THE BLOG

Banning Books in India and Creationism in the United States

03/11/2014 01:34 am ET | Updated May 10, 2014

What, you might ask, does a book that was recalled and destroyed by its publisher in India have to do with the evolution/creation controversy in the United States? Quite a bit, it turns out.

The book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, was written by Wendy Doniger, a University of Chicago professor of the history of religions. It was first published in the United States in 2009 to critical acclaim. Indeed, it was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Before it made its appearance in India in 2010, some of the wording was changed in an attempt to assuage critics.

As Doniger noted in a recent New York Times article, the changes weren't major, "but we changed some of the wording and softened some things." She explained the original purpose of the book: I wanted "to tell a story of Hinduism that's been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks. It's not about philosophy, it's not about meditation, it's about stories, about animals and untouchables and women. It's the way that Hinduism has dealt with pluralism."

The decision by Penguin Books India to destroy all copies of the book was in response to a lawsuit in India claiming that The Hindus violated a law which makes it illegal to engage in acts "intended to outrage religious feelings."

Religious feelings were supposedly outraged because Doniger presented a broader view of Hinduism than some would have liked to see. The lawsuit accused her of promoting a "hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light."

Doniger believes that she's done nothing of the sort. Instead, she's celebrating a broader, more culturally relevant and historically accurate perspective on Hinduism. The Times article quotes novelist Hari Kunzru noting that the book "emphasizes that Hinduism has never existed as a single pure orthodoxy."

Doniger was outspoken about the protests against her and her book. "This is fundamentalism, which says that parts of its own religion are bad. In a sense, I'm defending their religion, and they're attacking it."

Which brings me to the evolution/creationism debate. Those professing a belief in creationism are promoting a fundamentalism very much akin to those who have attacked Doniger and her book. Simply put, they have a narrow view of religion and argue that anyone who holds a divergent view is wrong. The creationists have a singular way to interpret scriptures and are utterly unwilling even to engage in meaningful dialogue with those who offer a different interpretation.

In short, according to this perspective, if you accept evolution, you can't be a good Christian (let alone a good anything else), and you're going to hell.

Take a look at the final panel in a religious tract entitled "Moving on Up!" by Chick Publications to see what I mean.

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Or take a look at an attack on the thousands of Christian clergy members who have signed The Christian Clergy Letter, a part of The Clergy Letter Project, asserting the evolution poses no challenge to their religious faith and urging that evolution rather than creationism in any of its guises be taught in public school science classrooms and laboratories.

We suspect that many of the Clergy Letter signers who belong to valid, actual Christian traditions [and not cults like Unity] could not affirm the literal, physical Resurrection of Christ, that Christ was both fully God and fully man nor that Christ Jesus is the only name under heaven and earth by which men must be saved. The Creation Letter Project is making plans to attempt to clarify the positions of the pro-evolution Clergy Letter signers on these three matters. It must be said that if they do not so agree with orthodoxy on these three matters, they cannot truly be called Christian and their clerical positions are therefore a disgraceful sham!

Christianity like Hinduism doesn't exist "as a single pure orthodoxy." Those who argue that it does are demeaning the very essence of Christianity.