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> trac ki n g s p i r i t u a l t r e n d s i n t h e 2 1s t ce n t u r y
v o l u m e 1 9 : 3 7 ( 1,2 2 0 ) / O c t o b e r 2 8 , 2 0 1 4

In this issue:
HINDUISM - does it offer satisfactory
answers to lifes big questions?
ISLAM - the Islamic banking boom
and companies that settle for
SCIENCE - an atheist with an
appreciation for Scripture thats
bafflingly absent in many selfdescribed Christians
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The New York Times website includes The
Stone, a forum for contemporary philosophers. There, Gary Guttings post What
Would Krishna Do? Or Shiva? Or Vishnu?
(NYT Opinion, Aug 3 14) notes that Some
of the more important Hindu philosophers
are atheists, arguing that no sacred religious
text such as the Veda could be the word of
God, since authorship, even divine authorship, implies the logical possibility of error.
In his interview with Jonardon Ganeri (visiting professor of philosophy at New York
University Abu Dhabi), Gutting asks him to
clarify his reference to non-theistic concepts of the divine. Ganeri explains, and
refers to different Hindu concepts of the
divine, one of which is an essential reality
in comparison to which all else is only concealing appearance. This is the concept one
finds in the Upanishads. Philosophically the
most important claim the Upanishads make
is that the essence of each person is also the
essence of all things; the human self and
brahman (the essential reality) are the same.
This identity claim leads to a third conception of the divine: that inwardness or
interiority or subjectivity is itself a kind of
Later in the interview, in response to an
inquiry about what sort of ethical guidance
Hinduism provides, Ganeri remarks that
leading a moral life is at best an enigmatic
and ambiguous project. No escape route
from moral conflict by imitating the actions
of a morally perfect individual is on offer [in
Hinduism]. ... [T]he idea of karma does not
imply a fatalistic outlook on life, according
to which ones past deeds predetermine all
ones actions. The essence of the theory is
simply that ones life will be better if one acts
in ways that are ethical, and it will be worse
if one acts in ways that are unethical. ...
The essence of Hinduism is that it has
no essence. What defines Hinduism and
sets it apart from other major religions is its
polycentricity, its admission of multiple centers of belief and practice, with a consequent
absence of any single structure of theological or liturgical power. Unlike Christianity,
Buddhism or Islam, there is no one single

canonical text the Bible, the Dialogues

of the Buddha, the Quran that serves
as a fundamental axis of hermeneutical or
doctrinal endeavor, recording the words of
a foundational religious teacher. (The Veda
is only the earliest in a diverse corpus of
Hindu texts.) ...
To the extent that Hindus worship one
God, they tend to be henotheists, that is,
worshiping their God but not denying the
existence of others (every individual worships some God, not some God is worshipped by every individual). The henotheistic attitude can accept the worship of the
Abrahamic God as another practice of the
same kind as the worship of Vishnu or Shiva
(and Vaishnavism and Shaivism are practically different religions under the catchall
rubric Hinduism).
Without a center, there can be no periphery either, and so Hinduisms approach to
other religions tends to be incorporationist.
In practice this can imply a disrespect for
the otherness of non-Hindu religious traditions, and in particular of their ability to
challenge or call into question Hindu beliefs
and practices. The positive side is that there
is in Hinduism a long heritage of tolerance
of dissent and difference.
The cultivation of epistemic skills is
what stops the merry-go-round between
cognitive error and mental distress.
One explanation of this tolerance of difference is that religious texts are often not
viewed as making truth claims, which might
then easily contradict one another. Instead,
they are seen as devices through which one
achieves self transformation. Reading a religious text, taking it to heart, appreciating it,
is a transformative experience, and in the
transformed state one might well become
aware that the claims of the text would, were
they taken literally, be false. So religious
texts are seen in Hinduism as Trojan texts
(like the Trojan horse, but breaking through
mental walls in disguise). Such texts enter
the mind of the reader and help constitute
the self.
The Hindu attitude to the Bible or the
Quran is the same, meaning that the sorts of
(continued on next page)

hinduism (continued)

