Ethics of Proselytizing
By Rajiv Malhotra
The Infinity Foundation
Date: November 8, 2000
the Cornell University Conference on 'Human Rights and Religion'
We have heard
numerous talks at this event about the human rights problems related to White
Supremacy groups, but do we have the courage to examine the possibility that
there might be Christian supremacy groups as well, often camouflaged as
proselytizers? We have heard numerous condemnations of hate speech, but do we
exempt hate speech when it is done in the name of God or religion, even quoted
from a sacred book? Two factors about the West that are interrelated have been
its propensity to 'globalize' through economic and religions means, and its
economic power in recent centuries (but not before). In support of these
expansions, various academic disciplines were developed. In particular,
anthropology was defined as the study of 'primitive' cultures, presumably by
those who regarded themselves as advanced and superior. This mindset of
being above the glass ceiling so to speak, and looking down at the subject
matter, has translated into arrogance and hegemony. Has the scholar become
immune to challenge from those below this glass ceiling? On a civilization
scale, has the West been spared from being placed under the microscope of the
anthropologist so as to uncover how it might appear from the outside? My talk
examines one specific phenomenon peculiar mostly to the West and its export of
religion, namely that of Christian proselytizing, and I examine it as a social
activity that has escaped close scrutiny.
Let me start by
listing the following phrases that are commonly used by proselytizers in
describing their non-Christian target prospects: 'sinners', 'condemned',
'damned', 'heathen', pagan, etc. If it were not done in the name of
religion, would this have been declared as hate speech? Does such talk, even if
disguised or deferred until a later stage of a proselytizing campaign, build
communal tension? Is this responsible for negative eruptions in India between
Hindus and Christians who co-existed peacefully for centuries before the arrival
of the proselytizers? Given that America is a tapestry of pluralistic faiths,
and that therefore Hindus are also amongst one's classmates, neighbors, and
colleagues at work, would this language lead to social problems in the future as
opposed to the kind of harmonious society we all seek? Does it violate the UN
Human Rights provision that guarantees 'dignity' to all people as a basic human
As one recent
example of offensive speech, the Southern Baptist Church distributed pamphlets
during Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, in November, 1999 claiming:
"900 million Hindus are in spiritual bondage". A month later,
another pamphlet from them declared: "900 million people lost in the
hopeless darkness of Hinduism."
in 'Why Christianity Must Change or Die'
familiar Christian God acknowledged by almost all of our European ancestors not
only blessed the imperialistic and colonial expansion of those nations in the
seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries but also declared that this
colonialist domination of the underdeveloped peoples of the world was the very
will of the Christian deity. So under the banner of Christ, native
population in what we today call the third world were subjugated and converted,
while the resources of those conquered nations were being extracted from their
soil to bring wealth to the Europeans".
verses Jesus' Message
against proselytizing is not to be confused as an attack against all
Christianity, as many Christians do not believe in proselytizing. It is
especially not to be interpreted as criticism of Jesus' message, as Jesus did
not ask that a Church be started at all. Institutional Christianity is
mainly Paulism. Early Christian leaders were pluralistic and endorsed many
pagan practices, some of which were centuries later expunged while others were
appropriated into the institution. Both pre-Jesus and post-Jesus Middle
East was heavily influenced by Indic thought. Origen taught reincarnation.
Deities, occult practices, existence of Buddhist monks, and perhaps the
introduction of bells in churches (not found in Jewish synagogues), are some of
the examples of influence. There are numerous references in Greek and
Roman writings concerning India. The New Testament as existing today is
largely a construct of the 4th century under the editorial team sponsored by the
Roman military ruler Constantine. Proselytizing ever since his time has
been a weapon for imperialism. It has never been friendly to the
indigenous, be it in Africa, America, Asia, or even Europe itself.
In this regard, Gandhi wrote:
consider Western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ's
Christianity. I cannot conceive Jesus, if he was living in flesh in our
midst, approving of modern Christian organizations, public worship, or
ministry." (Young India: September 22, 1921)
Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only
begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite
unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all sons of God, but for each of us
there may be different sons of God in a special sense. Thus for me
Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God … I cannot ascribe exclusive
divinity to Jesus." (Harijan: June 3, 1937)
What are the
quantitative rather than qualitative spiritual improvement, many Christian
churches analyze their predicament as follows:
and pluralism in the West have eroded their flock size.
* Clergy is
aging, as young persons are entering religion less frequently than before.
In France, often many villages have to share one preacher.
* There is less
active church participation per thousand members than before.
* Members are
less compliant than before about church policies.
international travel, information, and education have made the public more
introspective and thinking for themselves.
churches are unhappy not only when their members become non-Christians but they
get upset when a member of one church leaves to join another Christian church -
flock-stealing. The Pope has said that his visit to South America was to
protect his flock from the 'rapacious wolves' of evangelical Protestantism.
The whole thing is a game of power, and maintaining a hold on one's flock.
There is nothing even remotely spiritual in this program.
these negative trends, the Churches have looked for the export market.
However, China is too closed politically for aggressive proselytizing.
Muslim countries outright deny such privileges to the church, and it is
considered too risky to 'take on' Islam.
billion soul potential market is too big a temptation not to go after.
