Religious Conversion: A form of violence.

Share this!
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • Twitter

Posted on February 15th, 2012 | Filed under Academic, Challenges, Community, Featured, Interfaith, Leadership, Learning, Social Issues, Theology, Uncategorized
Tagged with , , , , , , , , , ,

Tibet: Pure Devotion by Sylvain Labeste

To the Divine and Respected,

Disclaimer: This article does not blame any religion. It simply brings up the issue of Religious conversion and encourages one to look into the issue. Also, when I say conversion I am talking about forced and involuntary conversion as well as proselytizing. A humble request: the point of this article is not  to argue or point fingers at any religion but act upon the issue peacefully through dialogue and similar means. Reminds us all why interfaith dialogue is extremely important in todays world. Thank you.

As I was en route to visit the Bhutanese refugees I tutor one Sunday morning, I received a phone call from one of my Bhutanese brothers telling me that two Bhutanese have committed suicide.

Unable to understand what he was saying, I told him we will discuss the incident upon my arrival at his apartment in West Park, Cleveland. I sat down with him and he told me the story.

Two Bhutanese refugees who have escaped religious persecution and ethnic cleansing in their own country and were finally granted asylum in the United States passed away a few days ago. I asked him what happened and he told me that they were unknowingly converted to Christianity. The Bhutanese refugees came to the United States hoping to find a land that will embrace them, protect them, and allow them to be pursue their dreams. However, trying really hard to "fit in" to the culture of the United States, the Bhutanese found themselves in a tough situation. They wanted to get married but did not know how.

They met a Pastor that guided them to a Church where they could get married, even though the Pastor knew they were Hindu. The Bhutanese thought it was part of the American culture to get married in the Church. The Pastor told the Bhutanese that they need to be Baptized in order to get married, to which again the Bhutanese thought it was part of the American culture. The Bhutanese just wanted to be accepted in the community and get married but did not know that they were being converted to Christianity. Upon realizing this after a conversation with their own Bhutanese community, the Bhutanese felt ashamed and betrayed. The result was suicide.*

Unfortunately, their experience is not uncommon; other refugees have faced similar challenges and horrors. Similar cases have sprung up across the United States within the Bhutanese community where the newcomers have been targets of conversion. During my train ride back to the university campus that Sunday afternoon, I was very disappointed about what happened and felt the need to increase my efforts helping the Bhutanese community assimilate into the Western society. Particularly on the point of making them understand it is okay to be a Hindu and proudly represent themselves as Hindus, after all, the United States is a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and non-believers right?

Having an opportunity to write in State of Formation, I had to write about Religious Conversion. As a Hindu, I have never been brought up with the idea of conversion or was made to think that my religious tradition was the most superior and the only path to salvation.

Hinduism does not see the point of conversion, if it did we would be trying to use the words of Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita and try to convert the entire world but we do not, why don't we? A Christian missionary in Germany once asked, "Why did Hindus never set out of Indian soil to propagate their religion? It is just because they knew it was of no worth."

To this statement, Max Muller, a German Philologist and Orientalist, immediately replied saying, "For Hindus, Religion is like a mother. She is the most beautiful of all. Bhagavad Gita says, 'if you try to prove you are worthy by propagating the beauty of your mother, then the outside world will see her as a prostitute. Hence propagate the value of your mother by the deeds you do called Karma. The value of the mother is known by the deeds done by the child. If your Karma is good, then automatically your mother will be the most respected.'"

Hinduism is a form of Universalism, many of the concepts in Hinduism are universal and thus are very accepting. We see the Universe in ourselves and ourselves in the Universe , such is the  cosmic manifestation of the Divine. When there is Divinity within everyone then what is the point of trying to convince someone that their spiritual path is wrong? "Ekam Sat Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti,": Truth is one and the Sages speak of it in many ways, says the Rig Veda.

