I have nothing but compassion for fundamentalist Christians who rattle off verses from the Bible to preach hellfire and damnation to those who do not agree with their interpretations of the contents of the Bible
Conversions have neither offered a way of escape from the bondage of caste nor have they fostered the social transformation of the Dalit Christians. They still live under the same conditions of discrimination, exploitation and oppression. When a Dalit becomes a Chri-stian he should be given a minimum chance of escaping from the "outcast" status. If Christi-ans cannot treat Dalit converts as part of their fellowship it is better to leave them alone. Christ himself said: "You encompass sea and land to make one convert and then you make him twice the son of hell as you are"
Dalit Christians’ conversion to Christianity has meant nothing but substitution of social discrimination within the Churches for discrimination within the Hindu society. The churches offered charity equally to all castes who came into its fold, and charity became a powerful weapon of persuasion. It was another matter that feudal prejudices underwent mere reincarnation: Separate pews exist for lower-caste Christians in many churches of the country. In death they are allotted their own cemeteries or a corner of the main cemetery, with a wall separating the section in some.
A section of the Christian Church has always wrongly emphasised conversion as the primary aim of the Christian mission, totally misunderstanding Christ’s Commission to preach the gospel. They ignore the fact that there are other very important elements in his teachings. "Love your enemy as yourself. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust do corrupt but lay up treasures in heaven. You cannot serve God and Mammon. Forgive your brother not seven times but seventy times seven. Love one another as I have loved you." Unless Christians share the sufferings of the people they have no word of the gospel to them, whatever true things they might say. If Christians as a community took to the teachings of Christ seriously then they would be justified in preaching. Let their light so shine before men that they may see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven!
The church leaders have miserably failed to take care of the 16 million Dalits converted to Christianity. Christianity is a path of life paved with suffering and service. Christ said: ‘if any one wants to follow me, let him take up the cross and follow me." But the Indian Christian leaders want the Government to carry the Cross of Dalit Christians. Many well-meaning Christians believe that attempts at conversion should be considered a mortal assault on local cultures and should be totally banned. Mr Jon Stock, New Delhi correspondent of the The Daily Telegraph wrote in October 1999: "put simply, the Indian subcontinent has become the principal target for a wide range of western Christian missions which are determined to spread the gospel to India’s "unreached" people. There is little doubt that the current communal tension in India would not be serious if foreign-funded missionaries had been content with giving Indians the choice of Christianity and left it at that".
The recent surge of animosity towards Christianity in India is the result of the actions of Christian missionaries and fundamentalists who are being bank-rolled and supported by the Churches in the USA and in Europe. Like the rats scurrying out the sinking ship, the New Missionaries will leave the business of "reaching the unreached at any cost", the moment fundamentalist Christians in the US stop sending dollars to the conversion brigade in India.
About a hundred and fifty years ago England was sending out a very important Anglican Church dignitary as Metropolitan of Calcutta. The Brahmin priests got wind of it. They were perturbed. This foreign religion might become a threat to their own traditions. They must investigate. So, they sent one of their men to assess the situation. 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, dressed in his magnificent robes. He stepped into the waiting carriage drawn by two horses with a postillion sitting at the rear. The Brahmin returned to his friends. "Have no fears", he said, "This is not a religion we need to fear." The priests were relieved, for the pomp and splendour of organized Christianity holds no appeal for any genuine seeker after truth.
I was born in a Christian community in India whose origins predate the spread of Christianity in Europe. I grew up amidst a predominantly Hindu community with Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and Muslims all living amicably in India.
It is true that in recent years, there have been sporadic incidents of violence between Hindus, Muslims and Christians. In my view, they have all had their origins mostly as reactions to the Christian and Muslim fundamentalists' obsession to spread their faiths in a country which is predominantly Hindu. The recent surge of animosity towards Christianity in India is also the result of the actions of Christian missionaries and fundamentalists who are being bank-rolled and supported by the Churches here and in Europe.
Based on my life-long experience with Hindus I can affirm without any hesitation that the tolerance of the overwhelming majority of Hindus in India towards their Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish and Zoroastrian neighbors far exceeds the tolerance of the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims in the US towards their neighbors who follow non-Abrahamic faiths. Hinduism not only concedes that "ultimate truth" can be found in all other religions but also accepts that all faiths are equally valid in seeking God. But, none of the avid practitioners of the Abrahamic faiths will accept either of the above statements. That is because the latter believe that theirs is the only reliable path to paradise."