Poverty, gullibility and traditional openness towards strangers in Hinduism
makes it vulnerable to predatory tactics. Constitutional pluralism of
India allows easy entry. The diversity within Hinduism has been taken
advantage of by many proselytizers. Most Americans are naïve about their
understanding of the dynamics of India's religious scene, and would find it hard
to believe what goes on in the name of American exported Christianity there.
often becoming commercial 'brands' competing for market share, selling the
'positive' product of God's love and the 'negative' product of insurance from
Christianity and the dogma of Marxism, have had unquenchable thirst for
quantitative expansion, simply because they hanker after political power,
materialistic objectives, and resort to any means. Missionary activities
blossomed in America under the patronage of Spanish Conquistadors, and in India
it sanctified the colonialism of the British and the Portuguese. The
fundamental objective of conversions is "imperialism".
instances, persons who would be nobodies in USA, Germany or Australia, can
derive enormous ego gratification as missionaries: Promoted to a frontline post
in the war against idolatry, they are praised back home as messiahs to the poor,
and revered by some illiterate villagers for teaching them beliefs which would
provoke laughter back home. Strangest of all, they are applauded by
India's "secularists" while Western secularists would prefer to end
The Church is
willing to give, but just like the Devil, it wants to harvest your soul in
return. Students in Christian schools are encouraged towards alienation
from their heritage, and are sometimes used as political pawns to air Christian
demands through student demonstrations or strikes - Christian schools become a
power tool rather than a service.
complained about Christian missionaries' activities in India on numerous
occasions, the following being examples of his statements:
other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket,
distributed it among the famine stricken, converted them to his fold, took
charge of their temple and demolished it. This is outrageous." (Harijan:
November 5, 1937)
nowadays has become a matter of business like any other … India (Hindus) is in
no need of conversion of the kind … Conversion in the sense of
self-purification, self-realization, is the crying need of the times.
That, however, is never what is meant by proselytizing." (Young India:
April 23, 1931).
wander about throughout the length and breath of India, I see many Christian
Indians almost ashamed of their birth, certainly of their ancestral
religion." (Young India: August 8, 1925)
were done by the power of the sword, until about fifty years ago. Now this
is being done by coercion, humiliation, deceit and sometimes fraud. The
agenda then and now of the missionaries is the same. In many ways, the
latest document coming from the Vatican, "Dominus Jesus", once again
establishes the real objective of competitive marketing.
Marketing in India
The food chain
of predator-prey relationships in India's proselytizing market consists of
vegetarians (mainly Hindus) at the bottom, with Southern Baptist, Pentecostal
and certain other denominations at the top, and Catholics sandwiched in the
middle. While Catholics are the first easy targets for the industrial
grade marketing campaigns by the top tier, the Catholics in turn replenish their
flock by preying upon the Hindus below, especially those who are poor and
For example, in
North India, the Southern Baptists alone have: 4,700 workers, 15,000 career
missionaries, 50,000 volunteers, 1,000 new college graduates per year with an
average two year length of service. (Source: Baptist Press 11/22/99).
In total, there are estimated to be 100,000 career Christian missionaries in
India, a size several times the sales force of the largest Indian corporations.
There is a TV advertising campaign with a budget of several hundred million
been doing extensive market analysis to learn the practices, vulnerabilities,
wants, and internal divisions of Hindus in each region, so as to develop
effective marketing campaigns. Sophisticated market segmentation and
specialized teams now exist for target marketing to groups such as: girls, adult
women, poor illiterate villagers, and there are internal acronyms for each
inducement used is illustrated by the following examples:
Placid, who converts Dang tribes in Gujarat said: "We have certain targets
every year," she confesses. We have to lure and bribe them with
goodies to join our faith." (Sunil K Poolani, "Frenzy over
faith", The Sunday Observer, Jan 3, 1999.)
missionaries come in the guise of English teachers. They give money,
computers to universities, and scholarships to children of influential
officials. They buy their way in." (Alexander Berzin,
"Disrupting the faith?" interview, Newsweek, Jan 13, 1997.)
churches use mass rallies and faith healing among tribes to draw prospects, with
promises of education and jobs. Giving a walkman with a tape of the Bible
in their own language is a modern equivalent of the trinkets given to African
chieftains by Vasco da Gama.
missionaries are investing billions of dollars in India from donation drives
whereas gullible Americans think that they are giving towards uplifting
"poor and uneducated Indians." However, the billions of dollars
donated to convert Hindus over the last few centuries have been an incredibly
inefficient use of resources - only about 2.4% of India's population is
Christian. Meanwhile, this has disrupted India's communal harmony and
created hostilities among the religions.
* Examples of
fraud, deception and con games include the following:
conversions to be 'saved' have sometimes left families without a home when it is
learnt that the Church has a signed document by which the deceased transferred
all the property to the Church as a final act.
miracles are used as 'promotions' in Kerala, where Churches place 'miracle
boxes' in which poor villagers are invited to place their wishes. If
anyone's wish comes true, it is declared a miracle and the whole village feels
pressured to convert.
* A Hindu deity
made of stone is thrown into a pond along with a wooden cross. The cross
floats while the deity sinks into the water. The message given is that the
Christian God floats while the 'false Hindu God' has sunk.