In my effort to explain this concept to the world, I came across the below excerpt from an interview of a very Revered Spiritual teacher of the Advaita Vedanta-Shankara tradition who speaks the voice of Hinduism on Religious Conversion. Below Swamiji puts very simply why Religious Conversion is a form of violence. He also talks about the US view of India's Religious Freedom. He advises us Americans and future ethical leaders of tomorrow to really consider if we ourselves are abusing 'religious freedom' to advance our own tradition by forcing others to convert. The question I have for this State of Formation is that as a community that truly believes in freedom of religion, should we push Congress to consider legislation that focuses on restricting religious conversion? Perhaps, these might be the first steps for a nation like America to truly represent the importance that lies behind freedom of religion and interfaith dialogue. In this effort, we can too do our part to live and let live.

The following is an edited excerpt from an interview of Swami Dayananda Saraswati by T. R. Jawahar of Newstoday, Chennai, June 30, 2003 available at http://www.newstodaynet.com/swami.htm.

Why do you say conversion is a form of violence?

When you physically hurt me, it is violence. If you hurt me emotionally, it is violence. And if you hurt me spiritually, that is the worst violence, rank violence. When you convert somebody, you have to criticize the person's religion, his worship, his culture. All these hurt. When he converts, there is more hurt. He has to disown his parents, their wisdom and their culture, his ancestors and entire community. You isolate, uproot and emotionally unsettle him.

How can we deal with this problem?

The theologians have to change, but they will not, because of their indoctrination. But we should keep talking about it with them. They are waiting for a time when there is more freedom for them to do their conversion work. So let that conducive time for them to seek converts be kept away. Our people have to be made aware and proud of our religion. They should be able to say to the missionaries, "Enough is enough."

Any protest against religious conversion is always branded as persecution, because it is maintained that people are not allowed to practice their religion, that their religious freedom is curbed. The truth is entirely different. The other person also has the freedom to practice his or her religion without interference. That is his/her birthright. Religious freedom does not extend to having a planned program of conversion. Such a program is to be construed as aggression against the religious freedom of others.

But the naive fall for the lure of money and incentives.

It is not really the money that buys the conversion. The missionaries give small things, and tempt with larger. That makes a thumb space, a small opening, to enter the heart. Then the missionary says the fellow's daily puja is wrong, his altar of prayer is not right, and he has to change it. That is the unkindest cut you can get. It is a stab in the heart, his religious core, where this fellow has innocently allowed the missionary to enter. Missionaries do seemingly good things in order to commit this violence. After the conversion, he is told that his brethren and forefathers are devil worshipers!

Will the Hindu clergy allow them to reconvert?

Here in India all are Hindus until they call themselves something different. When I allow every form of worship, then where is the problem? We deem you another Hindu, only you are saying, "I am this or that." There is no reconversion. There is a prodigality and they come back like a prodigal son. We do not even need to baptize. We have to ask him to give up beef, that is all.

What is the US view of India's religious freedom?

The US government had appointed a Commission on International Religious Freedom. This Commission is an authentic body and funded by the government. The Commission gets information from all countries and then submits a periodical report to the government. Based on its report, the government of US may apply pressure on those countries where, according to the Commission, there is lack of religious freedom. You'll be surprised the Commission recommended India to be designated a Country of Particular Concern [a designation given to Iran, North Korea, Burma and several other totalitarian states the US State Department rejected their recommendation to so designate India].

They cited the anti-conversion bills of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat and some Gujarat incidents as the basis of their action. They say there is no religious freedom in India. This is according to their own matrix of norms on the basis of which they decide "religious freedom." I question this matrix.

The Commission's criterion appears to be that if evangelization for conversions is allowed, then there is religious freedom. That means if missionaries are free enough to aggressively destroy my indigenous religious tradition, and if I don't question it, then there is religious freedom. If I stand up to that aggression, then it is considered an infringement upon human rights and religious freedom. Therefore, I am appealing to the government of India to appoint our own Commission on Religious Freedom, and let them report on where there is religious freedom and where there is not.

