Thursday, February 26, 2015

Conversions and Christianity

Our `Middia’, both print and television, has been in a real lather the last couple of days. The immediate provocation is a `Middia’ report of a statement by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that conversion to Christianity was the real aim of Mother Teresa.

The liberals, intellectuals and secularists are up in arms. They say that these statements are typical of the RSS and that India has become more polarised along religious lines. They speak about the `timing’ of this statement and ascribe all sorts of explanations to the `timing’.

The Christians say that this is incorrect and that other communities and religions do not know what selfless service to the absolutely downtrodden and the dying and the lepers as practiced by them is. That Mother Teresa was doing all that she did without any motive.

Broadly and briefly, these are the arguments made.

I have a slightly different take. I have no idea of whether conversion was the main aim of Mother Teresa. I do not think Mohan Bhagwat, the liberals, intellectuals and secularists have any idea either. I do not believe that there is any written evidence suggesting this. So, according to me, neither side can possibly win this argument. This is a perfect argument for our `Middia’. We, as monkeys, will watch the endless debates on this subject till something new turns up.

My point is, the Christians have been converting non-Christians for the last 1000 years. Whether or not conversion was Mother Teresa’s motive is neither here nor there. Can anyone deny the evangelism and proselytising by the Catholic Church over the past 1000 years? Does the motive or its absence change in any way what has happened and what continues to happen? Alas, we in India will never take the discussion forward by even one inch. Why cannot even one of the liberals, intellectuals and secularists say this? Why must they endlessly debate the presence or absence of the motive when there is no evidence either way.

I am sure you must have read, if not studied, the Crusades. The Crusades were military campaigns sanctioned by the Latin Roman Catholic during the Middle Ages. In 1095, Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to holy places near Jerusalem. Several hundred thousand Roman Catholic Christians became crusaders by taking a public vow and receiving forgiveness from the church. These crusaders were Christians from all over Western Europe. Furthermore, Pope Urban II promised forgiveness of all sins to whosoever took up the cross and joined in the war. While there were additional motivations for taking up the cross—opportunity for economic or political gain, desire for adventure, and the feudal obligation to follow one’s lord into battle—to become a soldier for Christ was to express total devotion to God. Sounds familiar? Sounds, shall I say, Islamic?

Why look so far back in time? I went to a `Convent’ school as I am sure most of you dear readers did. Why? Simply because the schools offered top class education, in the English medium of instruction all laced with strict discipline. Personally, I have derived great advantage by going to a Jesuit school. Did these schools have a motive? Probably yes, though I never felt that I personally was being converted covertly. I do know that with the profits generated by my school in Mumbai, the Jesuits set up a sister school in Bhopal. Did they get a chance to convert there? Almost certainly yes.

If you are familiar with Goa you will know that most of the Christians there are converted from being Hindus. The name Shenoy is an anglicised or shall I say Christianised Shenvi. The Manglorean Christians are almost all converts too. What about large swathes of Tamil Nadu? Converts. What do names like Sanjay Miranda and Anil D’Souza mean? Naresh Fernandes? What about all the Gujarati sweepers –the bais or Jamadars – many of them are Christians. What about the original inhabitants of Bombay the East Indians? All converts.

The strong and deep roots that the Roman Catholic Church has made in India, both urban and now increasingly rural, is well known and have existed for years. The situation is the same in the Dark Continent.

So, my question is, why are the Church, the RSS and the liberals, intellectuals and secularists, simply not cutting to the chase and accepting that Christianity has been deeply influential in conversions of Hindus, Dalits and so on? Why is the RSS pussyfooting and raising the specious argument of Mother Teresa’s motive? Just say that the RSS believes that the Church is and has been converting and that the RSS believes that this is wrong. Why is the Church and why are the liberals, intellectuals and secularists joining issues with the RSS and strenuously denying that there was no motive? Do they not realise, know and can they not see that the Church has been proselytising for the last 1000 years?

I simply cannot understand this debate.

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