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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Religious Conversion - Is It Anti-National?

Bharatiya Vichara Kendra, Trivandrum

India is passing through a very delicate, dangerous and tricky situation. It has to be handled with subtlety, skill and intelligent planning. Emotional outbursts and violent confrontations are not only unhelpful, but will be even counterproductive. It has to be realised that the forces which are ranged against us are adept in the art of manipulation and have international roots and resources.

It is no secret that all the world churches- most important of them being the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church -- have a common agenda which they call "Evangelisation 2000 and Beyond". The nature of the agenda has been officially stated in the following words.

"At this Juncture, when we are at the close of the second millennium, many . futurologists, both secular well as religious, are looking into the near future and making plans for a better world. In both Catholic and Protestant Churches, many plans are already launched in view of year 2000. Already in 1970, Christian literature was published in view of this future event. The last decade of the second millennium is announced as the Decade of Evangelization and is known by different names in over
50 languages. For example, 'Decade of Evangelism', Decade of Harvest", Decade of decision", ' Universal Decade of Evangelization", 'Decade of world Evangelization", 'Decade of '.'World Mission", 'Evangelization 2000' and so forth. Some eighty global plans and another 500 national plans have been announced with AD2000 as their target date. The goal and objectives of the Christian groups vary. The Catholic charismatic office in Rome declared it as, "to give Jesus Christ the two thousand birthday gift of a world more Christian or "to give Jesus a 2000th birthday present of a billion new believers". The Protestant radio plan entitled "The World by 2000" aims to provide every man, woman and child on earth the opportunity by the year 2000 to turn on their radio and hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in a language they can understand. The Catholic counterpart, 'Lumen 2000' aims "to preach the gospel of Jesus to
the uttermost parts of the earth, spreading the love of Jesus around the globe"[page 372-73 Integral Mission Dynamics- An interdisciplinary Study of Catholic Churches in India edited by Augustine Kanjamala (Secretary to the C.B.C.L commission for proclamation and social communication)].

It is thus clear that an additional 100 crores of new converts before 2000AD is the target fixed by the Roman Catholic Church. Another point, which emerges from these statements, is that the additional numbers of -converts have to be recruited from the two continents of Africa and Asia. This too has been explicitly stated by the highest authority, Pope John Paul II himself. He says, " There is nothing strange then that the African and Asian animists would become believers in Christ more easily"(page 82, Crossing The Threshold of Hope). Concerted efforts in this direction have been going on. Reinherd Bonnke, the leading evangelist has stated that during his evangelization in the last twenty years, the percentage of the Christian population has increased from 2 to 40 in America. During his missionary tour of India, he frankly stated that now India is on the top of "God's Agenda". The Pope also has put it on record; " my thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Arnong these lands, India has a special place. A great spiritual impulse leads Indian thought to seek an experience, which would liberate the spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquire absolute value. In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians now to draw from this rich heritage".Thus it is clear that India is the number one target. But that is not all. Even in India, the prime targets are the innocent and illiterate tribal population. To achieve this objective, the first step is to declare that the tribals are not Hindus, but are much more closely affiliated to the Christian faith. "At this point it would be helpful to recall all the primitive religions, the animistic religion which stress ancestor worship. It seems that those who practice
them are particularly close to Christianity, and among them, the church's missionaries also find it easier to speak common language. In this veneration of ancestors there is a kind preparation for the Christian faith, which is ultimately faith in Christ who alone is the source of life and holiness for all". (Pa 36 82. crossing the Threshold of Hope).

Sometimes it is stated that the tribals are neither Hindus nor Christians, but the Christians have a better claim to convert them into their fold. Repeated and forceful propaganda to this effect has been going on with the powerful backing of Westernised intellectuals in India with the result that this idea has many takers in India and abroad. Indigenous peoples movement" organised by the World Council of Churches has
also been propagating this idea that tribals are not Hindus, despite the fact that they have been worshipping Hanuman, Ganesh and other deities belonging to the Hindu pantheon.

It is this active interest among the tribals. by the Christian missionaries resulting in massive conversions, by using force, fraud and allurement that has created social tension and even physical conflict in the widespread tribal belts of India. The recent disturbances in Gujarat is directly due to this. In a highly documented publication by the Protestant church, "Operation Wor/d' 1993) this fact has been brought to light. It states that '' in the southern part of Gujarat, predominantly
tribals, we have been planting one church every week and thus have increased the Christian percentage there substantially"(page no 281 Operation World). Regarding Orissa, it is stated, "the tribal peoples of Orissa are the most responsive to the gospel. Among them, a significant number are Christians. There is a large movement towards Christ. There is an exciting development of mission, vision among these believers". (Page 27,Operation World).

The North-Eastern region of India has been another special target. Regarding Mizoram they write, "No nation on earth has sent a higher proportion of their people as missionaries. There may be nearly One thousand Mizo Missionaries serving in other parts of India and beyond". In Nagaland. "Christians made a solemn covenant in 198Q to live for world evangelisation. They are trusting God that 10,000 missionaries will be sent from Nagaland. (page286-7, Operation World). Mizoram and Nagaland, where
evangelisation is the highest are also areas of anti-national, subversive and militant terrorist activities against India and Indians.

