CONVERSION THROUGH FRAUD: IS IT TRUE?
M. P. K. Kutty
Our Christian brethren are right in denying the charge of fraudulent conversion, but wrong in denying that conversions have not happened. By educating people, caring for them by setting up hospitals and through other works of compassion, they have created a good impression that the religion they preach is good. Many have entered their fold to embrace their faith and imitate their ways.
These conversions have led to a threat perception among some sections of the majority community and they naturally are inclined to stop the erosion in their ranks. These men, however, do not represent the majority, but form the hardliners, almost like the fanatic fringe of the Islamic community.
If Christianity has not already conquered vast sections of the population, it is because of the common view that it is a foreign religion, and embracing it would be an anti-national act. Though great men like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi were influenced by the New Testament teachings of Christ, they were equally apprehensive of Christianity taking roots in this land. Their patriotic feelings for their own, prompted them to disregard the progressive and revolutionary impact of that faith in many societies including India. Today's Christian leaders have their own imperfections; despite this, people are drawn to Christ.
While old time missionaries were idealistic men given to the spirit of sacrifice, love and compassion, it is the Gospel ideas that had made Christianity irresistible to some sections of the population. It is the Gospel teachings on justice, righteousness and equality in the subjugated societies that strengthened the urge for freedom in such societies against foreign rule. What is more, Christian religion has influenced other religions to a great extent, lending them a more humane face.
Slowly and subtly, those opposed to the Christian faith because of their patriotism, have somewhat succeeded in painting a picture of the missionaries having only come to effect conversions. They oppose activities that greatly benefit the poor and the suppressed in the tribal and remote regions on the ground that the motive of these activities is conversion. Thereby they are cutting off aid to the poor and the needy, while having been in a state of neglect all along.
Though animosity towards Christianity as a foreign religion is of pre-independence origin, the vocal protest against conversion activities is recent. This charge is the basis on which politicians were able to manipulate and mobilise public opinion for passage of legislation, generally known as Freedom of Religion Act. The agenda behind the legislation is clear: Christians should not be given the freedom to propagate their religion. The legislation is clearly a violation of human rights.
The charge of fraudulent conversion, generally speaking, has become an alibi for the persecutors to drag Pastors and believers to the police stations and harass them in all possible ways. Evidence of the collusion of the police in such persecution is not wanting. Growing harassment of innocent believers, Pastors and institutions have been reported from various parts of the country. The ultimate intention is to cause discouragement so that preachers might stop preaching and worshippers will stop worshipping.
It is as plain as day that we do not live in an India where people can be coerced to follow a religion against their will. Faith has to do with the inside of man and no gun has been manufactured yet that could control thought processes.
Conversions happen mostly through a voluntary decision to embrace the teachings of Christ. Those politicians who take out boisterous processions know it; those who write learned articles against aggressive proselytising know it too. It is quite possible that some tribals and the poor may have been carried away by "good works" of their benefactors.
As people get educated and subject their religions to the test of reason, the traditional way of 'inheriting religion' through birth has weakened a bit. Further, more and more people are unwilling to subject themselves to the stranglehold of tradition or obey its dictats without questioning.
It would be nothing short of insulting the intelligence of the people to claim that many are lured to the Christian faith through inducements of all sorts. The false charge of fraudulent conversion arises from a certain threat perception of those who levy the charge. They feel that their religion is in danger. Despite the disturbing trend of people leaving traditional religion, the leaders are unwilling to examine the real causes behind the exodus. Right from the times of the Ambedkar-Gandhi debates, the weaknesses of traditional religion stand exposed, but there is no attempt at cleansing or reform.
It is also conveniently forgotten that any religion is only an interpretation of the truth. Every religion seeks to answer questions like what life is all about, how we should live it and what should be the priorities. The existence of various religions is proof that no single religion had answered all these questions to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Freedom To Change
It is the testimony of most who had chosen to follow the new religion-it could be Christianity, Buddhism or New Age-that they found the new philosophy more satisfying to their reason and experience. Many foreigners have embraced Hinduism and turned to Eastern philosophies for the same reason. Such freedom to change, such freedom of religion is fundamental to man's existence.
Missionary activities in the country date back to pre-independence days; work among the poor and the downtrodden received priority in their scheme of things. This is the outcome of one of the tenets of the religion calling for help to the poor and the needy. The habit of interpreting the works for the uplift of these people as emanating solely from the motive of religious conversion is prompted by competitive religiosity.
The real threat arising from the Orissa and Karnataka incidents is the likelihood of a communal spirit taking hold of the Hindu majority, thanks to the inflaming of passions by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. If these organisations see a real threat to their religion in the missionary activities of the Christians, the way they have chosen to meet that threat is self defeating, to say the least. They have incited people to kill innocents, burnt their houses and vehicles and exhibited barbaric cruelty in the name of religion. When it becomes a habit with a population to hate, violence and destruction are sure to follow.
What we witness is a resurgence of the same spirit which led to the unfortunate division of the country and formation of Pakistan. It is futile to blame the British for having divided the country, The truth is that such animosity is inherent in the kind of politics that has plagued this nation. Besides, unredeemed human nature lends itself to communal passions that dangerously blind them leading to brother killing brother.
This is the same spirit which felled the Babri Masjid; it is the same spirit which led to the murder of nearly 3000 Sikhs in the wake of the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984; the same spirit led to the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2001; it is the same spirit which poses a threat to the uplift of the downtrodden. So long as this spirit prevails, equality, justice and righteousness would be a far cry to the people of this country.
Every citizen should hang his/her head in shame over every innocent life murdered in cold blood in Orissa, Karnataka and elsewhere in the name of religion. What is being murdered is the spirit to think independently, as also the freedom of choice.
To put the facts straight, our standards of righteousness as a nation have sunk very low. Well, most nations are unrighteous in one way or another. The standards of righteousness of nations differ from one to another and in no place are they synonymous with the righteousness of God. So, the conflicts will continue.
What Is Conversion?
Conversion has become a dirty word because of the context in which it is used. What does a missionary mean by conversion? A change of heart; not a mere change of religious label. A great missionary, Stanley Jones, used to maintain that two-thirds of those in the church are in need of conversion. Further, conversion is from sin to salvation, from idols to God, from slavery to freedom, from injustice to justice, from guilt to forgiveness, from lies to truth, from darkness to light, from self to others, from death to life and much more. It is through such conversion of individuals that the community was able to contribute so much to nation building by releasing individual talents and accomplishments for public good.
It is time the majority community and its right thinking leaders woke up to the atrocities of misguided elements in their midst and checked the crime. In a pluralistic society like ours, sowing of hatred and violence will lead to disastrous consequences. A society that is unjust cannot be at peace.
Let us pray for the unfortunate victims of Orissa and pray for the protection of those who are still living under great fear. " If My people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chro. 7: 14).