* The school
bus stops suddenly. Young kids are told that they must pray 'Krishna' to
try and restart it, but it fails to do so. Then they try 'Rama', then
'Guru Nanak', etc. Finally, after exhausting the common names in India for
spiritual authority, they are asked to say 'Jesus' all together, and at that
time the bus suddenly starts. Everyone applauds the demonstration of
Jesus' love and power.
* However, to
over-awe illiterate people, material inducement and exploitation of gullibility
are defended by some church leaders: "Since remaining a Pagan means eternal
damnation, while conversion brings eternal salvation, the greater good amply
justifies the minor evil of bribes and deception needed to lure people into the
former President of Kenya, summed up similar sentiments:
the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the
Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened
our eyes, they had the land and we were left with the Bible".
Christianity in India
Phase One -
When the Syrian
Christians fled their homeland from persecution in the very early years of
Christianity, they established amongst the oldest Christian communities of the
world in Kerala (India). The generous Hindus granted hospitality for more
than a thousand years. The relationship between Hindus and the persecuted
immigrants who came for shelter was one of mutual respect.
Christians lived in harmony, even imbibing some of the local Hindu customs,
until the Jesuits came in the 16th century and divided the community be telling
them that it was 'heathen' to have anything to do with the Hindus.
world has no record of any such prolonged act of hospitality, and Christianity's
self-portrayal as a religion of compassion, equality and democracy, contradicts
its historical alignment with monarchies, colonial armies, fascist states and
Phase Two -
Vasco de Gama
landed in India in 1498 and was generously received by the Hindu king of Calicut,
who granted him the right to establish commerce. But Hindu hospitality was
exploited. In 1510, Alfonso de Albuquerque seized Goa, where he started a
reign of terror, burning 'heretics,' crucifying Hindus, using false theories to
forcibly convert, razing temples to build churches upon them, and encouraging
his soldiers to take Indian mistresses. Indeed, the Portuguese perpetrated
in India some of the worst atrocities ever committed by Christianity.
Catholics gained a foothold on the Malabar coast, and forced the thousand year
old community of Malabar Christians (from Phase One) into the structure of the
Catholic Church. It was not good enough that they had already been
Christians for a thousand years!
records how the Portuguese conquered Goa and ruled by terror:
two and a half centuries of existence at Goa, the Inquisition burned at the
stake 57 alive and 64 in effigy. Others sentenced to various cruel
punishments totaled 4,046. The people who were converted but still
continued secretly to perform Hindu rituals were treated even more harshly…
The manner in which the Church enriched itself was just scandalous. Half
the property of a person found in possession of idols went to the Church…The
Church acquired urban and rural properties on an impressive scale. The
open performances of Hindu ceremonies were replaced by great public processions
on Christian feast days. One of the worst criminals was Francis Xavier,
later to be made into a saint."
Fryer wrote: "In the principal market was raised an engine of great height,
at top like a Gibbet, with a pulley …which unhinges a man's joints, a cruel
Phase Three -
missionaries in India supported colonialism, based on 'the good Western
civilized world being brought to the Pagans.' Claudius Bucchanan, a chaplain in
the East India Company, said: 'Neither truth, nor honesty, honor, gratitude, nor
charity, is to be found in the breast of a Hindoo!' (What a remark about a
civilization that originated the Vedas when Europeans were still entertaining
themselves with Gladiators.)
attitude, the British preyed upon the poor and simple tribes of Eastern India,
converted them to Christianity, cut them from their tradition, and made them
dependent on the West. The Christian missionaries, who came to India on
the shoulders of the colonial powers, behaved in the same manner against the
Hindus as the Muslim invaders did centuries before them. The vandalism by
these missionaries was no less than what the Hindus had to suffer at the hands
of the Muslims.
Christians have made some apologies to the Native Americans and the Africans for
their oppression of them. But the Pope has refused to include Hindus in
any such apologies.
to Discredit Hinduism
Hinduism's ability to solve its own problems without conversion to Christianity,
it is often portrayed as 'world negating' and socially backward as opposed to
progressive. It is said to not help the underclass. Karma is
interpreted as fatalism and as encouraging accepting one's plight rather than
taking responsibility. India is depicted as having been always poor, the
result of its indigenous beliefs. Women issues, including child marriage,
sati, dowry, dowry deaths, and inferior role in society are another common focus
used for this purpose, and this is especially politicized. Environmental
problems in contemporary India are seen as chronic in India's traditions per se,
compared to the West's 'rational' mindset.
fail to delve into the history. Economic and ecological problems are
relatively recent in India. Whereas in the West's case, history has been a
'development' from the dark ages to modernity, India was plundered, subjugated
and used for drainage of its economic surplus for a thousand years by those very
civilizations that now proclaim their superiority over it. Many of India's
social problems have economic roots. Islamic and British records are
categorical in their assertion about the material wealth of India, its higher
literacy rate than Britain's up to the 19th century, and its massive
manufacturing export base that was later migrated to form the core of Britain's
India's crime today is small compared to the US on a per million population
basis in every major category, yet India's problems are labeled as 'Hindu'.