That the church expects a very rich harvest from the southern hemisphere- Africa, Asia etc - has been again emphasised, along with underlining the fact that the north is losing out heavily in the race for Christianity. In 1974, Walbert Buhlmann convincingly demonstrated how the centre of world Christianity was shifting from the Atlantic region towards the pacific region. At the beginning of the century, 85 percent of the Christians and 77percent of Catholic population were living in Northern hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere had only 15 percent of Christian
population and 23 percent of the Catholic population. By the year 1960, the Catholic population had shrunk to 52 percent in the North and grown to 48 percent in the South. Twenty years later, the population of the Catholics in the Northern hemisphere was 42 percent and in the year 2000, 50 percent of Christian population will be in the South, and the remaining 40 percent in the North. Buhlmann's conclusion was that the First Church (Oriental Church) dominated the first millennium. The third Church ( a new church in the Southern hemisphere) will most probably dominate the Church in the third millennium (W.Buhlmann, 1976 : 86-87,129-60). The Indian church will hopefully play a key role in the process.

Evangelisation is not a new phenomenon in history. The Pope himself refers to earlier waves of evangelisation in his book, "Faith and Reason". A great new wave of evangelisation began at the end of the 15th century originating above all in Spain and Portugal... with the discovery of America the evangelisation of that entire hemisphere, from North to South , was set in motion.... The Sixteenth Century is also the century of St. Francis Xavier, whose missionary achievements was directed towards
the East, India and Japan in particular. He was enormously effective there, despite the strong resistance he encountered from cultures which those people had developed over thousands of years", (page no 109-10 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope).

This wave of evangelisation of which the Pope speaks with such great admiration was in fact an event full of conflict intolerance, tension and destruction. This was the period of the notorious Goan Inquisition. According to the Jesuit historian Father Francis de Souza the goal of the inquisition in India was to destroy Hinduism and also to persecute the. Indian Jews who had lived peaceably for many centuries. Large numbers of Hindus had to flee Goa to escape conversion. It also gave rise to
widespread disharmony between the earlier indigenous Christians and the new converts owing allegiance to Rome. It has not been healed. The Pope refers to the great work of St. Francis Xavier with unmixed admiration. I shall quote what Xavier himself had said about his mission. "I must tell you how in a kingdom out here (Travancore) which I traversed. God moved many persons to become Christians. It was so, that in a
single month I baptized more than 10,000 men, women and children......and then Ibaptized them giving to each his Portuguese name in writing (in Tamil). It was next the turn of women and girls, and these I instructed and baptized in the self-same way. The baptisms over, I told the new Christians to demolish the shrines of the idols, and saw to it that they crushed the images into dust. I could not express to you the consolation it gave me to watch the idols being destroyed by the hands of those who so recently used to worship them. I thus went from village to village making Christians". ( page no 104-5 Sl Francis Xavier and his Shrine by P. Rayanna).Such wanton acts of' barbarity are described by the. Pope as t4 holy stubbornness".

During the same period (second evangelisation) let us see what happened in America. Within about 40 years, more than 12 million native Americans, men and women who were the original inhabitants of America were slain and the great American-indian civilization was destroyed. This was the 'laudable contribution' of Christianity to the indigenous people.

The Pope also refers to an earlier wave of evangelisation in which Christianity encountered the Greek civilization. In that encounter also the result was that the great Greek civilization, which once gave the world a golden age, suffered enormously and it never recovered from the disaster. Once Greece was Christianized she rejected her ancestral traditions and in the process vanished from the face of the earth, as a living and vibrant civilization. Now the Pope is speaking about a new evangelisation that is sweeping across our very eyes. He says, "the mission of evangelisation is an essential part of the Church. The Church by her very nature is missionary. There exist today the clear need for a new evangelisation. There is a need for a proclamation of the gospel and Christ as the truth, the way and the goal. As the year 2000 approaches, our world feels an urgent need of the gospel". (Page no 114-117, crossing the Threshold of Hope). It is going to be more destructive and deva stating than the earlier ones considering the fact that the world has become much smaller, means of communication, hold over the media, and economic clout of the evangelists have assumed unprecedented proportions. Now you have the power to terrorise and victimise others and yet passon as venerable martyrs. The tragedy of it all is that the victims are the tribal population now, as it was the poor fishermen at time of
Francis Xavier.

Sometimes an apparently legitimate doubt is expressed. After all the Christians in India are a miniscule minority of 2.6 percentage. What can they do against a vast majority? This question was put to the pope in another context. His reply was, " do not be afraid, little flock, for your father is pleased to give you the Kingdom (L.K. 12:32)". "He spoke clearly. He spoke of the persecutions that awaited those who would
believe in Him." (Page no 103 Crossing The Threshold of Hope). So the world already belongs to the Church. That is why in the fifteenth century the then Pope divided the whole world into two parts and handed over Spain and Portugal for conversion.

