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HVK Archives: Hindu backlash against evangelism

Hindu backlash against evangelism - The Observer

Virendra Parekh ()
October 10, 1998

Title: Hindu backlash against evangelism
Author: Virendra Parekh
Publication: The Observer
Date: October 10, 1998

Christian missionaries and their secularist friends will be making a big
mistake if they treat recent attacks on Christian missions and
missionaries in several parts of the country as misdeeds of miscreants
of the lunatic fringe of heathens. The resentment against missionary
machinations runs deep in the Hindu society, though its expression
remains mostly stifled or sporadic.

Whenever the issue of conversions comes up, two arguments are advanced
on behalf of the Church. The first is that converting others is a basic
tenet of their faith and the Indian Constitution has recognised their
right. to propagate it. The other is that among the missionaries, very
few are actively engaged in evangelisation; most confine themselves to
social service. The first argument is certainly true in point of fact;
the other may or may not be true.

However, it is also a reality that ordinary Hindus are uncomfortable
with the first and unconvinced of the second. Most Hindus find It
difficult to understand the aggressive self-righteousness of
Christianity and Islam and their insistence on converting others.

"The doctrine of monopoly of truth and revelation is alien to Hindu and
Buddhist mind ... to them the claim of any sect that it alone
represented the truth and others shall be condemned has always seemed
unreasonable" said K N Panikkar in Asia and Western Dominance. Hindus
from Pundits of Tamil Nadu in early seventeenth century to Ram Swarup
and Arun Shourie in our times have spent no end of ink and breath to
demolish the Christian dogma.

In a sense, they have laboured in vain. It is an axiom in logic that
what has not been proved need not be disproved. And who has ever proved
that the nondescript Jew who is supposed to have been crucified by a
Roman Governor of Judea in 33 AD had atoned for sins of all human beings
for all time to come? Who has ever proved that those who accept him as
their saviour will enjoy everlasting bliss in heaven and those who do
not will burn in blazing flames of hell in perpetuity? The fact is that
the dogma is not meant for discussion; it is meant for propagation.
Terteullian, a theologian from Carthage, summed up the case for
Christianity when he said, "God's Son died; it is believable because it
is absurd. He was buried and rose again. It is certain because it is

The Bibical tradition is rooted in a special mindset. According to it,
there is only one Truth, it is revealed to only one man (Jesus, the
Prophet, Marx), it is enshrined by him or on his behalf in One Book;
since the Book is very difficult to grasp, we need interpreters and
intermediaries (Church, the Maulavi, the Party). The millenium will come
when, but only when, all accept the revelation. It is Therefore, the
duty of the intermediaries to spread the doctrine and make others 'see
the Light' by all means, fair and foul. Anyone who refuses to fall in
line harms not only himself but all others by delaying the advent of the
golden age.

He, therefore, must be put out of harm's way. Force, fraud, coercion,
violence-everything is justified in service of this ideal. This
tradition has spawned ideologies like Christianity, Islam, Marxism which
have caused incessant strife and struggle not only between their
followers and others, but also among the believers.

On the other hand, there is the Vedic tradition which is shared by all
ancient religions like Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, and other
ancient traditions supplanted by predatory creeds like Christianity and
Islam. According to this tradition, Man by nature is child of Light.
He grows from within, responding to That (Sanskrit Tat) which he already
is essentially. The spiritual search is innate in man, its truth reside
in the 'cave of the heart' and are discovered by each individual through
sustained personal effort.

The Vedic tradition insists on a spiritual and ethical outlook on life,
and enjoins a man to strive for self-realisation. There is no place in
it for the only saviour, or the last prophet or last word on history. No
need for propagation or conversion. The Vedic tradition asks a man to
be busy with himself, while the Biblical tradition asks him to be busy
with others. That is the crux of the matter.

The methods employed by missionaries for getting converts are another
factor in fomenting suspicion and resentment against them. The poor, the
oppressed, and the downtrodden are specially targeted, and at a time
when they are most vulnerable. As Ram Swarup pointed out, India and Its
Missions an official Catholic publication issued in 1923 discusses the
"Spiritual Advantages of Famine and Cholera" under that very heading!

It quotes the report of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry to his superiors
in Europe: "the famine has wrought miracles. The catechumenates are
filling, baptismal water flows in streams and starving little tots fly
in masses to heaven... The hospital is ready-made congregation ... There
is no need to go to highways and hedges and compel them to come in...
They send each other..." The basic strategy has remained unchanged
through intervening decades.

The missionaries call their work among the weak and poor sections as
selfless service to those who need it the most. However, conscious
Hindus including Gandhiji have always viewed it as a trap for the
gullible and the vulnerable to get converts. And then we have the role
of missionaries in fomenting separatism in tribal areas, especially in
the north-east. Intelligence agencies have documented the nefarious
activities of foreign missionaries in Nagaland, Mizoram and other
places. This is quite in keeping with the record of the Church in China
and Burma. The missionaries must understand that ancient societies,
practising non-proselytising religions have a right to defend

Propagation of faith through reasoning and arguments is one thing;
largescale conversions brought about by force, fraud and material
inducement is another. When such conversions are brought about by
gigantic organisations controlled and financed from abroad it is still
another thing. And when there is evidence to show that religious
conversions are a subterfuge for political separatism, the debate must
change qualitatively.

If you declare an unprovoked war on other cultures and religions, if you
use foul means to further your ends and if you sell separatism in the
name of spirituality, you have no moral right to complain when the
victims hit back. At the same time, the fact remains that sporadic
violence against missionaries will not do anything to defend the Hindu
society. It will only tarnish the fair name of Hinduism.

The Church is a postmaster in public relations. It has seized the
opportunity to contrast the 'selfless service' rendered by missionaries
with senseless attacks on them. Its allies in the press have already
converted outbursts against conversions into attacks on a poor and
defenceless minority.

The confusion among the Hindu ranks can be gauged from the VHP's demand
to banish all foreign missionaries. The implication is that Christianity
is OK, but foreigners are bad. But the truth is the reverse. Foreigners,
as human beings are no different from Indians. It is the dogma which
impels them do nasty things.

The lay Hindus have their heart in the right place. It is the Hindu
elite which is confused, contradictory and, at times, cowardly. A new
and clear-sighted elite has to emerge and restore the perspective if
this great society is to be saved from machinations of the politics of

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