The Ethics of Religious Conversions

source: HinduVoce, UK


Frawley's Speech, in Debate with Christian Missionaries in India

at a public discussion organised by Prajna Bharati A.P., on "The
Ethics of Religious Conversions" at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Hyderabad.

was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholic school. My uncle was,
and still is, a missionary. We were told that he was going to South
America to save the souls of the Native Americans, people we were
told were non-Christian and without conversion would suffer eternal
damnation. This is the background that I came from.


throughout the world, and in the United States, with very little exception,
there is no "Sarvadharma Samabhava" taught in religion.
It is something I never encountered in my Christian education in the

We were
taught that Hinduism was a religion of idolatry; it was a religion
of polytheism and superstition and that there was no place for Hindus
in heaven. Even a great Hindu like Mahatma Gandhi might be revered
on a certain level, but he was not given the type of religious credit
that he would have been given had he been a Christian.

attitudes still exist throughout the world and India does not exist
in isolation. And Hindus in India are, and India as a whole is, still
being targeted for conversion. Why is this so? If all the religions
teach the same thing, why is it that certain religions are seeking
to convert the members of other religions to their beliefs?

attitudes still exist throughout the world and India does not exist
in isolation. And Hindus in India are, and India as a whole is, still
being targeted for conversion. Why is this so? If all the religions
teach the same thing, why is it that certain religions are seeking
to convert the members of other religions to their beliefs?

is a pluralistic tradition. It teaches that there are many paths,
many scriptures, many sages, many ways to come to the Divine to gain
self-realization and it should be free for the individual to find
and follow whatever way he or she thinks or feels works best.

But not
all religions are pluralistic. In fact, most religions are exclusive
in their mentality and in their beliefs. The two largest religions
in the world, with a few notable exceptions, teach that theirs is
the only true faith. The average Christian throughout the world has
been taught to believe that only Christians gain salvation. The idea
has been projected as an eternal heaven for the Christians and an
eternal hell for the non-Christians, particularly for idol-worshipping
Hindus. And so far, we do not have major Christian leaders in the
world contradicting that statement.

To date,
there is no major Christian leader, or Moslem leader, in the world,
who is saying that Hinduism is as good as Christianity or Islam. I
do not know of any Christian leaders in the West who would say that
a Rama or a Krishna is equal to a Jesus. I do not know of any of them
who would honor a Ramana Maharshi, a Sri Aurobindo or a Mahatma Gandhi
as a God-realized or self-realized sage. I realize there may be some
exceptions to this, in the Indian context. But this is not the case
with, and it is also not the official policy of the Vatican. It is
not the policy of the Pope at all!

I want
to read a statement, from "The Coming of the Third Millennium",
which was issued very recently by the Pope, in relation to the situation
in Asia:

Asia Synod will deal with the challenge for evangelization posed by
the encounter with ancient religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism.
While expressing esteem for the elements of truth in these religions,
the Church must make it clear that Christ is the one mediator between
God and man and the sole Redeemer of humanity."

is a direct quote. Now, what is it saying about religious tolerance?
Christ is the only way. The pope is saying that we accept what is
true in these religions, but we do not accept them if they do not
follow Jesus as the only way. We still have to convert them. That
is the message. This is not a message of tolerance and live and let
live. It is not a message of let Hindus have their way and we have
our and both are good. It is not a statement that Buddha or Krishna
is equal to Jesus.

It is
a statement of exclusivism and my contention is that such exclusivism
must breed intolerance. If I think that mine is the only way, how
can I be really tolerant and accepting of you, if you follow another
way? And such intolerance is going to end up causing conflict, division,
disharmony and poor communication.

It is
going to divide communities and cause problems. So, please bear in
mind that, in the Indian context, as Hindus, you have to deal with
these religions as the majority of the people in the world are practicing
and believing in them, and this conversion process is continuing.

I also
think that we should have a free, open, friendly dialogue and discussion
on all religious matters, both in terms of social interaction and
relative to doctrinal matters. There should be complete freedom of
discussion, freedom of criticism and freedom of debate just as we
have in science.

generally happens in the field of conversion is that certain groups
are targeted for conversion activity. I would like to discriminate
between two different things. One is the change of religion, which
people may opt for, based upon open and friendly discussion, debate,
dialogue and studies. Nothing is wrong with that. But I would discriminate
that from what I would call the "global missionary business".

