Whenever religion naturally comes up in conversation, everyone should be proud to say what faith they preach. These are valuable discussions where we can encounter faiths we don’t practice and learn more about the different cultures around us. One friend taught me how he defines being a Christian, and I enjoyed talking with him about the similarities and differences I observed in Hinduism.
What’s disappointing, though, is when there’s a clear lack of understanding about some religions and their believers. While I can’t speak for the stereotypes that surround other faiths, the assumptions that individuals make about Hinduism and Hindus are egregious. There are so many misconceptions about Hinduism that paint a poor picture of the religion and its followers. “You guys worship cows, right?” Not exactly. “There’s a Hindu elephant god and a monkey god right?” Yes, but they’re more than just animals. “I heard that Hindus don’t even step on grass.” I have no idea where that one came from.
There are more than a few problems with this attitude. Grouping an entire religion and its followers into “you guys” is never going to be accurate or even respectful of the faith. We don’t simplify Christianity to say, ‘Oh, Christians drink wine and eat bread at the front of the church,’ so why is there such an attitude towards understanding Hinduism and other religions?
The problem with grouping us into these monoliths is that the beliefs get twisted to serve an agenda of willful ignorance. Let’s make this clear: cows are not Hindu gods. Several Hindus compare a cow to a motherly figure in that they both feed children. They are thus considered holy animals that many respect and choose not to consume, but they are not a god. The so-called “elephant and monkey gods” are named Ganpati and Hanuman respectively. The former tends to represent knowledge, while the latter often represents devotion and doing one’s duty.
These misconceptions aren’t unexpected. Eurocentric education will reinforce valuable yet widely covered knowledge of Judeo-Christian faiths while providing only surface-level ideas of religions that aren’t well known in Western society. The reverent Hindu Swastik has become misconstrued with the hateful Nazi Swastika. The best way for an individual to tackle this ignorance is to seek education. Any practicing Hindu would love to explain the nuances in their faith to anyone who will listen. All you need to do is ask.