The Missionary Position
By David Frawley
Conversion has always been a topic that arouses, if not inflames, our human emotions. After all, the missionary is trying to persuade a person to change his religious belief, which concerns the ultimate issues of life and death, the very meaning of our existence. And the missionary is usually denigrating the person's current belief, which may represent a strong personal commitment or a long family or cultural tradition, calling it inferior, wrong, sinful, or even perverse.
Such statements are hardly polite or courteous and are often insulting and derogatory. The missionary is not coming with an open mind for sincere discussion and give and take dialogue, but already has his mind made up and is seeking to impose his opinion on others, often even before he knows what they actually believe or do. It is difficult to imagine a more stressful human encounter short of actual physical violence. Missionary activity always holds an implicit psychologica1 violence, however discretely it is conducted. It is aimed at turning the minds and hearts of people away from their native religion to one that is generally unsympathetic and hostile to it.
In this article I will address conversion and missionary activity mainly in regard to Christianity, which has so commonly employed and insisted upon the practice. Indeed it is difficult to imagine the Christian religion apart from missionary activity, which has been the backbone of the faith for most of its history. Christianity has mainly been an outward looking religion seeking to convert the world. In this process it has seldom been open to real dialogue with other religions. It has rarely examined its own motives or the harm that such missionary activity has caused, even though the history of its missionary activity has been tainted with intolerance, genocide and the destruction not only of individuals but of entire cultures.
But much of this discussion applies to Islam as well, which shares an agenda with Christianity to convert the world to its particular belief. As an American raised as a Catholic and who attended Catholic school and then later adapted Hindu-based spiritual teachings, I can perhaps provide another angle on this topic that hopefully will give ground for new thinking. I had to break through much religious intolerance and prejudice to make the changes that I did.
Conversion and the Missionary Business
First let us define what we mean by conversion? Let us immediately clearly discriminate between conversion or change of beliefs that happens in free human interchange in open discussion as opposed to organised conversion efforts that employ financial, media or even armed persuasion. That certain individuals may influence other individuals to adapt one religious belief or another has seldom been a problem. There should be open and friendly discussion and debate about religion just as there is about science. But when one religion creates an agenda of conversion and mobilizes massive resources to that end, targeting unsuspecting, poor or disorganized groups, it is no longer a free discussion. It is an ideological assault. It is a form of religious violence and intolerance.
Organized conversion efforts are quite another matter than the common dialogue and interchange between members of different religious communities in daily life, or even than organized discussions in forums or academic settings. Organized conversion activity is like a trained army invading a country from the outside. This missionary army often goes into communities where there is little organized resistance to it, or which may not even be aware of its power or its motives. It will even take advantage of communities that are tolerant and open minded about religion and use that to promote a missionary agenda that destroys this tolerance.
Such organized conversion efforts often go by the name of evangelization. The Catholic Church uses this term for its long-standing conversion efforts. Fundamentalist Protestant Christians call their movement the evangelical movement. Evangelization sounds nicer and more ennobling than conversion. But let us be clear about the matter. The Evangelist aim is to convert the entire world to the Christian faith, which naturally implies the rejection of other religions. Such evangelical movements have world conversion strategies and programs to target India and Hindus state by state, tribe by tribe, even village by village. They keep track of the numbers of converts and mark them in the win column as gains for Christ.
Organized conversion and evangelical efforts are not interested in dialogue or in learning from other religious groups. Such organizations have their mind made up that they are the true faith and they are unwilling to grant equality to any other belief. Real dialogue is only possible when there is equality and open mindedness. This cannot occur between a missionary faith and the faith that it is targeting, any more than it can happen between a hunter and his prey. If missionaries initiate dialogue it is either to promote conversion or to protect their converts. The missionary is not about to change his mind, believe that he might be wrong on something or accept any other point of view that might compromise his conversion agenda.
The missionary business remains one of the largest in the world and has enormous funding on many levels. It is like several multinational corporations with the different Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical groups involved. There are full time staffs and organizations allocating money, creating media hype, plotting strategies and seeking new ways to promote conversion. The local native religion has about as much chance against such multinational incursions as a local food seller has if McDonald's moves into his neighborhood with a slick, well funded advertising campaign targeting his customers. Yet while many third world countries have government policies to protect local businesses, they usually don't have any safety mechanism to protect local religions.
