Recently, in Christian apologetic circles, it was noted that a former Christian professor of philosophy had converted to an Eastern religion. Dr. Michael Sudduth, from San Francisco State University, was highlighted in the blog post Michael Sudduth Converts to Vaishnava Vedanta!
As part of our home schooling effort, we engage in a weekly Current Events series in which I have my oldest daughter (high school) read various news items (which I have selected), and then write a brief commentary on the item, first explaining what the article was about and then giving her opinion on the story.
Here is what she wrote regarding the conversion story of Dr. Sudduth:
This article is a letter written by a man who has converted from Christianity to Vaishnava Vedanta. He had been a Protestant Christian for 25 years, but had increasingly become drawn toward Vedanta, both trough a philosophical attraction and an experiential attraction. As he began to explore the religion more deeply, he became profoundly affected by it and to feel the presence of God through it. He began to believe that his former beliefs in God were a limited expression of the deeper meaning he found through Vedanta.
Vaishnavism articulates a model of the love of God, where intimacy and separation are the two important elements of the divine-human love relation. People are both one with God and separate from God. The relationship with God is a simultaneous difference and non-difference. He believes that God is manifested in different ways, and God-realization takes on diverse forms. Vaishnavism acknowledges religious truth found across different religious traditions, and though the names are many, God is one. How we experience God depends on different aspects of our own personalities.
The author says that he does not believe he is worshipping a different God than he worshipped when he was a Christian – he believes it is the same God, under a different, and fuller manifestation. He says that the basic principles of Vaishnavism are compatible with a number of fundamental Christian beliefs, and that he is not relinquishing these beliefs but situating them in a different philosophical and theological context. He closes his letter by saying that he doesn’t want to convert any of his friends to Vaishnavism, but he hopes that they’ll make each other better devotees in their respective faiths.
From this letter, it seems like the author has based his entire conversion on experience. He felt something when reading the texts associated with Vaishnavism, he felt a closeness to the person of Lord Krishna, he felt profoundly affected and overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of God. He felt Krishna’s presence in his bedroom, he felt a validation of his spiritual journey. Even when he starts talking about philosophy and theology, he says that he has found aspects of the Vedanta theology and philosophy appealing to him. I think that his question should not be, “is it appealing?”, or “does it feel right?”, rather, he should ask “does it line up with reality?” He seems to ignore this question, replacing it with how he happens to feel. If these beliefs don’t line up with reality, if they’re not true, they shouldn’t be believed no matter how appealing they are or how good they make one feel.
The author claims that Vaishnavism is compatible with Christianity. He even claims he is worshipping the same God he worshipped before he switched religions. However, if he really means this, he couldn’t have been worshipping the Christian God before. Jesus said that He was the only way to God – obviously, the author believes there are many ways to get to God, so his beliefs are in direct opposition to fundamental Christian beliefs.
Lastly, he says that he’s only interested in making his friends better devotees to their respective religions, not in making them converts to Vaishnavism. Why is this? If he believes that Vaishnavism is true, then shouldn’t he want to convince other people of that? This religion seems to be one without much substance – it seems like anything you believe goes, and I don’t think that lines up to the way the world we know actually works.
Personally, I think that it is incumbent on us, as Christian parents, to prepare our children for the realities of a post-Christian America, thereby providing them with the resources to not only counter the worldviews they will come up against, but to courteously provide a clear explanation of the veracity of the Christian worldview.
And, I'm proud of my daughter's grasp of these concepts, while in high school. We must engage our young adults (that would be anyone older than 13) in the marketplace of ideas, stretching them, and setting the bar high - they can achieve it.