just recite his/her name, think about, Lord Krishna never said that a priest is the middleman. no! on the contrary, God is anywhere where one(not only the priest anyone can do this) offers "patram, pushpam,phalam,toyam" :a leaf, flower, fruit, and water-according to 9:26 of Bhavad Gita. I don't know about Catholicism, but surely no one can come between God and a layman in Hinduism- and rituals; everyone can do his/her own rituals at home exactly the way a priest does: a priest is just an added luxury when one is performing some pooja/prayer in front of lots of invited guests with other added responsibilities of looking after the guests.

8) Lack of knowledge of sacred writings

I suppose this is probably a common thing amongst all religions- there will be atleast one person in each religion with lack of knowledge of sacred texts. And hinduism being followed in a country, where illiteracy itself is high, amongst billions of people there are bound to be people with lack of sacred texts atleast in millions. even then many people know a few of the sacred texts(obviously not all) without knowing that they are really sacred, being passed down by their parents just orally atleast.

9) Centered on Rome/Ganges River

This is another big misconception about Ganges! I rarely see any south Indian going for a dip in Ganges. But the actual fact is all the major rivers are sacred. For example, ina verse it is said that, "Ganga, Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Penna etc.." are all the sacred rivers. And one bathes in these gets "Moksham" and that if one is not in the vicinity of any of these rivers one can just think of these rivers mentally and can have a bath. This attaching sacredness to rivers could be because of the "sandhya vandanam" some sort of ritual one does during dusk and dawn in a river or any water body.

10) Death: purgatory/reincarnation
purgatory and reincarnation, though you have made them look same, the reason why one gets reincarnated is based on one's "Karma" or actions one has done in that and all other previous births. This "Karma" theory is completely alien to catholicism; and is one of the major hypothesis of hinduism, based on which many phenomena:like why some people dye early or why some are born rich or with disabilities, and many more such complex questions can be answered.

Ivan Vazquez said...

Great blog! i learned things that i didn't even know similar, eric thanks for this blog. it was very helpful and informative

shinu adee said...

i am from india
and also iam a latin catholic

it is true

Champak Bhumia said...

Catholics worship the "sun" in the form of a Wafer (wafer god) which is blessed/consecrated and put into a "monstrance" with a half cresent moon and the light shafts shooting. Take a look at the monstrance with it's sun rays.
Hindus too worship the Sun God