The phenomenon of religious proselytism To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
November 20, 2001

Please allow me to respond to a letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] published in your newspaper captioned " Regular venom towards Christianity", by Mr. Davenand Bhagwan 15-11-2001.

As the world becomes increasingly consumed in the imperative pursuit of releasing itself from the harrowing anathema of religious intolerance and aggression, it is essential that we look profoundly at the phenomenon of religious proselytism that has been a fundamental component of the Christian philosophy. The antecedent and basic assumption behind the perpetuation of Christian proselytism is the conviction that the religion(s) being subjected to the efforts of proselytizing are invalid, insignificant and are at discord with truth. The thought processes that hatch this exclusivist and fundamentalist vanity can only be tantamount to religious violence and psychological assault.

Mahatma Gandhi had the trenchancy to recognize this and thus he wrote, " If I could legislate I would stop all Proselytizing". The religious conversion that results from such insidious and stealthy aggression is not only bereft of any spiritual input but is a farcical travesty and a flagrant affront to the world's intrinsic and intricate tapestry of religious and cultural diversity. Mahatma Gandhi had again apprehended this incorruptible truth and hence wrote, " The idea of conversion is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth" and "It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion, it is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world's progress towards peace".

Hinduism is perhaps the only value system that has not been fixated and dogmatic on the universalization of its philosophy because it has a transcendentalist apprehension of religion. An understanding that sees God and Truth as being the reality of the world and not the monopoly of this or that sect. It has realized that every civilization will have to construct its own paradigm based on its endemic circumstances, factors such as geography, culture, history and language for the realization of God and truth. The Hindus have understood since time immemorial that to seek to universalize one such paradigm and the consequent dismissal of all others in effect can only amount to religious racism and xenophobia.

Swami Vivekananda was not proselytizing when he addressed the Parliament of World Religion in Chicago. If he did, his speeches would have been vitiated to a betrayal of the quintessence of the eternal philosophy of Vedanta. It is for this reason that Vivekananda with stentorian pitch quoted at length the voluminous pluralistic scriptures of his civilization. He told the audience in one of his addresses, "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee". In another instance, he echoed the wonderful doctrine preached in the Bhagavad-Gita: " Whosoever comes to me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me".

Yet, the Hindu people have had to withstand a cynical miasma of Christian proselytizing that has impetuously and indiscriminately heaped scorn, denigration and vitriol upon their pristine legacy. Mr. Bhagwan's conviction that Jesus Christ is the only way for salvation is in itself an imposition because this is a self-explanatory statement and among the many conclusions, it is indicating the dismissal as tangential of all other religious orientations. With this sort of injustice and aggression, Newton's law of action and reaction suggests a response is ineluctable. VS Naipaul had predicted this in his essay: A strong Hindu response to Historical Humiliation published in the Los Angeles Times on June 29,1996, he called it a "resurgence of Hinduism to liberate itself from the clutches of imperial bondage. Swami Aksharananda was also penetrative when he predicted " The day is soon coming when every Hindu will begin to understand that whenever a Christian missionary comes to a Hindu home he or she does so with the sole intention to destroy Hinduism, this is an act of aggression against the Hindu religion and Hindu people, and the time is also coming when Hindus will deal with this in the appropriate manner".

The Hindus have never traditionally spewed venom on anyone; the Jews were given refugee in India while they faced Holocaust in Europe. The Buddhists although they continue to express deprecation for certain tenets of Hindu philosophy are still embraced as a dimension in the Hindu Evolution. However, pejorative attacks on its pluralistic and embracive culture will no longer be allowed to prevail.

History has shown that any ideology that divides the Human race into mutually exclusive bodies: believers (saved souls) and on the other side infidels (unbelievers, souls destined to eternal damnation), invariably amounts to veiled imperialistic deception that seeks to furtively cultivate its hidden agenda of conquest and domination. Christianity was used as an agent of imperialism during the British political conquest of India. This was confirmed by Gandhiji when he wrote, " Christianity in India has been inextricably mixed up for the last one hundred and fifty years with British rule, It appears to be synonymous with materialistic civilization and imperialistic exploitation by the stronger white races of the weaker races of the world, its contribution to India has been, therefore, largely negative", (Young India: March 21, 1929).

It is quite ironic that Mr. Bhagwan has the audacity to posit that Indians must be grateful to Christians for education. When the Hindus introduced to the western world the phenomenon of numbers and the concept and significance of Zero, upon which all scientific advancement is based, this was deemed as "satanic" by the Christian Church. When the Hindus introduced the system of Asana (yogic postures) that provided therapeutic treatment for almost all known diseases of man hundreds of years before the advent of modern medicine, this was dismissed as "the work of the devil". The Hindus were never accredited for establishing the world's first university. Around 27,000 years ago, as early as 700 BCE there existed a giant University at Takshashila, located in the north region of India. Heaven forbids, the Hindus were never accredited for their education of Jesus Christ. Vedanta has always illuminated the world with Knowledge and Wisdom but the dogmatism of the exclusivist fox has always sought to suppress and abrogate this effulgence.

It is laudable that Mr. Bhagwan is not totally bereft of character indicated by his holding on to components of Indian heritage, but this has not been the general pattern. Conversion to Christianity has meant almost intuitively the gradual erosion of culture and identity.

This is the time when the world can no longer afford this plague of bickering where Christianity through mass propaganda campaigns -psychologically similar to the crusades and inquisitions are superficially popularized while the indigenous religions are sullied and besmirched. Spew not venom and avoid the fury of the Hindu renaissance.
Amar Panday