I’ve made mention in the past of how problematic I find the debate format, but it doesn’t keep me from seeking out interesting discussions wherever I can.
I am particularly prone to putting on a nice long debate when I have tedious research tasks to attend to–but this can be dangerous, as a poorly argued position has been known to drive me to distraction and beyond.
The other night, I thought to change up my routine and listen to a debate between two theists. This was surprisingly a first for me, though I have most certainly had plenty of opportunity to engage with such discussions in the past. From my inexperience with such debates, I furthermore made the dangerous assumption that an interfaith discussion would be less distracting than an atheist/theist debate; that I could just let broad abstractions roll over me and get a lot of work done in the process.
Good grief, was I ever wrong.
Going forward, I’m going to try to document my experiences of new debates. In keeping with my suspicions about the paucity of certain debate formats, I certainly look forward to gathering more data for myself to that end–but the real reason for watching/listening to debates (for me, at least) has always been about maintaining a constant readiness to re-evaluate basic premises.
This is because I strongly feel that critical thinking skills are like a muscle: either you use them routinely and well, or you don’t–and they atrophy. And as I have mentioned on numerous occasions, human beings are too inclined to lazy thinking in the first place for me to feel comfortable with routines that do not seek to counter that inclination.
So! I’ve already picked the next debate for this kind of summary–a discussion between atheist women and pro-Sharia men that makes me wince just to think about–but first, there’s this interfaith piece I’m really itching to deconstruct.
The Debate: Dave Hunt v. Budhendranauth Doobay (2008: Toronto)
The Question: None specifically provided.
The Format: Forty-minute opening statements (oh yes, you read that right), followed by ten minute rebuttals, then five minute rebuttals, then questions selected from the audience.
The Players: Dave Hunt is a Christian apologist–and in particular, an evangelical dispensationalist (which is pretty self-evident in the debate). Dr. Budhendranauth Doobay is a self-proclaimed teacher of spirituality at a Vishnu-Hindu temple, and a cardiovascular surgeon (this becomes relevant to a portion of his claims in the debate).
The Audience: All Saint’s (Catholic) high school.
The Run-Down: Forty minutes is an excruciatingly long time under Dave Hunt‘s speaking style, which would be fine in smaller doses but veers toward soft-spoken meandering on many occasions at this length. Hunt touches on a number of topics, premises, and arguments, though in a rather long-winded and fragmentary fashion that wanders at points into issues he intends to put forward in debate the next day with a Muslim (and perhaps future others with atheists and Jews). The relevant subject matter from his speech includes:
1) The assertion of a mind, separate from the brain, which is responsible for one’s actions and will need to account for sin in the next life.
2) The issue of which road is the best road to happiness. (Hindus and non-Biblical Christians alike, Hunt positions on the wrong road.)
3) Hinduism has 330 million gods in contrast with Christianity’s one god, which is a huge no-no under Biblical commandment against idol worship.
4) Moreover, some of these Hindu gods are disturbing to him as an outsider–Kali, “with her ten arms and a necklace of shrunken skulls and freshly severed heads hanging from her belt”–and the serpent Kundalini, who recalls the woman-tree-serpent imagery of his Bible.
5) The Bible is self-proving through prophecy. Examples used here are the denial of aid to Jews in the Holocaust, the scattering of Jews around the Earth and their return to Israel, and the ills that plague Israel as a nation-state today.
6) Going to the Bible is superior to going to a guru for divine revelation, and this whole business about self-realization and finding the god within is bizarre to him anyway: If he’s a god, why doesn’t he know it?
7) Karma is a system whereby a person who murders in this life is a victim in the next–therefore this system is a perpetuation, not a resolution, of sin, and is hopeless.
8) Buddha told people not to follow him, while Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, the life.” Allusions to Lewis’s “Liar, lunatic, or Lord” argument ensue.
9) The Trinity is “co-equal, co-existent, co-eternity,” so Jews and Muslims are wrong for viewing god as singular, and there’s a lack of unity in the multiplicity of gods in the Hindu faith.
10) While Allah supposedly grants forgiveness directly and forgiveness emerges when one reaches Moksha in Hinduism “and this whole thing comes to the end,” this creates a justice deficit. Hunt uses a courtroom example to show no one gets off in a just world, and introducing the notion of eternal separation of god before holding up god (the trinity) as the only one who can pay the price for that verdict.
