Hindu Vivek Kendra
Christianity in India

Except perhaps for ISKCON, none of the Hindu sects have a missionary character in the sense that Christianity has. Even ISKCON has moderated its methods of the past. The lack of the missionary character is due to the pluralistic ethos of multiple ways of salvation. Until recently, Hinduism did not have a ceremony which would initiate a non-Hindu into Hinduism. It was invented in the 19th century by Swami Dayanand, as a reaction to the threat of the aggressive proselytising programmes of Islam and Christianity.

It is true that the number of temples in the western countries has increased - but so is the case in India, the land of the origin of the Hindus. The temples in the western countries have come up in those places where there is a sizeable Hindu population. It is the initiative of the local people that was responsible for the construction, with the funds being generated by them. At best, priests are taken from India. However, the control of the temple in temporal matters lies with the local Hindus.

A large Hindu temple has come up in North London, built by the followers of Swami Narayan, a very popular sect of Hinduism based in Gujarat. The disciples in India offered their shramadan (voluntary service) for some of the construction activity that took place in India. But, this would constitute a small part of the total cost. The devotees in the United Kingdom contributed not only in terms of money, but also, in true Hindu tradition, gave their own labour free of cost. Highly educated professionals took long sabbaticals to spend time at the construction site.

Once the temples come up, and the spiritual discourses start, it is likely that some of the non-Hindus begin to study the Hindu philosophy. However, the primary objective of the temples is to cater to the needs of the Hindus, and not conversion. Also, the non-Hindus who come to the temples are those that do so on their own volition, and not due to any inducements or fraud. The Hindu temples do not even pretend to undertake social service activities, or reach out to the poor. Such deeds are done by secular institutes, where the local Hindus participate just as enthusiastically as they participate in the temple activities. People are coming to Hinduism and Buddhism, rather than these two philosophies going to the people.

In contrast Christian churches in India are coming up in places where there are no Christians. They are set up by obtaining funds from outside the country. They are used as centres to propagate Christianity and to convert. The social service activities that are part of the churches are also with an objective to convert. The activity has at best an accidental redeeming value, and becomes highly debased.

At an International Conference of Mission Work in Rome, Cardinal Josef Tomko criticised liberation theologians like Paul Knitter, a professor of Theology, for being more occupied with 'social work' and-inter-religious dialogue' than with announcing the Gospel. Shri Sita Ram Goel comments:

The answer to this criticism by one truly pluralist was obvious: that announcing the Gospel was redundant, that it was even arrogant, that other people do not need a Christian Gospel and probably many of them have a Gospel of their own as good as the Bible. But Dr Knitter's answer was different. "We are not saying outreach evangelisation should only consist of action of human welfare but we are saying that working for human welfare, is an essential part of the work.... It is essential to the Gospel of Christ," he said. Missionary strategist will have no difficulty in agreeing with this view. They already know that 'social work' is a great aid to proselytisation. (Catholic Ashrams, Voice of India, 1994, p 181.)

Francis Arinze, one of the senior cardinals at the Vatican, confirmed that the primary task of the Roman Catholic Church is to convert. He said recently,

Has the Church anything else to do? No. Evangelisation is central to the mission of the Church. The task of evangelising all people constitutes the central mission of the Church. The Church has no other assignment. (Mark Pattison, Primary Mission is to Evangelise, The Examiner, Oct 18, 1997.)

This injunction of Cardinal Arinze was faithfully followed by Mother Teresa in her institute called Missionaries of Charity. In his book, The Missionary Position, Shri Christopher Hitchens quoted from a testimony of Susan Shields, who worked for nine and a half years as a member of Mother Teresa's order. She says:

"For Mother (Teresa), it was the spiritual well-being of the poor that mattered most. Material aid was a means of reaching their souls, of showing the poor that God loved them. In the homes for the dying, Mother taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a 'ticket to heaven'. An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then to pretend she was just cooling the person's forehead with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa's sisters were baptizing Hindus and Moslems." (Verso, London, p 48.)

It is exactly for this reason that Mahatma Gandhi said,

If instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work such as education, medical services to the poor and the like, they would use these activities of theirs for the purpose of proselytising, I would certainly like them to withdraw. Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another. (Foreign Missionaries, Young India, April 23, 1931.)

