CONVERSION

Light of truth

Abp. Thomas Menamparampil

There Is a Difference between Helping People to Become Intelligent Human Beings,
and Turning Sincere Believers into Aggressive Vigilantes (Jihadists)

Introduction
Of late, ‘cow protection’ has emerged as a stratagem for harassing harmless Muslims, and accusation of ‘conversion’ for picking on peaceful Christians. Intelligent society in every part of the world is holding their breath as they hear of Indians with ‘Super Power’ ambitions holding their fellow countrymen below the level of animals.

Social critics have been lamenting the inhuman living conditions of the working class in the factories of the Third World run by multi-national corporations, accusing the owners of reducing human beings to the condition of slaves. Today Hindutva hordes are not thrusting their fellow citizens to the level of slaves, but below that of animals. History will hold it against this generation of Indians how they tolerated this “Reign of Unreason,” how the people who claimed to be past masters of ‘Intelligence Industry’ allowed Obscurantism to dominate the scene in 2017.

Historians tell us for certain that our ancients in the Vedic period ate beef. But for those who consider self-created mythology as proven history, there is no embarrassment about becoming the laughing stock of an entire world. Anthropologists tell us how the symbol of the cow, which was a totem for some of the Aryan tribes, acquired a religious significance in periods when an agricultural society became heavily dependent on the food and economic security that cattle-ownership provided. Cow-protection was a social need that was given a religious sanction. But, of course, a cow remains an animal, not a deity to which human beings can be sacrificed.

Despite India’s much acclaimed cow-devotion, the tragedy is that she owns the biggest stock of neglected cattle in the world, emaciated and hungry-looking, they receive symbolic respect and token assistance, and keep wandering the streets merely to block the traffic. And tourists wonder in what primitive age ‘Super Power’ India has chosen to place itself. Meantime the leader of the nation keeps visiting foreign nations dining with beef-eaters and wine-drinkers, and hugging them heartily, while people with similar food habits in India are being put to death.

The fact, of course, is that the love for the cow is minimal. But ‘cow protection’ can be proposed as an acceptable pretext for having it out on poor Muslims and dalits, who are struggling to make both ends meet. However, the full responsibility cow-related lynchings and murders cannot be put against the illiterate vigilantes who are active on the forefront, but ideologists who inspire them and the political big weights who prod them on and give them protection, with a view to promoting their own vested interests.

Similarly, the charge of ‘conversion’ is held against Christians, even against some of the best of human species, including Mother Teresa. Cow-vigilantes and conversion-vigilantes work in coordination. No proof is required. Suspicion is proof. Any prayer-service is a conversion-service. Any Christian group gathered for animation or social work is a conversion-bid. Lives are lost, churches are burnt.

The totalitarian governments in Russia and China got its plans implemented through the machinery of the government. Indian Fundamentalist Authorities get their work done in another way: they use anti-social elements for the same purpose, which enables them describe the situation as a ‘Law and Order’ problem…which they themselves have created.

What is not being said is that moral police, anti-Romeo squads, and gau rakshaks are trained and subsidized, and their protection guaranteed. They keep digital contacts with each other and keep closely observing every movement of people. Situations of tension can be created at short notice, and the authorities can wash their hands every responsibility.

1. All Universal Ideas are Self-propagative
What is held out against Christians is ‘conversion.’ Conversion is not a horror. No one objects when an invitation goes forth to become intelligent and responsible members of society. That is a conversion for something good. People and societies have changed their minds continuously. In an intelligent society, new ideas are generated, they are shared. All universal ideas are self-propagating. Science advanced because someone who had discovered something new and found it beneficial to society, shared it with others. Social sciences made progress because persons who felt convinced of a social theory propagated it with enthusiasm among his/her fellow human beings. Reforms were introduced, lives were saved, living conditions improved, because enlightened people followed up their personal insights in different areas of life vigorously, seeking to convince others of what they knew was for the good of society. And no one considered it negative activity.

