Hindu Vivek Kendra
Christianity and the Brahmins

One of the standard church propaganda is that Hinduism is nothing more than what they call Brahminism. Their objective is to assert that the ills that exist in Hinduism are a creation of the supposedly elitist Brahmins to keep the people suppressed. (Perhaps the church hierarchy is projecting its own method on others!) They have tried to project that the Brahmins are evil and it is in the interest of the rest of the society to get out of their clutches. And the only way to do it would be to leave Hinduism and join Christianity.

The respect that Brahmins, in general, had (and still have) in the Hindu society is a matter for a separate subject. At the same time, there is no need to deny that there have been some Brahmins who have not fulfilled their dharma to the society. Suffice to say here that most of the great reform movements have been led by Brahmins. Not only in the spiritual field, but also in the social field, Brahmins have been prominent amongst the reformers.

The fact that the initial approach of the Christian missionaries was to convert the Brahmins exposes their game plan. It has been the standard practice of Christianity all over the world to first convert the influential people, so that they become their ambassadors to the rest of the society. The first successful experience was in the case of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. (The political objective of this Emperor in adopting Christianity has been well documented.) With the power of the state behind it, terrorising the people to accept Christianity was an easy task. This was then used to set up an organisation to control the spiritual lives of the people, while helping the Emperor to control them politically.

The Brahmins turned out to be people with a different mettle. Since they were not interested in temporal power, they had no need to involve politics in spiritual matters. They saw that there was a lack of spirituality in the Christian ideology. Being highly respected, the example of the Brahmins was emulated and the rest of the community concluded that if Christianity has no merit for the Brahmins, it has no merit for the rest of the society.

Many Christian researchers have documented the cause of the antipathy of the missionaries towards the Brahmins. Elizabeth Susan Alexander wrote,

"For the missionaries Brahmans (sic) had been in the forefront of the staunch Hindu opposition to missionary endeavours in Madras Presidency. They had also been the vanguard of the Indian nationalist movement that had taken alarmingly extremist turns." (The Attitudes of British Protestant Missionaries Towards Nationalism in India, Konark Publishers, Delhi, 1994, p 67.)

Only when they could not make a dent with the Brahmins that the missionaries turned to the lower castes. The conversions were obtained through inducements and not through any spiritual conviction. They were somewhat successful only when the temporal power was with the invading Christians and the area was effectively a colony. The missionaries could project themselves to be the benefactors of the lower castes, and ensure that government largesse would flow to them. That it did nothing for them in terms of social upward mobility is clear from the fact that there is a class of dalit Christians.

A few of the Christian missionaries did have some success with the Brahmins. But, the change took place for secular reasons. This was also the experience in Europe.

As Judaism was strongly fought and persecuted (by the Roman Catholic Church) in a large part of Europe, many Jews tried to defend themselves by embracing the religion of the country where they lived, and in this way to keep their property and prosper in business. (Jorge de Abreu Noronha, A New Dimension to the Inquisition, Goa Today, Dec 94.)

It was only when a Brahmin converted to Christianity, would he be employed in the government services. It was only when a member of the higher caste converted to Christianity, would he be permitted to continue with his profitable economic activity. But the success rate in such cases was small, and the rest of the community did not emulate their example. If anything, the converts were treated as outcastes at the social level, and endured more than accepted.

Some of the Christian missionaries noticed that the whole community held the Brahmins in high esteem in spiritual matters. So they decided to pretend to be Brahmins to attract the people to come to them. The classic example was that of Robert de Nobili, a Jesuit from France, who came to India in the early 17th century. He adopted the saffron robe, started to live in a hut, squatted on the floor for conducting his discourses, became a vegetarian and gave up liquor, projected that he was a Brahmin from Rome and that the Bible was one of the lost vedas, and generally tried to pass himself as another Hindu sanyasi. He was successful, and many Hindus came to him for spiritual reasons.