The mindset has not changed. Heathens are either to be converted, or be sent to hell. The church wields enormous clout, beyond the wildest possible imagination. Father Kanjamala writes: - (t The influence of the mission and the Church in India far exceeds the numerical strength. The Church does need institutions to make her services effective and efficient. Institutions can be compared to the body through which the vision and the spirit is lived, transmitted and manifested. The spiritual influence of the men and women behind these institutions are more important
than the institutions in themselves.

Evangelisation 2000 is not an isolated phenomenon. It comes in wake of two other movements, globalization and Westernisation (which is another name for Amcricanization). Politically and administratively India had already been anglicised by the time she became independent in 1947. Ignoring the wise counsel of Gandhiji we adopted the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy .

Globalization is bringing about calculated destruction of the Indian economy by imposing neo- colonialism. Westernization / Americanization has culturally enslaved our mind and life. The more educated we become, the more westernized our thinking . Evangelisation seeks to deprive us of our very soul, our Swadharma. All this together constitute a single, three-pronged onslaught on our national sovereignty - economic .
cultural and religious. Evangelisation is in fact homogenisation. It seeks to impose "one God , one Prophet and one Book* over all mankind. It will destroy cultural pluralism and religious diversity. Westernised intellectuals cry hoarse that Hinduisation will suppress cultural diversity.

Hinduism will never do that. It has always encouraged plurality of forms of worship. It is the evangelising faiths that threaten the rich and colorful. diversity and impose a monolithic way of life over all peoples. There is unmistakable evidence to show that a great conspiracy is at work against India. An axis of the Vatican and Washington is operating. Their interests coincide. America has never reconciled to India becoming a nuclear power. Sanctions have not worked. America wants to bring
India to the knees. The Vatican is out to evangelise India. A central government sympathetic to Hindutva is anathema to Rome. So it wants to denigrate, defame and pull down the pro-Hindu government at the centre at any cost. It is openly stated in Operation World that it is the God given duty of Christians to pull down a government opposed to Christianity. "We live in an increasingly stormy and uncertain world. We are not flotsam blown hither and thither by these storms, but are raised with Christ and seated with him in heavenly places. We are world changers in him. We can take authority in his name over spiritual and secular leaders of the world - to support the righteous, to challenge self- seeking sinners and bind or remove those who defy our God or persecutethe body of Christ", (page no 30 Operation World).

A Vatican - Washington axis is not something new. It had been there even before. As the Pope’s biographers have pointed out, “in the end it was Pope John Paul II who held the key to destroying the Soviet Empire. Startling Politburo minutes obtained by Bernstein show the Kremlin elders struggling in vain to overcome his alarming power and influence in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile in Washington, Ronald Reagan secretly made the Vatican and John Paul II his principle ally and covertly dispatched CIA
Director William Casey to meet regularly with the Pope. John Paul II became the inspiration and protector of Solidarity in Poland - a non-Communist workers' movement in the heart of the communist world- and came to influence his time much as Churchill and Roosevelt did theirs. With Reagan, he fashioned a Holy alliance against the Communists that kept Solidarity alive underground after Moscow seemed to succeed in crushing it". (His Holiness, John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time).

Then it was Pope and Reagan. Now it is Pope and Clinton. Then it was Walesa in Poland, now it is Sonia Gandhi in India. In Poland they wanted to bring down communism. In India they want to bring down Hindutva. Sonia Gandhi’s Tirupati visit without fulfilling the usual formalities is a calculated move to facilitate the process of evangelisation by de-sensitising the Hindu mind to the customary do's and don'ts of ritualistic Hinduism. Every religion insists upon such regulations and restraints for the benefit of its followers. They are not hindrances but aids in the path of progress. Hindutva no doubt is a liberal way of life and not a religion, but Hinduism is a religion. It cannot be scornfully tampered with. Even if reforms are needed in Hinduism the way to do that is by religious leaders giving the lead in preparing the social mind. That has been the Hindu way ' of evolutionary reformation . When politicians jump into the fray and force changes by indulging in one-upmanship
and blackmail, the faith of the people will be the casualty. Once the Hindu faith is shaken evangelisation is nearly half done.

During his tour of the affected areas in Gujarath , the Pnme Minister suggested that there be a nation-wide debate on 'Conversion'. The ecclesiastical heads welcomed it. Most of the political leaders pooh poohed it as diversionary tactics. Some others were of the opinion that the time is not opportune for a debate on the issue. since the atmosphere is tense and vitiated and hence not congenial for a calm and dispassionate exchange of ideas.

Those who questioned the very motive of the Prime Minister as diversionary are evidently those who have a vested interest and want to fish in the troubled waters of communal disharmony. The suggestion that debate should wait for a better occasion misses the point that a time-bound evangalisation programme is at the root of all troubles and hence this is the real time for a debate. Delay would mean further deterioration of inter communal harmony. As the religious heads suggested, let the ball be set in motion; let a meeting of the minds be started. Let it be an ongoing process, because that is the only civilized way of resolving differences. As-the traditional wisdom says -"Understanding is reached through debate and discussion”.


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