Sep 10, 2008
From time to time we are seeing lots of violence between various faiths. Lots of innocent people where caught between the web of violence where most of them hardly have any role to play. It is the time to understand the root cause of the violence, how to safeguard from the further occurrence. As a Indian and Hindu I feel to share my understanding of the “issue of conversion in our Hindu society” and how it affects the peace of the religion.
Hinduism and the concept of conversion
In general “The concept of conversion” in India fails to deal with the complex interrelationships between self, family and society to make it meaningful. Religious conversion undermines the core foundation of the human beliefs and freedom to grow with their beliefs.
Hinduism is the most liberal and tolerant religion. It believes in “Karma”. It believes that each person can create a personal spiritual path. It believes in many paths to salvation. It believes all truths (different representations by different people) leads to single truth called God. This has given rise to many sects and sub-sects within Hinduism, which have learned to co-exist. Unlike the other religions, In Hinduism no one controls people's personal belief on religious matters. It never alienates people against their own heritage.
This is the essence of the Hindu tolerance that gave shelter to the religiously persecuted people of the world. The Hindus welcomed not only Christians, but also fleeing Jewish and other communities since ancient times. It first showed to the world how one should respect other religions and their beliefs. No one can deny this claim if they recall the history.
Hinduism believes diversity is its strength, rather than a weakness. Diversity prevents conflicts. That’s why in history one can note that Hinduism never part of religious wars unlike the some of other religions of the world.
But time and again the very own “freedom of personal of spiritual path” grossly misunderstood. Without understanding the basic foundation of the Hinduism, especially westerners started exploiting for their personal propaganda.
By historical facts one can really understand which all religions had the most violent history in terms of human rights violation, wars, crimes, killings and injustice. It is proven Hinduism can not come on top. In this era, marketing of any product plays important role than actually what that product does. Sometimes people easily tend to forget past and also conveniently forget the present just to achieve their personal agenda.
I can not give any better example than Mahatma Gandhi for his respect for all religious people. He spoke extensively about religious conversions.
“I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never to be to undermine another's faith. This implies belief in the truth of all religions and, therefore, respect for them. It implies true humility. “
Even Gandhi was against certain forms of missionary activities specially those relating to conversion. He [fact of matter even any Hindu] was not opposed to conversion if it was based on one's will but he was against any use of force or propaganda in the matter of conversion." As he remarked, "A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon. The fragrance of religion and spiritual life is much finer and much subtler than that of a rose."
Hinduism never opposed free will conversion. Its history and structure itself is the proof for the same. But proselytizing (money, material, mental, force) definitely not accepted.
Root cause for the current issues:
Christians are known for their service to the people. Indians always appreciated their clean hearted service.
But there are certain missionaries who use service as the tool for their agenda of conversion. Does their service justify conversion? No. Service with hidden motive can not be called service. It is simply business of taking profit from investment. These activities happened in the past and happening at present and will happen in future also.
Gandhiji rightly noted those activities and mentioned
“When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does however possess material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold.”
In Hindu society if one person gets converted, his close relatives will undergo lots of hardships, trauma because the system is built around family and society unlike the western culture where it is built around individuals. By the way religion is a deeply personal thing. It touches the heart. Does anybody told to change his/her religion because doctor who cured his decease is Hindu/Christian?
If we check back history, Olden day’s colonial rule was justified by the doctrine of ‘racial superiority’. Some missionaries exhibit the same old mentality with the doctrine of ‘religious superiority’. "Dominus Jesus" declared all non-Christian religions "gravely deficient.” The coining of ‘10/40 window’...etc shows how they demean other faiths. These tactics of religious exclusives is bad for the health of the human society similar to racism. It is very difficult for one to believe people with such mentality is doing real social service. This also implies, denying the freedom and rights of understanding of his original religion by enforcing other faith. The fact is, that some missionary Christianity has been so obsessed with its own truth; it has failed to recognize even the possibility that others may have their truth.
Western countries many times reinvented the words like “tolerance” “freedom” “rights” time to time according to the circumstances to which they belong. There were times when people were forced to accept the Christianity; legislation which deny the rights of worship because they were rulers of those countries/places. As the time changed, the definition of “freedom” “tolerance” “rights” also redefined. So these definitions are volatile and may change in future also.
Gandhiji rightly foreseen the issue of conversion and he declared
“This proselytization will mean no peace in the world. Conversions are harmful to India. If I had the power and could legislate, I should stop all proselytizing. Stop all conversion; it is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth." Poverty doesn't justify conversion. He also considered missionaries as "a clear libel on Indian humanity." ... It pains me to have to say that the Christian missionaries as a body, with honorable exceptions, have actively supported a system which has impoverished, enervated and demoralized a people considered to be among the gentlest and most civilized on earth”.
Violence in any form is condemnable. Nothing costs more than human life. But at the same time one has to understand the trigger points also. One can not deny in most cases of violence, conversion was the topic of contention. It gives the tools for miscreants to do damage to the society, people beyond human explanation. One should also understand human emotion. Just to give one example: Every one knows how many Sikhs/Muslims were attacked in violence aftermath of September-11 just because they look like Muslims. Were they not innocent? Even the so-called ‘self defined peaceful religion’ could not control emotions of their own people when they are in majority.
Need of the hour:
The need of the hour is to help, respect, and understand each other in a unified way to serve humankind. These are the many areas of common ground on which we can have harmony. Common aim should be the religion of humanity. One should think how the ideas of his/her religion can contribute to the human society instead of converting and breaking the peace and fabric of other religion.
As mentioned by Francois Gautier, “Conversion belongs to the times of colonialism. We have entered in the era of Unity, of coming together, of tolerance and accepting each other as we are -- not of converting in the name of one elusive "true" god.”
To understand the point of view of another faith requires tolerance, sympathy, broad mindedness, humility and willingness to recognize Truth wherever it is to be found. If we posses these qualities we can appreciate other's faith, traditions, customs, culture and way of life.
In the interest of innocent common people, to gain respect and peaceful coexistence, it is the time to understand every religion is sacred and each religion has the right to exist without disintegration. It will greatly serve the society. India is the only country in this world which has shown what it means by TRUE SECULAR AND DEMOCRATIC country. Let us preserve it.
"Our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian."
Let us respect Religion of Humanity and Morality.
(Compiled from various sources)