Scholars would not label the US's very high incidence of child abuse, rapes,
massive prison population, drug and other addictions, high incidence of
depression, and numerous other problems as 'Christian' problems.
scholars emphasize caste as the defining characteristic of Hinduism, to the
exclusion of all other qualities. However, had the language used been of
'class' rather than 'caste' structure, it would also compel students to examine
the US' own racially segregated churches, white supremacy groups, racial
profiling, economic stratification, and civil rights issues. In fact, the
very foundation of the American system has been historically based on white
supremacy and Christian supremacy over blacks and Native Americans.
strategic move has been for Christians to control the scholarship about
Hinduism, whereas Hindus have seldom if ever been concerned about scholarly
dissections of Christianity. Under this control, which began during
colonial times, Hinduism was given the image of being polytheistic, which in
turn is seen as neo-pagan and primitive. It is shown as full of
meaningless superstitious rituals, when in fact there is not even a word in
Sanskrit that means 'superstition'. Kali and other scary images are
deployed to indicate a negative and violent religion. Animal symbolism is
interpreted to indicate animal worship. The whole enterprise has been to
depict an unscientific tradition lacking rational contributions or tendencies,
compared to European superiority. All this makes the missionary and the
economic hegemony easier to morally justify and to execute.
from Indic Traditions
Christian denominations have a long history of co-opting others' beliefs.
They honor a belief or practice provided it is placed under their supremacy.
For example, the church subordinated the old pagan Greek philosophies of
Aristotle and Plato, which it made the basis of Christian theology. While
they stereotype Hinduism on the one hand, Hinduism is also the source of much
appropriation into Christianity on the other. Hindus may confuse such
co-opting of their religion with a genuine regard for it. Given that
Hindus honor many paths and views, such appropriations have also served to cause
confusion among them, and often one hears Hindus say that 'all religions are the
same' without understanding the deeper consequences. While a Hindu
participating in any Christian activities, practices, or beliefs would not be
violating Hinduism and remains a good Hindu, the reverse is not true.
Therefore, by joining Christianity under the false expectation that it would not
affect his Hindu faith, he gradually begins to get discouraged by the newly
adopted Christian faith from keeping his Hindu identity or practices.
Eventually this leads to social and cultural alienation from his roots.
Hence, the idea of dual religious affiliation, while fine for a Hindu, is a
one-way street, and has often become a political ploy for Christians to convert
those who wish to retain many Hindu practices.
For example, in
South India, Catholic priests dress up like Hindu swamis in orange, and call
their organizations ashrams, and call the preachers 'gurus'. But they are
actively engaged in surreptitious conversion. Their Hindu dress is not
necessarily to honor Hindu traditions but to make Christianity more acceptable
to the local population. They start with the Hindu 'tilak' on the forehead
and this is gradually modified into a cross. Bharat Natayam, the famous
religious dance of Hinduism, is being taught by Christian run schools in South
India, in which Hindu symbols are replaced by Christian deities and symbols.
Such appropriations are designed to ease the cultural transition. In many
cases, the gullible audience are unaware that the preacher is not in fact a
Hindu, because he comes across like a Hindu as much as he can. This Trojan
Horse strategy is becoming more popular.
monk, Father Bede Griffiths, lived for 30 years in India writing with great
reverence about Hinduism and how it enhanced his understanding of Christianity.
But his successor Brother Keating renamed these meditation practices as
'Christian Centering Prayer', and gradually diminished the Indian links,
presumably to secure his grip on the flock more fully.
Some Hindu or
Buddhist practices get renamed to appear more Christian friendly: Vipassana
Meditation has become 'mindfulness meditation', trademarked by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga has been appropriated by Ken Wilber and renamed as
Integral Psychology. Teilhard de Chardin's extensive study and commentary
on Vedanta during his trip to India, especially Ramanuja's works, are suppressed
by his modern followers, even though Teilhard used these ideas to develop what
is now 'liberal Christianity'. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian
Science quoted Indic thought in the early editions of her books, but these
references later got removed as Theosophy and she became competitors - one
deploying Indic ideas openly in a perennial way and the other within strictly
In an age
when the Western nations demand intellectual property rights at WTO and other
forums, would it be ethical and fair to acknowledge the West's appropriations
from other civilizations?
Hegemony Promoted as American Patriotism
and religious minorities are made to feel less American if they are
non-Christian. Unlike racism, which is not open at least in the
mainstream, religious prejudice is blatant on national TV every Sunday, in
political elections, and other aspects of social and public life. But the
fact is that the US was not founded as a Christian nation:
* Virtually all
the founders of this nation were Freemasons and deists. Many actively
spoke out against Christianity.
Jefferson said: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world,
and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming
* John Adams
said: "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no
religion in it."
* During Adams'
administration, the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which
states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America
is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
* The last
correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson expressed their alarm
that the Jesuits were to be allowed into the United States.
Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, noted: "Religious
bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble
* All the
symbols on the $1 bill are Freemason symbols. There is not one Christian
symbol to be found.
* Thomas Paine,
when asked his religion, said he subscribed only to the religion of humanity.
View of the Bible's Psychology
language of proselytizing is explicitly one of hatred and implicitly one of
racism, with the tone of a superior talking down at the inferior people, is also
echoed by Bishop Spong: "All evangelical and missionary activities designed
to convert the heathen are base born. They are the expressions of our
sense of superiority and our hostility toward those who are different".
Pagels writes in 'The Origin of Satan':
"Christians have taught - and acted upon-the belief that their enemies are
evil and beyond redemption."
