A Hornet’s Nest
One wonders whether it is a virtue or vice, but the Christian missionaries have been and remain compulsive record-keepers and plan-publishers. By now there are literally hundreds of thousands of publications providing details of what the Christian missions did or plan to do, where, to whom, in which manner and with what resources in money and manpower. “Each year,” says a recent publication on the subject, “some 10,000 new books and articles on mission and evangelization are published, involving seventy or so major languages.”1 Besides, we have well-researched and thoroughly documented studies produced mostly by Western scholars, many of them believing Christians, on the spread of Christianity in the past. The story is blood-soaked. In America, Asia and Africa, Christianity has been an unashamed and active accomplice of Western imperialism.
The pious Christians who read this material do not question the validity of the Christian Mission. Nor do they bother their conscience with the morality of means employed by the soldiers of Christ. All they notice and care for is that so many heathens were ‘saved’ in the past and are expected to be ‘saved’ in the future. It never occurs to them that the heathens may question the validity of the Christian Mission itself and/or find fault with the means employed. They have a stock and ready reply to such questioning and objections: “According to our scriptures which are inspired, our divine saviour commanded us to teach and preach, and we cannot disobey him.”
Now, anybody is free to write in a book what he pleases; all it costs is paper and ink. He is also free to believe that whatever has been written comes from a divine source; all he needs is renunciation of reason and a large dose of credulity, Again, he is free to convince himself that he is the better person and in a position to teach others; all he needs is self-righteousness combined with a certain amount of dense smugness. The trouble arises when he expects the others to agree with him and let him mount an aggression.
The Oxford University Press had published in 1982 the World Christian Encyclopaedia edited by David B. Barrett, “an ordained missionary of the Church of England, served 29 years in Africa, since 1970 an Anglican research officer.” Ram Swarup reviewed this book in The Times of India dated 14 July 1985 under the caption ‘Thy Kingdom in the Third World’.2 He gave credit to Dr. Barrett for being “a quantifier and statistician par excellence “ because “since the beginning of Christianity, every soul, dead and living, has been accounted for” and “a statistical picture of the Last Day of Judgement, of the souls that will be finally saved and finally damned” has been provided. But he refused to accept Dr. Barrett as “an impartial historian or a disinterested philosopher” because “he looks at everything from a missionary viewpoint.” He cited the facts and figures compiled by Dr. Barrett to show how “the poor countries of the Third World which have been politically dominated till recently continue to be the special targets of missionary activities.” The missions, he said, were concentrating on Third World countries because Christianity was losing heavily in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Dr. Barrett had tried to cover up this retreat at home and aggression elsewhere by stating that “the centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting from Europe and America to the Third World.”
Christian readers of the newspaper were shocked. This was certainly a novel way of looking at the Christian missions. Hitherto the prevalent Hindu fashion had been to applaud the missions for the “great educational, medical and humanitarian services rendered by them.” That is how Mother Teresa had been made into a myth. One could, of course, add in a footnote that it would have been better if the missions had done “all that splendid work without attempts at conversion.” The missions disavowed this “undeserved accusation” and the “controversy” stood closed. This time, however, a dialogue looked like taking off. Only The Times of India editor did not allow it. Instead he published a few articles in praise of the Christian missions in order to redress the balance.
A dialogue in the columns of The Times of India, however, developed when Ram Swarup reviewed on March 13-14, 1988 another Christian publication, Mission Handbook: North American Ministries Overseas, published in the U.S.A. in 1986. The review was captioned ‘Christianity for Export: God’s Legionaries’ and consisted for the most part of facts and figures which were given in the publication and which told their own story.3 It quoted towards the end another publication (1980) in which a Christian missionary had asked the question as to why the missions had failed with the Buddhists of Burma and the Hindus of India when a single missionary had succeeded in converting 7000 animistic Karens within a few years. Ram Swarup posed a counter-question: “Thanks to the powerful missionary lobby in the United Nations, its universal declaration of human rights (1948) states that every individual has a right to embrace the religion or belief of his choice. But is there to be no charter that declares that countries and cultures and peoples of tolerant philosophies and religions who believe in live and let live, too, have a right of protection against aggressive, systematic proselytising? Are its well-drilled legionaries to have a free field?” Little did he know that he had raised a hornet’s nest as was evident from the Christian response published by The Times of India.
