by Raju Peddada
[Author's note: What I write here is controversial, perhaps even inflammatory, but unequivocally true. The daily incidents unfolding in south India, at the missionaries and churches had been verified thoroughly during my trip last year, in direct contact with the victims, re-converts, village and panchayat officers. More than anything, what really prodded me to address this chilling milieu is a simple fact, I also, in my liberal and open mindedness have been the unfortunate and involuntary beneficiary of religious intolerance, especially the subversive conversion machinations through my two marriages and a relationship. It is eerily corroborative with the incidents presented here.]
"Religious intolerance was inevitably born with the belief in one God."
"The oldest aspects of Hindu mythology give place to the most profound and subtle utterances about the nature of ultimate reality, it is in itself a liberal education in humility, tolerance and suspense of judgment."
(Swans - July 27, 2009) Despite the decades that slipped by, I distinctly remember the smells and sounds of the remote south Indian villages. In the innocent years dissolved, you could hear mothers calling out to their kids to come home for supper at sunset. Sunsets demarcated life from slumber. Standing on the high verandahs you could hear the thunderous stampede of returning cattle from grazing, and smell and see the distant clouds of billowing dust permeated with the golden rays of the descending sun. Farm boys and shepherds in cussing repartees in rural dialects, blessed by the tolling bells of evening prayers at a nearby temple; coteries of village elders discussing crops and older couples visiting neighbors, and an occasional distant melancholic flute coaxing the wind to carry the ironies of past paradises. After a hot supper on the verandah, under the fading light, folding cots or reed mats were set up for the nights under the twinkling eternity and soothing conversation of leaves and the wind. It was peaceful and ethereal, almost therapeutic for the tired souls and revelatory for the young ones. Bedtime stories proliferated from grandmothers and great aunts. Ah, that innocence and dusty rural fragrance of daily struggles expiated our mendacious and jaded city souls. All is lost now, assailed by the din of fervent missionaries.
Catapult over the decades and into our trip last year, these same villages, we enjoyed in the decades prior, have become battle zones for conversion, Christian missionaries converting the guileless Hindus right under the Hindu noses. The proselytizers have built huge incongruent whitewashed churches, that scream for attention, in every emerald village spewing out disquieting sermons in local dialects drowning the golden sunsets in their flood lights, obscuring and obfuscating the melodious soul soothing conversation of leaves and wind at bed time, and basically obliterating the natural rhythms of life with loud, presumptuous and boisterous religiosity polluting the very essence of Hindu culture...an existence in silent reverence and in sync with nature. Whether it is Annadaverapeta, Ragolapalli, Tallapudi or Velangi, all familiar comfort zones for us in the past have been reduced into circuses at night with large food lit assembles and amplified singing forced on the sleeping all night long. In the land of tolerance, intolerance is taking root with devastating results. Secularism, pluralism, diversity, and tolerance are being rapidly, insidiously, deviously and inexorably being supplanted with menacing dispassionate monolithic intolerance. The warm rain forests of diversity are being replaced by the frigid bristling pine forests of rigidity.
The hair on my neck bristled up when I heard this one from a direct victim called in by my cousin, who happened to be a village officer for two villages. Mr. V. Rao had been hearing stories about the assemblies of "Miraculous Christian Healings" regularly. Believing that all are welcome, he took a close friend with a chronic illness that the local doctor could not diagnose, to one of these Christian healings. Once they arrived there, they were barred from entry into the church, the reason being that he and his friend were not Christians. That same evening a re-convert, who had reverted back to Hinduism, who knew these gentlemen and saw them being turned away, pulled these dejected friends aside into a tea shop, sat both of them down and told them his story. The re-convert elaborated how he was called to the church one day and was instructed to act sick, and then pretend to be healed of the sickness once the priest chanted Christ's name and touched the sick man's head in front of 15 to 20 thousand naive converts. The clergy, after every healing, reiterated to these converts to desist from eating Hindu food, listening to them or visiting with them; and that their family now was the other members of the congregation.
The unfortunate who succumb to these exclusion dogmas are the innocent, illiterate and economically disadvantaged that are being systematically exploited into selling their own identity for temporary financial gains. Most of these converts don't even know what they are signing up for, the familial consequences and ramifications with such sale of identity for a few material comforts. The indoctrination is vigorous, day and night with brainwashings that render their own families, who manage to remain Hindus, the un-converted ones, as evildoers, devil worshippers, hell bound, idol worshippers, and witchcraft practitioners. Hindus are being subjected to various types of desecrating reductionism in their own country, with no consequences for this subversion. The stress experienced by the new converts is quite excruciating, the abandonment and the alienation from loved ones, who have not given into these diabolical machinations of the proselytizers. The newly converted are ordered to assemble in the churches and are disallowed to mingle and commiserate with old relatives. In fact, horrifying new stories of these conversion tactics are emerging from the rural south where the converts are forced, blackmailed, coerced at "money point" instead of gun point, to bring in more converts, especially their extended families if the new converts were to keep contact with them. It has been reported that the clergy is being paid Rs.100 per head to Rs.1000 for a group of ten or more to convert.