The global missionary business is one of the largest, perhaps even
the largest business in the world. Not only the Catholic Church, but
also various Protestant organizations have set aside billions of dollars
to convert non-Christians to Christianity. They have trained thousands
of workers, have formed various plans of evangelization and conversion
and have targeted certain communities for that particular purpose.
multi-national conversion business is like any multi-national economic
business. It is not something that is simply fair and open. It is
not simply a dialogue or a discussion.

So what
we see with this missionary business is a definite strategy for one
religion to convert the members of other religions. This conversion
business is not about religious freedom. It is about one religion
triumphing over all the other religions. It is about making all the
members of humanity follow one religion, giving up and, generally,
denigrating the religion they had previously been following.

Why is
this conversion business so big in India? Because India is the largest
non-Christian country in the world where missionaries have the freedom
to act and to propagate. Islamic countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh
– do not allow this missionary activity at all. In Saudi Arabia, you
cannot even bring a Bible or a picture of Jesus into the country.
China, also, does not allow such wide-scale missionary conversion

So India,
because of its very openness to and tolerance of these missionaries,
has become the target. You know from recent newspapers that one missionary
was killed in India, which is unfortunate. But in that same week,
fifty Christians were massacred in Indonesia by the Moslems there.
The religious violence is going on all over the world and Christians
are not always the victims.

In India,
for centuries, Hindus have been routinely killed for their religion.
Even recently in Kashmir, a number of Hindus were massacred, but you
will notice that, in the Western media, the death of Hindus for their
religion will never count and will never constitute a story. However,
if one missionary – one white man – is killed in India, then these
Western countries will retaliate with sanctions, criticize, and take
some moral high ground.

activity has a bloody history of genocide on every continent of the
world. I am not going to go into all the details here. The Inquisition
was in operation in Goa in India. The British used their influence,
though less overtly, to force conversions, and certainly the missionaries
had an advantage under colonial rule all over the world. In a number
of countries, colonial interests used force and persuasion to bring
about conversion.

We are
told today that we should forget all about that, even though it has
only been a generation or two since the colonial era. I say that we
cannot forget so easily because the very religious groups that performed
these atrocious acts have not yet apologized. If they recognize that
this missionary aggression and violence that was done before 1947;
that was done in the 19th century; that was done in Goa; that was
done in the Americas was wrong, then why don't we get an apology for

You will
notice that the Christians in America have made some apologies for
what they did to the Native Americans. We have yet to see any apology
relative to Hindus. If the missionaries want us to believe that they
have changed their ways and are now purely non-violent and charitable,
then why do they not at least apologize for what they did in the past?

And why
should there be conversions at all? What is the motivation behind
most seeking of conversions that is coming out of the Christian background?
It is their belief that Christianity is the only true religion, Christ
is the only saviour of humanity, Christians gain salvation or heaven
and non-Christians gain damnation or hell. That is not a policy of
harmony and tolerance but a blueprint for disharmony and conflict.

ultimately happens when someone who has that attitude comes into a
community and converts people? People are taught to reject their ancestors
and their traditions. Families are broken up. Division and conflict
almost inevitably occur wherever this missionary business goes on.
There are actually many forms of Christianity and several different
kinds of Christian missionary activity going on.

And there
are Christian groups that are not missionary at all, for example,
the old Greek Orthodox and the Syrian Christians, but which represent
old and tolerant traditions. Then there is the Catholic tradition
which is promoting its missionary activity all over the world but
which is doing it in a more subtle way today. They are no longer using
the force that they once used in the colonial era, but they are still
aiming at global conversion. There are also the old Protestants, the
Anglicans and the Lutherans, who are still promoting various types
of missionary activity. That has gotten reduced to some degree as

there is a new evangelical force in the world today, particularly
that coming out of the United States. What are the fundamentalist
Christian groups of America? The World Vision, the Christian coalition,
groups like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Baptists and so on.