In his letter published on April 1, 1988, Mr. Kuruvilla Chandy of Lucknow doubted “whether quotations have been verbatim and entire” and regretted that “it is also not clear in all cases what are the sources of the various ‘facts and figures’ given.” He said that Christian missions need not “take cover under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” because “there exists a fundamental right to propagate one’s faith.” The Constitution of India, he said, had also guaranteed this fundamental right in its Article 25. Religious proselytisation, he pointed out, was no different from that which “is constantly taking place in the realm of politics and commerce” where “the use of fraud is proverbial and even considered normal.” He also accused the Government of India of practising proselytisation in favour of Hinduism by refusing to extend to the converts from scheduled castes and tribes the reservations and concessions that they enjoyed so long as they remained Hindus.4
In another letter published on the same date, Fr. L. F. Jose of New Delhi was “constrained to disagree with the tone and aim of the articles.” He accused the reviewer of having “conveniently forgotten the fact that Christianity is an Oriental religion and Christ and his disciples were Oriental Jews.” He asserted that “Christianity came to India even before Europe had heard about it” and that “the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala have a two-thousand year old history.” Moreover, the latter-day Catholic and Protestant missionaries had “realised their folly and the thrust today is on ‘inculturation,’ etc.”
Mr. K. N. Ninan of Bombay did not bother about facts or figures or logic. He went straight into the motives of the reviewer and pleaded against publication of such articles. “Mr. Ram Swarup’s articles on Christianity,” he said in his letter published on April 4, “show that he has an axe to grind against Christians and Christianity. This has also been evident from his previous regular, if sporadic, Christian-baiting treatises published in your daily. How can you afford to waste such precious space on crass irreverence born of frustration by a confirmed Christian-hater? Does this not amount to alienating the peaceful Christian community which has been doing invaluable work in the fields of education, medical care and social welfare, and which work has profited mainly the majority community?”5
In his letter published on April 7, Mr. John Vallamattam, President, Indian Catholic Press Association, found it painful that such articles should be published “at a time when there is so much talk of the need for communal harmony and inter-religious collaboration.” He, however, granted goodwill to the writer out of “Christian charity” and hoped that the article would “help Christian communities to rid themselves of whatever is questionable in them.” He promised to bring the article “to the attention of the concerned authorities in the Churches.”
In his letter published on April 8, Mr. K. C. Thomas of Mugma (Bihar) accused the reviewer of having “collected a lot of questionable data in support of his view.” The review was likely to find support among the “communal elements” in the majority community. “Export-oriented enterprises,” he said, “are favoured by the government. Would our learned columnist be satisfied if the same export policy was enforced in the cases of Christianity and/or other minority religions in India? It might please the majority fundamentalist who cries wolf saying ‘Hinduism is in danger’.”
It was perhaps in keeping with the promise made by Mr. John Vallamattam that Mr. T. C. Joseph wrote an article, ‘Is Christianity to Blame?’, which was published on April 9. He thought that while Ram Swarup was “generous with statistics” his knowledge of Indian Church history was inadequate. The Church in India had not been helped by the British rulers who had “adhered to a strict policy of religious neutrality.” It was not Ram Swarup’s business to sympathise with the Latin Americans for the loss of their ancient faiths; the Latin Americans knew better what was good for them. The 6.2 million converts made in Africa every year was “no big number in a land of 500 million people.” Nor was it significant that Hindus and Janis had lost 324,500 members to Christianity between 1970 and 1980; if Christianity was to make headway in India, it needed 15 million converts every year for the next hundred years. Christianity could not be blamed if “many of the lower castes” found in it “the opportunity to opt for a religion that freed them from the stigmas that stuck.”6 To see a Christian missionary behind “a separatist movement somewhere in the country is only a search for scapegoats.” Mother Teresa and the missionary organisations had “to elicit compassion and solicit funds” by advertisements in the Western media because “India or, for that matter, any country in the Third World” was not “competent enough to look after its poor, sick or illiterate.” The argument that “these services help in evangelisation” was “wafer-thin.” He suspected that Ram Swarup had read “anti-Christian” books. He concluded by advising Ram Swarup “to search for the truth, and nothing but the truth, and read books of a different kind which too abound.”
