Why I am against Conversion
By Maria Wirth
In 1999, the Pope declared in Mumbai that in the 21st century the cross will be planted in Asia. Strangely, there was not much objection in the media that the Pope expressed so openly his eagerness to convert Hindus. Not only the Pope but also the different evangelical sects want to convert Hindus in big numbers. And unfortunately, they are doing it successfully because they have lots of money. In the last 20 years, after the Pope made his statement, Christian missionaries have become increasingly visible, blatant and controversial.
As I grew up as a Christian, I would like to share my observations from a personal angle.
I noticed that most Hindus are very cautious when it comes to religion. They take care ‘not to offend the sensibilities’ of the followers of Christianity and Islam. Yet on the other hand, Christians and Muslims don’t hesitate to offend the sensibilities of Hindus, and even badly demean them.
Many Indians argue that, because those religions are in the minority, their followers need special consideration so that they don’t feel threatened by the Hindu majority.
It is true that those religions are in the minority in India, but worldwide, Christianity and Islam have the biggest number of followers. Both religions also have great financial and political clout. This clout is reflected even in the Indian media. Just observe how favorably mainstream media reports on minorities and how unfavorably on the majority. I can’t help feeling that there is a clever Public Relation strategy. In contrast, Hindus don’t seem to have a PR strategy. ‘Truth will triumph’, is their motto, even if it takes ages…
Why no debates on religious matters?
Sometimes I hear the following argument from Hindus: “Only because missionaries despise Hinduism, Hinduism does not become bad.” This is of course true, but why not refute the obnoxious, false accusations that Hinduism is a primitive polytheistic religion and Hindus are sinful idol-worshippers?
Such accusations do not only completely misinterpret Hindu Dharma, but they are meant to help the Christian agenda to wean away Hindus from their faith.
Hindus should at least explain the basics of Sanatana or Hindu Dharma, and show how profound they are, if not pointing out the shortcomings of the dogmatic founder religions.
Pointing out the shortcomings of other religions seems to be taboo for Hindus. I wonder why. Debates on religious matters were common in ancient India and were of the highest order. Women also took part in those debates, which are recorded in the Upanishads.
Yet today there is hardly any discussion on religion or philosophy. One reason may be that a part of the intellectual class in India has been influenced by the British to such an extent that they adopted their ignorant view that Hinduism is primitive without ever reading any of the ancient texts. It is a small, but influential group that is ever ready to loudly defend the minority religions.
“The first distinction I would like to make between your missionary work and mine is that while I am strengthening the faith of people, you (missionaries) are undermining it.”
Mahatma Gandhi (Young India: November 8, 1927)
Heaven and Hell
Most Hindus are good natured and consider all religions as equal, as all believe in the same God, as there is of course only one creator. Moreover, all religions have good points. They all stress the need for a moral life. They all give suggestions on how to connect with God in prayer.
Yes, it’s true, but two religions have a very negative point which nullifies the good points. This negative point is that they divide humanity into those who are right and go to heaven and those who are wrong and go to hell without any proof. Christianity is one of those religions (Islam is the other one). It declares that it is not only superior but it alone is true, and therefore everyone needs to join it to be saved. The Church claims that Jesus Christ himself commanded his disciples to go out and baptize all nations (Matthew 28.19). Therefore, they believe that they have the ‘divine duty’ to convert the whole world. And the Church goes about it with great zeal and dubious means. If Jesus Christ was indeed a historical person (some historians doubt it), he might be shocked to see what is happening in his name.
What makes Christianity so special that it declares itself as alone true?
The main point is the status of Jesus Christ. The Church says that he is not only above normal humans but also above enlightened sages and avatars. He is the “only indigenous son of God”, whom God had sent to earth and who, through his death, has saved mankind from the original sin which Adam and Eve committed (their sin was that they ate an apple from the forbidden tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden).
This claim that Jesus is the only son of God cannot be verified. It has to be believed. It is a dogma and dogma means, there is no proof. So why should one believe it? The reason is that bishops had decided in the Council of Nicea some 1700 years ago, that Jesus is the son of God, and Christians have to believe it.
Many Christians do believe it, because they hear it from childhood. I, for example, ‘knew’ already in primary school in a small town in Germany, that we, the Roman Catholics, are ‘right’ and chosen by God and all others, including our Protestant neighbors, who had fled from the Russians to our small town at the end of the II World War, were ‘wrong’. Those neighbors had a little girl of my age and we played together, but I would have not gone to her church. I ‘knew’ it was a sin…
In 1965, in the II. Vatican Council, the Catholics reconciled with the Protestants, and it was no longer a sin to pray together. But Hindus remain in the category which needs to be converted or else they go to hell…
How I got doubts
As a child, I believed whatever I was told, but in high school, I started questioning. I could not believe in a God any longer who sits in heaven, loves only Christians and sends all others to hell.
A brother of my mother was a priest and, in his library, I read about the history of the Church. It was an eye-opener – how decadent the popes were, how brutal and bloody the conversion of South America was, how dissenters were imprisoned, tortured and killed, how the bishops schemed for power and wealth… Together with religion, I was about to throw out God as well, as He seemed inextricably linked with it.
