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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hinduism: The Global Dharma for the new Millenium

January 26, 2005, 1:05 pm

by Parama Karuna Devi

Hinduism is destined to be the Global Dharma for the new Millennium. Why?
Because it is open, tolerant, incredibly deep in meaning and knowledge and capable of reconciling all theoretical differences. It offers a personalized access and progressive programmes to each individual, favoring cultural diversity. It addresses each degree of personal development and field of interest, and at the same time it presents a complete, consistent and logical wider picture. Its corpus of knowledge is immense, if compared to the tiny volumes of sacred scriptures of other religions. Both as original scriptures and as commentaries and exegesis, the sacred library of Hindus can easily outweigh any other tradition. And the complexity, completeness and depth of its philosophy and theology are unsurpassable.

Hinduism is the most suitable religion for today's world because it teaches a healthy wholistic approach to life, sustainable development, respect for women and children, respect for animals and nature, and true social cooperation.
Furthermore, it can explain all the most mysterious phenomena of reality, usually dismissed as "not knowable" by Semitic religions or even still puzzling modern sciences.

Its modernity and the scientific value of its scriptures have been recognized with awe and admiration by the greatest scientists and researchers of this contemporary age and have made it extremely popular among the intellectual elites of Western countries.

Why then, Hinduism is so underestimated in India?
Because in India knowledge has not been made sufficiently accessible and presented with self confidence and seriousness. Indians do not take Hinduism seriously enough.

For the last 200 years the best families of India, the very intelligentsia of Indian finance, culture and public administration have sent their children to Christian Mission schools to get a good academic education, with the sad result of creating a deeply rooted inferiority complex and a strong negative attitude towards Hinduism in the best brains of society, generation after generation.
Values and attitudes absorbed in the very early years of the character formation of a child, from those people one is expected to respect as teachers (gurus) and educators, do not disappear later in life even if they are impossible to reconcile with one's own family tradition and values.

The teachings one receives in the family are certainly more limited in quantity, concentration and power than the teachings one receives at school, also because of the natural desire of emulation and competition among school mates.
In a family mothers are usually less educated in philosophy and theology, fathers are too busy with their occupational duties, and generally Hindu traditions are absorbed by children only through ceremonies that remain unexplained philosophically and theologically: it becomes reduced to simple folklore.

Since these journalists, writers and scientists, government officers and professors, being educated in Christian schools, heavily influence society with their negative opinions and attitudes, it is inevitable that the general atmosphere continues to feed a sense of inferiority among Hindus.

In the last century, due to the efforts of qualified, sincere and selfless preachers, Vedic knowledge and Hinduism have become very famous all over the world and especially in developed countries like Europe, north America and Australia, where the number of people sincerely studying and practicing the principles of Sanatana Dharma in its various paths has grown immensely.
However Sanatana Dharma, generally called Hinduism, has been facing serious problems in its homeland, India, and such problems must be addressed and solved for the benefit of the entire planet. Terrorist attacks against temples and pilgrims, public defamation of Vedic knowledge and traditions, and desecration of Hindu temples and images are now very frequent occurrences in India, although they are rarely reported by the media. Generally, no action is taken to protect the Hindus or to punish their persecutors, as the government is afraid of the vocal protests of Christian and Muslim fundamentalists and the so-called "secularists" who directly or indirectly support them against Hinduism.

These Christian and Muslim fundamentalists claim a "freedom of religion" based on the vilification and destruction of Hinduism on the pretext of a supposed superiority of their own Semitic faith (considered "the only true religion") and their "duty to convert" people from other religions, whom they disparagingly call "pagans", "heathens" or "infidels". We have practically seen that any system is considered acceptable in their conversion campaigns, including unethical methods such as aggression and violence, blackmailing, bribing, defamation by spreading falsities, plain fraud, false promises, political pressure and lobbying, passing of laws that prohibit people to practice other religions etc.

Their claim for freedom of religion and the right to conduct conversion campaigns is basically aimed at trying to demonstrate to innocent people that Hinduism is "wrong" - a bunch of superstitions and backward practices they often ridicule and label as "idolatry" and "witchcraft". Their "holy war" against such "enemies of the only true God" is clearly stated: "You shall not tolerate a witch to live".

