- Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions
For the past decade, Francis Clooney has been one of the most influential comparative theologians in North America. A Jesuit priest who lived in India and later became an expert interpreter of Hindu texts, he combines the confessional commitments of a practicing Christian with a hermeneutical sophistication that has made his work essential reading for Indologists. In earlier works, such as Theology after Vedānta, he illustrated in a convincing way that the schools of Hinduism can be understood at least as well under the rubric of "theology" as under the rubric of "philosophy." Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions is in some ways Clooney's most ambitious work to date. In it he elucidates the thought of dozens of Hindu and Christian thinkers, but does so in a way that remains grounded in the rigorous interpretation of Tamil and Sanskrit texts. He presents as comparative examples a number of Hindu thinkers who have rarely been treated in the secondary literature, and for that reason alone his book should hold interest for students of Hindu thought. But Clooney states that his primary audience is Christian theologians themselves. His larger aim is to show inductively that theology is by its very nature an interreligious, comparative, dialogical, and confessional enterprise, and therefore that Christian theologians must necessarily study the theologies of other religions. If they fail to do so, they will not be good theologians. This last claim is a radical indictment of the way theology has been done throughout Christian history—and one that I believe Clooney falls short of adequately arguing.
Hindu God, Christian God is divided into six chapters plus a postscript. The first and last chapters address the methodological context and wider claims of Clooney's comparative theological project. Chapters 2 through 5 contain the bulk of Clooney's comparisons, each chapter structured around a single theological topic: the existence of God (chapter 2), the one true God (chapter 3), divine embodiment (chapter 4), and revelation (chapter 5). Each of these chapters begins a with brief presentation of one twentieth-century Christian theologian's thoughts on the topic, followed by a lengthier comparison with a number of premodern Hindu thinkers. For instance, after the discussion in chapter 2 of Richard Swinburne's probabilistic argument for the existence of God, Clooney presents multiple Hindu perspectives. Among them are the views of Annaṃbhaṭṭa and Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, two thinkers who maintained that God's existence can be proven through rational argument, and Śaṃkara and Vedānta Deśika, two thinkers who denied this possibility. Clooney's method serves to emphasize that there is almost never a single "Hindu view" or "Christian view" [End Page 599] on any particular question. Although earlier generations of comparativists sometimes attempted generalizations about an essential Hindu worldview (e.g., the doctrine of māyā), given our access today to the texts of so many different Hindu schools, these generalizations should be taken with a grain of salt.
Based on his numerous examples derived from Sanskrit and Tamil texts, one of Clooney's conclusions is that "almost all of what counts as theological reasoning is shared across religious boundaries." Since this is the case, the dividing line between Christian theology and Hindu theology is an arbitrary one. As he points out, a Christian theologian will often have more in common with some Hindu thinker than he will with another Christian on a given topic. This is the case with Clooney, for instance, when he agrees with Jayanta Bhaṭṭa and disagrees with Karl Barth regarding the persuasiveness of cosmological arguments for God's existence. Therefore, Christian theologians are obliged to study Hindu theologies, and presumably theologies from other religions as well. This argument presents difficulties on two levels, I think. First, there are practical concerns, as Clooney acknowledges. He insists quite correctly in his discussion of the methodology of comparative...