Dear Vijai and Benjamin: IMHO, it is a sheer waste of time and energy to respond to the inane responses of proponents of the proselytizing brands of Christianity. I am blocking all responses from Chezhiyan. The tragedy in India is that most of the Christian churches in India (Roman Catholic and Protestant Denominations) believe and act as though the tenets of Jesus can only be interpreted by their European "masters". They do not understand that Jesus was not a white man and that he was an Afro-Asiatic. In fact, most will be sorely disappointed to know that he was not a white man. These proselytizing Christians are unable to stomach the fact that Christianity originated as an eastern faith and that it was hijacked by the European colonial powers, principally to establish their hegemony over the "heathens". The only redeeming feature of Christianity in India is that there is at least one church, namely the Syrian Orthodox Church which has never promoted proselytization since its very inception. That community has remained in perfect symbiosis with their Hindu, Muslim and Jewish neighbors despite the machinations of the Portuguese and later the Danes, French and the British in India. None of the Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian etc) engage in proselytization. Have you ever seen or heard of priests or "evangelists" from any of these churches engaging in proselytization or preaching hellfire and damnation to those who do not agree with their interpretations of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth? No, because they understand the offensiveness of "in your face Christianity" and have learnt to interpret and live by their faith without having the proselytizing millstones around their necks. I hope that the Indian government gets its act together and bans all religious proselytization, regardless of whether it is by Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus. If they do not do that, India will be Balkanized as per the wishes and dreams of western powers. Peace and regards, Alex BORN AGAINS
Traditional Churches Say Growth of New Sects is "a dangerous trend"
March 10, 2005
Thaliath Abraham, a jeweller from a traditional Christian family in
Kerala, recently decided to break away from the Catholic Church to
establish a church of his own called City of Faith.
Abraham is among the many who are breaking away from the traditional
church to start independent churches. These believers do not consider the
Pope or the Vatican a living reality.
"I am answerable only to Jesus Christ. I live and lead by the gospel,
not by the church. I am born again," says Abraham.
The City of Faith Church is among the large number of new faith groups
that have cut their roots with the traditional church and call
themselves 'born again'.
These new church sects are christened Exodus, Joshua, New Life, Master
Ministry, Covenant, Hiel Gospel, City of Faith and High Land Trinity.
These independent churches abhor rituals, episcopal hierarchy and all
kinds of mediators, including saints. Their members consider Christ as a
friend, guide and the only saviour.
They believe their new churches -- most having few hundred middle-class
members -- are better spiritual places than the traditional church.
* One of the biggest independent churches with a large following is
the Indian Pentecostal Church. "We have over 500,000 members in India
and we are growing every day," says IPC Coordinator Pastor Sam Kuzhikala
* The Council of Baptist Churches in northeast India has over
875,000 members in nearly 6,000 local congregations and members belonging to
over 50 different tribes. CBCNEI has a strong and historic relationship
with the American Baptist Church.
* The Central India Christian Mission has now established 162 New
Testament Churches across the country. Six of these churches are in New
Delhi. There are over 300 prayer groups and over 160 preaching points.
A spokesman for the church says city churches are growing very rapidly
towards becoming self-supporting congregations.
The proliferation of new sects have upset traditional churches, with
some chalking up plans to counter them.
Bishops belonging to the official Catholic church hierarchy have
written to parishes across the country, asking people neither to join nor
support any independent church group and urged people to be vigilant
against 'false' charismatic groups in dioceses across India.
The Kerala-based Syro Malabar Church's Major Archbishop Cardinal Varkey
Vithayathil has issued a set of guidelines, which charismatic groups,
evangelists and parish priests should obey in conducting spiritual
retreats and renewal programmes.
Cardinal Vithayathil says the charismatic movement is slipping out of
the church's control as many groups are propagating spiritual missions
like 'healing the sick' and 'driving out demons' in their own way.
Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson for the Syro Malabar Church, calls
it "a dangerous trend."
"They discard the church authority and the teachings in the Bible. They
do not interpret theology correctly. They are misleading followers of
the church," the priest told rediff.com
Father Thelakat claims most groups disallow many of the well-laid
church ceremonies like baptism and even burial.
Mainstream church leaders allege that the independent churches are
funded mainly by the United States.
"Many of these groups are getting a lot of money and that is why they
came into existence. It is basically a money-making business and nothing
spiritual," alleges an official at the Catholic Bishops Conference of
Despite the criticism and warnings from the Catholic Church, these
independent church groups continue to grow.
Samuel Jacob, a member of the City of Faith Church, says the
traditional church could not quench his spiritual thirst. "All these years,
church-going was just a social custom. It was a mechanical affair," he says.
"At the City of Faith, prayer is very lively, unlike in traditional
churches," adds Jacob.
Every Sunday, members of this church meet in the home of one of its
members. Tranced prayer sessions, Bible readings and loud, inspirational hymns continue for hours. "When God speaks to us through the Holy Book, our prayers become deafening," adds Jacob.
CHRISTIANS AGAINST PROSELYTISM
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) is a little lamp, lit and kept burning, by a group of kindred souls and fellow pilgrims who by their conviction, uphold the values of democracy and religious pluralism. Theirs is an inter-faith voyage of discovery, sailing on the winds of near identical views on people and events signifying that whatever the darkness, however profound the sense of lostness, the light of God’s love – be it Ram, Allah or Jesus - will continue to shine, for those who have the eyes to see, a heart to love and a soul to believe. BIRD’s premise is simplicity itself -striking a match in a dark immense cavern, to dispel the surrounding gloom.We are convinced that only through inter- religious dialogue can we diffuse the recurring tension between religious groups and communities in this country. We believe in strengthening of inter-faith dialogue in order to elevate communal and religious harmony to the level of a practicing doctrine. In any such dialogues there is need for a full and free exchange of our differing religious experiences, in a spirit of mutual respect, appreciation and sympathy. An exchange of individual or collective experiences will lead to enrichment of each others religious life, purifying and strengthening the religious attitude of mind against irreligious and materialistic attitudes from which stem our personal, social and national problems
BIRD came into being in 2001 as a response to the growing communal and inter-religious tensions that prevailed in the country at that time. In the beginning we heard a voice - a voice of sanity. That was Mahatma Gandhi telling us: "Show a little humility and a little diffidence about the correctness of your conduct and a little receptiveness. He reminded us "not to seek to satisfy our thirst for ego by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred and jealousy. We should cease to be merchants of hate. We have to teach ourselves that consideration for others is nobler than muscling our way to the front".
