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Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:59 am
by pilgrim
Imagine you're poor and living in a rural area. Your child gets sick. You manage to transport her to a hospital or clinic. To your relief, the condition is treatable. But the cost of treatment is not just beyond your means, it's beyond your imagining. However, says the kindly health care worker, you can get the treatment free of charge. All you have to do is renounce the centuries-old traditions of your people and convert to a foreign religion.

Such offers are being made to desperate people in the villages and tribal areas of India.

I just returned from a month in that country, to mark the Indian publication of my book, American Veda. In the 18 cities I visited, the most frequently mentioned topic was the shady tactics of certain missionaries.

Not all of them, mind you. Not the intrepid souls who work selflessly to help the poor, the afflicted, and the illiterate, in the spirit of their savior's exhortation to serve "the least of these." Such missionaries have been welcome in India for centuries, and the Hindus I spoke to are grateful for their good works. What is causing consternation and anger is a new breed of zealots, heavily financed by American fundamentalists, who seem driven to pile up numbers like door-to-door salesmen racking up commissions. Determined, fervent, and creative in pursuit of souls to save, they sound more like the snake-oil hucksters of legend than servants of Christ.

Targeting mainly the impoverished and uneducated, some of their tactics make the hospital bargain I described earlier look as reputable as ordering a book from Amazon. I was told of missionaries giving people temporary jobs in return for converting, and then threatening them with job loss -- not to mention eternal damnation -- if they reconvert to Hinduism. Families have apparently been torn apart because the converts are made to disassociate from the heathen.

I heard about missionaries who dress in orange robes to look like swamis. Gullible and desperate villagers are told that their traditional gods are actually corrupted versions of Christ; that the venerable saints and sages of India's past were really Christians; that the three horizontal stripes traditionally drawn on the foreheads of Shiva devotees stand for the Holy Trinity; that the Upanishadic prayer that includes "Lead us from darkness to light" was meant as a cry for Jesus to save them.

A mother is sick? A father loses his source of income and can't feed his family? The bus filled with youngsters suddenly "stalls" on a dangerous mountain road? Well, say the missionaries, try praying to your Hindu gods. Hmmm, imagine that: nothing changes. Well then, see what happens if you pray to Jesus. Wow! Lo and behold! The mother receives medicine. The father gets a one-day job that puts rice on the table. The bus engine starts again! If one prayer to Jesus produces miracles like those, imagine what converting will do!

I heard about people being told that their misfortune derives from their worship of Hindu deities, because the idols are really forms of the Devil; about village strongmen being paid to coerce conversions from other villagers; about women given a choice of walking a mile to haul water from their usual source or using the new well conveniently dug in front of a church. The price? Conversion, of course.

I don't know if these egregious actions are commonplace or rarities. I do know that they are dishonorable. They're about coercion, not spiritual conversion; extortion, not the exchange of ideas. And, if I may say so as a non-Christian, they are an affront to Jesus, whom every Hindu I've ever met regards as a holy man of the highest order if not an incarnation of God. I can't help thinking that he would be as outraged by the deception being perpetrated in his name as he was about the moneylenders in the temple.

I told people in India that most American Christians would be appalled if they knew what was being done by their overly aggressive brethren. I was tempted to wait until after Christmas to test that thesis, but I decided that this season of goodwill might be the ideal time. So, what do you think, my Christian sisters and brothers? Is there some cosmic war for souls going on, in which anything goes? Or are there rules of engagement that civilized people should observe? What would Jesus say?


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-go ... r=Religion

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 7:07 am
by Weakfocus
Excerpt from Goenkaji's address at Millennium World Peace Summit:
S. N. Goenka wrote: Much has been said here about conversion, both for and against. Far from being opposed to conversion, I am in favor of it—but not conversion from one organized religion to another. No, the conversion must be from misery to happiness. It must be from bondage to liberation. It must be from cruelty to compassion. That is the conversion needed today, and that is what this meeting should seek to bring about.
There's a video of the address, as well.