Armstrong writes in 'A
History of God': "Conversions became a
central preoccupation, a violent, tortured drama in which the "sinner"
and his spiritual director "wrestled" for his soul. …..The
heavy emphasis on hell and damnation combined with an excessive self-scrutiny
led many into clinical depression: suicide seems to have been prevalent.
Puritans attributed this to Satan, who seems as powerful ….as God..….
The Puritans God inspired anxiety and a harsh intolerance of those who were not
among the elect".
psychological implications of such hate speech on the conduct of the
civilizations afflicted by it, Bishop Spong writes in 'Why Christianity Must
Change or Die: "Anger ….. is why so many Christian leaders
historically have justified such things as the stifling of debate with ex
cathedra pronouncements, the persecution of dissenters, the excommunication of
nonconformists, the execution of heretics, and the engagement in religious
wars… Anger is always just beneath the surface of organized religion in almost
every one of its Western manifestations."
describes this negative archetype in her book, 'In the Beginning -
Interpretation of Genesis': "Noah was himself a victim of the divine
violence, and his story shows us that a new start based on violence and the
destruction of a people cannot usher in a healthy world order. Readers
of Genesis are forced to consider the unwelcome fact that they are all descended
from a drunkard and an abusive father, who exposed himself to his children and
neurotically disowned many of his descendants".
Indrani Rampersad, a woman activist in Trinidad writes:
"Christians see it as their duty to save the soul of the non-believer, who
is seen as inferior. Such religions are inherently predatory and
destructive of the cultural systems that they encounter in their role as the
strongest language used by scholars against such hatred-based religion comes
from Gore Vidal, the eminent American historian,
in his Lowell Lecture at Harvard University given April 20, 1996:
barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three antihuman religions
have evolved --Judaism, Christianity, Islam. These
are sky-god religions. They are,
literally, patriarchal --God is the omnipotent father-- hence the loathing of
women for 2,000 years. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course.
Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good.
Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve
the sky-god's purpose. Any movement of a liberal nature endangers his
authority and that of his delegates on earth. One God, one King, one Pope,
one master in the factory, one father-leader in the family home. Although
the Jews were sky-god folk, they followed Book One, not Book Two, so they have
no mission to convert others."
Christian groups have traditionally drawn strength from the suppressed.
African slaves were allowed to organize heavenly sky-god churches, as a
surrogate for earthly freedom. White churches were organized in order to
make certain that the rights of property were respected and that the numerous
religious taboos in the New and Old Testaments would be enforced, if necessary,
by civil law."
white race broke out of Europe 500 years ago,… inspired by a raging sky-god,
the whites were able to pretend that their conquests were in order to bring the
One God to everyone, particularly those with older and subtler religions. ……… what prosperity we have ever enjoyed in the past was usually based on
slave or near slave labor."
To bring about
world peace, to bring about cooperation among nations on global issues, and for
the sake of the spiritual evolution of humanity desired by all religions, it is
imperative that there be harmony among the religions of the world.
However, this is unachievable as long as some of them see others as competitors,
even in the holy game of soul saving. Mere tolerance is not enough, as it
is simply external and fails to address internalized prejudice. What is
needed is respect as well. The new age as melting pot of religions has
served to facilitate better understanding, sympathy and even adoption of other
religions' ideas, but the hold of 'brand' religions is still too strong.
Meanwhile, superficial interfaith dialogs have often turned into media rallies
to promote politically correct images externally, whereas the main work has to
be internally done within the institutions.
but courageous recommendation is from Regina Schwartz in 'The Curse of Cain -
The Violent Legacy of Monotheism', namely to amend the Bible: "My revision
would produce an alternative Bible that subverts the dominant vision of
violence….It would be a Bible embracing multiplicity instead of
monotheism….that new versions, decrying the violence of monotheism, will
proliferate. The old "monotheistic" Book must be closed so that
the new books may be fruitful and multiply."
I am so glad to
hear a speaker at this conference tell us that the Bible is going to be
retranslated over the next ten years with the goal of removing all the hate
speech against women, Jews, blacks, and Gays/Lesbians. I strongly
recommend that they also add to their list to remove the Bible's hate speech
against other religions, especially since this hatred has caused most of the
wars and continues to prevent genuine cooperation among the peoples of the
Archetype of Hatred and its Social Impact
plurality is sometimes merely a statement of tolerance, and nothing more: 'Love
thy neighbor' but do not forget that this neighbor will be going to hell, unless
you can save him from his backwardness.
Judeo-Christian religious language is built on the premise that they are
sinners, the resulting language of conversion theology is based on polarizing
humanity into those favored or saved by God verses those not. This
vocabulary of condemnation, heathen, sinner, pagan is very strong and violent.
Traditions rooted in such language devalue and degenerate the individual, and
are manifestations of genocidal and holocaust archetypes.
A key question
is: Are we inherently condemned as per Christian dogma or inherently divine as
per Hinduism? The answer defines one's lens for viewing history, humanity and
the definition of progress. The exclusivist faiths do not share the Hindu
idea of divinity as an inner quality with different symbolic representations.
conversions have always generated tremendous social tensions. The reason
for this is that such conversions become successful only when the people are
rooted out of their ancient traditions and are made to think that their
ancestors were evil people. The converts are made to say awful things to
the non-converts. Converts are also asked to ignore the local traditions
and to act contrary to them. For example, in Orissa (India) it is
considered to be inauspicious to plough the land on a particular day. The
missionaries insist that the converts disregard this ancient tradition.
