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, February 13, 2005

Jesuits in Saffron and Sanskrit

Ashok Chowgule
President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maharashtra
Courtesy Gomantak Times, Goa August 5, 2002

Cajetan Coelho’s article “Jesuits in saffron and Sanskrit”, informing the readers of Gomantak Times (July 31, 2002) the various efforts by the missionaries to study Sanskrit and translating the Hindu scriptures into European languages, is quite informative. However, the readers should also know the purpose behind this exercise by the Jesuits, so as to give them a complete picture.

In his article, “The Jordan, the Tiber, the Ganges”, Raimundo Panniker, the Catholic theologian and a former Jesuit priest, says: “The first lesson history makes us aware of is that all our disquisitions are dependent on a temporal factor -that is, on historical circumstances. Were it not for the fact of the political decolonisation of the world, we would not be speaking the way we are today. Dialogue has not sprung out of pure speculation. Praxis conditions theory. Yet it is also wisdom to make a virtue out of necessity.” (The Myth of Christian Uniqueness -Towards a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, John Hick and Paul F Knitter (eds), Orbis Books, New York, 1994, p 96.)

Today’s situation is forcing the Christian churches to modify the language used, as against the harshness of the past. However, the essential philosophy of Christianity has not altered one bit. The Jesuits are expected to believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, and hence the sole mediator between man and God. He is also expected to proclaim the ‘good news’, namely that “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1: 15).” And this message is continually propagated at every available opportunity.

Even the proceedings of Vatican Council II more than amply makes it clear the there is to be no deviation from the exclusivism which is the founding principle of Christianity. Thus, we have: “The reason for missionary activity lies in the will of God, ‘who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:4-5), ‘neither is their salvation in any other’ (Acts 4: 12).

Everyone, therefore, ought to be converted to Christ, who is known through the preaching of the Church, and they ought, by baptism, become incorporated into Him, and into the Church which is His body.” (Vatican Council II, p 722, St Paul’s Publications, Bombay.) Three pages prior to the above, we have: (Cf. John. 20:21): Just as he had been sent by the Father, so he sent the apostles into the world, and (Cf, Mark. 16:15): “Commanding them: Go into the whole world, preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe, shall be condemned. “

It is in line with these pronouncements, that Pope John Paul II, during his visit to India in November 1999, asked for the conversion of the whole of Asia (including India) to Christianity in the third millennium, just as in the first Europe was, and in the second America was.

Given this unchanged exclusivist position, it is clear that the reason for the Jesuit study of Sanskrit and the Hindu scriptures was not enlightenment, but to find out ways to continue with what they believed is their God-given mandate. Flaws had to be found to ridicule the Hindu scriptures, or give perverted messages to the writings of the sages.

Or even project that Christianity as the ultimate form of salvation is what the Hindu scriptures are actually saying. The essential spirit of Hinduism is pluralism as expressed in the sloka “Ekam Sad, Viprah Bahudda Vandanti”. (Rigveda 1.164.46.) What this says is that there is one eternal truth, but that there are many ways to reach it.

Each person has to find his/her own unique path towards salvation. A guru is at best a guide, who helps the person to work out for himself/herself the path to be followed. However, the guru does not take the ultimate responsibility for the success or the failure, since the guru cannot be expected to understand the totality of the situation the person is in.

Furthermore, in the Hindu philosophy, if a person makes a mistake, it does not mean that he/she is eternally damned. The soul gets reincarnated into another body, and thus the search continues. This enables the Hindu to experiment without fear.

Without an acceptance of this concept of pluralism, any study of Sanskrit and/or the Hindu scriptures implies a shallow understanding of the greatness of the oldest surviving civilization. But an acceptance of the pluralism would clearly mean that the Jesuits would be betraying the teachings of the Church. A truly Catch-22 situation indeed.

An attempt to go around this was to pretend to be Hindu sadhus, and so use the attire and symbols that these sadhus were recognized with. De Nobili claimed that the Bible was the fifth Vedas, a document that was lost but recently discovered by the Roman Catholic Church. He said that he was a Brahmin from Rome. He set himself up away from the traditional structure of a Christian church, and in an edifice that sought to look like a Hindu temple.

The fraud could not last long. In his editor’s introduction to Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, (by Abbe Dubois, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 1994, p xxvii), Henry Beauchamp observes: “The chief cause (of Abbe Dubois’ disillusionment with the lack of success of his missionary effort) undoubtedly was the invincible barrier of what we may call nowadays `intellectual Hinduism’, but which the Abbe called `Brahmanical prejudice’. He refers regretfully to the collapse of the Church, with its hundreds of thousands of converts, many of them of high caste, established by the Jesuits Beschi and de Nobili in Madura; but at the same time he made no concealment of the real causes of their failure. ‘The Hindus soon found that those missionaries whom their colour, their talents, and other qualities had induced them to regard as such extraordinary beings, as men coming from another world, were in fact nothing else but disguised `Feringhis’ (Europeans), and that their country, their religion, and original education were the same as those of the evil, the contemptible. Feringhis who had of late invaded their country. This event proved the last blow to the interests of the Christian religion. No more conversions were made. Apostasy became almost general in several quarters, and Christianity became more and more an object of contempt and aversion in proportion as European manners became better known to the Hindus.’’’

The Hindus more than welcome a genuine and sincere study of the Hindu philosophy. However, any attempt to pervert it, or to give a wrong rendering of the historical events, will be resisted not only by the Hindus, but also by all to whom truth is dear.


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