You realize early on that Budhendranauth Doobay was not expecting this kind of debate, so he comes out swinging, and his first words when he comes to the podium cause a short but heated back and forth. Doobay says: “Do you know where Jesus was between the ages of 17 and 30? He was learning from his Himalayan masters in Kashmir.” Hunt heatedly disagrees in the background. Doobay then takes the foor in earnest, speaking with more precision and passion than Hunt. He commits the same sin of redundancy, but his speech at least doesn’t leave as many fragmentary arguments in his wake. His discussion points include the following:
1) A claim that there is evidence of Christ going to the Himalayas and learning from the Vedas–so much so that Christians don’t even understand all that is said by their god-head. “The Kingdom of Christ is within you,” Doobay cites as an example of this Vedic concept of inner godliness.
2) “Hinduism is a symbolic religion,” so iconography provides focus for people on the lowest levels of Hindu religion–a means for those who are not well-educated to start to grasp god-concepts, which can be transcended the more one progresses through the faith.
3) The serpent has a different meaning set for Hindu believers (longevity), and Kali is a warning against hate, anger, and criticism of other people’s beliefs from a place of ignorance.
4) Hinduism as an eternal religion, far older than Christianity, and a dynamic religion, “not bogged down by dogmatism,” but inviting everyone to take whatever path they see fit to get to god. Here he cites the Golden Rule and adds, “If you are a Christian, be a good Christian. If you are a Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you are an atheist, be a good atheist. Just be a good human being.”
5) Heaven and hell are here, on this earth–not above it and not in some other realm.
6) Desire cannot be overcome by denying it, since we were all born of desire, but by pouring desire into spirituality, which Hinduism holds as having greater worth than religiosity.
7) The ancient practice of Hinduism (he calls it 10,000 years old) has no idols but focusses solely on becoming a self-realized person who has conquered all inner weaknesses and so become one with god. According to Doobay, temples and idols came later as humankind became more worldly and more desirous.
8) The Christian church, with its giant statues of Mary and Jesus and the cross, has plenty of iconography, too. On the wall of peace at his temple, icons from all religions are presented under the belief that all ways can lead to the same result: bliss. Later Doobay will add that this iconography makes it easy for Hindus to add Christ to their worldview, and makes them just as accepting of missionaries, since all god-heads are seen as god.
9) Meditation is the greatest road to inner peace (declaring cardiovascular benefits from his own authority as a surgeon) and the gurus are a means of helping people find the god within themselves. He cites Deepak Chopra and Gwynne Dyer in relation to god and consciousness, claiming that there is consciousness in all things and that god is order and harmony itself. (This leads to an aside about eco-friendliness.)
10) Karma explains everything that happens in life–congenital defects, class differences, and so on–as somehow being connected to our genes as much as our past. He then cites psychiatry, retrogression therapy, and hypnotism as having proven the existence of past lives.
11) Prophecy is selective and irrelevant. The Vedas are more interested in conveying how to live a good life and finding the god within you (and through it, the god within everyone). Prophecy is likened to astrology.
12) You are a Hindu if you are born a Hindu–meaning, born into the practice of sun worship, out of the belief that everything in creation comes out of the sun. Hinduism does not believe in a hierarchy of creation, but an instantaneous creation of all things. (He later adds in worship of all the elements, since we are made up of all of them.)
13) Yoga-meditation, karma-yoga (“do good karma”), and singing-yoga (“Shanti Shanti Shanti”) are the Hindu roads to peace and god. To Doobay, this means trying to help and understand everybody, and also having compassion (not charity, which he holds as the giving of excess when one should be compelled to give more than they can afford) for those with bad karma.
14) Reincarnation has been “proven,” and the Vedas, which teach astronomy, physics, mathematics, architecture, were given to ancient masters 10,000 years ago through meditation.
Hunt takes Doobay’s speech as proof of his own claims about Hinduism–that “god is within you” and that good works are what matter–then goes on to emphatically disavow (to appreciative chuckling from the Catholic audience) that Christ went to India and learned from Hindu masters. If this were so, Christ would have to honour his guru, and there’s no record of that, stating instead that he was sent by his father. Christ said to deny the self and take up the cross, and offered the water of life while some Hindus drink guru bathwater. Other fun rejoinders:
1) Reiterating that if he’s god, how come he doesn’t know this?