In fact missionary activity is like an ideological war. It is quite systematic, motivated and directed. It can even resemble a blitzkrieg using media, money, people and public shows to appeal to the masses in an emotional way. Therefore, with missionary activity we are not talking about unplanned, spontaneous or isolated events. We are talking about a religious effort towards world conquest that is quite happy to put an end to other religious-traditions that looks to establish one particular religion for all human beings, in which the diversity of human religions is discredited and forgotten.
Regions where missionary activity has been successful have seen their older traditions demoted or destroyed, whether it is those of the pagan Europeans, the Native Americans, or the pre-Islamic Arabs. Hinduism would likely fall along the same wayside should lose the battle against missionary religions, just as Hinduism in Islamic Pakistan has all but disappeared.
Missionary activity and conversion, therefore, is not about freedom of religion. It is about the attempt of one religion to exterminate all others. Such an exclusive attitude cannot promote tolerance or understanding or resolve communal tensions. The missionary wants to put an end to pluralism, choice and freedom of religion. He wants one religion, his own, for everyone and will sacrifice his life to that cause.
True freedom of religion should involve freedom from conversion. The missionary is like a salesman targeting people in their homes or like an invader seeking to conquer. Such disruptive activity is not a right and it cannot promote social harmony. In fact people should have the right not to be bothered by missionaries unless they seek them out. Those of us in the West are irritated by local missionaries like the Jehovah's Witnesses that often come soliciting at our doors. Can one imagine the distress or confusion they could cause to some poor person in Asia? Once let into the door, it is hard to get them out.
Religious freedom should not be a license for one country or one community to wage religious war against another. Even if this conversion battle is softened by charities it is still hostile in its intent and destructive in its action.
History of Conversion
Let us look at the history of conversion, how it arose and what it has become through time. Organized conversion on a mass scale hardly existed anywhere in the world before the advent of Christianity some two thousand years ago. It became particularly strong after the Roman Empire became Christian in the fourth century. This resulted in a Roman or imperial church that used the resources of the empire, including the army, to promote the religion, which was a state institution. Church and state became closely tied and one was used to uphold the other. This alliance of church and state occurred well into the Middle Ages and into the nineteenth century throughout much of Europe.
In the seventh century Islam brought about a religion in which church and state, or religion and politics were not simply allied but became the same, with the Caliph functioning as both the religious and secular head of the empire. This non-division between religion and politics continues in most Islamic countries today, including Pakistan, which has gone so far recently to proclaim the Koran as the supreme law of the land, though it is not a secular law book or any kind of law book. Can one imagine a Western country proclaiming the Bible as the law of the land? Yet the church dominated the laws of Europe for centuries.
Prior to adapting Christianity Rome had its state religion but this existed largely as a show for political purposes--the worship of the emperor. Rome tolerated all other religions as long as they gave a nominal and political support to the state religion. The Romans persecuted Christians not because they were intolerant of religious differences but because they expected all religious groups to at least afford this nominal recognition for the state religion, which the Christians refused to do.
When Christianity became the state religion, because of the belief that it alone was the true religion, this tolerance of other religions came to an end in the Roman Empire. Pagan temples and schools were closed, if not replaced by churches or even destroyed, including the closing of the great Platonic academy in Athens in the sixth century. Paganism in all of its forms was eventually banned as not only false, but also as immoral and illegal. Pagan or even unorthodox groups continued to be oppressed in Europe up to the witches of the Middle Ages, which resulted in the deaths of millions in the name of religion and protecting the church.
In the colonial period Christian missionary activity spread throughout the world and brought with it a great violence and intolerance that continued the anti-pagan crusades as part of colonialism. Missionary efforts in the colonial period, with some exceptions, contributed to or even brought about the tremendous genocide of native populations not only in America but also in Africa and Asia. Native peoples had their religions banned, their holy places destroyed or taken over by the Christians. The history of the Spanish in Mexico and Peru in the sixteenth century is comparable to the Nazis of this century, if not worse, pillaging and plundering a continent in the name of and with the blessings of the church. This process of missionary colonialism reached its zenith in the nineteenth century, in which Native Africans were the main group subject to genocide, and it is only now slowly declining. However missionary groups have done little to apologize much less to atone for the violence and hatred this five hundred years of colonialism created, and which destroyed many traditional religions and cultures.