2. We are moving into an Era of Free Choices
In any case, one thing is clear: we are moving further and further into an era of free choices. The liberty to choose what one likes is the most priced of all modern values. There are any number of options before the modern man/woman almost in every area of his/her interest: consumer goods, social doctrines, political theories, cultural pursuits, recreational activities. And people do choose. They are helped in their choices by vigorous propaganda. Advertisement is an industry by itself. Everyone proposes his product or service as the best. His right to do so is not questioned. No one objects as long as he limits himself to ways of persuasion. It is for the buyer or client to choose.

Similarly, social thinkers and political propagandists vie with one another in proposing their own panacea for social evils, political deadlocks, economic slowdowns. Their right to do so is generally recognised. But they have no right to impose, even if they are right, and even if they are convinced. It is not the conviction of President Bush that democracy is the best form of government that is wrong, but its imposition on Iraq or Afghanistan at the point of the gun. We respect Hindu veneration of the cow or any other sacred symbols. What we object to is its imposition on others. Most of our Hindu friends accept this position. That is why they came out holding banners “Not in our Name,” wanting to dissociate themselves from the cow jihadists.

3. People Keep Changing Minds
Experience tells us that people keep proposing new ideas. Minds are changed. Conversions do take place. We daily see that people give up ideologies, change parties, shift markets, swap loyalties, and accept new citizenships. If such things are considered normal, religious conversion need not be taken as a disaster, as the Hindutva leaders do. Conversion can be an intelligent, well thought out, choice. That is one way in which we exercise our mind and make our options.

But someone will argue that choice in every other area of life is legitimate, but not in the area of religion. Why so? For some, change of religion is like changing one’s nationality. This is evidently wrong, as almost every country in the world has people belonging to different religious traditions, who at the same time hold fiercely on to their national identity. For some others, religion is like caste or culture that clings to one in an unshakable manner whether one renounces it or not. History tells us something different. Individuals, groups and entire populations have left behind one religion and accepted another, when they felt it was good to do so. Indians have changed religion repeatedly. The history of India recalls how tribal India became Buddhist, and later still accepted certain Hindu deities, and ultimately opted for Brahminic Hinduism. Both Sivaists and Vishnavites won adherents from each other… because they thought they had a right to do so.

4. For our Hindutva friends the Door can open only in One Direction
For Hindutva-advocates, the door can legitimately open only in one direction: tribals (kiratas, vanaras and dasyus) and foreign devotees (mlecchas) may come in, no one may go out. Hinduism is considered a universal religion, embracing all that is good in every other faith, and therefore the ideal one for the people of all nations and civilizations.

Conversion of tribals to Hinduism is re-conversion (ghar-vapsi) and is considered legitimate. In fact, it is celebrated with the distribution of saris and other trinkets, and this is not considered an inducement. But any conversion of tribals or dalits to Islam or Christianity is taken for granted as unfairly done, through deceit or inducement, exploiting the poverty and backwardness of communities. A secular state regulates religious choice (“Freedom of Religion” Acts), which is universally considered a private matter. Even speaking of eternal reward is counted a subtle form of enticement; much more, offering any poverty alleviation service in the field of health, education or development.

5. And yet, Hinduism itself was a Proselytizing Religion
We do not blame our Hindu friends for desiring that their community does not reduce, that the adherents to their religion keep increasing, and that the ideals that they have cherished down the centuries be widely respected, accepted and treasured. What we would respectfully ask is that they respect the same sentiments in others and allow them to share their convictions with their fellow human beings in ways that are universally considered right.

After all, Hinduism itself was a proselytizing religion. It is often argued that only Semitic religions are self-propagating, while religions of Indian origin are not. History tells us that this is no true. All universal ideas (political, social, religious or any other) by their very nature have always been self-propagating. Buddhism, though of Indian origin, was self-propagating from the very beginning. Hinduism too was a proselytizing religion, continuously reaching out to others. And it was eminently successful in this endeavour, while it kept learning from others and adapting itself to different cultures and societies to which it carried its message. But once Brahminism succeeded imposing its caste and ritual rigidities on society and grew frozen, it withdrew into its ethnic boundaries and developed a sense of insecurity which seems to haunt till now. Conversion-fear is a proclamation of its own “Inferiority Complex.”