disagreements that arise from literalist readings of the texts tend not to arise.
Gutting asks: What ultimate good does
Hinduism promise those who follow it, and
what is the path to attaining this good?
Ganeri replies: The claim is that there are
three pathways, of equal merit, leading in
their own way to liberation. Hindu philosophers have employed a good deal of logical
skill in their definitions of liberation. To
cut a long story short, for some it is a state
defined as the endless but not beginingless
absence of pain; others characterize it as
a state of bliss. The three pathways are the
path of knowledge, the path of religious
performance and the path of devotion. The
path of knowledge requires philosophical
reflection, that of religious performances
various rituals and good deeds, and that
of devotion worship and service, often of a
particular deity such as Krishna.
We finish with Guttings remark: The
liberation youve described seems to be a
matter of escaping from the cares of this
world. Doesnt this lead to a lack of interest in social and political action to make this
world better? In response we encourage
you to follow the link below and consider
Ganeris answer. Then ask yourself if he satisfies Guttings question and the next, concluding the interview. <>
Heavens Bankers: Inside the Hidden World of
Islamic Finance, by Harris Irfan1 reviewer
Gregor Stuart Hunter reports: Mr. Irfan,
an observant Muslim, charts a course from
seventh-century Arabia ... to the 1970s
and the establishment of the first Islamic
commercial lenders in Dubai, as well as
the short-lived Islamization of Pakistans
economy. But its the turbocharged present
that is the focus of the book: Islamic banking, otherwise known as Shariah-compliant
banking, is now an industry approaching $2
trillion, thanks to soaring trade in emerging
markets such as Malaysia and the United
Arab Emirates. ...
Mr. Irfan also provides numerous examples of how Western financiers, determined
to win over the faithful, have diluted Shariah
standards in pursuit of commercial advantage: Bankers delete the word interest from
deal documents in favor of Shariah-friendly
language; Islamic investors wittingly and
unwittingly fund businesses where alcohol and pork products are consumed; and
Islamic scholars find their names used to


v o l u m e 1 9 : 3 7 ( 1,2 2 0 ) / O c t o b e r 2 8 , 2 0 1 4

suggest that they had given approval to

deals they had never reviewed. ...
Its plain, though, that many Western
bankers treat Islam as a nuisance: I dont
care about the Shar-eye-ah stuff! yells one
New York-based banker as a cross-border
acquisition deal runs into religious requirements. On the flip side, many Muslims,
Mr. Irfan argues, also turn a blind eye. ...
Deutsche Bank finds some companies prepared to settle for Shariah-lite. ...
The industry remains arcane and
poorly understood, and often facing accusations that it is somehow linked to terrorist finance.... Wall Street Journal, Aug 6 14.
For recent concerns about shariah-compliant banking, see <>.
Writing for Forbes magazine, John Farrell
reviews The Serpents Promise: The Retelling
of the Bible Through the Eyes of Modern Science, by Steve Jones.2 In Serpent, Jones, a
professor emeritus of genetics at University
College of London, takes a few key passages
from the Bible to launch into scientific discussions of some of the questions that occupied the authors of the books of the Hebrew
Bible and the New Testament (mostly the
former)but providing the insights that
modern science can now offer them.
Without religion, Jones writes, people
will no longer depend on the dubious
promises of a serpent. Instead they will be
free to form a single community united
by an objective and unambiguous culture
whose logic, language and practices are permanent and universal. It is called science.
To this, Farrell responds: Perhaps. But

in one important sense, the connection fails,

I think, because what the Serpent of Genesis
promised Eve ultimately was knowledge of
Good and Evilnot knowledge of the natural order.
Good and perhaps especially evil
are matters that many philosophers and scientists have concluded are beyond rational
explanation. And so Joness prediction that
in the increasingly global village of our species, men and women will no longer need
pastors or depend on the Bible (or other
books of wisdom) is short-sighted.
Still, its evident throughout his engaging book that Jones has an appreciation for
Scripture that he finds bafflingly absent in
many self-described Christians who belong
to what he dryly calls the Church of the
Holy Metaphor.
Sceptic as I may be, he writes, I have
more faith in the Bible than many Christians do.
Hes not alone. The Serpents Promise
is well worth adding to your reading list., Jul 26 14. <>
SOURCES: Monographs

1 - Heavens Bankers: Inside the Hidden

World of Islamic Finance, by Harris Irfan
(Constable, 2014, hardcover, 368 pages)
2 - The Serpents Promise: The Retelling
of the Bible Through the Eyes of Modern
Science, by Steve Jones apparently the
subtitle has been changed from The Bible
Retold as Science. (Doubleday Canada,
2013, hardcover, 448 pages) <

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