Since its inception BIRD has been providing a platform for addressing those issues, which are the causes for religious tension and resentment. Realizing that the causes for tension between Christians and Hindus in different parts India are the aggressive evangelisation campaigns and religious conversions conducted by fundamentalist Christian sects and preachers, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) has recently made a campaign Declaration called "Christians Against Proselytism".
The Declaration, signed by almost 700 Christians, is addressed to the Prime Minister of India, Secretary General of the UN, The US Commission on International Religious Freedom and The President, European Union.
"As Indian Christians, we believe that the best and perhaps the only way we can bear witness to our faith, is by extending our unconditional love to our neighbours and expecting nothing in return as Jesus Christ showed us. As such, we are against aggressive faith marketing by any religious group because such efforts discredit India's tradition of respecting all religious thought and also runs counter to the true spirit in which the Constitution grants people the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith.
We are Christians. Some of us were born into Christianity others freely chose to embrace it. We also believe that the Great Commission in the Gospel according to Matthew unequivocally calls us to witness Christ in a pluralistic setting without violating the right of the others to preach, practice and profess his/her faith. Witnessing Jesus cannot in any case be done by questionable means, whether by exploiting people's socio-psychological vulnerabilities or by running down other religions.
Furthermore, we believe the Christian injunction to make disciples of all nations in today’s context is best honoured by the bearers of the Good News living exemplary Christian lives and showing respect for the nation’s commitment to pluralism, for the larger public good in a civil society. Conversion of faith, given its life-changing nature, stems from a considered personal experience and is less likely in this day and age to be the stuff of dramatic immediacy.
When India’s Supreme Court ruled, in 1977, that a citizen’s right to "profess, practice and propagate" one’s religion does not include the right to convert another it was merely reaffirming both tradition and the Constitution. We believe that every nation should give primacy to maintenance of public order by ensuring safety and security to the life and property of its citizens.
India’s all-encompassing culture and secular Constitution allows not only its citizens but also visitors the freedom of religious practice. But, Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees that right also subjects it to the maintenance of "public order, morality and health" of the citizenry.
We therefore call on the Government of India and all secular countries to seek an amendment to Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights by expanding it through the addition of a second sentence (capitalised): "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. HOWEVER, NO INDIVIDUAL OR ORGANISATION MAY SEEK TO CONVERT AN INDIVIDUAL OR A GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS, INCLUDING MINORS OR INDIVIDUALS OF LIMITED COGNITIVE ABILITIES, FORMALLY OR INFORMALLY, FROM ONE RELIGION TO ANOTHER BY OFFERING FINANCIAL OR OTHER MATERIAL INCENTIVES; THROUGH PHYSICAL, MENTAL, OR EMOTIONAL COERCION; OR THROUGH THREATS OR INTIMIDATION OF ANY KIND."
While we decry the attempts of religious leaders and fundamentalists of all varieties to convert and re-convert, we pledge to work diligently for inter-faith amity in the best traditions of Indian culture. We hereby call on all Indians to join in our efforts to preserve a pluralist India founded on secularism and religious inclusion and governed by a Constitution that guarantees all its citizens all freedoms vital to the functioning of a modern democracy."
The Declaration is posted on: www.PetitionOnline.com/panaveli/petition
Christians who support the declaration may please visit the link and sign it on-line.
PLEASE VISIT www.PetitionOnline.com/panaveli/petition
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
7A, 3rd Cross
Da Costa Square
Bangalore 560 084
INDIATHE HOO-HA ABOUT CONVERSIONKhushwant Singh naively asks: "What is this hoo-ha about conversion now?"(DH. June 24). The reason is not far to seek. Christian evangelists who denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. But, the mainline churches in India – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox - have never distanced themselves from the breast-beating, bible-thumping "born-again" fanatic fringe of Christians, spewing venom against Hindus and their gods in their campaigns and crusades to "harvest the Hindu souls". Why?
Look at what happened in Sri Lanka. An anti-Christian backlash in that country in January 2004 had led to attacks on Catholic churches, and fuelled demands for a law to ban what some Buddhist monks called "unethical conversions". The Sri Lankan Catholic Bishops’ Conference boldly distanced itself from the evangelical Christian groups for bribing poor people to convert to Christianity and issued a statement.
"We, the bishops of the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka, are deeply conscious of the social unrest alleged to be caused by certain activities of the fundamentalist Christian sects, particularly by the more radical elements "It must be stated that the Catholic Church is not associated in any way with any of these sects," the statement says. "We do not support any of the measures, such as material enticements or undue pressures that are alleged to be made by these groups in order to carry out so-called unethical conversions."
Will the Indian Christian leaders come out openly and condemn the activities of the fanatic fringe of the born-again Christians?