But what about the good charity work of the missionaries?

Missionaries are using charity with the aim of conversion. They should do humanitarian work the same way Hindus do. We have charities all over the world. Look at Salem or Coimbatore. How many hospitals are there? Almost all of them are run by Hindu charities. And what do they do? They don't convert, they just run the charities. There is no priest or nun there because there is no conversion program. The charities remain charities.

But to run charities for another purpose is the most uncharitable thing to do. Let me make a comparison. Have you seen how those who supply cows to slaughterhouses treat those cows a week before the slaughter? They feed the cows a lot and don't allow them to move around in a bid to increase their weight. It is called "pounding." You could say, "Ah, love and feeding! How humanitarian these people are, so human, etc." But those fellows have an eye on another goal. This is how I see all the missionaries' work it is like the love of the slaughterhouse people. Missionaries slaughter religions, slaughter traditions, slaughter cultures. Yes, they do humanitarian work, but slaughterhouse love it is.

If you really love people, just give charitably and forget about it. Don't talk about your religion. Keep your sacred religion in your heart. I find it is not a happy thing to talk about, the vulgarity of it. Even to talk about it is rather staining my tongue and leaves a distaste.

Swami Dayananda, a sannyasi of the Adi Shankara and Veda Vyasa tradition, founder of Arsha Vidya centers in India, USA, Canada and Australia, has taught worldwide for over 45 years.

Featured image, TIbet: Pure Devotion, is courtesy of fotopedia by Sylvain Labeste.

*The story I present is nothing but an account and a conversation I had with the Bhutanese two years ago. While I couldn't trace the origins of it, there is a database in which all the suicides have been recorded and are being tracked that are a result of forced conversion. This information is available upon request.

Share this!
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • Twitter

39 Responses to “Religious Conversion: A form of violence.”

  1. karen says:

    Sai,

    Thank you for bringing to light a subject I was not aware of. As a Christian and a theologian, I am appalled at the actions of a Christian Pastor who would do such a thing. This is disturbing. I wonder how we can reach out to clergy that work and live in areas with a lot of refugees/immigrants – notifying them of how these actions of conversion can lead to death….

    Thank you again,
    Karen

  2. Sai Kolluru says:

    Karen,

    Absolutely. Empowering individuals, educating them, and engaging in interfaith dialogue continuously will lead to understanding and harmony among societies and religions. This is the only way. Having the interest to learn about other traditions and welcoming them is very integral in todays world. It is imperative to view the world through the lens of your religion and tradition and continue to show the value of it through your own deeds. If your deeds are valuable, people will see the beauty in them and naturally follow. Such is the greatness of America and we shall preserve the beauty that all faiths bring to this great land.

    I continue to echo Swami Vivekananda’s speech in Chicago on 1893 at the Parliament of Religions, “…The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

    -Sai Kolluru

  3. Sheetal says:

    Fabulous piece. Thanks for shedding light on this very real and important issue.

  4. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Indian spiritualist on 9/11/1893 at World Parliament of Religions, Chicago said to the gathering

    “We who had come from the east have sat here day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England the most prosperous Christian nation in the world, with her foot upon the neck of 250,000,000 Asiatics. We look back into history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe begin with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindoo will not have prosperity.

    They come to my country and abuse my forefathers, my religion, and everything; they walk near a temple and say ‘you idolators, you will go to hell’, but they dare not do this to the Mohammedans of India, for the sword will be out, but the Hindu is too mild.

    And may I ask you, Europeans, what country you have ever raised to better conditions? Wherever you have found weaker races, you have exterminated them by the roots, as it were. You have settled on their lands, and they are gone for ever. What is the history of your America, your Australia, and New Zealand, your Pacific Islands and South Africa? Where are the aboriginal races there today? They have all been exterminated, you have killed them outright, as if they were wild beasts. It is only where you have not the power to do so, and there only, that other nations are still alive.