6. The Collective Psyche of an Aggrieved Community Calls for Attention
Experience shows how difficult it is to dialogue with someone who has gone on the defensive. Hindutva activists (ultra nationalists, cultural nationalists) have been building up a ‘siege mentality’, and with their ‘Hinduism in danger’ cry, they have been organizing their community into provocative positions. They have given their majority community a ‘minority complex’. That is why we are referring to a sense ‘inferiority’ that is harassing them. Under the guidance of Sadarshans and Togadias people have gone hysteric against others. This is the invasion of the Subcontinent by Jihadism. We need a team of psychological experts to analyze this form of collective mental imbalance.

It is the future of our society that is in danger. Young men are fast becoming radicalized. The unemployed and the dropouts move into leadership positions to become spokespersons for an obscurantist ideology. They are like the blind men leading the blind. It was religious fanaticism that divided India, it stands in danger of dividing the nation again, alienating Kashmir and the Northeast, provoking Pakistan and China, polarizing communities.

7. The Convert-making Tradition in India: the example of Buddhism
Crime or not, Indians have been the biggest convert-makers in the early period of human history. In the first chapter of our civilization’s history there stands a great conversion. It was after the loss of a hundred thousand lives in 261 B.C. that Asoka decided to give up his violent ways to win new territory and adopt ways of gentle persuasion, with respect for everyone concerned, and eager to point the path righteousness (Dharma). And the world changed with him.

It was into a world of violence that Asoka introduced a new culture: the Mahabharata and Ramayana wars, Alexander’s invasion, the Nanda and Maurya military harshness, and the sacrifice of countless animals in worship. Asoka introduced a culture of respect for people of all religious faiths, of compassion for all living things, of concern for life itself, an eagerness for a casteless society. Taking inspiration from Buddha’s teachings, Asoka taught that true conquest consisted in the conquest of men’s hearts by the Law of Duty (Dharma).

It was in fact a civilizational change which gave a new direction to the history of the sub-continent. This change proved to be a reaffirmation and an enhancement of the egalitarian cultural urges of the tribal societies that inhabited eastern India. The mighty monuments that Buddhism has left behind, like those at Nalanda, prove that the native cultures truly flowered, with the acceptance of this message.

8. Change of Religion was Constant in India: Hindu Precedents of Convert-making
Indian kings often changed their religion, patronizing Buddhism, Jainism, Sivaism, Vishnavism, or Tantrism in turn. The founders of Buddhism and Jainism belonged to casteless tribal communities inhabiting the sub-Himalayan regions of Bihar, and were culturally distant from hierarchical Brahminism. It is an anachronism to consider Buddha and Asoka as kshatriyas ; they were tribal chiefs like those who lead the people of Northeast India in our days.

The massive proselytization work of Sankaracharya and the manner in which he converted Buddhists en masse to Hinduism is a story by itself. Bhakti movement also was often linked with mass conversions. So it is not easy to say that the Indian civilization has not been a proselytizing civilization.

9. Mass Conversion to Brahminism, Radical Cultural transformation
This mighty drive for Aryanizing non-Aryans continued down the centuries to our own days. Brahminism had its own way of winning adherents to the system: an entire Jana (tribe) would be accepted into the Brahminic hierarchy as a new Jati (sub-caste) and be given a suitable occupation as part of the scheme of division of labour (Romila Thapar, Penguin Book of Early India, Gurgaon, Haryana, 2015, pg. 67). Some of the leading priestly families of the Jana would be given the brahmin’s rank (always below the Aryan Brahmins), the aristocracy would be accepted as Kshatriyas, and all the rest would have to be satisfied with the Shudra position (Thapar 63, 65, 244, 260, 293, 325, 341, 422, 455).