Why the total silence of western countries for the state-sponsored banning of religious conversions in "Christian" countries such as Russia, Greece and in many Muslim countries whereas when some Indian states legislate against proselytisation by any religion, the west cries foul. The recent example of the Malaysian court denying the right of a Malyasian Muslim to convert to Christianity or Pakistani Court's prohibition against Islamic conversions to Christianity (a la many Islamic theocracies) hardly raises the ire of western nations. But, when India raises questions about unbridled desire of western evangelists convert the whole of Indian into a Christian subcontinent, all hell breaks loose.
PS: The tendency in the western countries to always exclude representatives from the non-Abrahmic faiths in their so-called "inter-faith" dialogues ought to be highlighted. Here in the US, I seldom see any invitation extended by "interfaith dialog" convenors to Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh religious representatives. These Billions of people on our planet are taken for granted by the Abrahamic groups when they come together to talk about "inter-faith" amity! Hope that is brought out in your discussions.
the gist of your UN petition gets reflected in the conference proceedings
Church Distances Itself From "Unethical" Conversions
But Defends Religious Liberties in Sri Lanka
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JAN. 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church is
trying to distance itself from some Christian groups that have come
under criticism in this Buddhist-majority nation for bribing poor people
to convert.An anti-Christian backlash has led to attacks on Catholic churches, and fueled demands for a law to ban what some Buddhist monks call "unethical conversions."
Against this backdrop the Catholic bishops' conference issued a
"We, the bishops of the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka," the statement
says, "are deeply conscious of the social unrest alleged to be caused by
certain activities of the fundamentalist Christian sects, particularly
by the more radical elements."
"It must be stated that the Catholic Church is not associated in any way
with any of these sects," the statement says. "We do not support any of
the measures, such as material enticements or undue pressures that are
alleged to be made by these groups in order to carry out so-called
We express our grave concern over the recent increase in religious
tension in our country. At this time we wish to reiterate our resolve in
a united Sri Lanka in which people of all faiths and beliefs would live
together in harmony with dignity and mutual respect.
We are aware that the present climate is due to the concern that
"unethical" conversions from one religion to another are taking place.
We too express our unequivocal disapproval on the use of material
enticements to gain converts. It is indeed important to find effective
ways to deal with this issue if we are to create an atmosphere of
religious amity devoid of suspicion. We need to come up with a method
that is fair and dignified and one that will actually diffuse tensions
and promote religious harmony.
Thanks Dr.Benjamin, for sending this letter of these Srilankan Bishops. I wish that the CBCI and NCCI jointly came out with a similar note that would make the stand clear to those of other traditions! Are we making any effort to understand the inability of others to understand our language. Fr.Albert
ATTACKS AGAINST CHRISTIANS
"The incidents of violence against Christians were a reaction to the aggressive propaganda and mindless evangelism, abusing the Hindu Gods and indulging in similar activities. The incidents were bloated out of proportion. We have decided not to tolerate intolerance of other faiths. Let the Church declare that there can be salvation outside the Church also, and the whole atmosphere will undergo a radical change…"
The statistical approach implied in the words "the unreached millions" is derogatory to neighbours of other faiths. "Unreached" by whom? When Indian Christians themselves use these phrases, which have originated outside the country, to describe their neighbours living next door to them in the community, Christians should not be surprised if the
nehigbours are offended. (Dr. Samartha).
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists. Most of the violent incidents have been due to aggressive evangelising. Other than this there have been few attacks on Christians. Finally the sensitive and sensible Christians must realize that acts of certain "born-again" varieties of Christian evangelists who denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. Christian leaders known for their erudition, equipoise and empathy should come out in the open to disown such acts of intolerance
'Religious disarmament\' on conversions.
Religious conversion is a complex and emotionally charged issue but fundamentalists of all hues exploit it, liberals confuse it and many do not comprehend what the fuss is about, says a new book. Written by an unlikely author, the Catholic Jesuit priest-sociologist Rudolf C. Heredia, \"Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India\" highlights how mass conversions have alienated people from their past traditions and \"lived beliefs\".
Heredia is editor of the journal \"Social Action\" at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi and has long worked with marginalised communities. Heredia told IANS: \"I am reluctant to sum up three years\' work in a sound bite. Perhaps the original title I had chosen \'religious disarmament\' says more than just the two words.\"
This book challenges the \"traditional orthodoxies\" which promote or oppose religious conversions. Heredia argues that there is \"no religious merit in political posturing or conversion for socio-economic gain\". His book portrays how forced conversions have weakened Indian society by dissociating people from their traditions and beliefs. Heredia traces the history of conversion in India and the changes that it wrought in the lives of people, especially tribals and Dalits. In most cases, he says, conversions fail to alter people\'s devotion to so-called pagan gods and goddesses but involves them instead in the \"politics of hate\". \"While religious commitment is essentially a matter of personal conscience and choice, it inevitably impacts other levels of individual and social life,\" argues the 400-page book. Published by Penguin India, the 400-page paperback book is priced at Rs.350. To defuse tensions over an issue that has raked up a lot of passion in contemporary India, the author advocates rethinking religious conversions in India with \"determined religious disarmament and discarding aggression\". In today\'s multi-religious society, change of faith can precipitate religious antagonism, or it can facilitate social diversity and tolerance, Heredia argues. He says that while he remains anchored firmly to his Catholic faith, he is seeking common ground for tolerance and dialogue, premised on a \"constructive interaction with other faith traditions.\" Yahoo! Groups Links
RESPONSES TO THE LETTER
Violence against Christians
I do agree with Benjamin's and Ken's thoughts. I think time has come when we need to realise that religious fundamentalism is a fact of relgion and it is there to stay ! All what we can do is to express our concern in strong terms as Benjamin and Ken have done from time to time and hope for the best.
