The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, February 17, 2003

DIMENSIONS OF CONVERSION

Reproduced by VHP (UK)

The problem of religious conversion has been dogging humanity throughout modem history. Islam and Christianity are the main accused. Conversion has ceased to be a simple, holy, beneficial act of bringing home spiritual knowledge to the ignorant and the lost. The problem has assumed dimensions far beyond the scope the original propagandists assigned for it. Whether the original converters themselves were honest and properly informed is a question which modern studies have answered in the negative. Religious bigotry, narrow-mindedness and an unscientific approach to problems of global dimensions have added to the complex and pathetic fall-outs of the conversion process.

The question of environmental degradation has laid the blame entirely on Western technology and its political tool - Colonialism. The methods adopted by Christian and Muslim proselytisers have alienated people not only from their religion and spirituality but also from nature, soil, country, culture and environment.

Once the spiritual goals of the founding fathers of religions are forgotten, and the whole business becomes a game of numbers, it is only a question of time before politicians,-media persons and business ethos take over.

An ordinary man has more faith in his own experiences than in what he hears from others. One's own experience is a reality, whereas the experience of others is second-hand information. Under the best of circumstances, this experience, out of love and compassion, makes the proselytiser share his spiritual experiences with the less blessed. But in reality it has never been so. The Christian and Muslim converters never took any pains to study the religion, spiritual and moral values and closeness to the nature of the people converted.

These were invaders and not men of Spirit or God in any sense. For them, search for power, money, self-aggrandisement and an unholy enthusiasm to cut every human being to their own size and to bring about a uniformly structured society were the motivations. The desire for external uniformity, mistaken for unity, is the contribution of Cartesian science. A structured approach to understanding of the life-principle. This interpretation of science based on mechanics and its philosophy did not stop with objective science. They travelled far beyond its central theme. Darwin proposed a theory of evolution, legitimising the law of the jungle - survival of the fittest. Newtonian physics paved the way for a model of a mechanically structured universe. Capitalism and its antithesis, Marxism, completed the economic scene. The modern medical system ignorant of the holistic approach on the personal horizon. Industrialisation, colonisation and mechanisation disrupted social life, broke families, personal relations, broke human being into pieces - alcoholism, drug culture, divorce, violence, fraud, corruption, neurosis, restlessness, conflicts and wars completed the scene.

The European culture is fundamentally an extrovert, aggressive, disruptive, conquering and outgoing culture. Such an assembly of people will only formulate a world view which would negate the 'life-principle' and propose a material origin of the universe. "Consciousness is a by-product of this mechanical evolution". Such a world view required a God, a religion, a book and a social engineering, that can be marketed and propagated by a system.

Europeans with their senses turned outward, searched for answers to the problems of existence in the world outside.

Not for them is the ideal.

Paranchi khani vyatrunat swambhu! Tasmat parang pasyati nanraratman Kaschiddhira! pratyagatmanaikshat Aavruttachakshu: amrutatvamichachan

The self-existent Lord destroyed the outgoing senses. Therefore, one sees the outer things and not the inner self. A rare, discriminating man desiring immortality, turns his eyes away and sees the indwelling spirit. - (Katha-V-II,1,1).

The European explorers, blessed by the Papal Bulls, armed with sophisticated weapons, a heart convinced of a world mission, set out to conquer the world. They had with them two maps of the world, one with Jerusalem as the centre of the world and the other with Rome as the epicentre. The farther a land from Jerusalem or Rome was situated the less civilised its people were held to be. The Europeans held a weird and bizarre view of the people, not blessed enough to have received the Europeans version of Christianity. It is not a mere religious or spiritual mission. It is an inseparable part of Europe's permanent psyche.

In an analysis of Europeans psyche at the time of Columbus, the authors of The Blinded Eye - 500 years of Christopher Columbus, say:

"It is the myths that Columbus inherited which provided the real charter that set historic events in motion, not merely in terms of the geographic idea that there was a place out there to get to but also in terms the people one was likely to encounter once one arrived there. Accompanying Columbus was not merely a whole set of icons but also a mental geography that included an anthropology of barbarism. The latter had its origin not in the medieval ages in Europe, but rather in the earlier Judaic tradition and the civilisation of Creek and Rome to which Europeans became heir".

