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.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Orissa clashes, Missionaries & Christian fundamentalism

by Nithin Sridhar
1/14/2008 2:00:37 PM

The recent Hindu-Christian clashes in Orissa during Christmas where many churches were burnt again shed light on the complexity of religious conditions in India. As usual Hindus and Hindu Organizations are being blamed. But, before getting into these blame games, it’s important to state the facts.

Orissa has been a favorite destination of Christian Missionaries for proselytization. The illegal conversions are being carried out by missionaries in tribal areas. In Kandhamal District alone the Christian population has increased from 6% in 1970 to 27% in 2001, despite an Act enacted by Orissa Legislature in 1967 to prevent conversion by allurement, coercion, bribery and cheating1. On the eve of Christmas, the community had organized for a massive conversion camp in a predominantly Hindu tribal area.2 When the Hindu tribals under the leadership of Swmi Lakshmanananda protested against this, he was attacked. Everything started from this unprovoked attack by Christian goons on Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati who was visiting his disciples in Darsingbadi village in Kandhmal District on 24 th December.

The issue again highlights the ugly face of religious fundamentalism, in this case Christian fundamentalism. It raises the questions about the motive and inspiration behind the "proselytization’.

The missionary works are not new. According to the documents of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the Biblical authority for missions begins quite early in Genesis 12:1-3, in which Abraham is blessed so that through him and his descendants, all the peoples of the world would be blessed. Others point to Gods wish, often expressed in the Bible, that all peoples of the earth would worship Him. Therefore, Christian missions go where worship is not, in order to bring worship to God.3 In the 16th century the proselyization of Asia was linked to the Portuguese colonial policy. As soon as Christianity came into power, heathen temples were defaced and closed and their revenues transferred to the Church. We command that all their (heathens) fanes, temples, shrines, if even now any remain entire shall be destroyed by the command of the magistrates was the order of the day. (Theodosius Code, 380 A.D.). In Great Britain and Germany, priests and monks moved about destroying the groves and shrines of the people. The last regions to lose their religions in Europe were Prussia and the Baltic states.

Varying attempts to stamp out infidels and heretics often proved to be inadequate, so the Holy Inquisition was formed by Pope Gregory IX in 1231 to make the efforts more organized and efficient. Burning was quickly decided upon as the official punishment. In 1245, the Pope gave Inquisitors the right to absolve their assistants of any acts of violence which they might commit in the fulfillment of their duties. Torture of suspects was authorized by Pope Innocent IV in 1252. The Inquisition was not limited to Europe, as Spaniards brought it to the Americas and used it to punish the native inhabitants. Through the 1500s, 879 heresy trials were recorded in Mexico alone.4 The historian Hernando del Pulgar estimated that the Spanish Inquisition had burned at the stake 2,000 people and reconciled another 15,000 by 1490 just one decade after the Inquisition began.( Cited in Kamen op. cit., p. 62.). Juan de Zumarrage, first Bishop of Mexico, writing in 1531, claimed that he personally destroyed over 500 temples and 20,000 idols of the heathens.5 The Goa inquisition which lasted from 1560 to 1812 is considered as the most violent inquisition ever executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. Inquisition proceedings were always conducted behind closed shutters and closed doors. Hindus were brutally interrogated, flogged, and slowly dismembered in front of their relatives. Eyelids were sliced off and extremities were amputated carefully6. Viceroy D Constantine de Braganca issued an order on April 2, 1560, instructing that Brahmins should be thrown out of Goa and other areas under Portuguese control.7 At the end of 1567, 300 Hindu temples were destroyed.8

These incidences are not just something to be read in pages of history, but it is very much happening even today. Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati says “There was no problem when Christians were not here in Paikia. With their numbers increasing, they forcefully took away Hindu girls and forced the neo-converts to eat beef. They set several temples on fire. Be it Birupakhya Mahadev´s temple or temple at Malarimaha or my Ashram at Rupagoan, the Christians conspired to set them on fire. They threw mortal remains of cows on mandirs. Kondh tribal´s Goddess Dharani Mata´s places of worship in several villages were dishonored. The sacred sword at a temple at Bramhanigaon was forcibly taken away by the converts who melted the sword in public and prepared their weapons with that looted material” 9

In the Lausanne report "Christian Witness to Hindus’, they state in details the methods to be adopted to convert different sections of Hindus. They discuss about Rural Evangelism, Urban Evangelism and Student Evangelism. They explain how "Miraculous Healing’ helps to convert people. They give strategies to be employed to use mass media, social gatherings, and seminars to their advantage.10

