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, October 12, 2008

Thou shall not convert

by T R Jawahar

A Christian once approached the Kanchi Paramacharya and expressed his wish to embrace Hinduism. The acharya advised him to stay put in his present path; in the revered seer’s world view, one does not have to switch faiths to attain God and can very well achieve the objective through one’s own religion. That in a nutshell is what Hindus call secularism and tolerance. Sadly, they have no reciprocal S & T coming their way. Forget a pastor, even the Pope would find it difficult to pass up such an opportunity to add a soul to his kitty. For that is their worldview, ordained by the Book and its authors.

Clearly, the twain shall never meet. It naturally follows that those faiths that aspire to survive, with their religious places and practices intact, will necessarily have to evolve ways to protect themselves from such predators and their natural instincts. The historic track record, however is that, barring Hinduism and Buddhism, scores of faiths and civilisations have been runover by Christianity and Islam, with nary a trace today. Of course, methods vary from visibly violent jihad to virulent but invisible evangelism, but the motives and mindset shine forth like neon signs. To miss it is to have the intellect of a sheep, and incidentally that’s what the ‘targets’ are referred to as.

But to the basic question: How do Hindus who want to remain Hindus respond? Some tips are on offer from various vested interests. Needless to add, the captains of the conversion brigade would want no response but simple surrender. Secular politicians, for instance, would prefer Hindus to have more doses of the tranquiliser called tolerance and remain sedated so that they, the politicos, that is, can build up their minority vote bank, the only bank that never fails. For much of the media and intellectual elite, primed by McCaulay, even the slightest resistance to conversions is a betrayal of their liberal character even if their conscience, if only rarely, tells them otherwise; they feign sleep without sedation. And for most of the educated middle-class of Bharat conversions do rile and revolt; but coy inhibitions rule and in any case, who has the time and mind to speak up or act? Let down by the State and ostracised by society, it is the poor Hindus who are most vulnerable; while many gullible ones do ‘cross’ over, the multitudes, though mute, have remained immune to missionary mischiefs and stuck to their traditional gods. And of course, the other extreme response is what we are witnessing now in Orissa and elsewhere; the Bajrang Dal brand that none can subscribe to. Apart from the incongruity of their acts with the law of the land, burning down churches is a futile exercise. They simply can’t keep pace with the planting that’s going on and also the media multiplier effect would make even one ravaged prayer hall seem like hundred, in Basha style.

Convert me if you can, challenged Gandhi. Swami Vivekananda’s well thought out and well articulated arguments against conversions will sadly be deemed communal rantings in today’s milieu, but their relevance is most striking. To get more contemporary, Swami Daya-nanda Saraswati treats conversions as the worst form of violence; In his view, you cannot convert someone without belittling his faith and that cuts at his core being. He also dubs conversions as a human rights violation as it interferes with an individual’s right to ‘continue’ practising his own, natural religion. But let’s not invoke such profound beings to fell a petty albeit potent mentality. There are enough arguments within the realms of elementary common sense to effectively counter, both intellectually and at ground zero, the scourge of conversions.

The biggest cover for conversions is the Right to Religious Freedom enunciated in the Constitution. But by elementary English grammar, the right is for ‘me’, in first person singluar; now how can an evangelist exercise my right? But their flippant claim is that right to convert ‘others’ is Constitutional. The misinterpretation and misuse of the Constitution is not just on that count. The Constitution categorically says that the right to religious freedom is subject to ‘morality and public order’. The assumed right to convert all and sundry would fall flat on these counts too. Conversion disturbs all the ‘order’ that a peaceful land and a peace loving person would value: the social order, the demographic order, the political order, the family order and of course, law and order! An individual too goes completely out of order, with his self, with his near and dear, his ancestry and his own lifestyle, all in turmoil. One cannot find a more disruptive phenomenon of life and community, nay, the country itself, than conversion.

We move on to morality, the bedrock of the Bible. Now is it moral to employ questionable means like lures and inducements to bring in the crowd? Again, the preachers claim Christianity to be true religion and the only path to salvation. Can’t a such ‘truth’ to stand alone without the aid of merchants of faith scouring and scavenging the earth for vulnerable folks in distress? Does it have to be purveyed in the market as a sin-cleaning soap to be dumped on unsuspecting soul-sellers? Hinduism too preaches but the idea is not to get converts. Again, conversion by a process of evaluation, which is perfectly fine, is very rare. The evangelists smartly claim that most conversions are voluntary. But mass conversions do happen. Now how is it that a few hundred people have a conscience upheaval at an appointed time? It is also no coincidence that only the poor, the sick and those in the lower rungs of society are ripe targets for conversion. Obviously the inducements and indoctrinations are camouflaged well to skip the law’s eye but obvious enough to catch the potential convert’s! The reality is that evangelism is big business today. There’s nothing even remotely secular or spiritual about it. But to cut a long story short, conversions can be deemed unconstitutional! And even if granted, the right to preach and poach cannot be superior to the target’s right to protect and preserve his beliefs.

Then there is this bogey of minority rights. Does it not offend common sense to say that the minority has the right to become the majority, which in effect is what the vociferous and articulate Christian clergy is claiming through the right to convert’? Again, how can they claim to be minorities when the entire might of global Christianity, its organised international institutions, endless funds and now the European Union itself is sponsoring them? Also, the converts in India have Hindu ancestry and are very much sons of the soil. Granting that one can change one’s faith, can one also convert from being a majority to a minority suddenly? Again, attacks on any place of worship have to be dealt with under law; the crime does not get any worse just because the target is a minority place of worship. But such perversions of minority rights are rampant.

Guess what’s the Pope’s biggest bother today? Christians converting to Islam in Europe! To hear some eternal pearls of wisdom on the ills of conversion one can just tune in to him. The hypocrisy would be apparent. For while the resourceful reverends would happily harvest neighbours’ fields, it’s taboo for others to graze on their own pastures. I rest my case. Amen!

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