The myth and tradition received by Columbus as his European heirloom were (1) Nature is a cursed adversary eternally hostile to man's efforts at survival, (2) similarly, a hostile attitude was mandated against other Cod's and the sacred notions of other cultures; they were to be seen as adversaries to the true God and destroyed. Intolerance and commands to destroy the sacred items of others were incorporated in Judaic monotheism and was passed on to Christianity as well, (3) the inheritance of the Greek culture considered all non-Greeks as barbarians (babblers) to be vanquished by an ever living Odysseus and (4) the traditions left behind by the Romans as a result of their encounters with "savages" were less flattering as far as "others" were considered.

So much so, poor Columbus, a symbol of European adventurism, was less of an adventurer, and more a symbol of Europe's value system and opinion of others. His mind was set as to how he should deal with the people whom he would meet on the new lands. Then, new people were to be converted to his point of view in all aspects of life. In case the new found man fails to be converted, it would be a religious, moral, political and civic duty of the invader to exterminate the dissenter or to enslave him.

The authors of the line Blinded Eye, record:

"Frederic Turner observes that while the original message of Christianity focused on the divinity that dwells within and that is present in all creation, and of how one ought to live in accordance with this, once this religion had been transformed from a sect into an organised system, the emphasis shifted from the central message to the historical figure of Jesus himself. Thus, Christ would thenceforth, be presented as the son of God who intervened in history purely to show up the world as the contemptible thing it truly was as someone who has assumed flesh only to show that it was possible to live beyond the body and to ruthlessly subordinate its desires to the utterly different needs of the spirit. This transformation is most obvious in the celebrated conversion of St. Paul where the conversion is equated with a kind of on-going self-slaughter. St Paul is referred to by historians as the inventor of Christianity".

The fissure between Nature and religion was accepted. The urgency of converting those living an "unnatural" life was realised. The mechanical tools for reaching the people living outside the periphery of civilisation were found. The blessings of the Papacy for "civilising", converting or exterminating the "others" were obtained.

What would follow could be nothing except Columbus or Da Gama, Cook or Magellan. Slaughtering millions in a bid to civilise the land, and converting of the local people to manufacture "better human beings" in the spiritual "factories" were all that the religious institutions turned out to achieve.

"Did conversion stop at religious or spiritual level?".

"It involves changes in habit, dress, food, marriage customs, family connections, often abode, language and political affiliations as means of getting civilised". But conversion kept the people as second class citizens until the process of Europeansiation was completed.

Such a process of assembly-line-conversion has to be pretty simple. Not for it the self-conversion or self-realisation, patience or chance. It has to be "organised, planned, and centralised". The evangelists had to be trained in large numbers. A central figure, a single book, a mode of communication and a marketing machinery, incentives, progress reports, performance evaluation, advertisement, all have to be designed, built and sent out. The religions best suited for these gigantic marketing operation were Christianity and Islam. They served as the religious parallels, of the expanding State through Christian colonialism and Muslim conquest. The victorious political bosses themselves were in search of some sort of sugar coating. They found perfect allies in the clergy and the mulla.

The aggressive Europeans and the Muslims found the political climate of the world conducive to their multidimensional approach. The introvert Hindu, the unorganised African, the fissured Asian polity, the earthbound Red Indian and the South Americans with a tired civilisation provided vulnerable gun-fodder for the Muslim and the Christian for a whole millennium. The Semitic destroyed, massacred and mauled the weak in the entire globe in the name of God and civilisation and the State commerce. The men of religion were the miners and sappers of the State. The warrior, the evangelist and the trader walked as the triumphant trio. Exploitation of an unprecedented order followed. For a period of one thousand years from Canada to Australia, from Germany to Cape Town, a new ruling class reigned. Europe and West Asia really became the epicentres of the world. The rulers enslaved the "others" politically, swindled them in the economic and commercial spheres, crushed the spirit of the people, drove two-thirds of humanity to despair, poverty, starvation and broke their cultural back-bones - all in the name of God, civilisation and Statecraft.

After an initial phase of direct and blatant enslavement of the conquered people in North America and Africa, the indirect subtle, invisible and nonetheless severe enslavement of the non-Christian and non-Muslims began. "Conversion would keep them (the conquered) as second class citizens. Christianity remained a European cultural product whose evaluation and definition remained in the hands of the master. In reality, the masters perennially deferred the passing out of examinations. As the missionaries were constantly complaining, the new Christians were often acquired by brute force, at the point of the sword; improperly educated in their new faith and its social mores; and there were never enough missionaries any way to attend to the work of evangelisation, not least since the priests who did arrive in the dominions were too busy undertaking the commercial exploitation of the new territories to attend to the harvesting of souls". The Portuguese were loathe to appoint indigenous Christians to positions of search either in India or Africa. (The Blinded Eye).