With Warm Regards,
Rev.Dr.M.Mani Chacko, Ph.D ( Lond.)
Ecumenical Christian Centre
Post Bag 11, Whitefield
Bangalore- 560 066
Dear Mr. Benjamin,
I greatly appreciate your frank and bold voice of sanity and reason. I hope it will contribute to a greater introspection on the part of all concerned, and to communal amity. Unless the truth exposed by you is seen and acted upon by all those committed to proselytization, secularism in our country will be difficult to preserve and promote.
I wish you all success in your endeavours.
M V Nadkarni
I liked your letter on the provocative role of missionaries. Good work!Thanks
Your courage in exposing the Christian evangelists and their objectionable activities deserves commendation. As one who has fought them in every avenue possible over the years I appreciate what you state. After shifting to Madras I can personally vouchsafe the extent to which they have penetrated the slums of the city. They are intent only in converting the lowliest of the low and increase their numbers but do precious little to ameliorate their conditions of living or raise their educational and cultural standards. More than this I do not find words to express my anguish.
I did not get to read your latest column in the Vijay Times. Please forward if you have written one.
Excellent! I hope The Hindu will publish it without much editing.Regards,G. ANIL KUMAR
Dear Mr. Benjamin, I must congratulate you on a balanced and objective perception of the unfortunate goings on in the country vis-a-vis the postures of fundamentalists on both sides of the religious "fence". While the extremist Hindu organisations such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are doing more harm than good by their actions, it is also true that some of the short-sided "fundamentalists" among the ill-advised zealous Christian proselytizers are provided the provocation. We can only hope that reason will prevail on both sides so that we do not waste our energies on such fruitless but dangerous attitudes. K.V.Rajagopal 11/05/07
PN Thanks for writing on the issue of violence against Christians. You have done well. My own feeling is no one has all the facts on these cases, (not even the media) nevertheless, someone needs to be courageous enough to write and arouse our otherwise dormant sentiments. The way our politicians are influencing the masses in our country there will be no end to such incidents and we need to do our best to strive for peace and harmony. I ask the question - is it religion or something deeper (or more shallow) that is the real issue. Is fundamentalism in our country here to stay? Democracy appears to be defined as the state where anyone attacks anyone else for the smallest offense with little room for intelligent responses. Freedom seems to have no boundaries! Values such as tolerance, love, respect, concern for fellow humans, in fact basic ethics of living in community have been pushed to the back while selfish agendas and mindless aggression come to the front. Power seems to be synonymous with brutality today! I am in fact a bit afraid as I read and see what has happened even this past month. Am I being pessimistic? I could be, but let me ask a few questions: Does an artist have freedom of art in our country? Is a writer or a musician able to express himself or herself without being threatened by those who claim to be the guardians of morality? Our clothes need to have the right colors and designs as even these offend some. I even see the way our legal system has been manipulated for one's own ends by those clever enough to see its loopholes. I perceive something deeper than fundamentalism but cannot nail it down. There is a cult of violence that seeks any excuse for demonstration of itself. Who are these people who indulge in such blatant acts of terror and threaten normal life in our society? Are they the really religious? Are they the truly educated? Are they those who are in any way familiar with the teachings propagated by the Father of our Nation? I can go on and on. but the heart of my sentiments at this time is that whatever is happening is not Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh or whatever. It is a few, in fact a very small section of our society who need to be contained. I am not sure how we do this. But my concern is that unless the majority rise and do something fast, we will be seeing more and more of baseless belligerence that will pull our great nation backwards, when there are a few noble ones doing everything they can to take us forward. Lets stand up together. Ken Gnanakan
It is heart wrenching for me to see fundamentalist Christians assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise! Many preachers of the Gospel lay
enticing traps for people whom they think must be "saved" at all costs. It
is worse still that their attitudes, though Christians are a tiny
minority in India, often create counter-reaction from among militant Hindus
who sometimes incite violence against Christians. The Hindu fundamentalism
is a reaction to the provocations of Christian proselytizers. I hope that
the fanatics among the Christian faith will soon realize that theirs is a
losing battle even if they derive their financial and other means of support
from the wealthy nations overseas.
Militant Islam and evangelical Christianity are the two remaining
Neanderthals who are still committed to proselytization and religious
conversions. India will continue to remain hospitable to all religions only
if the Muslim fanatics and the Christian fundamentalists will accept the
pluralistic tradition of Hindus which is to consider all religions as equal.
Pluralistic Christians and liberated Muslims of India have done that. The
overwhelming majority of Hindus practice it.
