Recently, i came across a post on Christian missionaries praising themselves on converting the Irula tribesmen of Kerala (traditionally the ‘snake catcher’ community) to Christianity:
A pastor came to Mani’s village five years ago and told him about Jesus, the Son of the living God who is greater than the gods of health and harvest that his family worshiped. Mani asked if Jesus could heal him of his weak heart. The pastor prayed with him, and Mani was astonished when his health problems disappeared.
In March, Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes were delivered to children in the village and from the surrounding countryside. Mani and his wife, Pattu, rejoiced to see such beautiful gifts, further evidence of God’s love and provision.
The articles ends with:
- For Mani’s village to be a beacon of light for other tribal communities who practice idol worship.
- For our church ministry partners who face opposition and even persecution as they proclaim the Word of God in India.
- For the Operation Christmas Child follow-up discipleship program to bring many Indian children and their families to faith in Christ.
I had tweeted against this calling it a “shame”, in response to which an acquaintance in Kashmir – a Kashmiri Muslim, who i inevitably get into arguments with :), responded saying:
@rahuldewan Why shame? Isn’t it a fundamental right protected by constitution of India to practice, preach & proselytize one’s religion?
The evil of proselytizing
Here’s what Mahatma Gandhi had to say about this:
Mahatma Gandhi who studied Christian proselytizing closely says that it is the “deadliest poison that ever sapped the foundation of truth,” that it is “arrogant”, that it embodies a double falsehood: he sees “no spiritual hunger” in nominal converts and “no spiritual merit” in professional missionaries. He says that a missionary is “like any vendor of goods”, and that if he had “power to legislate”, he “should certainly stop all proselytizing.” [See: http://www.voiceofdharma.com/books/ca/app5.htm%5D
“proselytizing under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy, to say the least. It is most resented by people here”
and the sentiment is aptly captured in this post:
The resentment that Gandhi alluded to has increased in India over the years, mostly due to the persistence of religious conversions engineered by Christian evangelists who derive their financial support from foreign sources. Fundamentalist Muslims too have entered the fray in recent years with substantive financial contributions from Muslim countries interested in furthering the spread of Islam in India. Some Hindu groups have resorted to reverse conversions. All these trends are destructive to India’s time-tested culture of religious tolerance. [See: http://c-alex-alexander.sulekha.com/blog/post/2003/05/proselytization-in-india-an-indian-christian-s-perspective.htm%5D
Arun Gandhi squares the blame of the violence on proselytizing:
I call proselytizing evil because it is responsible, in a tangible way, for all the violence that we experience today. The two religions that began proselytizing are Christianity and Islam. It introduced competition in religion and got other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, etc, also interested in proselytizing. In the old days in India — prior to independence — Christian and Islamic preachers stood on street corners to denounce Hinduism and promote their own religion. Today they do it in a more sophisticated way. Various forms of aid are offered to the poor if they would consider changing their religion. One way or the other one cannot promote one’s own without denouncing the other. [See: http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/arun_gandhi/2010/03/the_evil_of_proselytizing.html%5D
Proselytizing – an expression of freedom?
Utter nonsense! Both Christianity and Islam under the banners of it’s crusaders and religious bigots ruined (in some cases, attempted to but failed) complete civilizations.
As soon as Christianity came into power, heathen temples were defaced and closed and their revenues transferred to the Church. “We command that all their (heathens’) fanes, temples, shrines, if even now any remain entire shall be destroyed by the command of the magistrates” was the order of the day (Theodosius Code, 380 A.D.).
The same methods were employed when Christianity moved to the north of Europe. In Great Britain and Germany, priests and monks moved about destroying the groves and shrines of the people. The last regions to lose their religions in Europe were Prussia and the Baltic states. In the beginning of the thirteenth century, they were conquered and forcibly converted with the help of two religious-military Orders of Litvonian and Teutonic Knights.
During Medieval times, the Church taught that the Pope was “almost God on earth”; therefore the earth’s sovereignty also belonged to him. In the capacity of a overlord, he gave away the newly-discovered Americas to the Spanish king and the Eastern part of the world to King Alfonso of Portugal, “the right total and absolute, to invade, conquer and subjugate all the countries which are under the enemies of Christ, Saracene and pagan.”
