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, May 01, 2007

A Christian focus on India

This half-yearly cultural magazine of Vivekananada Kendra Prakashan Trust is the official organ of the Kendra—an all-India service mission with ‘service to humanity’ as its motto. The proceeds from the sales of its publications are used towards fulfilling the Kendra’s charitable objectives.

The first part of this journal deals essentially with Christianity’s origins and historical development—both in the West and in Asia. In an article by a Belgian scholar named Koenraad Elst, it is said that Christianity, which claims to be a divinely revealed religion, actually borrowed many of its constituent elements from older ‘pagan’ religions and traditions, including those of India. Just as it is now widely accepted that the Old Testament has borrowed some of its core imagery and defining beliefs from Hellenistic- cosmopolitan culture and from the Indic teachings which had gained a certain popularity in the eastern Mediterranean region. This implies that Christianity, rather than being a direct gift from God was a human construct, just as it believes all other religions are. Koenraad tries to prove that the Christian doctrine of salvation had “borrowed its essential features from Upanishadic-Buddhist notions of liberation transformed into a devotional-theistic sense and inserted into a Jewish background unfamiliar with the notion of reincarnation.”

The second part concentrates on ‘Expressions of Christianity in the West’. The expansion of Christianity was marked not only by the destruction of numerous cultures, but by many millions of deaths across Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Australia. In the words of the French philosopher Voltaire, Christianity “deluged the earth with blood for the sake of unintelligible sophisms. Western countries still regard themselves as Christian, despite being secular, and tend, in their educational system as in public life, to tone down or sanitise the crimes against humanity committed for centuries in the name of Jesus. Michel Damino, a French scholar, says that Christian evangelistic literature abounds in condemnation of the Hindu society, so do occasionally ‘secular’ Indological studies, with the favourite bete noire being the women. He cites the case of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Ireland, an asylum for prostitutes, unwed mothers, rape victims who worked as slaves and washed laundry for long hours, “starved, forbidden to speak, often beaten, sometimes sexually abused.” At least 30,000 girls and women were imprisoned here; many never came out and after their death, they were quietly buried in unmarked graves.

In the third part on ‘Expressions of Christianity in India and Elsewhere in Asia’, a few articles paint a picture of Goan Inquisition—one of the darkest chapters in the history of Christianity in India. Hindu, Jews and Christian converts were victimised, persecuted, occasionally tortured and burned to death by agents of a religion claiming to spread God’s love. ‘Sardar’ K.M.Panikkar, a historian and diplomat, cited the following reasons for failure of missionary activities in Asia:

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The missionary brought with him an attitude of moral superiority and a belief in his own exclusive righteousness. The monopoly of ‘revelation’ in Christianity is alien to Hindu and Buddhist minds.
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The association of Christian missionaries worked with aggressive imperialism introducing political complications.
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The sense of European superiority, which the missionary perhaps unconsciously inculcated, produced also its reaction. Despite unchallenged European political supremacy, no Asian people accepted the cultural superiority of the West.

Thus with disappearance of European dominance, Christianity assumed its natural position as one of the religions of Asia while the missionaries ceased to hold any privileged position.

In the fourth part related to intellectual challenges to Christianity, the contributors of different articles point to the fact that since the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ numerous Western thinkers have spoken against Christianity, ‘ridiculing’ the irrationality of Biblical texts and Christian beliefs, their seed of cruelty and the monstrosity of Christianity’s historical record.

In the fifth part on the ‘Decline of Christianity’, papers are presented on the continuous clash between hardliner Christians and science, the widespread abuses perpetrated by Church on Natives in various parts of the world and destruction of the Church following the rise of alternative faiths in the West.

Finally what this special on Christianity has to say is what Swami Abhedananda, a close co-disciple of Swami Vivekananda had said, “A Hindu accepts Christ but rejects Churchianity.”

(Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan Trust, 5 Singarachari Street, Triplicane, Chennai-600005.)

—M.G.

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