In fact colonialism has not truly ended but has recently taken a more economic rather than military form, along with the Westernization along economic lines. As Christianity is the dominant Western religion, it continues to use the current economic expansion of Western culture to promote its conversion agendas. The greater financial resources and media dominance of the West affords Christianity a great edge in religious and social encounters throughout the world. Even when it is a question of a Christian minority in a land dominated by a non-Christian religion, the non-Christians are often at a disadvantage in terms of money and media through the Western support that the Christian community has, particularly in regard to its conversion activities.
Though most countries in the world today are secular, this still has not created a level playing field in the field of religion. Western religions are still taking an aggressive, intolerant, if not predatory role toward non-Western beliefs. They are using financial and media advantages, including mass marketing, to promote their agenda of conversion. Though missionary activity became less overt after the end of the colonial era it still goes on. And we cannot forget the bloody history of missionary activity or its potential for disruption, violence and destruction should the circumstance again arise.
The main reason that there is secularism and religious freedom in the West is not because of Christianity but owing to an older secular Greco-Roman tradition that was pagan in nature and managed to reassert itself against Christian intolerance after the Renaissance. Unfortunately Western countries are far less discriminating of Christianity for export and its missionary aggression. than they are of its actions in the West. While Christianity is largely subdued in the West, where few people are pious or take religion seriously, its old medieval aggression and intolerance easily comes out in missionary circles overseas.
The Motivation Behind Conversion
What is the motivation behind conversion activities? Why should one person want to convert another to his or her religious belief? In a pluralistic world, such as we live in there are many different types of culture, art, language, business and religion that contribute much to the richness of society. Why should we demand that everyone be like us in terms of anything, including religion? Isn't this diversity the very beauty of culture and our greater human heritage.
Clearly the missionary seeking converts must believe that other people cannot find their goal of life by any other religion than the one that he is propagating. Otherwise there would be no need to convert anyone. And generally the missionary is not simply announcing that he has something good or better, like someone who has invented a better light bulb. He is usually claiming that his religion is the one true faith and that the others are either inferior, out of date, or simply false.
One could argue therefore that the conversion mentality is inherently intolerant. If, recognise that many religions are good and religious belief should be arrived at freely and without interference, then I will not create a massive organization to covert other people to my belief and get them to renounce what they already have. Only an intolerant and exclusive religious ideology requires conversion or funds it on a massive scale.
In short conversion activity is anti-secular. It does not tolerate the religious differences that must exist in a truly secular society but aims at eliminating them. The irony is that secular law provides the religious freedom that allows conversion activity to go on. The very missionaries that once used colonial armies to promote their conversion agendas are now maintaining them in the post-colonial era under the guise of freedom of religion. The very groups that denied or limited religious freedom when they were in power in the colonial era, now use freedom of religion to keep those same missionary activities going! This is both ironical and hypocritical!
Generally missionary efforts are stronger to the degree that the missionary is opposed to the religions that people already follow. The old dominant Christian strategy, which many Protestant groups still promote, is to denigrate non-Biblical beliefs as heathen, or the work of the devil. Evangelical missionaries still identify Hinduism with devil worship. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, two of the most influential American evangelical leaders say this repeatedly, as do their followers, and they are sponsoring missionary activity in India as well. Naturally this gives a missionary much zeal and intensity, saving souls from the clutches of evil and driving out demons.
Such a zealous missionary inevitably spreads misunderstanding, venom and hatred in society. If I am promoting the idea that your religion is a work of the devil can I be regarded as friend or well wisher to your community? Can such views help your community understand itself or reconcile community differences?
Today it is illegal in most countries to promote racial hatred, to call a person of any race inferior or the product of the devil (which white Christians used to call the blacks until recently). But Hindus can still be denigrated as polytheists, idolaters and devil-worshippers. This is tolerated under freedom of religion, though it obviously breeds distrust, if not hatred and itself is prejudicial. Prejudicial statements that are not allowed about race are allowed about religion and missionaries commonly employ these derogatory remarks.
In fact most Christians view Hinduism like the pagan religions that the early Christians had to overcome, the Roman, Greek, Celtic, Egyptians and Babylonian religions, which do have much in common with Hinduism. Equating Hindus with Biblical idolaters promotes the history of missionary aggression and religious conflict. Most such Christians have never seriously or open-mindedly studied Hinduism or other pagan beliefs. They know little of Yoga and Vedanta or the great traditions of Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. They prefer to highlight the Hindu worship of God even in animal images like Hanuman as a form of superstition or evil.