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 7:19 am
by manas
Hi pilgrim,

it's a sad but not surprising development. Regarding this:
I heard about people being told that their misfortune derives from their worship of Hindu deities, because the idols are really forms of the Devil;
Ah, the old 'anything that isn't of our faith must come from the devil' trick. I was speaking with one of those fundamentalist 'speaking in tongues' type Christians once, and seeking clarification, asked: "So you are saying that everyone in other religions, even those in other sects of Christianity apart from your own sect, are going to hell?" and he replied - with a straight face - "yes". :lol:

metta,
manas.

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 11:56 pm
by SarathW
This is nothing new to me.
My own family members were converted to other religions for financial gains.
In Sri Lanka whole villages were converted this way.
I exercise equanimity for these actions.
:)

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:02 am
by pilgrim
If we believe what the Buddha said about the dangers of wrong view, I'm not convinced that this should be viewed with equanimity. Admittedly, compared to mega-organisations like World Vision, I do not know what one do about it beyond our limited personal actions. :cry:

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:06 am
by SarathW
This is no different to what happened to Buddhism in India, due to Hinduism.
All worldly conditioned to be viewed with equanimity.
:)

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 2:11 am
by m0rl0ck
Actually they have come a long way, during the middle ages good christians were torturing and killing people to get converts and confessions.
And i dont think most US Christians would mind tactics like this, after all a soul is being saved from hell and if the soul is saved what does the body matter.
Organized christianity has a long history of bad behavior of this kind.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_a ... C3.A9ziers

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 2:37 am
by SarathW
It is a great idea if religion, business and politics can work together in the right direction!
:)

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:10 am
by dhammafriend
I told people in India that most American Christians would be appalled if they knew what was being done by their overly aggressive brethren. I was tempted to wait until after Christmas to test that thesis, but I decided that this season of goodwill might be the ideal time. So, what do you think, my Christian sisters and brothers? Is there some cosmic war for souls going on, in which anything goes? Or are there rules of engagement that civilized people should observe? What would Jesus say?
First off this has been going on for centuries and is closely linked to the historical realities of slavery and colonialism. The tactics used have changed in some fundamental ways though. Evangelical Xstians have learned that they will have a quicker turnover of souls if they target the weak, poor & marginalized.
This is why they focus their efforts in developing counties (they are losing the battle in Europe etc). Its simple logic but it works. In Africa (one of the regions targeted) Evangelism/Prosperity gospel is big business (brought by the Americans of course). This is not surprising as people want a better quality of life.These forms of Xstianity thrive on poverty, superstition and fear. In fact witch hunts are on the rise and guess who's being hunted? Those who practice African traditional religions. This is the ugly side of monotheism operating at full capacity people.

Some of the blame I feel lies with those Dharmic traditions at the receiving end of this in Asia. A fatalistic attitude will only speed up the demise of Hinduism, Buddhism etc. Asians need to shake off the colonial mindset of fear of their 'western masters' and realize that just because it comes from the west does not mean its automatically a good or wise thing. I've noticed that Asian Buddhists sometimes exhibit a strange sense of shame or embarrassment, almost apologizing for their existence. Constantly trying to validate their traditions through western science and religion. That basically how deep it goes with colonized peoples. Dharmic traditions are not only worth preserving, they are worth celebrating, sharing and spreading (openly and honestly). This can be reversed but only with hard work, wisdom, compassion and balls of steel.

Dhammafriend

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2014 10:58 pm
by SarathW
When I am hungry and if someone give me two choices,
a)Pray to God I will give you some food.
b)Meditate you will get some food.

I take the first choice. :(

Buddha asked to feed the hungry person before give Dhamma!

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Fri Jan 03, 2014 11:10 am
by binocular
pilgrim wrote:Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?
/.../
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-go ... r=Religion
Practicing a religion - any religion - comes with a worldly price.
That's just how it is.
If one isn't willing to die for one's religion, then maybe one isn't able to live for it to begin with - and so would do better to be more realistic about what one claims is one's religion.

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Fri Jan 03, 2014 11:22 am
by binocular
pilgrim wrote:If we believe what the Buddha said about the dangers of wrong view, I'm not convinced that this should be viewed with equanimity.
With what else then?