The Church of England has asked its members to stay away from meditation
practices and yoga since they come from traditions that the Church of England
says are inferior to Christianity.
Christianity or Islam has entered a given culture, in many instances people are
no longer encouraged to be free to think independently. The Bible or Koran
then becomes the supreme authority that no one dares challenge. Despite a
freedom-loving outer lifestyle, Western civilization largely fails to pursue
spirituality with freedom.
which India discovered long before the Semitic religions did, has now become
confused with mono-lithic and mono-poly. The monotheism vs.
polytheism debate needs to be re-phrased as: fear-based dogma vs. freedom
of discovery and experimentation of processes, methodologies and direct
universities of the world were built in India, and students from around the
world flocked there for higher education. When Islam destroyed the great
civilization of India, including its centers of learning in Takshashila,
Vikramashila, Nalanda and other places, it also destroyed the free-spirited
genius that was the basis for India's science. Not a single educational
center came up for several centuries following the Islamic invasions.
Christianity destroyed the great free-spirited Greek Civilization.
progression in the West has been from canonical absolutism to fanaticism.
The result in the 20th century was Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. Is
Proselytizing the return of the fanatic?
Views of Other Religions
welcomed not only Christians, but also fleeing Jewish and Zoroastrian
communities since ancient times. In this hospitable atmosphere, the
migrants were able to build up economic success, as is exhibited by the affluent
Zoroastrians in India today.
many paths of salvation as valid, believing that each person may create a
personal spiritual path. This is the essence of the Hindu tolerance that
gave shelter to the religiously persecuted people of the world. There are
many God-Truths, but these are merely representations by different people of a
single God-Truth. This has given rise to hundreds of sects and sub-sects
within Hinduism, which have learned to co-exist. There is no central
authority to control people's personal belief on religious matters. In no
case has Hinduism caused alienation of people against their own heritage.
went to any land with the power of the sword. Its spread outside the land
of its birth has always been through peaceful means. There have been no
attempts to convert people of other faiths. There is no particular zeal
and enthusiasm for one's beliefs to the point of wanting to 'educate' others on
one's own religious beliefs. Those from outside the Hindu traditions who
have been attracted to it have done so of their own initiative due to its
openness and freedom. Hindus never target anyone for conversion, so the
motive for hatred is not there. Rather, Hindus are challenging Christian
prejudices against Hindus that cause mistrust and hatred of Hindus by
Christians. You will find a picture of Christ in many Hindu homes.
It is the general Muslim view that Hindus are idolators, polytheists and kafirs
and doomed in the eyes of Allah. Hindus have no such doctrines about
Islam. Hindu dislike of Christianity and Islam is largely a backlash
against the centuries long efforts to convert them which are still going on.
there is no concept similar to Christian martyrdom or Islamic jihad. The
most popular, important, and revered historical figures of Hinduism were not
martyrs. Spirituality is not about fighting someone of another religion.
There is no discussion of other religions in Hinduism, no campaigns against
'false gods'. Comparative religion is not of much interest to Hindus, as
they do not see religion through competitive or predatory eyes.
Christians, on the other hand, go out of their way to control positions in
academics to research and to teach about Hinduism, as a sort of competitor
intelligence gathering and hegemony.
There has never
been any Science verses Religion conflict in Hinduism.
to stop proselytizing
The Dalai Lama
has written: "There are many areas of common ground on which we can have
harmony - helping, respecting, and understanding each other - in a common effort
to serve humankind. The aim of human society must be the compassionate
betterment of human beings…….I am interested not in converting other people
to Buddhism but in how we Buddhists can contribute to human society, according
to our own ideas. I believe that other religious faiths also think in a
similar way, seeking to contribute to the common aim." He recommends a
moratorium on proselytizing, at least for a certain period of time, in order to
given cooperative pluralism a chance.
things have not improved since Gandhi said:
"If I had
the power and could legislate, I would stop all proselytizing … In Hindu
households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family
coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and drink
…" (Harijan: November 5, 1935).
innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a
better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian." (Young India: January 19,
that proselytizing under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the
least. It is most resented by people here. Religion after all is a
deeply personal thing. It touches the heart. Why should I change my
religion because a doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured
me of some disease, or why should the doctor expect such a change whilst I am
under his influence?" (Young India: April 23, 1931).
challenge the missionaries to take one small country, say El Salvador (the name
has significance since it comes from 'salvation'), and help to remove all the
poverty and social ills of that Christian country. Only then could the
missionaries say that their objective is social uplifting and empowerment.
Only then might they have any credibility claiming that they could solve
problems in a larger and more complex nation such as India by conversion.
The doctrine of
racial superiority that the Europeans used to justify their colonial rule is
gone, but the attitude of Christian religious superiority continues. Such
religious exclusivism is backward and prejudicial, just like racism. If
one believes, as the Church teaches, that his/her non-Christian neighbors will
go to hell, it doesn't do much for communal harmony. Conversion belongs to
the times of colonialism. We have entered the era of Unity, of coming
together, of tolerance and accepting each other.
No society has
advanced, spiritually or materially, by converting from one faith to another.