The Catholic Church is a bit more diplomatic these days; it is now telling Hindus that their religion may have some value but that Christianity is even better! Such a view is a bit more tolerant but cannot be called sincere either. If Catholics no longer believe that Hinduism is a religion of the Devil as they were promoting until only recently, they ought to apologize to Hindus for their mistaken notions and the problems that these must have caused. Discriminating Hindus can only look upon this more tolerant Catholicism of the post-colonial era as an attempt to maintain the edge of the church in a less politically favorable era. The Catholics say they respect the spiritual philosophies of India, which they for centuries failed to note, but still feel it necessary to convert Hindus to their religion. What kind of respect is that?
The Ideology of Conversion
Conversion reflects a certain ideology. In fact it mainly involves getting people to change beliefs, ideas or ideology. Conversion demands that we follow a certain ideology and reject others. The dominant ideology behind organised conversion efforts is that of an exclusive monotheistic religion. There is only one God, one book, one savior, one final prophet and so on. Most Christian missionaries try to get people to accept Christ as their personal savior and Christianity in one form or another as the true faith for all humanity.
A religion that is pluralistic in nature like the Hindu cannot have such a conversion-based ideology. Hindus accept that there are many paths, so naturally they will not feel compelled to get everyone to abandon their own path and follow the Hindu path instead. In fact there is no one Hindu path but rather a variety of paths, with new paths coming into being every day.
It has long been the dominant belief of Christians and Muslims that only members of their religion go to heaven, while member of other religions go to hell, particularly idol-worshipping Hindus and other pagans. This promise of heaven and threat of hell has long been used for conversion purposes and is a prime part of the ideology and its propaganda. Christians have often been motivated by this medieval heaven-hell idea in their conversion efforts. The old nineteenth century idea was a Christian missionary going to Asia to save the pagan babies from the clutches of hell.
This eternal heaven-hell idea does arouse a certain passion as well as intolerance, but one can hardly call it enlightened. In fact it causes emotional imbalance in people, which many Christians, particularly Catholics, have sought psychological help to overcome.
A God who has created heaven for his believers and hell for those who follow other religious beliefs is a recipe not only for missionary activity but also for emotional turbulence and violence. In fact this promise of great rewards and threats of great punishment is the basis of most forms of conditioning, brain washing and hypnosis. It is the dominant strategy of all mind-control cults.
Conversion, Charity and Social Upliftment
Many missionaries claim that they are not seeking converts but merely doing charity, trying to help the downtrodden in life. Given the mentality behind conversion efforts and its history, one can only greet that statement with skepticism, though in a few isolated instances it may be true. The very missionaries that only recently used colonial governments and armies to their advantage cannot be regarded as suddenly without any overt conversion motivations.
However, if missionaries simply want to bring about social upliftment, then why don't they just open up a hospital or school and give up all the religious trappings about it. As long as the religious ornaments are there is these charitable institutions they are still seeking converts. Once you give your charity or social work a religious guise, the conversion motivation must be there and communal disharmony is likely to be promoted even by your charities.
If missionaries want to uplift society they can do that through education or economic help on a secular level. There is no need to bring religion into it. That is how societies have uplifted themselves throughout the world, whether it is the United States or Japan. It was not religious charity that raised up these countries economically. In fact bringing religion into social upliftment confuses the issue. Converting people to an exclusive creed doesn't eradicate poverty or disease, much less promote the cause of religious harmony.
The Philippines, the most predominant and oldest Christian country in Asia, is one of the poorest countries in the region. Conversion to Christianity did not raise the country economically. Central and South America, which are much more staunchly Catholic and religious and North America, are also much poorer and have a lower level of education. In fact the more evangelic and orthodox forms of Christianity are more popular in poorer and less educated groups in the West. Fundamentalist Christianity is more common in America with farmers and those who didn't go to college. Educated people in the West are less likely to be staunch Christians, and many of them look to Eastern religions for spiritual guidance.