2) Kali’s appearance is still shocking!
3) Hinduism is 10,000 years old? He doesn’t even know of civilizations going back that far. (“I know there are evolutionists who say this, and so forth, but you check out the history: you can’t find it; it doesn’t go back any farther than the Bible says it goes.”)
4) Old Testament prophesized the coming of Christ! And that serpent is still an embodiment of sin.
5) Nothing transcendental can be found by looking within, and Eastern meditation seems to want people to stop thinking whereas Western meditation promotes deep thinking.
6) Genes coming from karma? Genes come from God–because genes contain information and “Einstein himself said that matter cannot arrange itself into information; it takes an intelligence.”
7) Besides, karma sounds impersonal, and again, idol worship is not Biblically sound.
8) On the issue of criticism: “We’re not supposed to correct people, he said … but he’s trying to correct me also.”
9) The popular notion of many roads leading to the same place is wrong (Hunt even uses the word “narrow-minded”), because Jesus said there are two possible destinations: heaven and hell.
10) Hinduism is a “do-it-yourself” kit, but Christ, not good works, is what renews people. The only way to account for previous sin is through Christ.
In response, Doobay‘s first words are: “You don’t have to have a guru.” He stresses this point and holds that texts–the Bible, the Qu’ran, etc–can just as easily be gurus as persons. He observes that as a Hindu, he can quote from any holy text, whereas Christianity is limited by its nature to the Bible. He presents as an absurdity the notion that billions of people who aren’t Christians go to hell under Christian teaching, and reaffirms that in Hinduism there is no hell as Christians understand it, because hell is right here on earth. And then more fun ensues:
1) The god Christ calls to on the cross is Brahman, a formless, genderless/all-gendered being.
2) All images of god are created to help people focus on this concept. Kali, for instance, represents the mother-power of the Lord. Just as people want different foods at different times, people call upon different aspects of god at different times–thus the multitude of different icons calling for people to cut away all worldly things and look for the divine.
3) Again with the karma as an explanation for success and failure in life. Karma deposits your soul in the organism created by the genes–for better or worse–of two people depending on your actions in a past life.
4) Hinduism is a philosophy of life, not a religion to be preached. Desire is welcome but it must be controlled if one is to attain complete equilibrium.
5) “All these religions are great, and they can all take you to god. Your heart must be filled with compassion, your heart must be filled with kindness, goodness, and do not ridicule the other.”
6) Meditation is the way to peace; all iconography lies at the lowest rung of the faith.
Hunt asks what the point to debate is if all roads lead to god. He says there’s no way the god Christ called to was “Brahma.” He disagrees that images aren’t the point in Hinduism because they are everywhere, and returns for a third time to Kali’s belt of human heads.
He then goes on to take issue with Hinduism as a “philosophy of life” which encompasses everything, comparing this to New Agers who “won’t give [him] the right to have an idea different from [theirs]” because whatever he says, they find a way to incorporate into their broader beliefs. Hunt says that he’s trying to explain that there are some differences between Christianity and Hinduism, but Doobay won’t allow him “that right.” Hunt says “we don’t all believe in the same thing, and we aren’t all going to the same place.”
Hunt’s closing remarks pull from Dr. Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind: “We have become so open to everything, that we have become closed to the possibility that something might be right, and something else wrong.” And then reiterate Christ as saviour.
Doobay responds by observing that Hunt seems obsessed with Kali, and reiterates that Hinduism allows for all paths to god. He gives a rock as an example: if you see that rock as a manifestation of god, then there are two possible outcomes–if a god exists, he will respond; if a god does not exist, he will not respond. “Who knows if there’s a god?” he says. “Has anybody seen god? We think there is god! We feel there is god! But we know there is order. There is a harmony.” He then holds that the power controlling that order is what we call god.
From this, he says that not believing in Christ is not going to put him in hell, because there is no hell but here on Earth. Here he uses the example of one’s home–which can be at times a hell and at times a heaven, depending on one’s mental approach to that space. He closes off by saying that karma will make people happy because karma is the world.
What is the purpose of existence according to Christian?