It can be easily proved that the economic progress in Europe happened only when
the hold of the Vatican was reduced. When Christianity accepts the right
of other people to follow their own beliefs and creeds, then only will Jesus
Christ's spirit truly radiate in the world.
Declaration of Religious Responsibilities
Until such time
as proselytizing is stopped, organized religion must be accepted as a field of
competing worldviews, with economic and political interests. Rules of fair
competition must be developed as in other competitive businesses.
Globalization makes it imperative to have an open and free religious
environment, in which individuals can choose, experiment with alternatives, and
change their religious path as often as they want.
exist certain ethics of evangelizing or 'marketing' religion. A level
playing field in terms of such responsibility would raise standards of religious
promotion and reduce social tensions, which often arise from uncontrolled or
unethical competition. Every marketing company, despite its firm belief
that it has the 'best' or even only 'true' product, must comply with norms of
fair competition. I propose that religious organizations must be required
to comply with appropriate rules of fair competition.
A good starting
point is the US Federal Trade Commission's standards for telemarketing and mail
order selling, especially rules pertaining to poor and other disadvantaged
persons. While marketers argue in favor of their freedom to sell and
advertise, and for the public's right to choose freely (even unwisely), the FTC
has enacted laws balancing this freedom with protection from exploitation of the
poor and uninformed. The rewards of political and economic power eschewed
by zealots of religious conversion are often greater than the financial rewards
of marketing scams. Why should religions be exempt from norms of honesty
I propose a
'Camp David' to disarm the religions of the world of all hatred. Following
are discussion ideas for a Declaration of Religious Responsibilities, from such
Hate Speech: Should denigration of a community as 'condemned', 'sinners',
'pagans', or 'heathen', be deemed as 'hate speech', which is unlawful in many
places? Which freedom is more important - freedom 'from' hatred, or freedom 'to'
hate? Should the quid pro quo for having religious freedom be respect for
Competition: The FTC considers it unlawful to trash one's competitor
unreasonably or falsely. Should false portrayals of another's religion be
disallowed, even if done in the name of God's work? (For example, statements
that are true only for a small percentage of followers of a religion, or only
one denomination of it, are often used to denounce the entire religion.)
verses Consumer Protection: It is unlawful for commercial marketers to 'promise'
results that are untested or unproven. Likewise, should evangelists have
disclosure requirements on the basis for their claims? Should consumers have the
right to litigate when there is fraud, duress or false representation? What is
the definition of 'voluntary' conversion as opposed to intimidation or
financially based entrapment? In the sales pitch of many evangelists, if one
replaces 'God's love' with a commercial product, such a sales pitch often
compares with those that are considered fraud and prosecuted by the FTC.
Transparency of process should not get compromised in the drive for market share
by an aggressive religion.
Should any government, religion, organization or person that endorses, supports
even in principle, promotes, preaches, or facilitates any violence of any kind
in the name of religion against anyone whatsoever, be deemed guilty of human
between Religion and State: This principle of the United States should be
reflected in its policy, by denouncing 'official' or 'state' religions, or any
preferential treatment to the majority religion of a country. This would
include interest rates, job or commercial opportunities, public laws, holidays,
education and other rights. Are we ready to condemn all countries where
institutionalized preferences exist for certain religions?
Within American Higher Education
social problems discussed are ultimately about mental attitudes, educators in
USA and India should also be taken to task for their role in shaping young
minds. The study, or lack thereof, about India spreads across many diverse
departments in American Universities- South Asian Studies, Religious Studies,
Indology, Anthropology, History, Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, and
Philosophy. In general, few Indians have gone into higher studies for the
humanities, preferring sciences and other lucrative fields instead. Most
Indians who have entered the humanities as a serious career have had an
ideological agenda, and over the past 50 years, this was almost exclusively
Marxist and/or Christian. In fact, it amazing to see such a large number
of Indian Christians in the academic field of studying Hinduism, whereas Hindus
seldom enter the field of academic study of Hinduism and virtually never bother
to study Christianity. Here are some observations about specific
Studies, Anthropology, Social Studies, and History:
somewhere between 3 and 5 faculty positions for East Asia (China, Japan, etc)
studies, for every position for South Asia. This is because Japan
understood the leverage of endowing chairs for Japan studies at major
universities, and today these chairs proliferate. They also endowed many
influential institutions such as the Asia Society, and hence `controlled' or at
least influenced the selection process. (Note that while there is a Tibet
House in New York, and similar entities for so many countries' cultural
promotion, there is not even an India House in New York.) Funds for South Asia
studies are very low compared to China/Japan even in places such as Brookings
Institute and other think tanks.
Pakistan government is very active in such educational interventions, whereas
India has not yet learnt the value. As one example, the government of
Pakistan announced in May, 2000 that it is endowing the Quaid-I-Azam Chair in
Pakistan Studies at Berkeley in the South Asian Studies department. A
similar chair is also being done at Columbia.