In India Christians claim that by eradicating the caste system they are helping people and raising them up socially. They could do this easier by helping reform Hindu society rather than by trying to destroy or change the religion. Clearly they are using, if not promoting caste-differences as a conversion strategy. Christian cultures still have their class and other social inequalities, particularly in Central and South America, but Christians don't see that the religion has to be changed in order to get rid of these.
The desire to help people in terms of social upliftment and the desire to change their religion are clearly not the same and can be contradictory. Changing a person's religion may not help them in terms of health, education, or economics.
A similar argument is that the conversion effort is part of service to humanity, that the missionary is motivated by love of humanity. This is also questionable. If you are motivated by love of humanity you will help people regardless of their religious background. You will try to help people in a practical way rather than aim at getting them to embrace your religious belief. You will also love their religion, even if it is an aborigine worshipping a stone. You will give unconditional love to people, which is not the love of Jesus or the church but universal love. You will not condemn any person to hell for not following your particular belief. You will not interfere with that person's religious motivation and seek to convert him to your belief. You will honour the Divine in that person and in his belief.
Such social work born of love is hardly to be found in missionary Christianity, though it likes to pretend that this is the motivation. If one were truly motivated by love of humanity and the need to serve humanity, one would not promote massive conversion agendas. In fact one would regard such practices as inhumane, which they are.
Conversion and Cults: Religious Freedom in the West
In the West there is a cry against cults, which any religious movement out of mainstream Christianity can be called. There is a tendency to regard Hindu based religious movements in the West as cults. Under the guise of being a cult a religious organisation can be sued for millions of dollars if even one disgruntled or disappointed former disciple can be found who feels that they were taken advantage of. Many Hindu-based and yoga movements in the West have been sued as cults.
The criticism against cults is that they are outside the cultural religious norm, that they are intolerant of majority religions, that they divide families and turn individuals against their upbringing. Precisely the same charges can be leveled against missionaries all over the world. The early Romans for the same reasons regarded Christianity as a cult.
People in India may believe that in America all religions are treated equally. Certainly the law requires that, but this is not the fact of life. For example, it is still very difficult for Hindus to build temples in the United States, particularly in areas in which fundamentalist Christians are strong, like the Bible belt of the South: To put in perspective one would say that it over ten times harder in America to build a temple than it is to build a church. In many areas temples must not outwardly look like a temple, but should look like a school or church, or the local governments won't approve of them. While there are a few Hindu style temples in America these are exceptional and took special efforts to be allowed.
Most Americans believe that Hinduism is a religion of cults. Organized Christian cult-busting legal groups, with dozens of lawyers and budgets in the many millions, go around systematically encouraging suits against Hindu or Indian religious groups. Such groups as the Hare Krishnas (ISKCON), TM, Ananda (a Yogananda group), the Himalayan Institute, Rajneesh, and the Sikhs under Yogi Bhajan, to mention a few, have had to face such suits and sometimes settlements in the millions against them. These actions are religious bullying by Christian groups not a form of justice.
What Christians in America cannot do overtly because of religious freedom in the country, they are still managing to do covertly through the legal system. Any prominent Hindu-based teacher in America, particularly one who is working with the general American public or bringing people from Christianity to Hindu-based teachings, remains under a severe legal threat. Should any Hindu-based group, like the Hare Krishnas, actively seek converts in the West, they are likely to face severe litigation on many fronts. On the other hand, Christian missionaries in India do not have to endure those types of legal threats or legal suits that can put them out of business, even if their proselytizing efforts are much more aggressive.
Meanwhile, Western textbooks and the Western media routinely portray Hinduism as cults, idolatry, or even as eroticism. Such negative portrayals of Christianity would not be allowed in the Indian press. These views contribute to anti-Hindu and pro-missionary attitudes. Even in the universities discussions of world religions often leave Hinduism out, precisely because it is not a conversion-seeking religion, even though it is the third largest religion in the world!
So let us not pretend that the West is enlightened or tolerant about religion. The legal secularism of the West still hides much religious prejudice. We also note that the West politically will defend Christian interests overseas and criticize alleged discrimination against Christians. However it will ignore discrimination against non-Christians, particularly if done by Christians. Recently the Russians criticized the Mormons, an evangelical American Christian group as a cult. The American government lodged a protest to protect the Mormons and their missionary activity in Russia. No Indian government so far has made any such protest to protect Hindu groups in the West.