In his letter published on April 13, Mr. C. J. Chadwin of Chandigarh expressed “dismay at your editorial policy in allowing the publication of a skimpy and irresponsible article.” He said that “two odd quotations lifted out of context from the Bible cannot purport to be the full and exact position of the Church universal.” He admitted that in the past imperialistic powers had misused the Christian missions to serve their own interests. But that did not mean that “the basic aim of the missionaries worldwide and that of the Christian faith is to subdue peoples and cultures.” The Church was actively involved in the “liberation of people in South America from dictatorships, in South Africa from the racist white regime and all over the world in liberation struggles of socially and economically oppressed people.” Mother Teresa “never sought funds for conversion.” She was only showing the “love of God in that dying and destitute whom we throw on the streets may have a chance to live and die with dignity.”7
A Muslim from Indonesia, Mr. Ishtiyaque Danish, joined the dialogue at this stage. In his letter published on April 13, he said that Ram Swarup’s article had “failed to throw enough light on how the huge amount of money is being used by the Christian missionaries.” He continued, “No religion in the world permits or encourages its adherents to buy converts to their faith. But this is precisely what the Christian missionaries have been doing across the globe… I have no firm evidence if missionaries are involved in conversion-by-dollar business in India but this method is being practised in Indonesia on a wide scale. In an article contributed to a Christian-Muslim dialogue consultation held in 1976, Prof. Muhammed Rasjidi had remarked that ‘the Church distributes rice, clothes and money among the poor people and uses these things to bring them closer to their mission. The Church lends money or natural manures and seeds to impoverished peasants on condition that they send their children to missionary schools… Distribution of water pumps, seeds of cloves and coconuts etc. is also being used to serve the same purpose… They (missionaries) shower gifts and provide certain facilities to isolated tribes. Then they put up a show of a census and ask these people to get themselves registered as Christians.’”
In a joint letter published on April 18, five Hindu readers from Delhi commented that none of the Christian correspondents had “controverted his [Ram Swarup’s] data or argument or even kept to the subject”; instead, all of them had indulged in “irrelevant claims and unfounded allegations.” They found Ram Swarup “highly informative and full of perspective.” He embodied, they said, “a rare phenomenon in Indian journalism, indeed, on the Indian scene.” He was “no hater of Christians.” What had disturbed “certain well-organised, highly articulate and influential but hostile quarters” was the fact that he was “no hater of India and its age-long culture and religion and history.” He had, however, “a vast audience which benefits by his writings and welcomes them.” They looked forward to reading him more often in the columns of The Times of India.
Another letter published on the same day was from Harish Chandra of Delhi who said that history offered evidence opposite to the claims made by the Christian correspondents. He cited Pitrim Sorokin who had said, “During the past few centuries the most belligerent, the most aggressive, the most rapacious, the most power-drunk section of humanity has been precisely the Christian western world. During these centuries western Christendom has invaded all other continents; its armies followed by its priests and merchants have subjugated, robbed or pillaged most of the non-Christians. Native American, African, Australian, Asiatic populations have been subjugated to this peculiar brand of Christian ‘love’ which has generally manifested itself in pitiless destruction, enslavement, coercion, destruction of the cultural values, institutions, the way of life of the victims and the spread of alcoholism, venereal disease, commercial cynicism and the like.” Small wonder, said Harish Chandra, that Christianity “was now trying to deny its imperialist link and claim for itself a brand-new identity.”
Simultaneously, Anna Sujatha Mathai of Delhi called Ram Swarup’s article “amazingly small-minded” and “petty visioned.” She wondered why it had been given “the importance and space it did get.” She claimed that Christianity stood for “loving your neighbour as yourself” while such articles “only add fuel to the already raging fires of violence and hate.” She hoped that “Ram Swarup, a Christian hater, may like St. Paul who also hated Christians, one day be forced to face the blinding, dazzling truth of Christ’s compassionate love.”