But, de Nobili's objective was not to merge himself with the Hindu culture or civilisation. M N Pearson wrote:

The career of the well-born Italian Jesuit Roberto de Nobili seems to illustrate this change, this decline in cold hard certainty. He is well known for trying to convert Brahmins by using their own arguments. To this end he studied Sanskrit texts, and dressed as a Brahmin. While this may be admirable, as an example of tolerance and open inquiry, it should be remembered first that de Nobili's aim was still, and always, to make converts, and second that his methods got him into hot water with his superiors. (The Portuguese in India, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1990, p 123.)

The same was also the conclusion arrived at by Abbe Dubois, whom we have encountered earlier. The following comment is relevant:

(T)he chief cause (of Abbe Dubois' disillusionment with the lack of success of his missionary effort) undoubtedly was the invincible barrier of what we may call nowadays intellectual Hinduism, but which the Abbe called Brahmanical prejudice. He refers regretfully to the collapse of the Church, with its hundreds of thousands of converts, many of them of high caste, established by the Jesuits Beschi and de Nobili in Madura; but at the same time he made no concealment of the real causes of their failure. 'The Hindus soon found that those missionaries whom their Colour, their talents, and other qualities had induced them to regard as such extraordinary beings, as men coming from another world, were in fact nothing else but disguised Feringhis (Europeans), and that their country, their religion, and original education were the same as those of the evil, the contemptible Feringhis who had of late invaded their country. This event proved the last blow to the interests of the Christian religion. No more conversions were made. Apostasy became almost general in several quarters, and Christianity became more and more an object of contempt and aversion in proportion as European manners became better known to the Hindus.' (Editor's Introduction, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, Abbe Dubois, Translated and Edited by Henry K Beauchamp, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 1994, p xxvii.)

In spite of being exposed for the fraud that he was, de Nobili held as an icon of the so-called inculturation programme of the Christian churches. An English current affairs magazine, The Week (Oct 20, 1996), came out with a cover story on the subject of what are called Roman Catholic Ashrams. I corresponded with one of the proponent of the programme, a Spaniard priest who has adopted Shilananda as his name, and asked him if he thought that there is salvation outside Christianity. In reply I was told that I should repent and believe in Christ. The present practitioners of inculturation are carrying forward the tradition set by de Nobili of pretending to be a Brahmin. 

While in a rural setting one sees Roman Catholic Ashrams, in urban areas Christianity is conducted in pomp and style. In The Week article, a priest in Mumbai, Fr Myron Pereira, is quoted as saying "(The Ashram) makes sense where Fr Shilananda lives, but not in Mumbai where I live. If all I Catholic priests were to adopt the ashram life-style, it would pose practical and emotional problems in big cities." (Emphasis added) The objective of the Roman Catholic Ashrams is to try and fool the simple rural folks. This Ashram programme will not succeed in urban areas where people are more aware of what Christianity is all about. In his objection to conversions of the poor people, Mahatma Gandhi challenged the missionaries to convert him first. Of course, they knew that Gandhiji had made a detailed study of Christianity and there was no possibility that he could be sold the system. Similar was the case with the Brahmins in the past.

It is very unfortunate that the whole concept of the evil Brahmin, propagated by the Christian missionaries for their own sinister objective, is being authenticated by the so-called intellectuals in this country. Great Hindu reformers, including Swami Vivekanand and Mahatma Gandhi, have recognised the role of the Brahmins in the preservation and propagation of the Hindu culture. Some of the greatest of the Hindu reformers have been, and are, Brahmins. Their contribution to the society in all fields is legendary.

As said earlier, it is not our contention that the Hindu society has no faults. Blame for this state of affairs has to be with some Brahmins. But to damn the whole class is doing grave injustice. The missionaries had to project the Brahmins as evil because they were the ones who were coming in the way of their proselytisation programme. Today, it suits certain people to damn the community for their petty political games. But, if they were truly evil, would not there have been large conversions of the backward castes to both Christianity and Islam? After all, the clergy of both these systems had the power of the state in many places in India. If the Brahmins were the cause of the miseries faced by the lower castes, the latter would have willingly adopted another system to escape the 'tyranny'.

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