And let us not forget the religious intolerance of communists and Marxists historically, though in India these days it is fashionable for Marxists to portray themselves as defenders of religious freedom. Stalin was perhaps the world's greatest destroyer of both churches and mosques but his pictures adorn the government buildings of Kerala and Bengal.
The Destructive Effect of Missionary Activities in Tribal Cultures
The history of missionary activity is one of intolerance and violence, with only rare episodes of love and charity. This comes out particularly when the missionaries come into a primitive or tribal culture.
There is a beauty in tribal cultures, like the beauty of the wilderness itself. You know that wherever the developers go the wilderness is destroyed and many species perish. So too wherever missionaries go tribal cultures are destroyed and much of human heritage goes with. What missionary honors the non-Christian cultures of the world or seeks to protect them? On the other hand, Hinduism does not interfere with native and tribal beliefs but seeks to share with them and learn from them.
There is a beauty to non-Biblical beliefs like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto and the many native beliefs. The old pagan religions of Europe had their beauty and profundity. This is lost on the missionary mind that only sees potential converts held in the clutches of false beliefs.
Followers of missionary religions must recognize that their religion is hostile to other religions like Hinduism, even if it has good feelings for the people following that religion. Yet other religions also represent people and their sincere beliefs. To target religions is to attack people as well. To attack Hinduism as a religion is to insult and attack Hindus as human beings.
The Ethics of Conversion
Conversion efforts do have their ethics, which are the ethics of conversion. The ethic of conversion is not secularism. It is not religious freedom, religious tolerance or honoring religious pluralism. The ethics of conversion is saving souls, generally saving souls from damnation. The ethic of conversion follows an exclusive belief system, a one true faith. After all, if people are really like to suffer eternal damnation for their wrong beliefs, the sincere missionary must do whatever he can to stop it. The missionary views the non-Christian as a person who is deluded or even under the influence of a demonic force, not simply someone who has a valid but different opinion about life than he does.
This ethic of conversion can override other human ethics in missionary activity. In order to save souls, which is the highest missionary ethic, missionaries historically have resorted to various forms of enticement or even force to arrive at the desired result of new converts. While these practices appear intolerant or dishonest in a secular society, in a religious or colonial society they appear moral. To the sincere missionary they can appear as necessary indiscretions to save unwilling souls.
Please note that I do not doubt the sincerity of the missionary in all this. No doubt the missionaries who allowed the massacre of Native Americans were also sincere in their beliefs, just as were the white slave holders in nineteenth century America. The problem is that they are sincere about a belief that easily promotes intolerance and harms those of other beliefs.
Therefore, one could argue that conversion is inherently an unethical practice and inevitably breeds unethical results. The missionary ethic of saving souls is so compelling to the missionary that it can easily cause him to compromise the human rights or integrity of his potential converts. Certainly the long history of conversion is a history of every sort of crime, whatever good may have been done along the side.
On a spiritual level one could argue that conversion efforts, particularly for an exclusive belief, are unspiritual and unethical. Conversion is a sin against the Divine in man. It refuses to recognize the religion of another as valid. Above all, the organized conversion business is one of the meanest and most underhanded activities of the human being, on par with war. It seeks to undermine and discredit the natural faith of people. As we move into a global age let us set this messy business of conversion behind, along with the other superstitions of the dark ages.
We are all God. There is only one Self in all creatures. Who is there to convert and what could anyone be converted from? The soul is Divine. It is not Christian, Islamic or Hindu or anything else. The soul cannot be saved. It is beyond gain and loss. We can only understand ourselves. The real goal of religion is to discover the light of the soul that is not bound by time, place, person or belief. True religion is to be true to one's nature and to respect the nature of others. What missionary has this attitude or has discovered this truth?
Backlash Against Missionaries
In recent times there have been some violent backlashes against missionaries or their religions, which is regrettable. This has occurred not only in Indonesia, India but also in many other parts of the world, like Africa or Central America. But given the intolerance of the missionaries, it is understandable and cannot be looked at in isolation. You cannot century after century trash or even destroy the culture and religions of people in the name of your God and expect that they will just politely let you go on with it. Particularly if they are poor or backward people without the financial, legal or government resources to protect themselves they may resort to a more primitive response.
Yet the violence of this backlash is minuscule compared to the physical and psychological violence that the missionaries have brought about and continue to perpetrate. The anti-Christian activities in India recently must be viewed in this light.