The Niyogi Report provided details of how much had been contributed by which Western country to the total of Rs. 29.27 crores received by Christian missions in India from January 1950 to June 1954. It notes that USA, UK, Canada and France contributed around 21 crores, 5 crores, 2 crores and 8 lakhs respectively. The Report revealed that the bulk of this foreign money received ostensibly for maintaining educational and medical institutions was spent on proselytization. It has been contended, said the Report, that most of the amount is utilized for creating a class of professional proselytizers, both foreign as well as Indian. There were 480 foreign missionaries working in Madhya Pradesh at that time. Out of them as many as 236 were Americans. The Report gave concrete instances of how mission schools were used to influence the minds of young people. Harijan and Adivasi students came in for special attention. They were given free boarding, lodging and books provided they attended Christian prayers. Bible classes were made compulsory by treating as absent for the whole day those students who failed to be present in those classes. School celebrations were used for showing the victory of the cross over all other symbols. Hospitals were used for putting pressure on poor class patients to embrace Christianity. The richest harvest, however, was reaped in mission orphanages which collected orphans during famines and other natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes. "No wonder,’ observed the Report, "that the largest number of converts is from such backward classes living in areas where due to various causes only Mission schools and hospitals exist. Most conversions have been doubtless insincere admittedly brought about in expectation of social service benefits and other material considerations’.11

Christianity has been following a policy of "Inculturation’. This means that it adopted Pagan elements in Christianized form in order to ease the transition from Paganism to Christianity. Pagan gods became Christian saints. Pagan Festivals became Christian festivals. In this process of inculturation, the Christian Church adapted old forms to its new message, but made sure that through the Pagan veneer the Christian doctrine was impressed upon the converts12. Indigenization, says Kaj Baago, is evangelization. It is the planting of the gospel inside another culture, another philosophy, another religion.13” In Indian case, "Inculturation’ or "Indigenization’ means "the incorporation of Jesus in Indian spiritual tradition’. Fr. Bede says In India we need a Christian Vedanta and a Christian Yoga that is a system of theology which makes use not only of the terms and concepts but of the whole structure of thought of the Vedanta”14

Sita Ram Goel divides Hindu-Christian encounter into 5 phases. The first phase began with arrival of Portuguese and Saint Francis Xavier, where they used all crude and violent methods of proselytization. This ended with end of Portuguese rule. The second phase began establishment of British rule, where the language and methods of missionaries was as crude as before but they were not allowed to use physical methods. This ended with rise of Hindu reformation movements of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda Saraswathi, and Swami Vivekananda. The third phase starts with the advent of Mahatma Gandhi and his slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhAva which forced Christian missions to change and soften their language. This phase ended with the Tambram Conference of the International Missionary Council (IMC) in 1938, which decided to reformulate Christian theology in the Indian context. The fourth phase which commenced with the coming of independence where the Christian right to convert Hindus was incorporated in the Constitution. The missionary apparatus multiplied fast and became pervasive. Christianity had never had it so good in the whole of its history in India. The only rift in the lute was the "Niyogi Committee Report on Christian Missionary Activities’ published by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in 1956, and Om Prakash Tyagi’s Bill on "Freedom of Religion’ introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 1978. The fifth phase which is currently running started with Hindu awakening that resulted in Ram Janmabhumi movement.15

Over these long period of Hindu-Christian encounter, only the language and methods of "followers of Jesus’ has changed, but the motive has always remained same. Lausanne report in its introduction says-
"We give thanks to God Almighty for his gracious act of salvation in Jesus Christ, which has made possible the entrance into the Kingdom of God for over 565 million Hindu people dispersed throughout the world, with the majority in the Indian sub-continent.

We rejoice in the fact that the saving Word of God preached faithfully by Gods servants has brought about a Christian population of about 19 million people in India alone. However, we are conscious that God longs for the whole Hindu people to know Jesus Christ and live under his Lordship16’ These words clearly speak out that the sole goal of the missions have been Christianization of whole world including India and in this process destroy the cultures of the world.

This desire to Christianize the whole world is due to the fact that the doctrines of Christianity are intolerant of others faiths. The biblical God is Jealous and Violent. It is assumed that Jesus means "Peace’ and the message of Christianity is peace and equality. But Bible says-
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.”(Matthew, 10/34)"God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies’. (Nahum, 1/2)

The Biblical God is intolerant, ask its followers to torture Non-Believers, to break the idols and images.

And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.(Revelation, 9/5)
But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. (Deuteronomy, 7/5)
If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.(John, 15/6)
It is this intolerance, which inspired the "Followers of Jesus’ to commit great crimes. The source of proselytization by force and fraud lies in Christian doctrines which have heavily been criticized by Nietzsche, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bertrand Russell. But, still it is common in secular brigade to say “All Religions are Equal”. How can we equate a religion which is so intolerant, whose God is jealous and tyrant and exclusive with a religion like Hinduism which is tolerant, inclusive and spreads peace? The best solution to counter the Christian threat is to counter the Christian Dogma which is the source of proselytization.

Auspiciousness be unto all; peace be unto all;
Fullness be unto all; prosperity be unto all.
May all be happy! May all be free from disabilities!
May all look to the good of others!
May none suffer from sorrow

(Shanti Mantra)


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