Space does not permit us to narrate what Christianity did in these parts. Juan de Zumarrage, first Bishop of Mexico, writing in 1531, claimed that he personally destroyed over 500 temples and 20,000 idols of the heathens. From another part of the globe, St. Xavier was writing from Cochin to the King of Portugal: “To your servants you must declare as plainly as possible … that the only way of escaping your wrath is to make as many Christians as possible in the countries over which you rule.” [See: http://www.voiceofdharma.com/books/ca/app5.htm%5D
Islam had a similar agenda. Aurangzeb just as most muslim invaders had not only the agenda to rule a people, but convert them into Islam. Raising the bogey of a threat to Islam has always been the primary rallying point from Aurangzeb to – unfortunately – Jinnah.
Throughout the War of Succession, Aurangzeb had maintained that he was not interested in acquiring the throne and that his only object was to ward off the threat to Islam, which was inevitable in case Dara Shukoh came to power. Many, including his brother Murad, were deceived by this posture. After his formal accession in Delhi (5th June 1659) he posed as a defender of Islam who would rule according to the directions of the Shariat, and with the advice of the Clerics or Ulama for whom the doctrines, rules, principles and directives, as laid down and interpreted in the 7th and 8th century Arabia, Persia and Iraq, were inviolable and unchangeable in all conditions, in all countries, and for all times to come. [See: http://www.aurangzeb.info/%5D
The “business” of – “my religion is better than yours”
This is the crux of the problem in my view. Instead of focussing on similarities of religions and synthesizing them to achieve spiritual enlightenment, and human well-being, when one starts standing on a pedestal and claims superiority over another’s religion, this then forms the crux of the problem. It creates defense systems even in (a “non-religion” and) an all-inclusive ‘religion’ like Hinduism.
I am not at all surprised at the emerging rise of Hindu nationalism in India, given the historical experience of the Hindus whose faith had been assaulted first by Muslim invaders and subsequently by European colonizers. [See: http://c-alex-alexander.sulekha.com/blog/post/2003/05/proselytization-in-india-an-indian-christian-s-perspective.htm%5D
Claims of religious superiority are often signs of brittleness of philosophy:
He admired the absence of the “spirit of missionary imperialism” in Hinduism and questioned whether or not the “Christian claims to possess infallibility or ultimate truth are not signs of a brittle pettiness that cannot endure”. His writings credited such insights to the dialogue he had with three Hindu scholars at a very old Christian seminary in Kottayam, in India’s Kerala State. [See: http://c-alex-alexander.sulekha.com/blog/post/2003/05/proselytization-in-india-an-indian-christian-s-perspective.htm%5D
just as Gandhi observed as well
In the 1930’s when Christian priests as well as Muslim imams saw the possibilities of converting some 150 million people who were relegated to low caste status by the Hindus, they tried their best to induce the oppressed to come into their fold. The response was not good. Rev. E. Stanley Jones, a United Methodist Minister in India, a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, asked him what the reason was. Gandhi said: “The day you stop talking about how good your religion is and start living it then everyone will come willingly to join you.” [See: http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/arun_gandhi/2010/03/the_evil_of_proselytizing.html%5D
There are many ways to God
Talk to sadhus and saints in temples anywhere in India and once you’ve scrubbed the surface – often of anger against Christianity and Islam for proselytizing – they will state with ease, “There are many ways to God”. This is the essence of the non-intrusive Hindu belief system. Here is “a” way to achieve God – is the message – instead of here is “the only” way (and both Christianity and Islam claim this “the way” to themselves).
Jesus expressed the same thing. I still need to understand Muhammad’s views expressed in the Quran on this though.
The priceless affirmation in the Hindu scripture which says “eko sat vipra bahudi vedanti” (one truth, but discerned differently by the wise) is somewhat similar to one of Jesus’ sayings, “in my Father’s house, there are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare one for you”[4b]. Another of Jesus’ sayings which affirms that: “I and my Father are one”[4c] is similar to the Hindu Mahavakya, “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahman). The “born again” attribute necessary for a Christian’s salvation as required by Jesus is no different from the concept of “dwija” or twice-born in Brahman (often misconstrued as Brahmin)[4d] [See: http://c-alex-alexander.sulekha.com/blog/post/2003/05/proselytization-in-india-an-indian-christian-s-perspective.htm%5D
Expanding on the scope of commonality of all religions needs to be taken as a rather huge exercise on its own in a separate post. For the reader a quick sneak peek into the Hindu mind will be this photo essay on Gobind Sadan. Do note that i have used the term ‘Hindu mind’ even as this link is about a Gurudwara of the Sikh religion which practices universal religious values.
“After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that  all religions are true;  all religions have some error in them;  all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible.” (M. K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words, Paris, UNESCO 1958, p 60.)