    If Christianity is a saving power in itself, why has it not saved the Ethiopians, the Abyssinians?”

  5. JamesF says:

    “The following is an edited excerpt from an interview of Swami Dayananda Saraswati by T. R. Jawahar of Newstoday, Chennai, June 30, 2003 available at http://www.newstodaynet.com/swami.htm.”

    “Being secular, the State is supposed to protect all religions, which, includes unfortunately Hindu religion also.”

    That is copied from the aforementioned link and is certainly is unacceptable , I take issue with the unfortunately part . That person is no friend to Hindus .

  6. JamesF,

    You are right, only that the author writes that in sarcastic way. What he means to say is “you can’t proclaim being secular without protecting Hindus/Hinduism”. If you did not know, in Indian polity today dominated by Evangelical/Islamist nexus who control the “vote back” driven politicians the latter claim “secular” by being anti-Hindu and thus declare “secular” credententials. In other words in India “secular” has come to mean “anti-Hindu” contrary to actual meaning.

    Not only is TRJ a Hindu but a great friend of Hindus who has written boldly the evangelical disease plaguing India especially in Tamil Nadu region. You should his columns to get a better picture.

  7. Sai Kolluru says:

    @”Digesting VEDA”

    The reason I wrote this article is not to point out which religions are doing wrong and which religions are doing right. I wrote this article to simply bring up the issues of forcing or preaching one’s religion on others, especially those who are vulnerable (like the Bhutanese refugees and many impoverished and unempowered communities around the world).

    Again, I would like to remind everyone what Max Muller said, “For Hindus, Religion is like a mother. She is the most beautiful of all. Bhagavad Gita says, ‘if you try to prove you are worthy by propagating the beauty of your mother, then the outside world will see her as a prostitute. Hence propagate the value of your mother by the deeds you do called Karma. The value of the mother is known by the deeds done by the child. If your Karma is good, then automatically your mother will be the most respected.'”

    Religion simply comes down to that. I, personally, follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and Lord Krishna. If someone sees value in other religions, that person must assimilate (here I echo the words of Swami Vivekananda on assimilation and harmony).

    Let’s leave the theology for the theologians and philosophy to the philosophers. Let us radiate our own vibrations of peace and harmony and embrace everyone. Hopefully this article opened up many people’s mind about Religious Conversion. I chose to write it because it is not talked about and as a Hindu I simply brought it up to make others aware of the implications such an action of conversion can lead to.

    AUM.

  8. Sai Kolluru,

    It’s your choice to be politically correct or not. It is not my choice. It was not Swami Vivekananda’s choice. Truth is more important than being politically correct or not. Truth is the cornerstone of Dharma ( satyameva jayate ) and remember Dharma is not same as Religion. Do you know what Mahatma Gandhi said?

    “Stop all conversions, it is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth”

    He also said

    “I am a proud staunch Sanatani Hindu. The Geeta is the universal mother. I am unable to identify with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism, as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being, and I find a solace in the Bhagavadgeeta that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there , and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies – and my life has been full of external tragedies – and if they have left no visible or indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavadgeeta. Today the Gita is not only my Bible or my Koran, it is more than that—it is my mother… When I am in difficulty or distress I seek refuge in her bosom. India is to me the dearest country in the world, because I have discovered goodness in it. It has been subject to foreign rule, it is true. But the status of a slave is preferable to that of a slave holder.”

    Satyameva Jayate

  9. Durgesh Rai says:

    Religious conversion is the most condemnable act that spans the globe as a hunting ground … not sure who keeps the game going through centuries of ruthless submission !!

    • “not sure who keeps the game going through centuries of ruthless submission !!”

      Here is some information on this………..