The Mahatma probably guessed that the Christian missionaries would not follow this advice. Very soon after the above statement, he said,

In India under Swaraj I have no doubt that foreign missionaries will be at liberty to do their proselytising, as I would say, in the wrong way; but they would be expected to bear with those who like me, may point out that in their opinion the way is wrong. (Young India, May 7, 1931.)

The wrong way that the missionaries follow is not only with respect to the debased social service that is being indulged in. There is a calumny against Hinduism. In 1994, at a conference in Vadodara, Religion and Society in Contemporary India, Shri Nirmal Verma, the eminent Hindi writer, said,

The type of abuses which missionaries hurled against the Indian Gods and Goddesses, if you read today, would be outrageous to any Hindu believer. Krishna is lecherous person, Shiva is some demonic force. All sorts of sexual abuses (are hurled) against Kali Durga. (Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, Project Nr 14, 1996, p 60.)

This is even more graphically narrated by a journalist, K R Sundar Rajan, in a letter to an English weekly in India, Outlook, March 16, 1998. He wrote:

When I was working in a Mumbai newspaper, I noticed a foreign missionary addressing a crowd at Azad Maidan. He was extolling the virtues of Christianity, which was legitimate, but then he went on to dissuade his audience from following Lord Krishna saying that 'even as a child Krishna stole butter churned by his own mother and later he was surrounded by women of loose morals'. I protested at his remarks at which he asked his aides to throw me out. Not one Hindu in the audience stood for me. I went to lodge a complaint with the police where I was told to put the news in my own paper. I gave the story to may chief reporter who asked me 'what's the news in it?' and did not publish it.

Shri Verma has confirmed the reaction of the audience, when he continued the above statement as follows:

And can you imagine all those things were completely disregarded by people, by believing Hindus, because they thought that they were absolutely nonsensical. They did not believe that any such outrage is being done to their religion because they themselves mocked in some way their own gods, with their own tremendous reverence and admiration for them.

This laid back attitude is born out of the Hindu tolerance and out of a freedom to think for oneself and to criticise where criticism is warranted. It is also the reason for the dynamism that is the hallmark of Hinduism. Mahatma Gandhi said,

My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired .... I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense. (Young India, October 6, 1921.)

However, instead of admiring this character of the Hindus, it was seen as a sign of weakness. The calumny continues even today. Some, like Pat Robertson, do it crudely. In his daily Christian TV show, The 700 Club, Rev Pat Robertson portrays other religions in poor light. However, he exceeded all limits in his March 23, 1995, programme, when he labelled Hinduism as 'demonic' and advocated keeping Hindus out of America. In this episode, details of the Reverend's conversion of Hindus of Rajamundry in the state of Andhra Pradesh were shown. His son said, "Wherever you find this type of idolatry, you find a grinding poverty. (India) has been cursed." (Hinduism Today, July 1995) There was hardly any mention of this incident in the 'secular' press in India, and the Christians in this country did not feel at all uncomfortable about the whole incident.

Others, like a priest in Mumbai, do it in a more sophisticated manner.

Hindu philosophy is basically one that encourages withdrawal from the world to the detriment of social commitment. (Pravrutti-Nivruttin.) Hindu spirituality also fosters individuality at the expense of community. The sadhu is preoccupied with his prayer, asceticism and other spiritual endeavours in order to accumulate spiritual capital for his own salvation. This attitude is also encouraged in the life of the ordinary Hindu who is expected to work for his own individual salvation. As a result there is hardly any communitarian or social consciousness. To be freed from suffering the individual has to go through the whole cycle of rebirth to overcome his karma or fate. The community cannot redeem from this suffering. (Fr Francis D'Britto, Theology of Involvement, The Examiner, May 2, 1998.)

When Fr D'Britto says that Hindus have 'hardly any communitarian or social consciousness', he ignores the contribution that Hindus make to the various charities, even to the Christian ones. In case of the latter, the Hindus giving their money and time often know that they are involved in conversion activity.

People like Fr D'Britto are projected as ones who are 'experts' on Hinduism. They study Hinduism not with an intention of understanding it better, but to damn it. This was the objective of the missionary indologists in the past, and it continues to be so today. The fact that such things can happen in a Hindu land is something amazing.

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