Debating India


Conversion Bill

Balbir K PUNJ

Thursday 19 December 2002, by PUNJ*Balbir K.

The adoption of an anti-conversion law by the Tamil Nadu assembly has evoked sharp reactions, both from self-proclaimed secularists and those whom they denounce as communalists. The Church, of course, is up in arms over the issue. Soon after J Jayalalithaa promulgated her anti-conversion ordinance, DMK supremo M Karunanidhi while addressing a protest rally, quoted some obscure dictionary to say that the word ’Hindu’ meant a thief, and justified conversions.

The conversion of a few Catholics to Protestantism was condemned by the Pope in these words - ’these rapacious wolves are preying upon my innocent sheep’. As born-again Christians try to augment their fold from within Christianity, the Jesuits, one of the largest orders of the Catholic Church, dubs it a ’sheep-stealing method’. The concept of ’stealing’ in the matters of faith is alien to Indian tradition.

While Mr Karunanidhi and the ’secular’ clan can live with their interpretations of ’Hindu’, one has to view Ms Jayalalithaa’s move against the backdrop of a spurt in proselytisation programmes, detrimental to social harmony in the state. However, one has to draw a distinction between Christians and the Church. Christians have generally outgrown the Church, both in India and abroad. In fact, most Indian Christians are better Indians and human beings than the rest. While Indian Christians live by the traditional ethos of sarv dharma sambhav (equal respect to all religions), the Church continues with its intolerant agenda. The Encyclopaedia Britannica observes, "Christianity, from its beginning, tended toward an intolerance that was rooted in self-consciousness... Christianity consistently practised an intolerant attitude in its approach towards Judaism and paganism as well as heresy in its own rank" (p.288 Macropaedia-vol 16, 15th edition).

Though the core agenda of the Church remains unchanged, however, in tune with changing times, the Church often reiterates its commitment to ’religious freedom’ - but let’s see what the Church implies by it? Dignitatis Humanae (declaration of religious freedom) promulgated by Pope Paul VI, in 1965 states, "First, the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. Thus He spoke to the Apostles: ’Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you’ " (Matt. 28: 19-20).

One can disagree on the Vatican’s strategy to hard sell Christianity but hardly doubt its intentions. The Church, flush with resources, now uses modern management tools and propaganda techniques to continue with its agenda. In contrast, Hinduism is not only a non-proselytising religion but also non-exclusivist. Without a centralised Church or a mandatory dogma, it believes that paths to God can be as varied as there are human beings. All monotheistic religions believe in ’One God’ (the God they preach) but Hinduism believes that ’God is one’. The Church believes in dominating, Hinduism believes in synthesis.

Christian missionary activities with sinister dimensions began with colonisation. While Europe discovered a renascent secularism from the theological claustrophobia of the mediaeval ages, it let loose a new mediaevalism on South America, Africa and Asia. White Europeans first saw brown, black and reddish skin people in those territories. It was an alien world, which had its own culture and civilisation. The arrogance of the whites, their Biblical zeal and war-like tactics combined to motivate their proselytising efforts.

The first encounters of the Christian West were bloodstained. South Africa is a living epitome of this agony - civilisational holocaust and genocide. South America was not only fully Christianised and Latinised but significantly repopulated with Europeans. Vast stretches of sub-Saharan Africa were Christianised but in Asia, there was only marginal success. This is the Vatican’s unfinished agenda, which probably expressed itself in Pope’s November 1999 call for the evangelisation of Asia in the third millennium AD.

The inspiration to convert implies contempt for the other person’s belief system. Nature has made every person unique. Those who truly respect God, should also respect His creation, which is multi-faceted. In the Bible, God said, "Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..." (Genesis 1.26). It doesn’t say God made a man of a particular race or particular continent in His image, but all of humankind. So why should those who believe in the Bible try to destroy others or convert them to their own faith?

Proselytising religions like Christianity and Islam originated in and around deserts where the green patch was a luxury and life harsh. This gave rise to a primal instinct of aggression vastly different from India, where the bounty or flora and fauna contributed to fashioning a tolerant and accommodative worldview. Hinduism left the individual free to have a private relationship with his Maker. The Hindu view of life is essentially an antidote for those whose salvation is only in their God and destruction of people and cultures which think otherwise. But this battle between intolerance and tolerance can be equally grim as between two brands of intolerance.

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The Times of India, Thursday, December the 19th, 2002.

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