Needed: A pluralistic ethics of conversionAuthor: Madhuri Santanam SondhiPublication: Deccan ChronicleDate: June 22, 2006Introduction: Freedom of conscience and freedom to propagate do not exhaust all the nuances of religious rights and tolerance. We need an ethics of diversity and pluralism.All right-thinking people subscribe to the doctrine of freedom of conscience: a person should be free to change, adopt, enlarge or abandon any belief according to his or her conscience, and this freedom is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). But thanks to deep differences of belief and custom between the various faiths lumped together under the English term "religion," the historical conflict between converting and non-converting faiths persists. In the modern world, in which the great debates about religion and ideology seem a thing of the past, if questions are raised about the subtle or not so subtle ruses whereby conversions are effected, they rouse little indignation. What if the poor are enticed not by truths but by promises of this-worldly comforts: when even the rich and powerful sell their souls for filthy lucre or power, why should the poor be barred from doing the same? The core values are economic: rich or poor and not moral like right or wrong, or metaphysical, true or false, or cultural, authentic or mimetic. Even Swami Vivekananda remarked that one cannot preach religion (the higher dharma) to people with empty stomachs, i.e., first establish the human security which enables genuine free choice. Combining community religion with food, healthcare and education is another ballgame. In 1977 the Supreme Court upheld the constitution of conversion-prohibiting laws enacted by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, clarifying that "organised conversion, whether by force or fraud, or by providing allurement to people taking advantage of their poverty and ignorance is anti-secular." The Court further said that respect for all religions was the basis of Indian secularism, whereas conversion was grounded in religious intolerance. And the Indian Constitution quite specifically frowns on conversions which disturb the peace.Recently a contretemps arose in Rajasthan between the BJP government, the Congress governor and Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of the introduction of a Bill barring conversions (which already obtains, at least notionally, in five states). The Pope, breaking the decorum of a credentials presentation ceremony, chastised India (read Hindus) through its envoy, for lack of religious tolerance. Virtually, Hindus were commanded in the name of freedom, to submit to proselytisation. Since conversion is an integral function of the Christian clergy, it is perhaps claimed as a religious right. But for the targeted community it could be provocative.How to reconcile proselytisation and tolerance? These are problematic as group and not individual rights. Tolerance is an essentially contested concept, linked to a particular religious point of view, and the alleged universality of the UDHR at least in this area is controversial. The Latin religio suggests being bound or obligated: certainly Abrahamic religions have strong community bonding, and Islam in particular, fierce punishments for apostasy. Dharma covers, apart from religious particularisms, relationships within and between social groups, moral and customary duties: in the past there were severe punishments for breaking caste taboos (under reform Hinduism and the Indian secular state, these are to some extent in retreat). But there was acceptance of diverse ways of life and belief, and this plural co-existence is what constitutes India's (not only Hindu) tolerance. Vivekananda gave it a modern gloss through describing different faiths as rivers emptying into the same sea.
It has been said that early Christianity and Islam functioned almost as varnas in the Indian social system after their initial proselytising advent: thereafter they played almost according to Indian social rules. But aggressive proselytising in the 19th and 20th centuries upset the old balances, causing concern to nationalists seeking a cultural definition of India.
A new straw in the wind apparently quivered in the aftermath of a recent interfaith meeting jointly organised by the Vatican and the World Council of Churches whose resolutions stressed, among other things, the need for all faiths to heal themselves from the obsession of converting others. However this occurred in the same week as the Pope's bombshell, undermining the credibility of the message.Under attack, the non-converting faiths have partly awoken to the need for self-protection. Since the defensive techniques are foreign to their basic structure, they generate much criticism, especially from their own adherents. The Hindus evolved shuddhi in the last century, reconverting converted Hindus or tribals, and defensive (sometimes veering on the destructively offensive) organisations to rally their members across castes and sects. The energy of a missionary faith may be deplored but not condemned, whereas counter measures arouse righteous indignation.The Khasis in Meghalaya faced a comparable crisis when the British conquered northeastern India in the 19th century, encouraging missionary activity to help pacify the areas. Their Niam Khasi religion had no recorded beliefs, no centrally administered social organisation, but there was a coherent fabric of interwoven socio-cultural practices and beliefs. By 1899, certain Khasi leaders made an effort to both organise themselves and encode their values in writing to resist the onslaught of the well-funded, well-organised government patronised missions. The result was the Seng Khasi movement, protective, revivalist and reversionist. It has won recognition as a distinct religion from the International Association for Religious Freedom. As structured today the Niam Khasi has an Indic character with belief in one God, U Blei, common to and in communication with, all of humanity. It retains its particular cosmic and nature deities, and magical elements perdure as in Tibetan Buddhism. The Oneness and universal accessibility of God obviate the need for conversions, but reverting Khasis are welcome.Post-Independence conversions continued, with the plethora of Protestant churches finally upstaged by the Roman Catholic, today even more gung-ho under the new Pope. The traditional Khasis feel culturally threatened, lacking the means to match the excellent Christian educational and healthcare institutions with their employment potential. If earlier a convert had to abandon traditional customs, nowadays Christians more pragmatically seek to blend into local cultures.
Gandhi had remarked that the advent of a missionary means the disruption of a family, and even when outward conditions of dress, manners, language and drink are unaffected, "vilification of the Hindu religion, though subdued, remains." Hindu families may squabble like any other, but religio-cultural fissures cut at the heart of the Indian group society engendering great anguish. It is anybody's guess as to who will be the ultimate winner, the foreign religion or local culture, or whether India will pull another syncretic rabbit out of its proverbial hat. Today with Central government ineptitude over northeastern problems combined with regional near-sightedness, there is much local talk of being "different from India." The Chinese have always encouraged this sense of difference along the Himalayan border.Freedom of conscience and freedom to propagate do not exhaust all the nuances of religious rights and tolerance. We need an ethics of diversity and pluralism. Human rights discourse could consider new formulations for accommodating the needs, expectations and practices of a wide spectrum of faiths to move towards the more truly "universal." Human rights form the essential foundations of our own society and Constitution, but we might like to modify certain clauses so that all groups, big and small, can be confidently assured of their religious freedoms.