Mr. S. G. Mampilli of Delhi said in his letter published on April 19, that the Constitution of India which gave protection to the Christian missions for propagating their faith had given the same right to the Hindus. Hindus, however, “are not willing to make sacrifices for sharing the treasures of their religion with people of other religions.” Missionary work, according to him, was “a holy vocation for people who willingly choose it on the basis of their life-long commitment to chastity, the spirit of obedience and poverty which they joyfully accept and maintain till death.” Christ had suffered and died and risen again from the dead “so that sinners may be saved from the circle of births, ‘Punarjanm’, as it is called in Hinduism.” Ram Swarup had “intentionally ignored the positive side” in his “anxiety to expose the negative side of missionary work.” Christianity had “an import aspect” besides its “export aspect.” The people of India imported Christianity because “they were not satisfied with social evils like the caste system, untouchability, sati, child marriage, backwardness of women and so on which have no sanction in Christianity.”
In his letter published on April 25, Judah S. G. Vincent of Delhi found Ram Swarup very successful “as a Christian baiter.” He saw in Ram Swarup a “putative scholar” who had written a “one-sided article on what is obviously esoteric material” published by the “U.S. based Christian organisation World Vision.” Christianity, he said, had a message for “a caste-ridden, superstition-bound, self-flagellating society.” The missionaries were delivering that message through “their efforts at education, medicare and the like.” Mr. Danish was right in saying that “it is abominable to buy converts.” But he should know that “quite often the missionaries feel the need to support the nascent Christians materially for the reason that indigent people from the backward classes lose their special privileges under the constitution the moment they shift their allegiance to Christ.” Thus, Mr. Vincent confirmed what Mr. Danish had only suspected.
Finally, in an article published on May 3, Mr. Sarto Esteves advised that “one should not go to a commercial handbook or a money-spinning publication to know the doctrine and teaching of Christ.” Christianity should be learnt from the Bible where Christ himself was speaking to mankind. India should be glad that she had a Church organisation of 120 dioceses “manned by full-blooded, highly patriotic sons of India as bishops” and topped by two Cardinals. “Over 12,000 male priests and 50,000 religious women were running “institutes of higher learning, colleges, schools, hospitals, dispensaries, houses for the aged, the dying, the deserted and the rejected, orphanages, leprosaria, and asylums, to mention only a few.” Liberation theology was being misunderstood. It only meant what Christ taught his followers long ago, namely, “to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, love one’s enemies, offer the other cheek also to the one who strikes you.”8 This was the mission which “a minority which comprises 1.7 per cent of the total population of India” had undertaken.
Ram Swarup considered the points raised by the Christians and wrote a reply, ‘Proselytisation as it is Practised’, which was published in two installments on May 23-24. “I did not realise,” he said, “I was stirring a hornet’s nest in reviewing the Mission Handbook. It invoked many rejoinders, most of them harsh. It helps inter-faith dialogue which the Church has recently invited.” He found it interesting, though novel, that Mr. Kuruvilla Chandy had compared Christian proselytisation with proselytisation in politics. That is exactly what it was, with the difference that the Church had “always regarded it as a one-way traffic.” It was to be remembered that so long as the Church was powerful, the penalty for renouncing Christianity was death.
“Perhaps a creed,” continued Ram Swarup, “is best known by what it does when its holds political sway.” He went on to cite some instances of what Christianity had done in Rome, Great Britain, Germany, Baltic countries, Mexico, etc. It was, therefore, wrong for Mr. Chandy to regard Christian proselytisation as “normal to life” because it was “a bigoted idea, a denial of God and his working in others.” Mahatma Gandhi thought it to be “the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth” and saw “no spiritual merit” in professional missionaries. In fact, for Gandhiji a missionary was “like any vender of goods”; he wanted to stop proselytisation by legislation.
“Social work” by Christian missions, said Ram Swarup, had become a myth and had to be examined. He cited how American Capuchin monks had seen “spiritual advantages of famine and cholera” which brought to the missions many orphans. They were immediately baptised so that “baptismal water flows in streams, and the starving little tots fly in masses to heaven.” Many of them did not survive. The book, India and its Missions, had stated clearly that “a hospital is a readymade congregation; there is no need to go into the highways and hedges and ‘compel them to come in’.” The Christian doctors and nurses were known for employing many subterfuges “with perfect satisfaction” in order to convert those who went to mission hospitals.
