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.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Church against forced conversion: CBCI

Author: PTI
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 6, 2004

[Note from Hindu Vivek Kendra: Pehpas the church may wish to define what it means by forced conversions. An article by Swami Dayanand Saraswati is enclosed herewith.]

Catholic Bishop's Conference of India's (CBCI) President Mar Cyril Baselios today said that the church was totally against any kind of forced conversion.

Baselios, who is also the Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara church, said the Catholic church did not encourage forced conversion at all.

He was addressing a press conference convened to explain the details of the 26th biennial general body meeting of the CBCI scheduled to commence at nearby Mulayam Marymatha Seminary tomorrow.

He, however, said that the "conversion to God" could not be objected by anybody as it depended on the individual religious freedom and conscience.

The "conversion to God" would be continued for the improvement of humanity and social development, he said.

He said certain groups in the Christianity were blindly objecting to any kind of progressive activities by the Church.

Replying to a query on the reported refusal by the clergy to allow burial of a AIDs patients body in the church cemetery in Ernakulam district recently, he said that no discrimination after death could be tolerated.

The church was totally against any kind of discrimination after the death of the faithful, he said.

The 26th conference would be attended by 200 delegates, including 149 Heads of Dioceses in the country, apart from three Cardinals and 26 Archibishops.

Open Letter to Pope John Paul II

Conversion Is Violence

Pujya Sri Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Your Holiness,

On behalf of many Hindus whom I know personally, I welcome your visit to India. This is a country with an ancient civilization and unique religious culture which accommodates many religious traditions that have come to this country throughout the centuries.

Being the head of the Vatican State and also the Catholic Church with a great following all over the world, you enjoy a highly venerable position and can play a significant role in defusing religious conflicts and preserving the world's rich cultures. You have in your Apostolic Letter tertio millennio adveniente, 38 (November 10, 1994) voiced your intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia. After seeing the report of the Pre-Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for Asia appointed by you, I want to bring to your kind notice the concerns of many Hindus in this country about religious conversion. In the Second Vatican Council, the status accorded to the world religions was that of a means of preparing them for Christ. We all understand that the Catholic religion does not accommodate other religions, except in this context. But I am appealing to you here to accept that every person has the freedom to pursue his or her own religion.

In the recent past, you mentioned that reason should be respected. On the basis of reason, no non-verifiable belief is going to fare any better than any other non-verifiable belief. Therefore, according to reason, there is no basis for conversion in the matters of faith.

Apart from reason, there is another important issue which I request you to consider. Among the world's religious traditions, there are those that convert and those that do not. The non-converting religious traditions, like the Hindu, Jewish and Zoroastrian, give others the freedom to practice their religion whether they agree with the others' tenets or not. They do not wish to convert. I would characterize them as non-aggressive. Religions that are committed by their theologies to convert, on the other hand, are necessarily aggressive, since conversion implies a conscious intrusion into the religious life of a person, in fact, into the religious person.

This is a very deep intrusion, as the religious person is the deepest, the most basic in any individual. When that person is disturbed, a hurt is sustained which is very deep. The religious person is violated. The depth of this hurt is attested by the fact that when a religious sentiment is violated, it can produce a martyr. People connected to a converted person are deeply hurt. Even the converted person will suffer some hurt underneath. He must necessarily wonder if he has done the right thing and, further, he or she has to face an inner alienation from his community, a community to which he has belonged for generations, and thus an alienation from his ancestors. I don't think that this hurt can ever be fully healed. Religious conversion destroys centuries-old communities and incites communal violence. It is violence and it breeds violence. Thus, for any humane person, every religious sentiment has to be respected, whether it is a Muslim sentiment or a Christian sentiment, Hindu or Jewish sentiment.

Further, in many religious traditions, including the Hindu tradition, religion is woven into the fabric of the culture. So, destruction of a religion amounts to the destruction of a religious culture. Today, for instance, the ancient Greek culture is no longer living; there are only empty monuments. The Mayan, Roman and many other rich cultures are all lost forever and humanity is impoverished for it. Let us at least allow humanity to enjoy the riches of its remaining mosaic of cultures. Each one has some beauty, something to contribute to the enrichment of humanity.

In any tradition, it is wrong to strike someone who is unarmed. In the Hindu tradition, this is considered a heinous act, for which the punishment is severe. A Buddhist, a Hindu, a Jew, are all unarmed, in that they do not convert. You cannot ask them to change the genius of their traditions and begin to convert in order to combat conversion. Because it is a tradition of these religions and cultures not to convert, attempts to convert them is one-sided aggression. It is striking the unarmed. I respect the freedom of a Christian or a Muslim or Jew to practice his or her faith. I do not accept many of their beliefs, but I want them to have the freedom to follow their religion.

You cannot ask me to respond to conversion by converting others to my religion because it is not part of my tradition. We don't believe in conversion. Thus, conversion is not merely violence against people; it is violence against people who are committed to non-violence.

I am hurt by religious conversion and many others like me are hurt. Millions are hurt. There are many issues to be discussed regarding conversion, but I want to draw your attention to only the central issue here which is this one-sided violence. Religious conversion is violence and it breeds violence. In converting, you are also converting the non-violent to violence.

Any protest against religious conversion is always branded as persecution, because it is maintained that people are not allowed to practice their religion, that their religious freedom is curbed. The truth is entirely different. The other person also has the freedom to practice his or her religion without interference. That is his/her birthright. Religious freedom does not extend to having a planned program of conversion. Such a program is to be construed as aggression against the religious freedom of others.

During the years of your papal office, you have brought about certain changes in the attitude and outlook of the church. On behalf of the non-aggressive religions of the world, the Hindu, the Parsi, the Jewish and other native religions of different countries, I request you to put a freeze on conversion and create a condition in which all religious cultures can live and let live.


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