Politics and Polytheism

Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune. It appears that she has favoured Rishi Sunak. He is an English gentleman with an upper class accent. He professes Hinduism. He is a Christianised Hindu, having benefited from a private school Christian education at Winchester College and from the nominal cultural Christian character of southern England and indeed of Parliament. That Rishi Sunak became the Prime Minister during Diwali is such a coincidence that Hindus may think it divinely ordered. Brahma is not the same as the Living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Jesus. He is called the Creator God but is not in Hinduism the origin of everything and everyone. Brahma is though above the fray of humanity and of all of all other gods and goddesses.

Diwali is the five-day Festival of Lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, meaning ‘rows of lighted lamps’. Traditionally, houses, shops and public places are decorated with small oil lamps called diyas. That is why Rishi Sunak placed little lights on the doorstep of 11 Downing Street in 2020 when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Fireworks and sweets are involved too, making it popular with children. People visit their relatives and have feasts. Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, is worshipped as the bringer of blessings for the new year.

The colourful polytheism of popular Hinduism is the sheen on the surface of a faith which is also ascetic. You would not know that from the costumes, singing, dancing and feasting. As with the other religions originating in India the ultimate purpose of any devout Hindu is to escape from the recurring pattern of existence. The tally of a person's life is his or her karma (action). This is the total of the good works or sacred practices which have been carried out. In the short term a good karma will lead to reincarnation in more fortunate circumstances, or in a higher caste. Eventually it may make possible the ideal, which is moksha (release from this earth and from the cycle of rebirth). We don’t know whether Rishi Sunak holds these beliefs deeply. How high can he go in his next incarnation? He appears to have reached the top this time out.

Is it a matter of concern that a polytheist, a devotee of a luxuriant and imaginative population of gods and goddesses, over thirty-three million of them, is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? It is not possible to reconcile Hinduism and Christianity. Hindus will happily accept that Jesus is an incarnation of God but not that he is the only one. Christianity does not seek to subsume Hinduism within its doctrines and understanding.

The apparently joyful expressions of Hinduism contrast with the simplicities and reservations of Christian worship which is reflective and prayerful. Our song from classical to popular is measured and there is no dancing in churches on Sunday mornings. Hinduism is theologically and sexually promiscuous. The Kama Sutra is an ancient pre-Christian era Indian Sanskrit guide to the art of living well, the nature of love, finding a life partner, maintaining one's love life, and other aspects pertaining to pleasure-oriented faculties of human life. It lists desire, sexuality, and emotional fulfilment as the proper goals of life. Augustinian Catholicism is the opposite, associating the handing on of original sin through the act of procreation. Scottish Calvinism has had a severe and moralistic edge to it, referencing salvation in Jesus Christ but also the possibility of eternal damnation hereafter. What passes for entertainment, comedy, drinking alcohol, partying and dancing largely occur outside the Christian framework of our societies and are thought in both general and strict observance to be detrimental to spiritual life and to eternal life.

Many Hindus living in this country are family orientated and sober hard working people. Rishi Sunak conforms to that image. Many Indians are brilliant mathematicians. He’s got that too. Will he become an evangelist for Hinduism? I think he might rather wish that we who once acknowledged Jesus Christ might return to doing so.

Robert Anderson 2017

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