Apart from what missionary services were used for, the more important point was “who pays for these services.” Ram Swarup cited Bishop Stephen Neil who had written after examining missionary education that “about a third of the cost of education was borne by private agencies, two-thirds by the Government.” The Bishop had also observed that “even in independent India… the old order has continued without radical modification.” So the Indians were paying not only for “missionary services” but also for maintaining the missionary apparatus which was used for converting them.
Much was being made of the “sacrifices” of the missionaries and “their love for Jesus and the natives in choosing their career.” This was nothing more than “image-building” so that missionaries could become acceptable. The fact, however, was that the missions offered “a lucrative career” and people who joined them did so “in order to improve their social and financial status.” Bishop Neil had observed that “missionaries of the last century were over-dressed and by the standard of the time lived in luxury, their stipend being £2000/- a year,” while a great classical scholar and Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, Benjamin Jowett, earned only £ 54/- a year in 1855-56.
Coming to mission finances, Ram Swarup said that Europe and America had remained the paymasters. The only difference was the recent policy of sending “more cash and less people.” The new policy worked for economy as well as effectivity. The native missionary cost far less than his European or American counterpart and was less conspicuous. But he was also much more fanatic. “Not many white missionaries could outdo their brown counterparts.” A Christian missionary of Indian origin but working in South Africa had written to President Botha that “the country would lose God’s divine protection if Hinduism were allowed to flourish.”
Ram Swarup found it difficult to understand why Christians felt hurt if Mother Teresa was viewed as just another missionary working for the promotion of Christianity. There was little doubt that she was “a true daughter of the Church in having her mind and heart closed to the religions of the countries of her labour and even adaptation.” The other day when she was visiting the Vatican some Europeans wanted her to tell them about Vedanta as she was living in India. She had rebuked them for “betraying Christ.” A comparison of her ways with those of Sister Nivedita told the truth. Sister Nivedita had helped India to “rediscover herself.” She had given “national pride” to the Indian people. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, was never tired of presenting India as a land of poverty, disease and death. That was why the West was heaping her with money and honour. Sister Nivedita, “was not even remembered in the West, although the social work she did in the field of education, childcare and poor relief was no less commendable.”
Ram Swarup saw no sense in the Christian hope that like St. Paul he might also stop being a “hater of Christians” and come to the “dazzling truth of Christ’s compassionate love.” He was no “hater of Christians.” He was only asking them to look at their religion a little more critically and evaluate it in a more humane manner. Nor was St. Paul known for “compassionate love.” Conversion to Christianity had made him “a greater persecutor, on a larger scale and a menace for centuries to come for other religions of the world.” A wish for anyone to emulate St. Paul should not be expressed even by one’s enemy.
Ram Swarup had been accused of reading “endless number of books available with an anti-Christian view” and advised to “read books of a different kind.” He said he was “hardly aware of any anti-Christian books.” On the other hand, he had read “the Bible, early Christian Fathers, Christian Catechisms, Christian encyclopaedias, Christian directories, orthodox accounts of Christian missionary activities, histories of Protestantism and the Catholic Church held in high esteem by them [the Christians].” He had found this literature “consistently anti-pagan” and did not know “what to think of a religion which teaches in and through its scriptures and its other literature written by its most devout, scholarly and pious sections such systematic hatred of all other religion, and believes in a divine injunction to supplant them.”
Christians, said Ram Swarup, should not divide books on Christianity in only two categories - pro-Christian and anti-Christian. There was a third category consisting of “critical and historical studies of the Bible and Christianity.” They were “the most durable and solid” and had “proved the most damaging to Christianity.” Similarly, “the work of scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, Linaeus, Buffon, Laplace, Lyell, Darwin and others” undermined the structure of Christian thought” which had a “limited conception of the universe.” What, however, proved most subversive for Christianity was the “West’s discovery of the East.” Science had only discredited the dogmas of “virgin birth, resurrection and miracles.” Eastern spirituality discredited “sole sonship, single revelation, special covenants, proxy atonement, exclusive salvation, chosen fraternity, single life, authorised saviours and mediators, etc.” The deeper Western thinker and seeker had found “inferiority, transcendence and universality” in Eastern thought. He had found in Eastern spirituality “not commandments of some arbitrary deity but truths of his own innermost being” and the “principle of tolerance, coexistence, benevolence and reverence which was new to him.”
