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

Fountainhead of intolerance

By Mac Kher

On September 5, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican body formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition - issued a document reaffirming that the Catholic Church was the only true Christian faith. It said as Christ was the son of God, non-Christians were at a disadvantage regarding salvation.

In one stroke, the Vatican has exposed its chauvinist, intolerant and unreasonable ideology.

The Church has always been unambiguous about its intention of converting non-Christians to its fold. While in India on a recent visit, the Pope talked about reaping a vast 'harvest of faith' in Asia in the third Christian millennium. Various Christian groups resort to medical service and educational businesses as tools to attain the ultimate goal of converting non-Christians.

Hinduism and other Indian religions like Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism have been traditionally tolerant towards Christianity. Hindus believe in the live and let live principle, trusting that all religions lead to the same god. The open and liberal society fostered by Hinduism has actively tried to co-exist peacefully and happily with proselytising religions like Christianity.

But proselytising Christian leaders like the Pope, while talking about freedom of religion and respect for all, aim to destroy Hinduism.

The United States is a democratic, free society where various points of view flourish. But even this pinnacle of freedom and liberty had to wage a deadly fight against the totalitarian ideology of Communism. Had America let Communism grow within it shores thinking that it was just another political philosophy, it would have faced mortal danger from the predatory Communism. Why? Because while using the freedoms of the US, Communism would have worked tirelessly to eliminate other political options, thus changing the very nature of American society!

Clearly, one-sided accommodation does not work.

The really strange thing is that this Christian claim of monopoly on god comes from the West, a society which otherwise celebrates choice and freedom. They enjoy hundreds of brands of soap and drinks, they even revel in various schools of political thought. But when it comes to god, only theirs is the true god! How hypocritical!

Hindus have willingly let Christianity develop and prosper in India. But the proselytising Catholic Church and others want to keep growing at the expense of Hindus. They ask: what do the Hindus have to fear from a minuscule 2.3 per cent community? This argument is a smoke-screen. Today Nagaland (87.5 per cent), Mizoram (85.7 per cent) and Meghalaya (64.6 per cent) are Christian-majority states. Nagaland and Mizoram have witnessed bloody secessionist movements backed by various Churches. Hindu laymen and priests are being murdered and evicted. The state police uncovered links between armed terrorists and various churches. There is a direct link between conversion and secession.

Naturally, the Hindus wonder what the target of Christianity is: 5 per cent? 20 per cent? 65 per cent? Where does the cannibalization of Hinduism stop?

The worst aspect of the proselytisation debate is the Christian stance that it is the only true religion. It comes as an offensive blow to Hinduism that is willing to accept other religions as also valid paths to God. Why should one accept the Pope's claim of being the sole representative of God? Why should everyone be forced to believe that the Bible is divine? Why can't other religions' books be equally or more divine? Why talk of religious freedom and respect for others when you don't accept the validity of other religions in principle? After all, why would someone want to go from an inclusive ideology to a restrictive one?

Proselytising Churches act in an organised way against Hindu groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parsihad, trying to paint them as intolerant and reactionary. Hinduism accepts that there can be other paths to god besides itself. Christianity claims to be the sole path to god, condemns other religions' followers to Hell for not accepting Christ, and actively seeks to destroy other religions. Who is the real intolerant here?

This proselytising Christians' attitude of self-righteousness is the fountainhead of intolerance. While throwing platitudes about love and peace, the Christian proselytisers base their ideology on institutionalised hatred and intolerance. Such retrograde thinking is but one step behind the madness of Talibanism, which also seeks to destroy other religions based on divine sanction.

Obviously, even in this modern age, the Vatican does not want to let go of its superstitions. The Christian proselytisers ridicule deeply held Hindu beliefs as superstitions and depict Hinduism as the work of the Devil. But their insistence on the Bible's divinity and holiness of Jesus can also be regarded with the same cynicism. Instead of thinking about religion in a reasonable, logical and harmonious manner, the Church insists on maintaining its supremacy while denigrating other religions that have equal if not more basis for divine claims. The Vatican's insecurity runs so deep that it dislikes even the mention of other churches as 'sister churches', insisting on being treated as the 'mother' of all churches!

Yet the Pope manages to hold an exalted position in the media. Here is a religious leader who propounds that even other non-Catholic Christian churches have 'defects' because they do not accept him as the sole leader. Here is a leader who openly claims that non-Christians are in a 'gravely deficient situation' regarding salvation. Here is a leader who beatifies an anti-semitic Pope disregarding outraged world opinion. But still he gets positive, glowing coverage without fail, and is treated as the paragon of tolerance and understanding. I shudder to think how the media will tear apart a Hindu leader making such ridiculous claims!

Herein lies a grave lesson for non-proselytising peoples, especially Hindus. The Vatican's attitude makes it clear that one-sided tolerance and accommodation is invariably treated as a lack of conviction and confidence, is mistaken for weakness and is not reciprocated. While Hinduism encourages religious tolerance, the Vatican strives to limit the principle of religious pluralism, unabashedly claiming that the idea of 'one religion is as good as another' endangers the Church's missionary message.

Hindus should treat this as a wakeup call for action. Reform of Hinduism should be accelerated to remove caste-based inequalities and foster brotherhood and respect for all. The proselytising Church must be made to realise that its schizophrenic attitude of talking tolerance while behaving like a predator does not wash anymore.


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