Lightly edited copy of a blast email sent out to participants in an online book discussion group Debi and I facilitate for our parish, Peace Lutheran Church of Springfield, Ill. (It meets Sundays at 6 p.m. — hence the name.) We are discussing “Holy Envy” by Barbara Brown Taylor. Her title comes from Swedish bishop Krister Stendahl’s “three rules for religious understanding” — the third involves “holy envy,” being open to other faith traditions. Stendahl is best known in the US as dean of Harvard Divinity School in the 1970s. He was a staunch advocate of interfaith dialog and women’s rights (the first generation of feminists studying at Harvard Divinity honored him with the nickname “Sister Krister”). This week’s chapter gives an all-too-brief, but compelling, overview of the Hindu religion and its inherent freedom and pluralism. 

Hi everybody —

Here’s the Zoom link and material for our next session, Sunday, Jan. 29, at 6 p.m. We will be discussing Chapter 2 of Holy Envy. It’s titled “Vishnu’s Almonds,” and it tells about Barbara Brown Taylor’s visit to a Hindu temple in Atlanta with students in her world religions class at a liberal arts college in North Georgia. […]

As always, we like to open the Zoom session 15 minutes early each week so we can chat if we want to, or at least make sure our technology is working for us. So, if you want to chat or make sure your sound is working, etc., you can connect with us beginning at 5:45 each week. 

Taylor explains some key aspects of the Hindu religion she and her students encountered, quoting a swami who compared it to a mall “with shops of every kind under its roof.” She adds, “As baffled as I was by this divine array at first, the apparent limitlessness of the Hindu way was fascinating to me, along with the freedom followers had to follow their own path.” 

Oprah Winfrey’s network has a good brief introduction to the religion (2:54 long) available on YouTube [embedded at the top of this post]. In Oprah’s video Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California, says: 

One way to think about this notion of our souls being inherently divine is through the Hindu greeting of namaste, which is traditional in India. It literally means “The divinity within me acknowledges and salutes the divinity within you.” So in this simple greeting we see a Hindu core theological belief articulated. In the most ancient Hindu text, the Rig Veda, there is a verse that says, “God is one, but the wise call God by many names. Or truth is one, but the wise call truth by many names.” So built right into the heart of the tradition is this notion of pluralism.

Looking forward to seeing everyone on Sunday and having a great discussion!


Questions from the Participant Handout. Taylor discusses being confused by some of the symbols and rituals she and the students encountered at the Hindu temple, and says, “The fact that we need so much help understanding what we are looking at is a lesson in itself.” She raises these questions:

  • How often do we assume that we know what we are seeing when we see other people practicing their faith?
  • How would some of our own symbols and rituals appear to an outsider?

Taylor quotes a swami who compared Hinduism to a mall “with shops of every kind under its roof,” and adds, “As baffled as I was by this divine array at first, the apparent limitlessness of the Hindu way was fascinating to me, along with the freedom followers had to follow their own path.” Which raises a couple of questions:

  • What are your thoughts on people following their own path to God?
  • Could the different flavors or denominations within Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Mainline Protestant, etc., or contemporary vs. traditional worship styles) also be compared to a mall?

What might Hindus and Christians have in common and what could Christians learn from Hindus?

[Published Jan. 29, 2023]

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