The Story: Philosopher of religion Michael Sudduth recently announced in an open letter that he has undergone a surprising religious conversion: “Despite my long-standing adherence to the Christian tradition, my spiritual journey has now moved me eastward and outside the framework of Christian theism.”
In a lengthy explanation—which philosopher William Vallicella posted on his website—Sudduth says that for the past twenty-five years he has been “an adherent of the Reformed theological tradition.” But last September he underwent a religious experience that led him to embrace the Vaishnavism tradition of Hinduism:
Around 4:20am (Friday morning) September 16th, I woke suddenly from a deep sleep to the sound of the name of “Krishna” being uttered in some way, as if someone was present in my room and had spoken his name out loud. Upon waking I immediately had a most profound sense of Krishna’s actual presence in my bedroom, a presence no less real than the presence of another living person in the room, though I was alone at the time. I responded to this felt presence, first through my thoughts that repeated Krishna’s name (and inquired of his presence), and then verbally out loud by uttering Krishna’s name twice: Krishna, Krishna. I was seized at this moment with a most sweet feeling of completeness and joy. I felt as if Krishna was there with me in my room and actually heard my voice, and that my response had completed a process that began with his name within my mind. I pondered this experience for several minutes, while at the same time continuing to experience a most blissful serenity and feeling of oneness with God, not unlike I had experienced on many occasions in the past in my relationship with the Lord Jesus. It was a most profound sense of both awe and intimacy with God in the form of Lord Krishna.
The Background: [On Sudduth] Since the mid-1990s, Sudduth has been a professional philosopher of religion, devoting his work to questions concerning the nature of religious knowledge, the concept of God, and the project of natural theology from the perspective of Reformed philosophical theology. He has taught at several institutions, including Calvin College, and is now on the faculty at San Francisco State University. His book, The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology, has been praised by numerous Christian scholars, including Alister E. McGrath and Alvin Plantinga. (See James N. Anderson’s review in Themilios.)
[On Vaishnavism] Vaishnavism, also known as Hare Krishna, is a monotheistic tradition within Hinduism that considers the many forms of Vishnu to be expansions or incarnations of the one supreme god. The focus of Vaishnavism is the devotional worship of Radha and Krishna, and their many divine incarnations as the supreme forms of god. In Hinduism, Krishna is traditionally considered the author of the Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita.
Why It Matters: Vaishnavism, the most widely practiced form of Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent, claims many millions of adherents. In America, the tradition is most often associated with the Hare Krishnas. Since the 1960s the worship of Krishna has spread in the West, particularly in Eastern Europe, largely due to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Although public awareness of Hare Krishnas has largely waned since the 1980s, the conversion of Sudduth shows that the Christians in the West should once again become aware of the appeal, influence, and dangers of Eastern religions.