are very actively asking for donations in America in order to convert
Hindus in India. We see this routinely in the various television channels
that they have. Pat Robertson, one of their main leaders, has said
that Hinduism is a demonic religion.

show Hindu gods with animal heads and say, "Oh! Look at how primitive
these people are." They look at the political and social problems
of India and say; "These are all owing to Hinduism. Please donate
money to our cause so we can go to India and convert these people
from this horrible religion that they have."

same evangelical missionaries are going all over the world and also
targeting Catholics. Recently, in Brazil, the Pope called these evangelical
missionaries "wolves" because of what they were doing to,
what he termed, "his flock of Christians", which was converting
them to their form of Christianity.

So this
missionary threat continues and some missionaries are going back to
the old hell-fire, damnation, condemnation of Hinduism such as the
Catholics used to do in the Middle Ages and in the colonial era. So
do not believe that there is religious harmony all over the world
and that the other religions respect Hinduism and are willing to live
together quietly with Hindus.

In fact,
in textbooks in America, it is taught that Hinduism is not a religion
because Hinduism does not have only one God, one book and is not a
missionary religion seeking to convert or conquer the world. So it
is this missionary business which needs to be questioned and not simply
conversion. And do not be naive about it!

is a consistent use of social upliftment and charity to promote conversion.
While social upliftment and charity are very good things, they should
be separated from religious conversion. If you want to raise up a
country and help them economically, please do so, but do not bring
religion into it. When you put the picture of Jesus everywhere obviously
religion and conversion are part of your motivation.
You will note that no country in the world has been raised up economically
by religious conversion. What has made Japan a great country economically
and what made the United States a great country economically are economic
means, not a change of religion. Christian countries include some
of the poorest countries in the world. The Philippines is the most
Catholic and the oldest Christian country in Asia. It remains one
of the poorest countries in Asia and has one of the greatest gaps
between the rich and the poor.

The most
devout Catholics in the world are in Central and South America. They
are certainly not found in North America and in Europe, where Christians
are more nominal than strong believers. Central and South America
also have tremendous social inequality and a tremendous gap between
the rich and the poor. But the Catholics there are not telling the
poor people that they should convert to another religion in order
to raise themselves economically.

So this
whole attack on Hindu society by stating that we will raise the poor
on religious grounds is based upon the motivation of conversion. Then
there is the whole issue of hospitals, orphanages and schools. It
is all very wonderful to selflessly help other people. But why do
you have to put a religious form there? As long as the picture of
Jesus is there, particularly when you have a two thousand year history
of aggressive conversion activities, how can you expect people to
believe that there is no seeking of conversion? That it is purely
selfless service and love of God?

If we
love God, if we love our fellow human beings, we will love them regardless
of what their religious belief is. We will love their religion as
well. We will honor and respect their religion whether they are aboriginal
people, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Moslems or Christians. We
will not see any need to convert them. In fact, we should not even
be conscious of their religion at all. True love of God does not seek
converts. It is not based upon names, forms or identity. It is based
upon recognizing the Divine presence in all.

One of
the great swamis of India, Swami Rama Tirtha, when he came to America,
was asked about religion. He said, "You do not belong to any
religion. All religions belong to you." The human being is not
a property of any Church. You are not some thing which is owned by
anyone or anything. The soul does not need to be saved. It is the
eternal and immortal part of our nature. We need only understand the
Divine within us.

You cannot
change the nature of any human being. Hinduism is based upon respecting
each individual and the Swadharma of each individual. We should have
many paths and many religions. The idea of only one religious faith
for all humanity is like having only one set of clothing for all humanity.
It is like people having to eat only one type of food, or people having
only one type of job. There should be diversity, abundance and freedom
in the religious realm as well.

all religions do not have the same goal. Religions have various goals.
Religions are various paths. We should note that all religions are
not theistic. There are non-theistic religions like Buddhism and Jainism
where there is no creator God. There are religions with a multiplicity
of deities. Monotheism is not the only form of religion in the world
and it is not the best form either.