Equanimity is one of the four sublime attitudes; it's the reflection on karma: 'All living beings are the owners of their actions (kamma), heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and have their actions as their arbitrator. Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.'

Certainly with some effort, one could first employ the first three sublime attitudes, namely, goodwill, compassion and sympathetic joy.

Did you have something else in mind?


dhammafriend wrote:/.../ In fact witch hunts are on the rise and guess who's being hunted? Those who practice African traditional religions. This is the ugly side of monotheism operating at full capacity people.
It's not clear how these witch hunts have anything directly to do with monotheism.
Witch hunts, bullying, mobbing, scapegoating are standard human behaviors.
Some of the blame I feel lies with those Dharmic traditions at the receiving end of this in Asia.
Maybe that's because they haven't practiced their Dharmic traditions well.
Asians need to shake off the colonial mindset of fear of their 'western masters' and realize that just because it comes from the west does not mean its automatically a good or wise thing. I've noticed that Asian Buddhists sometimes exhibit a strange sense of shame or embarrassment, almost apologizing for their existence.
Strange. And yet there is what can best be termed "Asian supremacism." That negative, superioristic attitude some Asians have toward esp. white Westerners.
"Yes, white boy, you may have some interest in Buddhism or Hinduism, but you're white, and born in the West, which means you are inferior, so you better just wait out till the end of this life, and maybe in the next lifetime, you'll finally get it right and take birth in India."

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 3:30 pm
by dhammafriend
Hi Binocular
It's not clear how these witch hunts have anything directly to do with monotheism.
Witch hunts, bullying, mobbing, scapegoating are standard human behaviors.
Maybe I was sloppy in my critique, but it can be linked. Please check the article link below.
Lets not also forget the anti-gay laws on the upswing in central Africa. Google it and see where the money is coming from.
http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/201 ... e-pacific/

Maybe that's because they haven't practiced their Dharmic traditions well.
I partly agree here. Also, the Dharmic traditions simply had no means debate and critique their colonizers as equals, as their rulers regarded them as inferior beings, so the balance of power was not in their favor. In Sri Lanka for example to hold a government position you had to be Christian, to go to school your children had to be baptized, only Christian marriages were recognized. Not sure about you but I can only image how it would feel if I was coerced to renounce are part of my own identity just to receive the basic rights that any human being deserves.
In todays world, predatory evangelism has only traded blood for tears.That's the only difference.
Strange. And yet there is what can best be termed "Asian supremacism." That negative, superioristic attitude some Asians have toward esp. white Westerners.
"Yes, white boy, you may have some interest in Buddhism or Hinduism, but you're white, and born in the West, which means you are inferior, so you better just wait out till the end of this life, and maybe in the next lifetime, you'll finally get it right and take birth in India."
If you've personally experienced this, I'm sorry about that. All people are capable of discrimination for sure. BUT, to just assume the Asian person you meet at a temple is gonna welcome you (or anyone for that matter) with open arms is a bit naive (and perhaps loaded with Orientalist assumptions). Although I'm not white (and not completely Asian) I've learned some things by dealing with Buddhists of Asian descent.

For one, I need to show my willingness to learn dhamma on someone else's terms, this means doing what the monk asks of me, be it sitting meditation for long stretches, getting up really early etc.

Please note my critiques refer to predatory evangelism only. The majority of Christians would be appalled at what happening in Asia, Africa etc.


Dhammafriend

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 3:54 pm
by binocular
dhammafriend wrote:Maybe I was sloppy in my critique, but it can be linked. Please check the article link below.
Lets not also forget the anti-gay laws on the upswing in central Africa. Google it and see where the money is coming from.
http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/201 ... e-pacific/
I'm well aware of these things, I'm just not sure what they have to do with monotheism per se.
I partly agree here. Also, the Dharmic traditions simply had no means debate and critique their colonizers as equals, as their rulers regarded them as inferior beings, so the balance of power was not in their favor. In Sri Lanka for example to hold a government position you had to be Christian, to go to school your children had to be baptized, only Christian marriages were recognized. Not sure about you but I can only image how it would feel if I was coerced to renounce are part of my own identity just to receive the basic rights that any human being deserves.
In todays world, predatory evangelism has only traded blood for tears.That's the only difference.
Like I said earlier in the thread -
Practicing a religion - any religion - comes with a worldly price.
That's just how it is.
If one isn't willing to die for one's religion, then maybe one isn't able to live for it to begin with - and so would do better to be more realistic about what one claims is one's religion.

