The Crusade Behind Conversions
Date: January 16-31, 2009
Christians are thoroughly muddled over the business of conversion. They don't want to quit this field of clover. However, think for a moment. Do they really want their Hindu and Muslim friends to join the churches? Listen in at their Pastorate Committee meetings. Quarrels over who is to be the next bishop, principal or secretary? What's so wonderful about Christians that they should appeal to others to leave their traditions and come to Christian camps? Christians, who are neither fish, flesh nor good red herring? Do they really take the teachings of Christ seriously?
Christians' morals are no better than others. Don't they take and give bribes, tell lies like anyone else? As to violence, they don't need to learn anything. They have in the past set fire to a bishop and his wife. The bishop survived and the wife died. That happened in the late 1970s. The bishop was none other than Bishop Anantha Rao Samuel who later became the Moderator of the Church of South India. I ask my Christian brethren: wasn't there anything else we could burn - paper, cigarettes, fireworks?
What is more - Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew and he remained one. He did not found Christian religion. That was done by organisation-loving men. He showed the Christians a way, which was he himself. But he was a daredevil all right, and used pretty strong language when it came to telling the priests and leaders where to get off. He even called them "whited sepulchres" [isn't that a lovely phrase?]. The Jews despised the Samaritans, somewhat like the way Dalits have been despised in our country for centuries or the Blacks in the US. But Jesus was always telling them stories about how much better as human beings the Samaritans were.
When the traveller fell among thieves the priest and the upper-castes passed him by, but the Dalit bound his wounds and took him to an inn. Ten lepers were healed. Only one returned to give thanks to God and he was a Dalit.
One day Jesus was found talking to a Dalit woman - a woman, believe it or not. Jews never spoke to women and even his disciples were shocked at his atrocious behaviour. Added to it, the woman had had five husbands. To top it all, he asked her for a drink of water. As bad as a Brahmin asking a Dalit in some parts of Tamil Nadu for water from an out-caste well. No wonder the priests wanted to do him in. They waited around corners to slosh him on the head. Finally, they got him crucified with two thieves.
No one can deny that genuine conversions do take place through the influence of one individual. A lovely Ca nadian girl came to India [Bangalore] on a Government of India scholarship to learn Bharatnatyam in the 1970s. Like so many of her generation she was an agnostic. She was U.S. Krishna Rao's star pupil and made her debut in six months. One day she met Mother Teresa. She fell under her spell. She abandoned dance and donned the robes of a nun. "You are a born artiste. How dare you become a nun?" Krishna Rao raged in vain. She went to Kolkata and later to Mexico where she was working in a slum when we last heard about her. No one can quarrel with such a conversion. But when a well-organised body financed by foreign money begins to shift a whole herd of people from one caste to another, one begins to suspect their motives.
A brilliant Danish professor, Dr Kaaj Baago, in the United Theological College, Bangalore, made history when he said in the 1960s: "Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists should never give up their religion to join the Christian Church." On the other hand, the Church should humble itself and find ways of identifying itself with other groups, taking Christ with them. Christ, he said, was not the chairman of the Christian party. If God is the Lord of the universe he will work through every culture and religion. We must give up the crusading spirit of the colonial era and stop singing weird hymns like "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war". This will lead to Hindu Christianity or Buddhist Christianity. It must involve the disappearance of the Indian Christian community, but he reminded us: "A grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls to the ground and dies."
Needless to say, Indian Christians were furious. He left the College, the Church and the mission and took refuge with the Danish Foreign Service. He later returned to India as his country's Ambassador and died in harness in 1988.
One last story. About 150 years ago, the Church of England was sending out a very important Anglican Church dignitary as Metropolitan of Calcutta. The Brahmin priests got wind of it. This foreign religion might become a threat to their own traditions. They must investigate. So they sent one of their men to investigate. He wandered around the city till he came to the Bishop's residence. It was a vast, sprawling opulent mansion. As he stood at the gate the great man walked down the steps, arrayed in his magnificent robes. He stepped into the waiting carriage drawn by two horses with a postillion sitting at the rear.
The spy returned to his friends. "Have no fears," he said, "this is not a religion we need fear." The priests were relieved, and rightly relieved, for the pomp and splendour of organised Christianity holds no appeal for any genuine seeker after truth [¼]
- P.N. Benjamin is Coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue [BIRD]