Then I read an article on modern physics. It said that the whole creation is one energy. It was for me a Eureka moment. “This means there is a God!” I felt: If God is really the Highest, It cannot love one group and hate others. It has to be the ground of everybody and everything.
Getting to know about the profound Vedic wisdom
When I came to India, I was amazed how profound her ancient wisdom was – a wisdom that makes no claims, which need to be blindly believed, and a wisdom which does not divide people into “us versus them”.
‘Brahman’ or ‘Tat’ of the Vedas is not a personal God that has likes and dislikes, but it is the invisible, conscious basis of all forms and names in this creation. This conscious basis is also in our own person and can be experienced, and this makes sense. “Question, reflect and experience” is recommended.
In contrast, Christianity demands blind belief and does NOT encourage questions, nor experience. It claims doubts are from the devil. A Church that branded its own mystics, who realized their oneness with God, as heretics, cannot teach anything to India. It can only divide.
Hindu Dharma is universal
Missionaries try by hook or crook to get converts and target especially the poorer sections of society and even children. It seems as if they have a quota to achieve.
They claim that Christianity is the right faith and Hinduism is very wrong and they will land in hell if they don’t convert. The Upanishads claim “Tat Tvam Asi” (You are THAT/ Brahman). “You” means everyone, not only Hindus. This philosophy is truly universal.
Christian theologians would need to study Indian wisdom with an open mind. They would realize that dogmas are a hindrance in the process to uncover Truth. Such openness would make religion spiritual. Mystics would be appreciated. No “us versus them”, no borders, no God, who belongs only to one group and who condemns the rest, just a genuine search for the One Essence beyond name and form…
Mind set of Church representatives
Church representatives are adamant that conversion is not only their right, but also their duty. Many Hindus still don’t get the mindset of missionaries.
For example, after my mother had passed away in Germany, I went to the priest to arrange the funeral. When he came to know that I live in India, he said,
“Oh, a friend of mine just went to India.”
“I hope not for conversion”, I replied.
His reaction, “Of course for conversion. It is our duty.”
Strangely, Hindus feel religion must not be talked about and only a few question the ‘one and only way’ bogus. But is anything more important than to find the truth about God, us, and the world? So shouldn’t we talk about religion?
In the west, many leave the Church, in India many join
Indian converts generally join Christianity for reasons that have nothing to do with God or faith. Those converts may initially get material benefits but the price is very high. They have to despise the faith that they held dear and for which their ancestors have fought and made many sacrifices. They have to disown their devas as devils. They are coerced to put meat from the dead body of a cow into their stomach. They have to confess a belief in dogmas, which don’t make sense, like the claim that one has only one life and on the basis of this one life one will go either to heaven or hell for all eternity.
Yet slowly, they or at least their children, will become convinced that they alone have the right faith and that Hindus are inferior and damned by God. The brainwashing into the doctrine is much stronger in India than in Christian countries. While most people in the West, who are not employed by the Church, don’t believe any longer that Hindus go to hell, even an IIT graduate convert told me that he believes it and he had already convinced his parents to convert to save them from hell…
I once heard Bede Griffith, who had a Christian ashram near Trichy, giving a talk to nuns from Kerala and I was shocked how he threatened them with hell. After his talk I asked him how he could frighten them so much. He said, “I have to strengthen their faith so that they know where the border to Hinduism is.”
Hinduism is truly universal
Hinduism has no border. It has a place for everyone. If someone worships Jesus, no Hindu will object. But Hindus need to object to the baseless claim by non-hindus that worshiping Krishna or Shiva is wrong and will land one in hell, because this is not true and also dangerous for Hindus, because it breeds hatred which can lead to hate crimes. Christian converts need to reflect on what they are taught. If they start reflecting, they surely will wonder if this can possibly be the truth.
When I recently took a taxi, there was a picture of Jesus. I asked the driver if he converted. “Yes”, he said.
I told him, “You became Christian from Hindu and I became Hindu from Christian.”
He looked surprised. “Why?” he asked. I explained a bit and said that Hindu Dharma makes sense.
Before leaving I requested him not to look down on Hinduism and Hindus, even if missionaries tell him how bad they are. Hindus are not bad. They are good, better than many others, and Hindu Dharma is the best option for humanity.”
He smiled and said that he doesn’t believe everything the padres say.
About the Author:
Maria Wirth is a German who stopped in India (that’s at least what she thought) on her way to Australia after finishing her psychology studies at Hamburg University. She visited the Ardha Kumbha Mela in Haridwar in April 1980 where she met Sri Anandamayi Ma and Devaraha Baba, two renowned saints. With their blessing she continued to live in India and never went to Australia.
She dove into India’s spiritual tradition, sharing her insights with German readers through articles and books. For long, she was convinced that every Indian knows and treasures his great heritage. However, in recent years she noticed that there seemed to be a concerted effort to prevent even Indians (and the world) from knowing how valuable this ancient Indian heritage, so she began to point out the unique value of Indian tradition also in the English language and shared them via a blog.
She is also the author of the book Thank you India – a German woman’s journey to the wisdom of yoga.