Conversions threaten a way of lifehttp://in.rediff.com/news/2005/dec/30franc.htmDecember 30, 2005Francois Gautier writes to Dr John Dayal, member, National Integration Council, in response to the letter he wrote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:Dear John Dayal,I am a Westerner and a born Christian. I was mainly brought up in Catholic schools, my uncle Father Guy Gautier a gem of a man, was the parish head of the beautiful Saint Jean de Montmartre church in Paris. My father Jacques Gautier, a famous artist in France, and a truly good person if there ever was one, was a fervent Catholic all his life, went to church nearly every day and lived by his Christian values.There are certain concepts in Christianity I am proud of: Charity for others, the equality of social systems in many Western countries, Christ's message of love and compassion.Yet, when I read your letter to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, apropos the inaugural meeting of the National Integration Council, I was a little uneasy.First, you seem to assume that you are speaking for the entire Christian community in India. But I know many Christians in this country, and they never voice the grievances you so loudly proclaim. In fact, I have found that most Christians in India are not only happy to live in this country of traditional tolerance, but that they are also different from many Christians in the world: More multicultural and ecumenist in spirit, maybe.Then, you speak of the marginalised Dalits. I agree that there are still unforgivable atrocities committed against Dalits, although very often they are done by backward castes themselves. I remember during the tsunami in Pondichery, how the Vanniars, an OBC caste, stopped the Dalits from a coastal hamlet from crossing the Vanniars' part of the village to bury their dead, as the Dalits' cremation ground had been submerged.At the same time, my 30 years in India have taught me that nowhere in the world has there been so much effort to rectify a wrong -- from 1947 onwards. This resulted in a Dalit, the late K R Narayanan, born in a poor village of Kerala, to be elected President of India, one of the highest posts in this nation.Has a black man ever been President of the United States?Reservations for Dalits have made it possible for them to access education and jobs regardless of their merits -- and this is a unique feature of India today.Francois Gautier who are the real Dalits of India?You continue by saying that 'the agenda draftsmen of papers for NIC seem to believe that forcible and fraudulent conversions (to Christianity) are the main cause of civil unrest in tribal and other rural areas'. And you retort that 'this is a malicious myth propagated by obscurantist and fundamentalist -- and often violent -- political groups'. Meaning Hindu groups, of course.I have to disagree with you on two points.
One, I have seen with my own eyes how conversions in India are not only highly unethical -- that is, using unethical means of conversion -- but also that they threaten a whole way of life, erasing centuries of tradition, customs, wisdom, teaching people to despise their own religion and look Westwards to a culture which is alien to them, with disastrous results.Look at what happened to countries like Hawaii, or to the extraordinary Aztec culture in South America, after Portuguese and Spanish missionaries took over.Look how the biggest drug problems in India are found in the Northeast, or how Third World countries which have been totally Christianised have lost all moorings and bearing and are drifting away without nationalism and self-pride.Second, I think people like you show very little gratitude to that Hindu ethos which has seeped into Indian Christian consciousness. It is because of that Hindu ethos, which accepts that god may manifest himself at different times in different names, that Christians were welcomed in India in the first century. Indeed, the Syrian Christians of Kerala constituted the first Christian community in the world.It is because of this inbred tolerance in Hinduism that Christianity and many other persecuted minorities in the world flourished and practiced their religion in peace in India throughout the centuries.But how do Christians thank the Hindus? When the Jesuits arrived in India with Vasco de Gama, they committed terrible persecutions, particularly in Goa, crucifying Brahmins, marrying local girls forcibly to Portuguese soldiers, razing temples to build churches and splitting the Kerala Christian community in two.'Goa Inquisition was most merciless and cruel'And today, people like you continue ranting against Hindus and promoting unethical conversions, using the massive power of the dollars donated by ignorant Westerners, who do not know that their money is used to lure innocent tribals and Dalits, who still possess that all encompassing acceptance of all gods, towards another religion.Furthermore, you use false statistics, saying for instance that nuns have been raped. You no doubt allude to the Jhabua rape case, when courts have shown that these nuns were not raped by Hindus, but by Christian tribals.I know, I went there and interviewed these innocent souls.And who has been hijacking of the educational system in India? Not the Hindus, as you accuse, but the Christians, who control much of the higher education in India and by subtle and not so subtle means, poison the minds of the students, teaching them to look down on their own culture and look up to whatever is Western -- even if it has already failed in the West.In how many schools and hospitals in India today, the Bible is read at the beginning of each day, each session? Would you approve of the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible of 850 million Hindus being read in Christian schools in the West to Christian students and nurses?Finally, when you say: 'God bless you, you Government, and God bless India', which god are you talking about? Is it Jesus Christ? But the message of Christ was one of love, of respecting others' cultures and creed -- not of utilising unethical means for converting people.It is false to say that Jesus is the only 'true' god. As Hindus rightly believe, the Divine has manifested himself throughout the ages under different names and identities, whether it is Christ, Buddha, Krishna or Mohammad.Let this be the motto of the National Integration Council of India.Francois Gautier