On the other hand, Hindus very rarely react to defamation and aggression against Hinduism, out of a mistaken sense of tolerance and sometimes due to a conscious or subconscious feeling of cultural inferiority. Many Hindus feel they should not oppose the exclusivist claims of Christianity or Islam, for fear of being branded "Hindu fundamentalists". This fear is unfounded. It is unjustified like the fear of a honest person who is afraid to be considered a "honesty fundamentalist" if he stands on his principles by refusing to steal, bribe, cheat or tell lies. Strict adherence to one's principles is not a bad thing, provided the principles are not contrary to ethics.

This is the crux of the problem.

Misinformed people not make any distinctions between ethical and unethical principles in religious behavior, considering all kinds of behaviors as acceptable if labeled as "religious". However, conscience and good discrimination (tattva-viveka) clearly tell us that such an attitude is extremely dangerous and destructive.

This is why the unethical and illegal activities committed in the name of religious fundamentalism are condemned in civilized countries: not because it is a bad thing to strictly follow one's own good principles, but because that particular brand of fundamentalism does not allow ethics, intelligence and discrimination, common sense, fairness, equity, compassion and truthfulness to interfere with what they consider the application of their "religious principles" of indisputable domination over everything and everyone else. These people believe that religion is about deceit, corruption and ruthlessness, material power, greed, entitlement, Empire building and world conquest. They are strongly convinced that higher philosophical and ethical concepts and ideals are not supported or operational in daily lives and are therefore irrelevant.

George Grant, Executive Director of the Coral Ridge Ministries in the US, expresses such beliefs in his book "The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action": "Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ, to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness. But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less... Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land - of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts and governments, for the Kingdom of Christ." (p. 50-51)
Christian coalition field director Bill Thompson echoes this attitude in speaking about opposition in the United States: "We are going to run over them. Get around them, run over the top of them, destroy them - whatever you need to do, so that God's word is the word that is being practiced in Congress, townhalls, and State legislatures. That's your job."

Not all Christians agree with this ideological position, but moderate Christians are largely unable to neutralize this irreligion going on in the name of Christianity. These fanatics take power by their determination and aggressiveness, by manipulating and exploiting the good sentiments of more lukewarm Christians who supply funds and votes in elections. They also very vocally claim freedom of religion for themselves and their organizations all over the world, although their freedom of religion is explicitly aimed at denying freedom and validity to all other religions and erasing them forever by any means.

Something is wrong with such a perception of religion: it is based on ignorance. Vedic scriptures explain that the influence of ignorance makes people mistake religion for irreligion, and irreligion for religion. Therefore we need to destroy misunderstandings, ignorance and prejudice, and allow truth to become established by its own merits by sufficient information and philosophical discussion.

Christian and Muslim propaganda in these past centuries has created the idea that Hinduism or Vedic knowledge is inferior to Christianity and Islam by definition. Thus Hindus have been made to feel they have no right to defend their own religious tradition, thinking it is not worthy. Furthermore, both Christians and Muslims resort to the accusation of "blasphemy" whenever their ideas or behaviors are reasonably questioned.

Our purpose is to establish the real facts by supplying substantial information about history, theology, philosophy, ethics, and all round solid evidence about the superiority of Vedic knowledge and religion over Semitic or Abrahamic religions (which include both Christianity and Islam). This will be done by illustrating the merits of Hinduism and the demerits of Semitic religions from different angles in the following chapters.

We also need to make a distinction between the original genuine teachings of Jesus and the institutionalized and politicized form of Christianity that fell back into the same precise mistakes and misbehaviors that Jesus was trying to correct. For this purpose we have added a section with a brief history of Semitic religions in the west and the changes in Christian philosophy and theology from the first disciples of Jesus to the present day Churches of different denominations.

It is important to acknowledge the existence, among those who consider themselves Christians, of good and sincere people who honestly try to improve their own character and life by developing love for their fellow human beings and for God as the creator of everything and everybody. Many of these people believe their duty is to help others out of selfless charity, and they painstakingly work to make a world a better place.

