November 26, 2016

Is Reality One or Many?

Hello sir,

I'm pursuing MA in Philosophy (Mysore University, India) and have completed Bachelor of Divinity (Serampore University). I just got into trouble with Hindu Monistic views after attending some lectures, and I don't know who to enquire other than you.

Is Christian a Dualist? For us, Creation and Creator are totally different and so the existence of evil. When we reach the pearly gates, we will still be human beings not Divine Being. But for Hindu, when a person is liberated, he/she becomes one with God. So their ultimate reality is One. What about us? Is our ultimate reality One or two? Or?




How nice to get a question from one of our readers in India! You’ve put your finger on one of the most important differences between a theistic worldview such as you find in Christianity and a pantheistic worldview such as Advaita Vendanta Hinduism. (Intriguingly, there actually are ancient schools of Hindu thought which are theistic, thus exploding the facile contrast between “Eastern” and “Western” forms of thought, but the majority tradition is pantheistic.)

As you note, pantheistic Hinduism is monistic, a view captured by the slogan, “All is one.” Distinctions and diversity, including you yourself, are but illusions. By contrast Christianity is pluralistic, in that it affirms the reality of a diversity of beings. In this sense, Christianity is not dualistic, since it affirms the existence of more than two beings. Care is needed here, since in another sense, Christianity is dualistic, in that it affirms the reality of both body and soul.

Again, care is needed when speaking of “ultimate reality.” For Christianity, although there exist many beings, only God is self-existent and necessary. All other things are contingent and depend on God for their existence. So in this sense there is one ultimate reality upon which all else derives. The crucial distinction between necessary and contingent existence enables us to affirm a plurality of beings without holding that all beings are ultimate.

By contrast, for Hinduism there is ultimately only one reality and so no distinction between contingent and necessary being.

In terms of assessing these competing visions of reality, all of the theistic arguments I have defended go to falsify a pantheistic view of reality and, hence, Hinduism. The moral argument, in particular, is a powerful refutation of Hinduism. On Hinduism the distinction between good and evil is just an illusion, and so there is no difference between good and evil. Not only is such a worldview morally unconscionable, but the distinction between good and evil is more perspicuous than any of the arguments for monism, so that belief in Hinduism becomes irrational.