Ultimately, it is not Christ or Christianity, God or the book, "but my version of it" and "I know what is good for your soul".

Compare this with Swami Vivekananda: "Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest the divinity within by controlling nature internal and external. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines and dogmas, rituals and books, temples and forms are but secondary details". Hindu religion teaches the individual how to harness the innate, natural spiritual energy. The proselytising religions shift the emphasis from the individual to the institution, system, clergy and the book and ritualise all the events of life from the cradle to the grave and enslave man. Conversion was only needed to speed up the process of including the new territory into the unitary framework of Europe and Arabia.

Patronised by the State, funded by the State and the rich, equipped with the intellect of the educated section of the ruling class, the process of conversion spread. Individuals were contacted. The poor were fed, nursed. Education was subsidised. jobs were offered; money changed hands. The juggernaut of the States' propaganda machine moved. Free distribution of Bible copies ran into millions. The East India Company paid scholars in the Oxbridged Universities to carry our research on Vedas so that the Hindus could read the translations and see "how evil and worthless their scriptures were". Cynicism was at its worth. Trickery, deception and fraud on the unsuspecting common people eroded the latters' simple faith. The Gods, customs and traditions of the local faith were ridiculed. Leaders of the community, opinion makers, were neutralised when they could not be bribed or bought. The printing technology, new to the Indian scene was used to produce mountains of copies of extracts from the Bible. The priests paraded themselves as the limbs of the ruling group. The illiterate, the backward and the poor were the first to fall.

As a result, 300 millions of the people of India have been converted to Islam and 45 millions to Christianity and the nation was partitioned on communal lines.

Families were broken up, Temples were pulled down. Weaknesses, poverty and ignorance were exploited all in the name of God.

In Arunachal Pradesh alone, about 10,000 people join the church every year. In north-eastern India, conversions among the Tribals continue. "During the last 30 years the Catholic population increased ninefold to ninety thousand" brags an official church report.

Some of the most frequently cited reasons for religious conversions are, poverty, ignorance and social discrimination. Other minor reasons gleaned from the study and analysis of conversion are (1) inducement by communal-minded politicians who urge criminals to change religion to escape punishment, (2) personal problems such as Hindu law against bigamy - want to marry a second time, change your God!, (3) benefit-oriented conversion, a job, money, a bride or a foreign jaunt, (4) protest against the atrocities committed against a community, (5) desire for social respectability, (6) the individual also reconverts when he finds that the benefits accruing to him as a Hindu are no more available after conversion.

But, in every case, it has found that conversion has not solved any of the problems. Poverty on such gigantic scale cannot be solved by such a naive act as conversion. We find that even after conversion, the pre-conversion caste differences continue to survive. Every evil in the Hindu society outlives religious conversion. The fishermen of the east coast of India continue to live in the same economic and social hell in which St. Xavier would have found them at the time of their conversion. Within the converted group, marriage, dining and other kinds of interactions continue to be on the caste lines. A nader Christian seeks a bride from the nader Christian family, a Brahmin Catholic from a brahmin Catholic and so on. Added to the existing sect differences within Christian and within Islam, these make an extremely complex picture, belying the whole thesis that conversion speeds up properity, social justice and equality. Apart from relieving the itch, that too temporarily, that something should be done to escape poverty and social inequality, conversion contributes very little to change the social scene.

The Constitution of India allows freedom of religious practice. It also prohibits forced conversion, induced conversion and conversion motivated by non-voluntary actions. But all this is only on paper. In practice, the ignorance and gullibility of the poor, the weakness of the law enforcing machinery and at places its total absence have made these laws most ineffective.

It is clear that Western powers want social and Political strife to continue unabated all over the world in order to justify their arms, weapon, warfare budget. They are in a mood to project every nation above a population of 100 millions as a potential enemy in order to sell to their own people a higher arms budget and to treat every nation as a potential business partner in order to capture the market for their tinsel sales. This dichotomy calls for some sort of theorisation, window-dressing and sales talk. The famous Huntingdon document, delineating half a dozen cultural groups of the world as the ultimate actors of the world's political stage, has placed religious conversion in a new perspective. Well organised, religious conversion can be a potential bomb to explode cultural values, disturb political affiliations and torpedo national loyalties. A few major events of religious conversations, strategically spaced, can work wonders! If 300 million Muslim converts can be created in a time-span of 1,000 years, if half a million Englishmen can rule over 300 million Indians for 200 years, the fragile freedom and political independence of Indians and similar cultural groups all over the world can certainly be toyed with.