Much of the
coverage of India in these departments is about social problems facing women,
caste, religious conflicts, nuclear bombs, pollution, …They are hardly the
place where a student would get a balanced appreciation about the gifts of
India's civilization to the world. The mentality and agenda seem to be one
of social re-engineering rather than social studies. These departments are
seeping with leftist and/or social anthropological portrayals - as a land of
problems and every kind of strange and backward phenomenon. Academic
Indians have not fought against this and sometimes facilitated it. It has
become especially fashionable for Indian women to trash India's heritage as
being responsible for all sorts of women's problems, and for Indian Christians
to trash Hinduism - and this has been encouraged by the West. Perhaps,
they should study whether it was the destruction of the indigenous civilization
by Islam and Christianity that caused and/or exacerbated many of the problems.
departments are enjoying popularity and growth, as religion becomes more popular
among students. Unfortunately, despite Hinduism's pre-eminence as the
fountainhead of Buddhism and much of Asian civilization, and its intellectual
position in the realm of religion in general, it is amazing that THERE IS NOT
ONE SINGLE HINDUISM STUDIES CHAIR in USA and the only one in North America is in
Concordia (Canada). There are chairs on Sikhism, many on Buddhism, and of
course literally dozens on the Judeo, Christian, and Islamic religions.
There are now even chairs for such obscure religions as `Shintoism', but still
Hinduism has none. Most teachers of Hinduism in these departments are non
Hindu - the only major world religion with little representation from within.
Recently, Indians in Indiana raised money to endow a Rabindranath Tagore Chair
for India Studies. Its occupant is a well-known scholar of Indian
philosophy and Hinduism, who is also a Christian preacher. Lately, his
support for young scholars writing Orientalism (e.g. Richard King's new
book) has disappointed many who were surprised to see his U-Turn away from being
In the American
Academy of Religion, out of 9,000 members, those who are members in the special
group for Religions in South Asian (RISA) are around 400 or so. There are
numerous special groups each for the study of one specific religion such as
Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, but there has been little interest in
having such a group specifically for Hinduism. At the AAR's annual 2000
event, it is interesting to note that even a panel to review the media portrayal
of Hinduism and Buddhism has only non-Hindus.
This holds the
greatest promise for scientific and authentic portrayal of Indic thought, as
many psychologists have begun to appreciate yoga, meditation, various
philosophies of India, Kundalini, tantra, charkas, and even appreciate bhakti in
this context. The problem is plagiarism, as nobody wants to be associated
with a tradition having such a bad social reputation. But the evidence of
appropriation is still fresh in this field, and the scholars can be caught
red-handed and made to acknowledge. It would be a very important task to
introduce Indian thought into psychology books explicitly as Indian thought.
This also avoids the Judeo-Christian language and the social/anthropology
stereotyping. It would position it as a science of consciousness rather
than `religion' in the Judeo-Christian sense. But disappointingly, at
every conference on consciousness that I have attended over the past 3 or 4
years, the Indian representation is minimal - Deepak Chopra is a big name, but
he is alone and not a psychologist, whereas now there are dozens of Christians
and secular psychologists in the fray.
Except for U of
Hawaii and Austin, major universities' philosophy departments do not offer a PhD
in Indian Philosophy and many do not acknowledge its existence. The
American Philosophical Association has many special interest groups within it,
but not one on Indian Philosophy.
origins in colonialism, this field is shrinking in size, the more sophisticated
Orientalism now being done by other humanities departments noted above.
Within India's Higher Education
For 50 years
after its independence, India pursued socialist secularism as its national
policy, in which indigenous heritage was devalued for the sake of 'progressive'
(read 'Marxist') ideology. While it has been fashionable to learn European
languages, Sanskrit was barely taught. Macaluayite Indians pride
themselves in knowing the Greek classics, but few students are taught India's
own classics of Ramayana and Mahabharata for fear of violating secularism.
There are NO DEPARTMENTS FOR RELIGIOUS STUDIES, except one in Patiala University
(which is a minor second tier university). Rather than pluralism, the
system adopted secularism, in the very land that the rest of the world regards
as the birthplace of so much spiritual richness and diversity.
educators have engaged in socially engineered portrayal of history, philosophy,
social studies, and other fields. Often the leftists and Christians have
collaborated with Western scholars to enhance and legitimize such portrayals,
and positioned themselves in high leverage academic jobs.
As one case in
point, take the history of Islamic invasions of India. Will Durant in
Oriental Heritage', page 459 writes:
Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history.
It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a
precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace
may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying
within. The Hindus ……had failed to organize their forces for the
protection of their frontiers and their capitals, their wealth and their
freedom, from the hordes of Scythians, Huns, Afghans and Turks hovering about
India's boundaries and waiting for national weakness to let them in. For
four hundred years (600-1000 A.D.) India invited conquest; and at last it
came….. The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that
eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace,
but keep its powder dry."
continues to be a complete educational blackout of this period of holocaust and
genocide lasting a few centuries, for the sake of political correctness and
social harmony. Now compare this policy to the situation in America's
education. The US textbooks have chapters on slavery taught to every
American kid today. With kids of all races present in the same classroom,
there is very open, unemotional, factual discussion; kids write essays and do
research on this history. Likewise, in the academic teaching of
Christianity, all the atrocities, wars, inquisitions, are part of the historical
portrayal without embarrassment or concern. Jews insist on the teaching of
the Jewish holocaust, and women are actively involved in proper portrayal of
their history and issues. Kids are taught to face the realities of the
world, and hopefully become more responsible than their ancestors were, yet
without anyone today being held liable for the past. The American strategy
is that openness would improve the relations in the long run, rather than
suppressing the horrors of the past.
Is it time
for India's educational system to excavate the past that it has attempted to
bury - ignored but not forgotten.