      “The USA contributes USD 145 Billion every year to fund Christian Missionaries across the world. Churches across the world spend USD 1.1 Billion towards research aimed at achieving religious conversions. This is for propaganda material in 300 languages about 180 topics. Books and articles are printed in 500 languages. They total 175000. Every conversion costs USD 3300. It does not mean that this amount reaches the Convert. It is the expense incurred in activities related to administration, planning and implementation of the conversion programme. In 1500 A.D, there were 30 Lac active Christian Missionaries. Their number stands at 64.8 Crore today. 54% of these people are non-Whites. The strategy is to train non-Whites, provide them with funds and involve them in religious conversions. This is similar to the time when the British employed Indians as Soldiers to rule India!” { source http://medsyn.blogspot.com/2008/11/it-happens-only-in-india.html }

      Of course BREAKING INDIA has exposed the whole game, perpetrated by U.S. and European churches, academics, think-tanks, foundations, government and human rights groups etc.,

  10. Karen says:

    I think instead of debating here, instead of saying this religion does/says that, and these people did that… This particular case calls us all to simply be human. With all due respect, yes, these people died because of a deliberate act of conversion that they did not understand, yet, in the end, all that matters is that they are gone because of an indecent act of deception on that pastor’s part, In the end all that matters is that we as religious human beings do something about this. Pointing fingers and laying blame do nothing. Pro-active moves toward understanding do something. So, I posit these questions: what can we do? I think this case needs more attention and there needs to be more publicity about this particular incident. That is step one. Dialogue? I think this incident is beyond dialogue, but, would agree that dialogue would be a good idea to stop further incidents. Other thoughts???

  11. Sai Kolluru says:

    Karen,

    I absolutely agree with you. As I have mentioned over and over again, it is just important to be aware of the issue rather than continuously argue over it. Debates on issues such as this lead to nothing as they result in no action and create further frustration.

    Thanks for pointing it out.

    AUM. -Sai K.

  12. V says:

    Karen,
    I agree with what you said, you are a kind, understanding person :)

    Digesting Veda,
    I agree with you too, but not fully.

    When we say conversion is wrong, we’re looking at all spectrums. By telling someone their religion is wrong and we are right, it is an implicit form of conversion alone.

    Let’s suppose through your words, you do convince someone. Would you like the same treatment when they set up Missionary Camps or go on Love-Jihad rampages in India?

    In Shankaracharya’s time, debate still possessed a certain amount of class, in our world no one has the intellectual honesty to either accept defeat, or adopt something good- ego gets in the way. Proving oneself right is always better than calling someone wrong.

    Hence the best option is to simply be a good Hindu, set a good example, perform nishkAma karma for pAropkAra, gain gyAnam, become a jeevan muktA, and bloom like Adi shankarAchArya.

    • V,

      Any religion that claims I have sole ownership to gateway to heaven is wrong. Plain and simple. No Pussyfooting around. If you have the intellectual honesty to admit to this you are brave or else the usual PC warp you are in. Don’t believe me? Go ask your local mullah or padre and he will utter that garbage!

      You are saying MG or Vivekananda is wrong, they are not my words! You haven’t even understood the dynamics of conversion or what conversion is wrong. In this context we are talking about unethical conversions — those that are done by inducement, allurement or fraud or violence.

  13. Sai Kolluru says:

    I echo the words of Mr. V.

    AUM.

  14. srinivas says:

    sai,

    Thank you for highlighting the missionary activity in India.

    Srinivas

  15. V says:

    Digesting Veda,

    I agree with you 100% that Hinduism isn’t the same. I have also personally interacted with Rajiv ji, and I have great respect for his books and work.

    Hindus are not the same, but that doesn’t mean we go about deriding others’ religion. The wiser thing to do is show why you are right, those allured by your rhetoric will spontaneously gravitate toward you :)

    I am well aware of the conversion activities in India, and I find it quite disgusting myself. India needs to adopt a fully Hindu culture.