This particular dialogue came to a close with Ram Swarup’s rejoinder. But only for the time being. It is bound to be resumed again and again till Christian theologians give up the dogma that Christianity holds a monopoly of truth and Christian missions stop the subversion of other religions and cultures in the name of ‘Christian compassion’.
It may be noted
that some of the Christian correspondents objected to Ram Swarup’s article
being published in The Times of India. The plea sounds strange,
to say the least. The Christians in this country own and control a large-sized
press which includes several daily newspapers and many periodicals. The
language which is used in this media vis-a-vis Hinduism is not always decorous;
quite often, it is intemperate. Besides, the Christians get ample space
in the press which is supposed to be owned and controlled by the Hindus.
It is only once in a while that an article critical, of Christian dogmas
and/or missions, gets through. That, too, when the editor concerned finds
that the facts cited and the conclusions drawn deserve the attention of
his countrymen. The Christians who object to such articles being published
at all have to think calmly and coolly whether their attitude reflects
tolerance or otherwise. They have been telling us for many years now that
they want and are prepared for a dialogue. We hope that the word “dialogue”
in their current dictionary does not mean a monologue, as it did in past.
1 David B. Barrett and James W. Reapsome, Seven Hundred Plans to Evangelize the World, Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A., 1988.
2 The review article is included in Catholic Ashrams, Sannyasins or Swindlers?, New Delhi, 1994, Appendix III, pp. 215-23.
3 The review article is included in Ibid., as Appendix IV, pp. 224-32.
4 While converting Hindus from scheduled castes and tribes, the Christian plea was that the ‘Hindu caste system’ did not allow them to improve their social and economic status. But the converts found out very soon that conversion to Christianity had in no way improved their position. In fact, they found themselves in a worse plight after leaving their ancestral society. The Christian missionaries forgot their earlier cliches about the ‘Hindu caste system keeping some castes and tribes down and out’. They started a campaign that the benefits of reservations and the rest available to Hindu Harijans should be extended to ‘Christian Harijans’ as well. The campaign is bearing fruit. According to The Times of India dated 28 August 1995, “A consesus among political parties is emerging in favour of reservations for the 12 million dalits who form over a half of the country’s Christian population and the government of India is under increasing pressure to amend Para Three of Presidential order of 1950…”
5 The plea that information which is inconvenient to Christianity should not be published comes easily to Christian scribes and scholars. Christianity has had a long history of suppressing freedom of expression, and criminal persecution of those who do not toe the line of this or that church. In fact, the Christian bark becomes all the more ferocious if this part of Christianity’s dark history is brought to public notice. It is very difficult for minds trained in totalitarian ways to appreciate facts and figures which go against their case. They do not like it at all that the skeletons in their cupboard be brought out and exposed to public gaze.
6 See footnote 4 above about the lower caste converts being ‘freed’ from the stigmas sticking to them while they were members of Hindu society. It is not unoften that ‘Christian Harijans’ are seen taking out demonstrations in protest against their plight in the various Christian churches. They held a demonstration when the Pope visited Madras in 1986.
7 Christians never ask or allow to be asked the basic question as to how the people in Asia, Africa and South America became socially and economically depressed or the destitutes whom Mother Teresa is trying to ‘help’. But history tells us that these people who were free and prosperous were reduced to this state by Western Imperialism of which the Christian missions were the most willing and vociferous accomplices everywhere. Break a person’s bones and then come back with bandages and some gruel - that is the logic. Mother Teresa happens to be the foremost in this dirty and despicable Christian game.
8 The salesmen of ‘Liberation Theology’ never tell us that Jesus Christ himself sold his own brother, Judas Thomas, as “a slave skilled in carpentry”, and that all Christian churches in Europe, Africa and the Americas were actively involved in slave trade till the early years of the nineteenth century.