"What should be said of us, who are forced to live piously, not by devotion but by terror?"
—Maximus of Turin
Here is a verified incident that illustrates their creed. This subversion has reached the sewer level with the proselytizers. This was a story that enraged every tolerant and decent pore on me. A school bus full of Hindu kids aged 6-9 are taken on field trip into the thick rain forest. The bus apparently stalls in a deep and dense part of the forest with the sun already behind the forest canopy. The Christian chaperone and bus driver from the school inform the kids that "we are stuck here" and tell the kids to pray for help. They challenge all the Hindu kids to pray to their gods and wait to see if their god saves them from this ordeal. An hour later in the deafening darkness of the forest, with strange animal noises getting louder, almost half of the children start crying and urinating in their clothes. Then, these two men again board the bus, and chide the kids for believing all these Hindu gods who cannot save them: "see the gods you pray to, are really powerless." After setting the stage with fear, they tell the kids that the only one who can save them is Christ. After this little scrubbing they say: "now let us pray to Jesus and see if he helps us...Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name..." Voila, the bus starts up to the bewildered faces of the innocent kids, and the trip home is easy. What do you think takes place at home between the kids and parents? If this is not Child abuse, abuse of trust and the epitome of subversion, I don't know what it is?
It is manifest that the scramble for converts has intensified since the justified cynical and the jaded are abandoning their faith in droves, as sexual and embezzlement scandals, and the resulting settlements had drained the coffers. To compensate for these losses, the proselytizing and conversion activities have attained a diabolical fervor. If it is not about money and power through membership, what is it then? I don't see any love, spirituality or even peace in such crass display of hypocrisy and presumption. The Christians have been consistently getting their butts whipped in the Middle East and other regions competing for membership and conversions. They have not been allowed to pursue their activities in Muslim dominated regions, as Muslims are fanatically dedicated to their faith and are violently protective against any encroaching faith. So, the Christians seek a less combative territory: the Indian subcontinent, where the majority of Hindus are not suspicious, rather welcoming, pliant and very tolerant. The Indian subcontinent has become a war zone not between Hindus and others; it is a war zone for Christians and Muslims...competing for conversion and membership.
Every man-made religion has skeletons in its proverbial closet. I am not an atheist, nor a fanatic. However, in my last trip I saw the signs everywhere in south India and for the most part could not avoid this explosive topic with my relatives and friends. We were actually joined in by western Christian tourists on the Katpadi train platform in Tamil Nadu as well as in Agra, who were appalled and agreed with immense chagrin and embarrassment at the Christian missionary rampage in open desecration of an ancient culture.
Professor David Shulman of Humanistic Studies in the Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on a bus journey in southern India puts it this way: "A Christian boy, 'Ben Zwi,' no less, attaches himself to me and, glued for hours to the seat across from me, speaks of truth, a single truth, which must, I can clearly see, by virtue of this claim alone, be untrue."
These faiths that call themselves original and "one truth" bastion have regularly plagiarized and pillaged the Greek and Indian cultures for ideas, teachings and symbols, who they had termed pejoratively as Pagan, to form their own lexicon and nomenclature. The progenitor of monotheism was not Moses, but the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton, also known as Amenhotep IV in 1347BC, followed by the Vedic Monism around 1000BC. Common sense and morality existed long before all these desert religions laid claim to it. For all their good aspects, the conversion doctrine renders these faiths rather archaic, shackled to their tribal origins.
The battles for converts alone had been responsible for saturating the land of Sinai and near west and east with blood of millions in the process. Live and let live is a spiritually unfathomable concept for such rabid ideologies. Christians throughout history went into remote regions of the world to conquer and convert indigenous cultures, civilizations even eviscerating some, like the Aztecs. In their self-righteousness and misguided hubris, the Christian hypocrisy has freely dispensed the appellations of "savages", barbaric", "uncivilized" to almost every culture they had encountered, yet if you looked at their "righteous" record and behavior through the ages, it would become manifestly evident as to who actually were the savages and barbarians. The presumption of superiority in "one truth" faiths and their subversive politics with intolerance is the very essence of inferiority and insecurity.
Voluntary conversion meant abandoning your own identity and history. And forced conversion meant destruction of identity, indigenous cultures, traditions, lore and history of the converted at the point of sword or money, leaving people without any sense of roots or belonging, only existing in the present as rabid mechanisms of propagation. I also find the door-to-door Jehovah sellers similar to the Fuller Brush salesmen in the 1950s and '60s. Look at what the Native American Indians have been reduced to. Today they mostly live on reservations that are no more than Casinos with gambling and flowing alcohol, with no identity and a dissolved past, thanks to the conversions.
"From the time that Christianity was invested with the supreme power, the governors of the church have been no less diligently employed in displaying the cruelty, than in imitating the conduct, of their pagan adversaries."