The dharma of the ruling class (modern kshatriyas) is to promote the Varna-ashrama-dharma and protect the cows. The dharma of the Brahmin intellectuals (spokespersons and the holy men) is to legitimize the kshatriya (Hindutva) domination. Today this is an accomplished fact. But there are other thinking men in India still, who seek to differ. They say “Not in Our Name” : no exploitation in our name, no obscurantism in our name. “We do not want the name of our country dragged to the dust before the family of nations!

10. Hinduism itself has been Changing
Every community undergoes changes as it lives out its life responding to new challenges and opportunities. We have already seen how the expanding Aryan races extended their ascendency over smaller tribes and scattered communities in the east and south of India, offering them the benefits of an advanced system of division of labour for that period, today called caste-system (with also its discriminating consequences), shrewdly accepting local deities, beliefs, practices and devotions as diverse expressions of their own more integrated thought-and-religious-system.

The higher castes have firmly established their dominant position over the sub-continent and have continued to excel in its ability to retain their leadership in a vast variety of creative ways by co-opting the opponent’s thought or tradition: e.g. Christian service in education, health, development, reach-out to the tribals; western humanitarianism, Enlightenment-inspired reform movements, Marxist concern for the working class.

11. Indian Society in Rapid Transformation
It is often alleged that missionary activity brings about many changes in society. The fact is that all societies have always been changing down the ages. Just as western society was totally transformed by Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, Indian society too has radically changed as a result of its confrontation with the West.

During the colonial rule the whole of South Asia was brought under the influence of the western systems of political and social organization, economic relationships, modern education. They have been influencing our cultures continuously. Thus all societies have been undergoing changes. Now with the globalization of the economy, the rapid expansion of information technology, we are heading towards even more revolutionary changes still. Those who have led Indian Information Technology should not be nicknamed ‘Macaulay’s children’ (because Macaulay introduced English into India), but intelligent Indians who are building a future for the nation.

12. The Media Moving into Saffron Hands
The culture of the globalized media threatens to corrode all inherited identities. All cultures coming under its influence stand in serious danger of hybridization. But, even as national cultures are being threatened by the global media, the cultures of ethnic minorities are being threatened by the culture of the dominant community. Today even greater dangers threaten free-thinking citizens. Matters are not conducted in the country with respect to the Universal Declaration of Human rights, or with respect to the Constitution of India, or the great ideals of the nation, but to suit the opportunism of the Ruling Party.

Principles succumb to the ruling parties’ interests. It is becoming more and more evident that today everything is subject to saffron concerns. Regional and local cultural identities are lost, or are severely subject to saffron dictates. Independent voices are being silenced in the press, in universities, in critical social reflection. Intelligence is being marginalized.

13. The Greatest Danger : The Closing of Minds
The only Conversion that Christians are seeking is an opening of minds to human possibilities. We have seen how the Hindutva leaders promote another kind of conversion: transforming simple believers into aggressive vigilantes, life-threatening Jihadists, or placing new converts at the lowest rank (caste) in society. We are unable to accept these initiatives. They bring dishonour to the country and threaten the future of our national togetherness.

It is difficult for us to admire those who disown the Taj Mahal and glorify the senas that attack dalits and tribals. After proclaiming Sab ke sat, Sab ke vikas (with everyone, and for everyone’s development) one cannot act as though what is important is Apne sat, Gau ke vikas (for self interest, and cow-development). Mythologies cannot be made into history, superstitions cannot be exalted as advanced science. Human beings cannot placed below the level of animals, nor be sacrificed in their behalf.

“Be a lamp unto yourselves,” Buddha said. We re-echo the same message. Think for yourselves, choose what is good. Never reject a scientific or social proposal because of your prejudices. Never reject a religious proposal because of your prejudices. Jesus never sought to impose. He asked even his intimate disciples “Would you also like to leave?” They had full freedom. But Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life?” (Jn 6:67-68).

All that Christians are asking is precisely this, give people the right to choose what is good, let them make their choice intelligently…. Not to become jihadists, but to become co-builders of a common future. That is our plea.

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