All forms
of religious worship have their validity and Hinduism recognizes them
whether they are, polytheism, monotheism or monism. Even atheists
have their place in Hinduism. People should have complete freedom
to reject religion if that is what they want to do. Hindu tradition
is a sadhana tradition that aims at spiritual practice for self-realization.
Most Christian traditions, for example the Protestant tradition, claim
that faith alone is enough to save you.

means that a person may be a mass murderer, but if on his deathbed
he converts to Christianity, he will go to heaven. Another person
may live the life of a saint, but if he does not convert to Christianity,
there will be no heaven for him. Recently, in the United States, a
woman who had been convicted of murder was converted to Christianity
on death-row and the Christian leaders – particularly the fundamentalist
Christians – asked for the death sentence to be removed because since
that woman had converted to Christianity therefore the sin no longer

The same
people would not have made the statement had the woman converted to
Hinduism or any other non-Christian faith. We do need religious harmony
and dialogue throughout the world. One of the most unfortunate things
is that there is so much misinformation and even disinformation about
Hinduism in the world. For example, in the New York Times, only last
year, there was a story about the Amarnath pilgrimage in India. And
what did the New York Times call it?

going to worship the sex organs of Shiva, the God of Destruction."
What kind of tolerance is that? What kind of point of view is being
projected by it? But I have to tell you that the fault for this is
not really all with these western people. The fault lies with Hindus
themselves. They have been very poor at expressing what their religion
is and in countering disinformation and propaganda against them. They
do not study their religion properly and so, they cannot explain what
it is. They are also misinformed about other religions and think that
other religions are just Hinduism in another form.

But you
will not find these rich traditions of yoga, meditation, Vedas and
Vedanta, in other traditions. Particularly in the Protestant tradition
in the West they are rejected almost altogether and, to these Evangelical
Christians, they are considered to be the work of the devil. Some
people say that all religions teach the same thing. Well, Hinduism
teaches the Law of Karma and Rebirth.

and Islam do not accept that. Some people say all religions teach
the same things and they only differ in inessentials. Is the Law of
Karma and the process of Rebirth something inessential?

certainly there should be a respect for universal, ethical values
such as truthfulness, non-violence, peace and harmony. These should
be accepted for all human beings regardless of their religion. In
fact, they should be projected for all of nature. One of the problems
that I see in Christianity, as most Christians believe it, is that
animals are considered to be devoid of a soul and only human beings
can gain salvation.

One of
the reasons that we are exploiting and destroying this planet is because
we do not see the presence of a soul and consciousness in nature,
the animals and the rest of the Universe. We must move beyond all
our narrow, human-centric creeds. True religion is not a matter of
name, form or identity. It is a matter of that which is eternal, that
which is universal, that which no one owns and is a matter of consciousness,
awareness and Truth.

The highest
goal of the Hindu religion is self-realisation, not simply knowing
God, but understanding who we are and the Divine presence within us.
One of the main problems of humanity is that we do not understand
ourselves and our motivations. Instead, based upon some dogma or belief,
we are trying to get others to think and act like we do before we
understand ourselves and understand them.

So let
there be a dialogue. Let there be open, friendly and also critical
communication in religion just as in science. But please let us expose
and put an end to this missionary business and let us not think that
the missionary business is tolerant. The missionary business is not
about freedom of religion. It is about the triumph of one religion.
It is not about secularism. The missionary business accepts that only
one religion is true. It is a religious war aimed at religious control.

The way
to challenge this is not through violence or through intolerance,
but through being properly informed. It is through being open, friendly,
dialoguing and talking to people, so they understand what the Hindu
point of view is, so that any distortions about Hinduism are removed.
We are all the same Divine being. We all share the same human nature
and we must recognise that in all human beings for harmony to exist.

At the
same time, we should not be naive about the forces of the world and
the forces that are trying to disintegrate this society and this culture.
I think it would be a tremendous loss if India gave up Hinduism and
became another Christian or Islamic country. We have enough of these
already. India has a wealth of its own spiritual traditions that the
rest of the world needs. Why do Westerners come here? They come here
for this wealth of spiritual knowledge. In fact, you should be exporting
your religion. That is one thing you have enough of. There are other
more important things that you need to import.

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