Hunt: “God created us to put his love upon us, to love us. … He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need anyone. He is self-contained. But he is love. … There is a heaven. … It is to become like him, to become what he wants us to be. To enjoy his presence forever.”
Doobay: Existence means living. And living a life filled with happiness. God’s existence is that we should not only live, but live in harmony–harmony with the world, and harmony with the order of the world. Do not upset the order of the world; if you upset the order of the world, it will bite back.”
Didn’t Ghandi call himself a Hindu, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian: How can such religions be reconciled?
Doobay: “The religions are all good; it’s the leaders of the religions that are bad.”
Hunt: “I don’t know how religions can be all good and the leaders all bad, because religions come from the leaders, doesn’t it? … Religions are not all good; they do not lead to the same place. They are in great conflict with one another. … They disagree with one another. Something must be wrong somewhere.”
Doobay: “All religions are good. It’s fanatics like these (points to Hunt) that make them bad.”
Hunt: “It’s not a question of my religion is better than yours. I said, I’m not defending any religion. … I don’t have a religion; I’m a follower of Jesus Christ (loud applause). Our discussion is not of which is good and which is bad: Which one is inspired of God? Which one is backed up with scripture that has prophecies fulfilled to prove it? Which one brings forgiveness of sins? I don’t have to do meditation and yoga and so forth. Jesus made peace by paying the penalty for our sins.”
The majority of your argument seems to hinge on the Bible and fulfilled prophecy. How would this matter to a Hindu perplexes me. Can you offer any external arguments, apart from the Bible, which demonstrate why one should follow Christianity instead of Hinduism?
Hunt: “Well, that’s the whole basis of what I’m saying: you have to have proof somewhere. External arguments? Give me a proof. … When I point to the Bible: prophecy fulfilled! You can’t argue with that. … The doctor mentioned prophecy of the gurus; I don’t know of any. … We don’t know what energy is. We don’t know what time or space or matter are. You cannot prove anything from science.”
Doobay: “Besides Jerusalem, did they prophesize about Darfur, Ethiopia, or any of those other places? We don’t worry ourselves with prophecy; we talk about philosophy online. Prophecy is for the timid-minded.”
If all the Hindus in India were praying for no typhoons and hurricanes and so on, why do they happen?
Doobay: “Karma, my boy.”
Doesn’t Christianity have more than one god? Doesn’t the Trinity make up three gods?
Hunt: “No. The Bible says one god who exists eternally in three persons. … You’ve got one god, he’s imperfect; he has no one to love. He can’t experience fellowship, communion, and so forth, until he creates other beings. You have multiplicity of gods, they fight one another, they steal from one another. There’s no peace in heaven; there can be no peace on earth. The Bible speaks of three persons: one god existing eternally in three persons–father, son and the holy spirit. There’s completeness: The Father loves his son, the Father sends his son to be the saviour of the world.”
And last but not least, in response to a question about creation directed to Doobay:
Hunt: “If everything comes out of God, I guess sin came out of God. If everything came out of God, well then, where did sin enter in? And… you can’t put it together. It’s not quite rational. Now, out of God–well then, everything is God. If everything is God, then there is no God. Because God and Not-God–there is no difference between God and Not-God, because there is no such thing as Not-God… I mean, God has lost any significance.”
Strongest Arguments: The best part of listening to an interfaith debate is that each participant can easily see things that are bizarre and inconsistent in the other person’s world view, even if the exact counters they give are often no better.
To this end, Hunt is right to observe that there is an irreconcilable difference between a religion that teaches “This is the only way to reach God” and a religion that teaches “All roads lead to God.” His best point came in the second rebuttal, when he observed how maddening it is not to be permitted to hold a different opinion. Hunt’s comment in the question period about how a god who is everything is no god at all, had me on the edge of my seat: Yes! He’s so close! …But for all the wrong reasons from his point of view.
Hunt was also correct to call out Doobay’s figures on the age of the Hindu faith and the Vedas texts, but again, for all the wrong reasons: Hunt seems to be a Young Earth Creationist who believes there is no history before the time the Bible sets out, when in fact there is. It’s just a history that happens to concur with his assessment of the age of Hinduism and the Vedas!
