Themes in Hinduism and Christianity

Written by Roger H. Hooker Reviewed By Martin Goldsmith

Roger Hooker’s intimate personal relationships with both leading Hindus at Varanasi and ordinary Hindus in India and Britain has given him a thorough understanding of Hindu thought-forms. It was refreshing to read such a book as this. The philosophical background of the various streams of Hinduism is matched by a knowledge of the underlying concepts which actually determine how Hindus think and believe.

Roger Hooker takes seven themes, devoting one chapter to each. I think it is significant that the first theme dealt with is that of myth. Hooker points out the tremendous importance of traditional stories in the formation of all Hindus’ belief systems and religious practice. As westerners we are perhaps apt to concentrate too much on theological and philosophical thought in its abstract formulations. In many other cultures ancient myths are foundational, although some Indians today with a more modern scientific outlook may be a little embarrassed by the mythological nature of such traditions. As Hooker points out, the danger of the erosion of a framework of traditional stories and characters is ‘that our only common language is that of secular materialism’.

This first fascinating chapter introduces us to the following six themes: time, evil, purity, images, renunciation and woman. In each of these Hooker shows a deeply sympathetic approach to Hindu ideas in which he clearly walks in their sandals. For example, he rejects a simplistic Christian rejection of ‘idolatry’ and shows the deeper underlying significance of idol figures. He helpfully analyses various approaches to the question of idol figures—iconomachals who reject all use of images, symbolists who allow images but insist that the deity does not dwell in them, incense-burners who claim that the deity does dwell within the image, literalists who believe that the image literally is the deity. Such definitions allow us to place different movements within the Hindu tradition in varying categories in relationship to images. Then—and only then—can we begin to relate the various Christian traditions and denominations to Hinduism.

While Roger Hooker rightly and attractively shows his love for Hindus and their traditions, he does also give some evangelical critique. His humility and love prevent his disagreements with Hindu thought from ever becoming aggressive or sharp, but rather he seeks to open the door for further dialogue with Hindus.

In every way this is a book to be most heartily recommended. Anybody with an interest in relating to Hindus or witnessing in that context will want to read it. It is simple in language and argument, but it is at the same time profound in its background of scholarship and emphatic understanding.

Martin Goldsmith

All Nations Christian College, Ware