However, good intentions alone are not sufficient, without the proper knowledge.
It is useless to discuss with people who are not in good faith, but we have the duty to communicate and if possible cooperate with people who work in good faith by pointing out mistakes and misconceptions and offering good suggestions, for their own good and for the benefit of the general society. So in the course of this work we will point out many of the defects of the official policies and theology of the Christian Churches as the institutionalized and politicized form of Christianity as a Semitic or Abrahamic religion.

We, as Hindus and followers of Sanatana Dharma, don't want to persecute anyone. We simply want to help everyone by fighting ignorance and dangerous misconceptions.

The big difference between Hinduism and the institutionalized Semitic faiths is that Hinduism has always been very tolerant and open to accepting and including all genuine spiritual paths. Even when faced with dubious spiritual paths, Hinduism always tried to reconcile these forms of religion with the general principles of religion by considering them different paths to reach the same goal and offering a greater picture where all contradictions could be solved in a positive way. We must continue to be tolerant and open-minded, and accept that all paths ultimately lead to God.

However, we must make a distinction between the imperfect philosophical conclusions of uneducated people and the deliberate ill motivations of political manipulators. Many people who unwittingly follow faulty conclusions and bad leaders are actually sincere and motivated by the desire to live a righteous life and help others.

Hindus must continue to adhere to truthfulness, compassion and respect for others and foster cooperation and harmony among all, because this is Dharma, the law of the good functioning of the universe. At the same time we all need to clarify truth and establish justice, protecting good people and neutralizing evil doers.

Now, the genuine principles of religion are truthfulness, compassion, cleanliness and self discipline. Whoever follows these principles in precept and example is a religious or good, person, while whoever follows the opposite of these principles in precept and or example is an irreligious or bad person.
Nobody can claim to be a religious person, no group can claim to be a religious group, if their teachings and behavior are based on deceit and lies, hypocrisy, double standards, manipulation or destruction of truth for selfish purposes, cruelty, aggression, violence, uncleanliness and lack of discrimination for self discipline.

At the same time we need to be very careful about our own behavior, correct our own mistakes and purify our own consciousness, to put ourselves beyond all criticism. It is not good to allow indignation and anger, even against evil doers, to obscure our compassion and balance, and to create unnecessary sufferings to innocent people.

We cannot allow provocation to drag us away from the strict adherence to Dharma. However, we have the precise duty to carry out public philosophical debates to shed light over the defects and dangers of false Dharma, or Adharma, irreligion, in order to re-establish the proper religious principles in society.

It is not our intention to incite to hatred, persecution or violence against Christians or Muslims or any other group. We want to help the people who follow Semitic religions to improve their own understanding of spirituality and religion, and become better people and better spiritualists. Although, obviously, such a choice depends on them.

It does not advocate the banning or oppression of other religious groups or communities. Hinduism is based on openness and respect for all genuine spiritual paths and is ready to include them into the general vision of Sanatana Dharma.

Our work is meant to dissipate the false myths about the superiority of Christianity. It is aimed at creating dignity and self-esteem that is still largely absent in Hindus, to support trust and faith in Vedic knowledge, and to heal an inferiority complex that has been created during the very long period of political and cultural colonization in India first by the Muslims and then by the Christians.

India has been a free and independent country for more than 50 years now. Still, the bad effects of colonialism are being felt, and because they are not addressed properly they take pernicious directions, being channeled into xenophobia, narrow mindedness, a backward attitude in regard to progress and cultivation of general knowledge, and even hooliganism and communal clashes. All these factors aggravate the problem and present a distorted image of Hindus and Hinduism to the public opinion in the world. Hinduism needs a genuine Renaissance, a spiritual revolution that can bring it back to the glory of the Vedic times, when scholars of the entire world came to study in Hindu universities and learn philosophy, theology, ethics, medicine, architecture, metallurgy, chemistry, physics, astronomy and mathematics and all other sciences.

How to do that? We need action at a grassroot level. It cannot come from the government or the politicians, although they can surely help if they want to. We need to rally together and cooperate practically and actively, sacrificing our time, our energies, our money. We should not hesitate or let ourselves be discouraged by difficulties and differences.

Let us concentrate on our common goals and on the immediate danger that faces us all. Unity is the greatest power, and the greatest need in the hour of emergency.

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