  16. V says:

    That is good, but why express it so vehemently :)

  17. V says:

    Sigh, here we go again. This is what gives people a reason to ridicule Hindutva, though I consider myself a hindutvAdi myself. It doesn’t hurt to talk civilly, you know? No one is “pussyfooting” here (btw, thanks for the new word, never knew it existed before ;) ), we are simply putting across Hinduism rationally, keeping in mind ahinsA, and not being diplomatic as you so often assume.

    • Yes, here we go again! :-) I don’t care what others think, especially the exclusivist creed, it’s important what I think. Like Rajiv’ji says I am non Hindutvaadi Hindu then! ridicule? civil? Read BEING DIFFERENT and then your outlook may change.

      “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi

  18. V says:

    I’m only amused that even after reading it yours didn’t :)
    I’m done here, good luck.

    hariH om :)

  19. V says:

    Dude, you’re a good hindu guy, stop fighting with hindus and target the pseudo secularists. I assure you I’m not one

  20. V says:

    So much for chitta shuddhi ;)

  21. HIRJI BHUDIA says:

    Very good article. We can do much more to educate and sread message of sanatan Dharma. I like your article . Please keep in touch. I dont have your email.

  22. […] most disturbing thing from my experience has been conversion of Bhutanese Hindu refugees to Christianity. These folks came in as refugees to a country totally […]

  23. Krishna Regmi says:

    I am a Bhutanese American.I would like to tell the story of my fellow Bhutanese Hindus how they are converted into Christianity .There are some voluntary conversions .That I say religious freedom.I see some American adopting Hindu way of life.I don’t call it they are converted to Hinduism because there is no conversion in Hinduism .This is true examples of religious freedom or personal freedom.But the issue becomes matter of concern for all when one is converted into another religion with coerce,with assurances of employment ,deceiption.Most Bhutanese Hindus are illiterate.Most of them don’t know to much about Hinduism also.They simply lead hindu way of life.They are Hindus by birth because they were born in Hindu family.They are made fun of their religion , their culture, their gods and Goddess by missionaries visiting their homes without their will .We have a tradition welcoming inside our house with the offer of hot tea if somebody comes to visit you at your house knocking your door.We just cannot say no.They are cheated because they are naive, innocent,timid,illiterate.They don’t have education,skills.They are unemployed and are in abject poverty.Their kids need computers because they are in U.S.A.!They don’t have transportation .They need to go stores.They need help.Unfortunately most of these much needed comes from missionaries.There is hidden motive behind these help.They come , help and say you have to convert to Christian inorder to get help from us.So they look at the face of their Kids,Future of America ,and with their heart bleeding for betrayal to their own faith cannot say no .They are doing this just for survival.First we have to survive then come religion ,freedom.

  24. Funlayo says:

    Thank you for this article, Sai. I absolutely agree that conversion is a form of violence and the very sad case you mention is on the extreme side.

    Krishna, I am very sad but unfortunately not surprised to hear your story. The same this has happened and is still happening in Africa, South America, the Caribbean… all over. After the earthquake in Haiti, many people were denied assistance if they didn’t convert and I had a colleague who volunteered tell me that he witnessed a church actually set up supplies in front of affected people, take a picture, and then pack everything up and take it away. Just sickening and deplorable.

    Sai, as much as you say this isn’t about pointing a finger at one religion or another, we have to be honest with ourselves about who is perpetrating these acts if there is any hope to change things. The people engaging in these acts are, by and large, Christians and it’s important to recognize that and also to ask those Christians (like Karen) who do not engage in such acts and who find them reprehensible to speak out against them. If these things are ever to change, it can’t just be the affected people speaking out. Just as white people have a responsibility to speak with other white people about racism, so do Christians have a responsibility to speak with other Christians about committing spiritual violence against those of other faiths. As long as we’re not willing to hold up mirrors and really ask people to look at themselves and the communities to which they belong, we don’t really want change.

Leave a Reply

Senior, majoring in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. Founder of a Hindu organization on campus that works to practice and preserve Sanatana Dharmic principles and values with the final goal of Seva, Selfless Service, through interfaith collaboration.


Subscribe to this author