Dr. Kaj Baago, the Danish Theologian, quit teaching theology and left the church, not because of disappointment or disillusion, agnosticism or mere anthropology, but because of his understanding of Christ and his commitment to Christianity............. ......... ......... ......... ........What follow are excerpts from Jonas Jorgensen's study of Baago. Click here for the full article http://www.religion -online.org/ showarticle. asp?title= 1634............ ......... ......... ......... ......... ......... .......This issue addressed most clearly in his article "Must Hindus be Baptized to become Christians?" (Baago 1966a) and in the article "The Place of Baptism in the Christian Mission in India" (Baago 1967h; see also 1966e:438; 1967e: 148). The nucleus of the problem is that baptism, according to Baago, has come to mean something different in the Indian context than what was intended in the New Testament. As the Christians got recognized in India as a political body the claim for political rights followed (Baago 1967h:49), as seen for e.g. in the so-called `politics of numbers' under the British rule. Baptism thus became a baptism to the Church and not to Christ, it became a political act rather than a sacrament.4Baago makes it clear that the church as an organization cannot be directly identified with the Body of Christ (Baago 1966a:18) as the Spirit of Christ is working outside the church (Baago 1966d: 14). Baago does not find anything essentially better or worse in the Christian church than in the Hindu society, but there can, according to Baago, be no doubt that Christ is working inside as well as outside the Christian Church, and the Christians can therefore not claim to have a monopoly on Christ In one of his first articles from India, written in 1962, he writes that the task of the missionaries is today `. . . not to introduce a new God in India, the Jewish God, but to proclaim to Hindus and Muslims that the God whom they know, and yet not know, has revealed Himself in Christ"
Christians are thoroughly muddled over this business of conversion. It is intriguing that Christian missionary efforts at conversions under the guise of social work do not take place in localities, say, like the Brahmin-dominated ward of Mylapore in Chennai or Malleswaram in Bangalore. They are conducted in poor and illiterate dalit colonies and slums and remote villages far from the prying eyes of authority.
Will mere conversion alone help the Church fulfilling the Christian duty in a society? Many will answer in the negative. As long as economic and social conditions remain unchanged in the Church, its mission also will fail. For instance, Christians have sinned more than others in perpetuating social injustice. Caste-consciousness is still prevalent in the Christian community. It only shows that they are not yet sufficiently redeemed as they profess to be. When the higher ideals and aspirations of the Christian path are understood and when their mentors, both clergy and the laity, inculcate true Christian spirit among its members, the community can get rid of all negative phases of casteism and transform it as an ideal and casteless community.
Conversions have neither offered a way of escape from the bondage of caste nor have they fostered the social transformation of the Dalit Christians. They still live under the same conditions of discrimination, exploitation and oppression. When a Dalit becomes a Christian he should be given a minimum chance of escaping from the "outcast" status. He should merge with the rest of the Christian community and the Church must make it possible for him to start afresh. If Christians cannot treat Dalit converts as part of their fellowship it is better to leave them alone. Christ himself said: "You encompass sea and land to make one convert and then you make him twice the son of hell as you are". Dalit Christians’ conversion to Christianity has meant nothing but substitution of social discrimination within the Churches for discrimination within the Hindu society.
The churches offered charity equally to all castes who came into its fold, and charity became a powerful weapon of persuasion. It was, however, another matter that feudal prejudices underwent mere reincarnation: separate pews exist for lower-caste Christians in many churches of the country. In death they are allotted their own cemeteries or a corner of the main cemetery, with a wall separating the section in some.
A section of the Christian Church has always wrongly emphasized conversion as the primary aim of the Christian mission, totally misunderstanding Christ’s Commission. The Commission to preach the gospel is usually quoted by all Christian groups. But they conveniently ignore the fact that there are other very important elements in the teachings of Christ. " Love your enemy as yourself. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust do corrupt but lay up treasures in heaven. You cannot serve God and Mammon. Forgive your brother not seven times but seventy times seven. Love one another as I have loved you."
Unless Christians share the sufferings of the people they have no word of the gospel to them, whatever true things they might say. If Christians as a community took to the teachings of Christ seriously then they would be justified in preaching. To preach what they do not practise is to put the cart before the horse. Let their light so shine before men that they may see their good works and glorify the Father in heaven!
If all religions are ultimately for the welfare and salvation of humankind then conversion is absurd. The church leaders have miserably failed to take care of the 16 million Dalits converted to Christianity. Christianity is a path of life paved with suffering and service. Christ said: ‘if any one wants to follow me, let him take up the cross and follow me." Unfortunately, the Indian Christian leaders want the Government to carry the Cross of Dalit Christians.
Many well-meaning Christians believe that attempts at conversion should be considered a mortal assault on local cultures and should be totally banned. Mr. Jon Stock, New Delhi correspondent of the The Daily Telegraph wrote in October 1999: " put simply, the Indian subcontinent has become the principal target for a wide range of western Christian missions which are determined to spread the gospel to India’s "unreached" people. There is little doubt that the current communal tension in India would not be serious if foreign-funded missionaries had been content with giving Indians the choice of Christianity and left it at that".
The Tamil Nadu Ordinance may only help to rid the Christians of the fake they see around them, to separate the wheat from the chaff.