—Edward Gibbon, Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire
I had come across many converts in India, and I didn't see happiness in them, I see isolation and longing in their eyes, contrarily, Hindus appeared content and blissful. The doctrines or dogmas are so rigid and unrealistic, that even the ardent adherents find it impossible to live by them. It categorically renders them unhappy and living in fear of violating the basic tenets they signed on to. If you are a new convert, you must change your names, and simply dump everything that defined and made you. Your heritage is of no consequence. V. S. Naipual's insightful compendiums "Beyond Belief" and "Among the Believers" on this subject are a must reads. The Vedic cultural soul and landscape of Indonesia offer visions of the past and the rich diversity that has now been relegated to oblivion, as the epidemic conversion to Islam in the last two generations had forced a total whiteout. Recently, the Islamic clerics of Indonesia issued a fatwa on the practice of Yoga, as they discovered that most previously Hindu families had practiced Yoga for generations, and these same families, now Muslim, cannot indulge in "heretical manipulations" of a pagan faith. This is just another incidence and evidence of the kind of monolithic intolerance that a convert signs on to, without any prior knowledge and in the process gets shackled forever.
I am not a flailing fanatic being martyred everyday by the infidels, nor am I a total atheist. I think religion is divisive, discursive, disruptive, devious and destructive. That is why atheism is on the rise with the erudite peoples. Poor, ignorant and illiterate ones always become the fodder for such faiths. The copious writings by ancient and contemporary intellectuals like Heraclitus, Max Muller, Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain, Henry D. Thoreau, Schopenhauer, Daniel Boorstin, Johnathan Kirch and Naipual depreciate the subversive aspects of these faiths that perpetuate hate, divisions and unhappiness among the populous. The medieval satirist and father of prose fiction, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote his tales of sexual irreverence and the clergy's hypocrisy for Decameron in 1348, with an impish impudence. He was a believer in the supremacy of natural laws and got inspired by tales of Panchatantra from India, written around 500AD, who had traveled west via Greece in the 1200s. I think Western theology is a compartmental conundrum; it conjures in me visions of decrepit old men sitting in musty old rooms and cellars, disconnected from reality and humanity, creating doctrines to arrest our natural freedoms and render progressive ideas as diabolical paradigms. "Devils reside in the details of these teachings" was etched in a dungeon around 380AD, near Ostia by an anonymous prisoner.
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness."
—Hegel, Philosophy of right
I am an ardent history buff, the love of ancient civilizations, romantic immersion in the cultures of antiquity, and ruins always evoked melancholic longing in me, as if the need to migrate into the past was a requisite for all history magnets. I always looked at the Qutb Minar, the Taj Mahal and the massive Red Fort of New Delhi as ethereal monuments of beauty and humanity. But after 9/11 my perspective was altered; these very monuments that awed me since my boyhood now stood in front of me as the repository of barbaric cruelty and forced labor in the blood of "infidel" slaves that were dragged in to construct these grand monuments for Muslims. Instead of marveling the magnificence of the monuments and the history that took shape, I became dazed in the visions of lost freedoms and cruelty the people were made to swallow for not being Muslims. Similarly when I look at those magnificent churches built on the shoulders of apostates, non-believers, and slaves, all the grandiose visions of Christian history washes off in regret and disdain. History can be romanticized from a distance till it touches and grates you personally. Imagine what a Jew would say in Judea in 150AD if asked about the "great" Roman Empire. What would the Irish Catholics express if asked about the prosperous Elizabethan times?
Many intellectuals, historians, and academic scholars have argued that in Christianity the balance tips more towards destruction of cultures than that of achievements across the globe. The Dark Ages had left many paradigmatic and prescient ideas in the dungeons of fear. Again, the willful protagonists of subversive conversions, in the aftermath of the tragedy of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami are the Christians, going around people inundated in sorrow, on the southern beaches of India, and giving them money and asking them to convert so they can be saved and finally be at peace. There were protests by Christians itself upon witnessing the base missionary activities. Why is this conditional largesse being claimed as Christian grandeur?
I am not interested in the final Judgment or the judgment day, I am interested in acknowledgement; the universal acknowledgement of natural diversity, multifarious paths to the one truth, and sanctity of identity and life. Legend occasionally germinates around a grain of fact, and myth mostly serves a continuing need; faith then shores man up against adversity. If faiths are forced and changed, identities dissolve, and with that, all myths and legends that coddle humanity in comfort of the familiar are destroyed, leaving rootless pilgrims in search for the lost familiarity and self. When you are getting sold on religion and spirituality, which is an unfathomably deep personal issue, by someone like a shoe salesman, you need to question the motives, and understand the consequences of buying from such gentry. The wisest endeavor, with your conscience, common sense and cognition, would be to get away from that soapbox as fast as you can. Run for your life, and from those claims and chains.
"Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." -1 Samuel 15:3 This is from the Bible, which sounds like some merciless gangster two thousand years ago, and here is Sri Ramakrishna from the 19th century whose reasoning renders the heavily sold faiths like immature kids fighting over a toy, which is actually you: This metaphysical and spiritual sage says: "There is large round lake with three distinct flights of stairs leading to the water. The Hindus draw water from the lake and call it 'Jal,' the Muslims draw and carry their water from a different point on the lake in leather bags and call it 'Pani' and the Christians get their water from another end of the same lake in a Chalice and call it 'water.' Everyone wants the same substance, but give it different names...only the climate, temperament, and names create these differences. Why not let each man follow his own path?"
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