Can the American model of pluralism accept polytheists on their own terms?


A fascinating article on the issues raised by the growing population of Hindus in America. What are the issues and implications involved in addressing the need to include polytheists on their own terms in the current model of American pluralism

This has some good information from a different perspective–that of a very long-lived polytheistic religion and one not considered under the umbrella of Neopaganism.

A short quote, but you need to read the entire article to get the context (NRI means non-resident Indian, ie an Indian living abroad rather than in India):
“The structure of American pluralism and the nature of the Hindu traditions give rise to two options. These options present themselves as routes that can be traveled by the NRI community in the coming years. On the one hand, the pagan traditions of India could renounce their true nature and transform themselves into variants of biblical religion. Then they will soon fit in as well in the American model of pluralism as the Jews and Muslims. On the other hand, these pagan traditions can remain true to their nature and explicitly represent themselves as completely different from the religions of the book. Then they will turn into a major challenge to American pluralism: the very structure of this model will require rethinking in order to accommodate the Hindu traditions.”


This is a very good question, to which I do not know the answer. America today has become much more religiously (and irreligiously) diverse than I suspect that its founders could possibly have imagined. They began, after all, with mainly a “diversity” of protestant denominations plus a smattering of Catholics, and figured that establishing a state religion would be a bad idea.

But were non-Christian, pagan, Wiccan, Hindu, atheist, humanist, Islamic, and other religions even on their radar?

I hear that there are some modern day worshipers of Zeus who would like to reclaim the old Greek temples, saying that it is their religion, after all. Shouldn’t worshipers of Zeus be able to worship in a temple to Zeus, instead of turning it into a museum?


I saw a news report on that also. I believe they were not allowed in the temple and had to worship outside of it. They were also dressed in the traditional dress of the time.
Islam was around at the time of the founders as well as Hinduism. I would have thought they would have been aware of those two religions at the least. I could be wrong though.

Found the news report


** I believe they were not allowed in the temple and had to worship outside of it. **

This was actually the traditional way that worship was performed rather than in the temple itself.

Islam was around at the time of the founders as well as Hinduism. I would have thought they would have been aware of those two religions at the least. I could be wrong though.

Thomas Jefferson certainly was…
“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

Also, the Koran that Keith Ellison used as part of his photo-op after swearing in (the actual swearing in doesn’t use anything, no Bible, nothing) was one that belonged to Thomas Jefferson and is now part of the Library of Congress (Jefferson sold his library to Congress to form the basis of a new one after the existing one was lost to fire during the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol)

Now Wicca did not exist until the early/mid-20th century, so it would not have been “on their radar” nor would many of the religions that today are described as Neopagan.


They intend to present the true doctrines of Hinduism and do so by making it look respectable to American Protestants. That is, the many devatas are transformed into different ways of worshiping the one true God. Hinduism becomes a proper monotheistic faith.

The major problem I have with this article is the labeling as ‘pagan’ the Hindu traditions. To label them ‘pagan’ is about as useful as labeling non-Mormons ‘gentiles’ – it might fit historical labeling patterns, but it hides much more than it reveals.

Second, the label “Hindu” itself, I would argue, is not analogous to “Christianity” or “Judaism”. Instead, it is analogous to “Abrahamic traditions”. To speak of “Hinduism” alone, then, means that one is including within one word, a vast variety of traditions. Not all Abrahamic traditions believe the same thing about a whole host of issues, and neither do all Hindus.

Third, depending upon the Hindu tradition in question, one does find the notion of what might be called ‘the one true God’. The trick, though, is to be clear on what Hindus mean when they speak of ‘God’. ‘Brahman’? Is that equivalent to the Christian ‘God’? Well, it depends on which Christian you’re speaking to! Talk to some of the mystics like Pseudo-Dionysios or Meister Eckhart, and you might come away with a very ‘Brahman’-like Reality. Read the CCC, and you might find a ‘God’ more like the Sri Krishna of the Madhva tradition of Hinduism, where God is seen as radically separate from the world.

Is it fair to make Hindus re-shape their tradition so that it becomes more acceptable to Christian ideas of theism? Well, I don’t see anyone pointing any guns to anybody’s head. To ask this question assumes that the Christian theistic tradition has nothing useful to offer, in terms of talking about God. Christianity and Hinduism both have something to contribute to how we understand God. The fact that fertilizations have occurred from one to the other, and from the other to the one, is historically undeniable and eschatologically irreversable.

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