For one, I need to show my willingness to learn dhamma on someone else's terms, this means doing what the monk asks of me, be it sitting meditation for long stretches, getting up really early etc.
Absolutely.
It's dangerous to have a sense of religious entitlement, thinking that religions and religious people are there for one's own sake, to serve one on one's own terms.
Please note my critiques refer to predatory evangelism only. The majority of Christians would be appalled at what happening in Asia, Africa etc.
Sure.

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 6:33 pm
by dhammafriend
Hi binocular, please see below
Like I said earlier in the thread -
Practicing a religion - any religion - comes with a worldly price.
That's just how it is.
If one isn't willing to die for one's religion, then maybe one isn't able to live for it to begin with - and so would do better to be more realistic about what one claims is one's religion.
So by your logic only on the threat of certain death is one allowed to claim a religious identity. :shock: Would you hold yourself to that standard?
(please don't answer that, its rhetorical) What do you mean a worldly price? So people should just suck it up, whatever happens to them?

So what you're saying is that deceit, psychological torture & the threat of economic depravation are valid means of Christian evangelism. Got it.
You made my argument for me. :smile:

Dhammafriend

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 6:47 pm
by binocular
dhammafriend wrote:What do you mean a worldly price?

That following one's religion could mean having fewer friends, fewer job opportunities, not being particularly liked in general. Things like that.
So people should just suck it up, whatever happens to them?
Never suggested that.
So what you're saying is that deceit, psychological torture & the threat of economic depravation are valid means of Christian evangelism. Got it.
You made my argument for me.
Please don't put words into my mouth nor thoughts into my head.

In samsara, things like deceit, psychological torture & the threat of economic depravation can reasonably be expected. A good religion is one that can make its practitioners resilient to those, so that they cannot be exploited.

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 7:11 pm
by Aloka
binocular wrote:.

In samsara, things like deceit, psychological torture & the threat of economic depravation can reasonably be expected. A good religion is one that can make its practitioners resilient to those, so that they cannot be exploited.
Samsara isn't a place that we live in.

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 7:29 pm
by dhammafriend
In samsara, things like deceit, psychological torture & the threat of economic depravation can reasonably be expected. A good religion is one that can make its practitioners resilient to those, so that they cannot be exploited.
Is that really a role of religion? Please define a good religion that can make its practitioners resilient to psychological torture & the threat of economic depravation.

As far as i know I don't think samsara is a place. Rather the process of making and perpetuation of 'place'. Its what putthujanas experience.

Dhammafriend

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:06 pm
by Mkoll
binocular wrote:
dhammafriend wrote:What do you mean a worldly price?

That following one's religion could mean having fewer friends, fewer job opportunities, not being particularly liked in general. Things like that.
The operative word here is could. For many people, religion is the center of their social lives. The one example I have is that many Christian churches are essentially community centers where everyone gets together and supports one another, shares food, makes friends, and forms lasting bonds. People help each other when in need.

Perhaps this is a bit idealistic nowadays. But in the past when survival was more uncertain, this kind of mutual support was an absolute necessity.

:anjali:

Hi Aloka and dhammafriend,

I'd be curious if you could elaborate your views on samsara.***

:anjali:

***Mods, please move this to a new thread if you feel it's necessary, e.g. what is samsara?

Re: Missionaries in India: Conversion or Coercion?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:53 pm
by Aloka
Hi Aloka and dhammafriend,

I'd be curious if you could elaborate your views on samsara
Hi Mkoll,

This might help:
Samsara literally means "wandering-on." Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live — the place we leave when we go to nibbana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer, not to the question, "Where are we?" but to the question, "What are we doing?"

Continued : http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... msara.html

:anjali: