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 25, 2005

Tsunami tests secular dogmas

by Sandhya Jain

Tsunami victims of Samanthapettai near the temple town of Madurai saw the dark side of Christian charity as missionaries stomped out of their village without distributing relief after residents refused their faith-for-food deal (ANI, 16 January 2005).

The 200-odd homeless villagers, coping with hunger, trauma and disease, felt blessed when trucks with food, clothes and medicines moved into the village. But when the nuns insisted that they convert before accepting a minimal diet of biscuits and water, the villagers recoiled with distaste. Hot words were exchanged, but the adamant missionaries beat back local attempts to acquire the relief material and quit with their supplies intact when television crews arrived on the scene by chance.

Unfortunately, the Union Government has taken no cognisance of missionary attempts to prey upon hapless tsunami victims, and reports suggest that missionary groups are getting disproportionate control over distribution of relief supplies. That is why missionaries checkmated in Indonesia are rushing to Chennai.

As is now well-known, the US-based World Help was forced to abandon plans to put 50 Muslim children in a Christian orphanage near Jakarta because the Indonesian Government said: "Muslim children should not be raised in a non-Muslim home." The Council on American-Islamic Relations added: "This confirms some of our worst fears that certain missionary groups would exploit the tragedy and the earthquake to enter into these areas and convert people through use of a disproportionate power relationship. How many incidents of this type are taking place that we don't hear about?" Indonesia has banned foreign adoptions of orphans to allay fears of possible child-smuggling or abuse following the tragedy.

In Aceh, dozens of Western Christian groups have moved in to help and convert victims, triggering enormous tension and impeding relief to nearly six lakh homeless people. The Indonesian Council of Ulemas says using aid to spread religion is wrong, and warns that the "Muslim community will not remain quiet. This is a clear statement and it is serious." But Americans are born-again religious imperialists; evangelist Mark Kosinski insisted: "These people need food but they also need Jesus. God is trying to awaken people and help them realise salvation is in Christ."

World Help has now turned towards India, where (its website announced) "God is overcoming hundreds of years of false religions and idol worship." Such despicable language surely amounts to hate speech under American laws. The United Nations, which avers respect for all faiths, also needs to take cognisance of such abusive practices.

Sadly, World Help is confident that India's votebank-conscious politicians will permit evangelisation under the pretext of religious freedom, as recently witnessed in the facilitation of the Benny Hinn sham show in Bangalore. Its president Rev. Vernon Brewer described the Indonesian orphanage plans as really "no different than what Mother Theresa did by taking Hindu orphan children and placing them in a Roman Catholic children's home in Calcutta, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing that". This is an eloquent comment on the political-cultural underpinnings of the Nobel, and Indian politicians panting for it should accept that getting it involves sacrificing critical national interests.

Western determination to make the world Christian calls for scrutiny of the idea of "secularism". Many Indians lazily swallow Western propaganda that secularism is separation of Church (religion) from State (public realm); that Western nations are superior because they practice this policy; and that secularism is a universal value.

In truth, secularism is only a tactical ceasefire negotiated between warring Christian denominations in blood-stained Europe. The privileges of secularism (State restraint from murder and mayhem against different sects) did cover other faiths entering Christian lands. But the rising anti-Jewish sentiment in France (birthplace of all Western "universal" values) should make us understand the basically intra-Christian nature of this concept. Islam did not produce a truce among Islamic sects, and continues to be plagued by sectarian strife. Islamic tolerance of other creeds is notoriously deficient.

Hindu leaders have mindlessly accepted Western categories of thought and imposed artificial definitions upon society. The Vedic categories of "Vasudev kutumbukum" (the world is one family) and "Ekam sat, vipraha bahuda vadanti" (there is one Truth, wise men call it differently) have been distorted to harm community interests and need a proper explanation.

To begin with, the monotheistic traditions were unknown to India when these pristine thoughts were enunciated. The Vedic seers validated all thoughts, divinities, and sacred symbols revered within the geo-cultural matrix of India, and bound them into the fabled unity and continuity of the Indic tradition.

Does Vedic tolerance bestow spiritual equality to monotheistic faiths? Our ethos does not label any spiritual quest as "false religion" (whatever that means). Yet Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. Accepting Christianity or Islam involves hating our own dharma (as secular intellectuals and politicians do), and shunning the other monotheism, as both demand exclusive adherence! Soon our "tolerant" secularists will be forced to choose between Islam and Christianity, as evangelisers up the ante in the contest for souls (read holy warriors).

Much of the current tension in Indian society is on account of "secular" politicians mollycoddling the two monotheisms and suppressing legitimate Hindu aspirations. While secularism in a Hindu context permits the existence of other faiths, it cannot tolerate negation of Hindu identity and culture. Dharma demands that spiritual paths that refuse to coexist and seek actively to destroy others must be repelled.

Secularists will claim a multi-religious society cannot privilege a particular tradition, but this is the reality all over the world. The German State collects taxes for two major Christian groups (non-Christians are exempt). It also provides religious lessons at school for the two Christian sects.

America is famously non-neutral in matters of religion. The dollar proclaims: "In God we trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance invokes God. In South Carolina, Protestantism is State religion and the election of clergy is part of the State election process. The constitution of Pennsylvania advocates religious work for building human virtues.

In Britain, the Church of England is the official Church and the monarch is its head. To this day, a Catholic or anyone who marries a Catholic cannot claim the throne. In Scotland, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church is the supreme legislative and judicial body. Higher echelons of priesthood automatically become members of the upper house of the British Parliament and thus participate in the legislative process.

In Japan, Buddhism was the state religion from the sixth century until 1934, when a military coup restored the original Shinto as state religion. The 1945 constitution separated religion and state, but Shinto priests continue to preside over all public and private ceremonies. These are all nations that India respects.

Within the country, however, we find that in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, most cash-rich temples are controlled by State Governments. The contributions made by devotees are taken by the State treasury, and the Hindu community is deprived. Not only are donations to churches and mosques untouched, but the contributions of Hindu laity are diverted for upkeep of churches and mosques, and even finance the infamous Haj subsidy! Indian secularism thus discriminates against Hindu dharma and Hindu aspirations. It is high time we liberate ourselves from this false secularism and give due respect to ourselves and our native ethos.


At 5/26/2005 09:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What can you expect from a bunch of wussies!


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