Doobay, meanwhile, was strong when observing the selectivity of Biblical prophecy, though I wish he had gone farther still in explaining his examples. Certainly his notion that we are the benevolent forces (or malevolent forces, depending on how we live our lives) in the universe resonates with my own, secular humanism, but it was his observation that all religions have icons that felt like his strongest indictment of the opposing point of view.
Doobay spent the majority of his time explaining Hindu practice, though, so it’s hard to evaluate his arguments in full. He did, however, seem to be in top form when pointing out Hunt’s repeated return to the image of Kali, and repeating time and again that gurus are not necessary. I do wish he had likened them to priests and ministers, though: that seems as though it would have been the best construction of the argument for his audience.
Hunt was at his weakest when he would not get past his incredulity about Kali and Kundalini. There was absolutely room to graduate from this discourse to the dangers of idol worship to uneducated Hindus, but he never made it. He also had some equally incredulous things to say about how science does not “know” anything–not what matter is, or time, or energy, or space–and so the Bible is the only reliable source for information because of prophecy. His Einstein reference is one I cannot find any adequate sourcing for, either.
The prophecies he raised in particular were poor ones; he might have done better if he’d stuck with prophecies contemporaneous to the books themselves (like the destruction of the temple), but instead he picks very dubious examples from the 21st century (suggesting to me that he believes the end-times are close at hand). His example of how Jews were denied aid during the Holocaust has the particularly uncomfortable tenor of suggesting that British anti-Semitism was sanctified by god. Also, his claim that Jews are no longer scattered about the Earth, having been recalled to Israel by divine act, is just simply not true. (Unless he’s taking, as some dispensationalists do, the notion that a single Jew from every nation returning to Israel is enough.)
His courtroom example of justice was also very poor for explaining Christ on the cross, because to extend the metaphor, a person is found guilty of a crime… so then the Judge steps down to serve the sentence for him? And this is supposed to be an example of justice by our secular conception of the term? This is supposed to be better than Hunt’s example of a guy from the audience appealing for mercy because the guilty part promises he’ll never do it again?
Doobay‘s argument has a lot of problems, too. First, he uses his authority as a doctor in an ad hominem fashion: the first instance where his expertise as a cardiovascular comes up, around meditation as a useful preventative and restorative measure around heart disease, it makes perfect sense–but what authority gives him to then speak as an implicitly equivalent expert on psychiatry and hypnosis, which he claims have definitively proven reincarnation?
After he cited Deepak Chopra, I also wasn’t surprised by Doobay’s appeal to the very word genetics in relation to consciousness and karma, but boy, does he muddle any cogent explanation of why genetics is at all relevant to his explanation for either.
And yes, Doobay’s dates are wrong for the Vedas and the rise of Hinduism, to the best of our archaeology and scriptural scholarship to date. This greatly weakens his argument from antiquity against Christian precept. While he is not entirely wrong about the Christ matter–those years are unaccounted for, and contemporary scholarship does tend to lean towards the India/Himalayas hypothesis–he loses credibility from speaking of this as a fact in relation to so many other inaccurate statements.
Hunt should have started in sooner and more decisively with the paradox of all roads leading to the same end when some roads emphatically deny the existence or legitimacy of other ends.
Hunt should also have eased up on the imagery talk and moved on to consequences for those who never move pass idols.
Finally, since Hunt is big on personality as a facet of god, he should have pinned Doobay down on the impersonality of karma sooner and harder.
Meanwhile, Doobay should have caught Hunt’s major misstep in claiming that karma has no hope because it never ends, then later complaining that Hinduism does work towards an end to things: Moksha. (He would also have done well to observe that Hunt’s notion of modern day Jews being punished for the actions of their ancestors is not so far removed from the inheritance model of karma.)
Heck, asking Hunt to explain the justice in vicarious redemption, as opposed to people paying for their own sins, could have opened a much more interesting line of inquiry in general.
And Doobay should most certainly have contrasted the guru with the priest or minister. The fact that he didn’t even mention this was bizarre.
Head-Banging Good Time, or Bust?
For the poor debate format, which gave each person too much time for opening address, and not enough time for direct interrogation of the ideas themselves; and for the repetitious and tangential nature of so much of what was said by both parties during this very long exercise in pseudo-debate/pseudo-proselytizing, I give this debate 4 out of 5 Possible Facepalms.