Recently Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party in India, though still a member of the Catholic church which has yet to renounce its claims as the only true faith or to stop its missionary efforts against Hindus, quoted Swami Vivekananda as a spokesperson for true religion. Let us remember what Vivekananda said to the Americans and in many other instances about missionary activity. "Whenever your missionaries criticize us please remember this. If all of India stands up and takes all the mud that is at the bottom of the Indian ocean and throws it up against the Western countries, it will not be doing an infinitesimal part of that which you are doing to us."
Mahatma Gandhi was also a fierce critic of the missionaries. Yet strangely today it is the Congress Party of India and various leftists that are defending Christian missionary activity and painting a picture of Hindu intolerance, ignoring the whole history and motivation of these massive conversion efforts against Hindus.
Let us also remember the latest word from the pope in the Coming of the Third Millennium.
The Asia Synod will deal with the challenge for evangelization posed by the encounter with ancient religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. While expressing esteem for the elements of truth in these religions, the Church must make it clear that Christ is the one mediator between God and man and the sole Redeemer of the world. In other words all the greatness of Buddhism and Hinduism does not alter the basic view of Christianity that Christ alone is the supreme religious figure. No Buddha, Krishna, Ramana Maharshi or Sri Aurobindo can compare with him. What are the elements of truth that the pope is speaking about? If he doesn't credit either Buddhism or Hinduism with anything equal to Jesus, he probably doesn't give them much credit for their ideas of karma, dharma or rebirth, their practices of yoga and meditation, or their entire seeking of enlightenment and Self-realization that is not defined in terms of Jesus. Clearly such a statement is condescending. It has abandoned the old heathen-pagan-idolatry charge but the goal is still conversion, not respect.
As a final note, being opposed to organized conversion does not mean that one should be opposed to discussion and even debate on religious matters. Missionaries usually target the uneducated and work behind the scenes. They don't try to create a fair exchange of ideas or an even debate. They are afraid of being exposed. In fact such a debate on religious issues is necessary to deal with the problems caused by missionary activity.-The missionaries usually avoid facing a fair debate on religion and target those who are not well versed in their own beliefs.
More than anything today we need a real religious dialogue, so that religious conflicts, which have such a potential for violence, do not occur. This dialogue should be a quest for truth. It should not aim at proving one religion to be supreme but at examining the ultimate issues of life. What is the goal of life? What is the nature of immortality? Is there a permanent heaven or hell? Is there Self-realization or Nirvana? What is enlightenment? What is karma? Does the soul have one or many lives? What is the highest state of consciousness and how can we achieve it? What practices are necessary to change human nature from the egoic to the Divine? Can mere belief transform us or is knowledge and work also necessary? Are special psycho-physical techniques helpful? How do the different religions view such issues? These are the real issues of religious dialogue.
Merely getting a person to change their belief doesn't address these complex and profound issues. True religion requires profound work and examination, particularly of our own minds and hearts. It is not a matter of mere names, slogans or labels.
In one way, Hindus do lose a lot by converting to a religion like Christianity or Islam. Hinduism has a much broader scope of spiritual and yogic practices, philosophies and mystical teachings than does Christianity. Should a Hindu become a Christian they lose these and enter into a much more limited and outward form of religious belief? Hindu teachings of higher consciousness, Self-realization, karma, rebirth, chakras, and kundalini are almost unknown in Christianity or rejected as the work of the devil. That is why so many Americans seeking a spiritual path are attracted to Hindu-based teachings and leave orthodox and mainstream Christianity behind.
In fact Christianity continues to decline in the West. Very few new people are taking up the role of priests and nuns in the Catholic Church, for example. Partly to replenish their ranks the Catholic Church has targeted Asia and particularly India for conversion because Hindus are quite devotional and easily take up priestly or monastic roles. Meanwhile the Evangelical Christians are targeting India to counter the influence of Hindu-based teachings in America, which they find so threatening as to frequently denounce Hinduism and Hindu gurus as the religion of the devil.
So let us not be naive about conversion. It is not about freedom of religion or about social upliftment. The main conversion activities in the world are part of organized and well-funded strategies to conquer the world for a single religious belief that would end religious freedom and diversity. In this situation it is easy to identify the predators and the victims. Which are you likely to be and which are you likely to give your sympathy to?