That is the reason why saints like Swami Vivekananda has condemned religious conversion and have declared it a fraud on humanity. For Swami Vivekananda, the preservation of the nation and its culture are of primary importance. He felt, if India would die culturally, all that is good and spiritual, in the world will die too. After hearing him, the Americans felt that it is futile to send religious preachers to his learned nation (India that produced Swami Vivekananda). He came down heavily upon the conversion process and criticised both the Hindus who allowed and those who perpetrated it, "When a man gets converted, not only does your number go down, the enemy number increases too". he warns us.

Swami Vivekananda called for great compassion and a sense of justice in the nation's treatment of its poor and the fallen and the down-trodden. Untouchability leads to religious conversations, he felt. In the ideal of Vedanta, with the Divine living in the heart of each one of us, distinction and privileges, can not exist, he pointed out. He saw the inevitability of the power of the society and the State moving towards the working class. He saw the danger of the masses being enthroned before getting the proper cultural training. He felt, therefore, the wonderful truths contained in our Upanishads, Puranas and religious books should be brought out and scattered broadcast among the masses.

Mahatma Gandhi felt that a Hindu wishing to benefit from the teachings of Jesus or Mohammed can do so without renouncing his Hindu identity. "It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world's progress towards peace". In a direct reference, he said, " My trouble is that the missionary friends do not bring to their work a purely humanitarian spirit. Their object is to add more numbers to their fold". "They dangle earthly 'paradises in front of weak Harijans and make promises to them which they can never keep". He repudiated Maulana Muhammed Ali's position, " A believing Mussalman, however bad his life, is better than good Hindu". He was afraid, "This proselytisation will mean no peace in the world". "Conversion are harmful to India. If I had power and could legislate I should certainly stop all proselytising". Finally, he says, "If a person through fear, compulsion, starvation, or for material gain or consideration goes over to another faith, it is a misnomer to call it conversion". "Most cases of mass conversions, of which we have heard so much during the past two years, have been to my mind false coin. Real conversion springs from the heart and at the prompting of God, not of a stranger. I would, therefore, unhesitatingly readmit to the Hindu fold all such repentance without ado, certainly without any Shuddhi (ceremony for reconversion). To him, reconversion was rooted in Swadeshi and the Gita. Conversion is unwarranted by religious scriptures and it violates the Swadeshi spirit. A prayerful study of the life and message of Sri Ramakrishna reveals (1) a man should devote all his attention to his own religion first and master all its philosophy and all its techniques, (2) then he is eligible to study and practise all the other religions of the world and (3) there is no necessity to give up one's own religion in order to respect other religions.

As a ultimate truth is one, and paths many, conscious rejection of one path in preference to others will be illogical and not permissible.

Vinoba's attitude was: "I understand my mother-tongue Marathi grammar thoroughly. This helps me to understand all the other languages". He goes beyond linguistics and applies this principle to his religion also. Understand your religion perfectly. You will be able to become a devotee of all the religions of the world.

Swami Vivekananda feels that the unique Hindu concept of Ishta invests a devotee with a capacity to combine theology with spiritual philosophy. An Advaitin can worship Devi, Narayana, Shiva, Kartikeya, Ganesh or Surya as his Ishta. When his philosophy permits him to accept 33 crores of Devas the addition of one or more divine personalities makes no difference to his spiritual practice.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati and the Arya Samaji took a serious view of the conversion of Hindus to Islam or Christianity. The spiritual starvation of these converts moved Dayananda's heart and he designed the process of reconversion, "Shuddhi". Though Gandhiji would find sincere repentance as sufficient qualification for a convert to be readmitted to the Hindu fold, Dayananda earlier recognised the Hindu's love of symbolism and the beauty of rituals and felt the need for a concrete and visible expression of change of heart. Hence, the simple yet touching ritual of "Shuddhi".

Today, conversion has turned to be a bizarre and ridiculous commercial activity. Heads are counted and hearts are neglected. Wild promises are made regarding the economic prosperity of convertees. On the one hand, courts, sociologists and the "beneficiaries" openly admit that conversion has not brought about the expected changes and that social inequalities, victimisation, injustice and vulnerability continue to darken the horizon of the weak that constitutional safeguards and privileges accorded to people within the Hindu fold should be continued to be granted to Christian convertees. On the other hand, conversions continue to thrive as commercial venture in the name of guaranteeing social equality and justice.

The world view on religion and spirituality are fast changing. Science and scientific thinking have posed challenges to many concepts of organised religion. Theology is being pushed to take the back seat. Vedanta in its advaitic form is gaining more and more ground among scientists. And as Swami Vivekananda rightly said, Vedanta is taking its place in the society as the future religion. The potential divinity of each soul, one God with many names and forms, the whole creation being pervaded by one Conscious Being are the concepts of Vedanta which are standing the and analytical thinking in the world today.

The large-scale violence in the Muslim world and the environmental degradation at global level caused by Western have forced people to ask fundamental questions about the moving spirits behind those cultures.

Environmentalists call for a totally new culture with respect for nature and all living beings. Vedanta based on the universality of consciousness alone can provide the theoretical background needed for such a momentous change of heart.

Fanaticism based on revealed and exclusive wisdom is to die. Thousands of years of conversion, domination, imperialism and over-organisation of religion have to give place to a new ideology based on respect for all living things and all human beings.

The papal announcement that the beginning of the third millennia, has to come about with Christian change of heart and approach is not one day early. The call for respect for all religious thought may turn out to be the last cry of SOS. The suggestion that Christians should ask for forgiveness from humanity for two thousand years of acts of commissions and failures should make all the Christian world to sit up and think. In the new context what is the justification for religious conversion? Conversion have to stop. The Vatican paper would call for that only. But will that happen? And with what speed? Even in the well-organised Christian organisation, such new thinking to penetrate from the top to the ground level is going to take some time. At the lowest level, much vested interests and prestige situation have developed. Money and politics have gained ground. Therefore, the Papal call for respect for all religions will suffer in translation into action. Let us pray for its speedy implementation.

In the years that followed India's Independence, the numerical instances of conversion have dropped. But a new kind of colonialism and conversion have continued to exist and colour all Western judgements on India. Mentalities don't change. Modalities do.

Coca Cola and jeans culture have taken the place of the cross and the crescent. Multinationals, that of the East India Company. If one can see behind the facade of forms, the threat continues to lurk - prejudices die hard.

Here is an instance. The census commissioners of the British Kingdom wanted to enumerate the tribals of Madhya Pradesh as "animists" and not Hindus in the earlier stages of census operation 1871~1891. But such a distinction was not possible on the field and no one could draw a line as to where "animism" ended and "Hinduism" started. Ultimately the census commissioners reconciled to the Tribes being classified as Hindus in the census reports.

But the earlier notings in the files survived changes and a British anthropologist working for the Narmada Project for the World Bank marked the tribals of Madhya Pradesh as "animists". A proverbial cat is supposed to have nine lives. The colonial prejudice has ninety.

Hinduism with its universal equality, all-inclusiveness and a living culture to support the principle of Vedanta has a great role to play in bringing happiness and peace to the miserable world.

Advaita fully understood, will not destroy religions. It will only make than more relevant for their adherents. Religions may die on their own and pass on as parts of history, because man changes, values change, human necessities chance. But all the religions of the world will remain preserved in this Holy Land of ours, irrespective of their contemporary relevance, because of their past services to humanity.

Vedanta shall make Christianity, Islam and Socialism more relevant and broad based and help them to live on providing them with a more rational basis.

In the process, India and its society also have to change. Superstition, untouchability and caste difference have to make way for advaitic equality and respect for all men. Great principles of Vedanta have to be brought down, simplified and reduced to practical application and use in day to day life.

If all Indians can learn this message, we can learn a lesson even from the passing phase of such traumatic events as religious conversion.

Vedic Rishis, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have not come on this land to destroy any religion. They have come to ennoble them all.



"When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible". -Jomo Kenyatta. Absurdities in the name of Religion - an example.

In Madhya Pradesh a missionary reached a tribal village and found the gullible tribes worshipping Krishna. He made a statue of Jesus in wood and a statue of Krishna in stone. "Let us subject these Gods to watery tests. Let us see who swims and who sinks". He placed both the statues in a pool of water and showed that Jesus was floating and Krishna sank. The missionary said: "See, Krishna, who could not save himself, cannot save you either" and baptised the tribals. A Hindu wag learnt of the story. He reached the village. "Now we shall subject both Gods to the test of fire" saying so, he set both of them to fire and "proved" that Krishna is greater than Jesus. "Absurd actions beget absurd reactions and make everybody a fool"

Hari Om

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