Conversion is an Act of Violence – by Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Aggressive religions have no God-given right to destroy ancient faiths and cultures

Religious conversion is a widely discussed topic in the Indian media these days. I think this issue needs to be thoroughly understood by all the people that count in every religion.

The world’s religions can be categorically said to be either aggressive or nonaggressive. Each religion has a certain promise in the form of an ultimate goal. Their faithful people try to live the prescribed life and reach the promised goal. Neither they nor their clergy are out to bring the people of other religions to their flock.

Zorastrians follow their religious tradition without attempting to convert anybody to their religion. This is true with the followers of the Jewish tradition, Vedic religion (now known as Hinduism), Shintoism, Taoism and the many other religions of various tribes in the world. I call these religious traditions nonaggressive because they do not believe in aggressive conversion.

Then there are religions like Christianity, whose theologies, containing a number of basic nonverifiable beliefs, advocate conversion. Evangelism and proselytization are sacred commitments of the entire cadre of the highly organized clergy. The clergy-inspired laity are not any less committed to conversion. They are zealous in their mission of preaching and conversion. In their zeal, the end more often than not justifies the means. From the days of the Inquisition, every attempt recorded in history to stop their program of conversion only stoked their flame of zeal.

As a result, many religions with their unique cultures have disappeared, leaving behind only mammoth relics, like the ones in Greece and Mexico. The loss of such great living cultures of the world is the mark of success for the zealous of the aggressive religions. The truth is that where there should be a sense of guilt and remorse, there is a sense of achievement and pride.

Many leaders of nonaggressive traditions think that the charity of the missionaries is designed to neutralize any protest from the native religious community. One cannot totally dismiss their thinking.

Religious conversion by missionary activity remains an act of violence.

Religious conversion by missionary activity remains an act of violence. It is an act of violence because it hurts deeply, not only the other members of the family of the converted, but the entire community that comes to know of it. One is connected to various persons in one’s world. The religious person in every individual is the innermost, inasmuch as he or she is connected to a force beyond the empirical.

The religious person is connected only to the force beyond he has now accepted. That is the reason why the hurt caused by religion can turn into violence. That is why a religious belief can motivate a missionary to be a martyr. When the hurt of the religious becomes acute, it explodes into violence. Conversion is violence. It generates violence.

Aggressive religions and nonaggressive religions are not on the same plank. Conversion is, therefore, a rank, one-sided aggression. The genius of the nonaggressive traditions cannot change, and therefore, they cannot be asked to do the same thing as the aggressive religions do.

Humanity cannot afford to lose any more of its existing living religious traditions and cultures. We want to enjoy the religious cultures of both Christianity and Islam as we also want to enjoy the cultures of Jews, Parsis, Taoists, Shintoists, Hindus and others. Humanity will not let a pyramid be razed to the ground by the Egyptian government to create a housing complex. Even though they are in Egypt, the pyramids are too ancient to be the property of that country. They are standing monuments of human genius–they belong to the whole of humanity. So, too, are all the monuments of the past lying all over the world.

Religion and culture are not often separable. This is especially true with the Hindu religious tradition.

The greeting word, namaste, is an expression of culture as well as religion. Even though a religious mark on the forehead is purely religious, it is looked upon as a part of Hindu culture. Rangoli [patterns drawn on the ground with rice flour] at the entrance of a Hindu house is not just cultural; it is also religious. Indian music and dance cannot separate themselves from the Hindu religious tradition. There is no classical dance, bharata natyam, without Siva Nataraja being there. The classical, lyrical compositions of Meera, Tyagaraja, Purandara, Dikshitar and many others are intimately connected to the Hindu religious traditions. Therefore, conversion implies destruction of this entire culture.

A committed Christian will not wear a tilakam, much less have rangoli in front of the house. If there is no rangoli at the entrance to a Tamil Nadu house, we immediately know that it doesn’t belong to a Hindu. A converted Christian woman ceases to wear Indian traditional clothes, like saris, etc. No Christian woman will wear a nose ring.

It is amazing how easily cultures disappear by the program of conversion through various means, leaving only dead monuments to be preserved for posterity. The living religious traditions, intimately woven into the fabric of their respective cultures, have to be allowed to live and thrive. Religious conversion should stop–the aggressive religions should realize that they are perpetrating violence when they convert. We want them to live and let others live.

Youtube videos on the same topic can be found here.


One Comment to “Conversion is an Act of Violence – by Swami Dayananda Saraswati”

  1. The Hindu maxim “ATHITHI DEVO BHAVA”, meaning ‘Welcome the visitor like GOD’ has been truly believed andy acted upon by our ancestors. In doing so we have invited trouble by allowing the Moguls and later the Europeans to conquer us. Since gaining independence, lot of noise have been made in our parliament as well as across the country. But the sad reality on the ground is for everyone to see and experience.

    We Hindus are to take the blame on ourselves for having been totally ineffective spectators of this ongoing conversion business. Raising our voice now against this aggression is not going to be heard. It is tragic to see even the Hindus among our political class are not at all serious about taking steps to halt this violence. On the contrary, these very same Hindu political leaders are looting our temples as well as our heritage right in front of us. We are helplessly watching this happen. Funds looted from our temples are said to be used to subsidize Haj pilgrimage. The Hindu community is not even able to question our Government as to why there should be controls on Hindu temples, whereas Mosques and churches remain untouched. In fact they are the one’s violating foreign exchange act which is a crime as per the law of our land. Those aggressive religions are clearly on a mission mode to destroy Hinduism.

    Hindu community has ample scholars and eminent personalities. So also we have highly revered religious institutions. Yet we as a community lack the perspective and leadership to tackle this issue of aggressive conversion. Complaining about conversions or conducting “Ghar Wapasi” type programs will only meet with resistance from our so called Secular forces of our country who have their vested interest of cultivating vote banks. Also patting ourselves on our back for all the discoveries and inventions since the Vedic period is only being met with ridicule.

    There is an urgency to strengthen ourselves from within the Hindu community. We need to carry out soul searching exercises to overcome not only the vexed conversion issue, but also how to make even the literate Hindu say with pride that ‘I am a Hindu’. The seed of disbelief is growing amongst most of us. The tough business of present day life and external influence on our society offer plenty of reasons to trade off from one religion to another. We need to find new ways to reach out with what Hindu religion means to those vulnerable class of people from within our community so that they cannot be easily persuaded by those aggressive religious convertors. Steps such as this could possibly help reduce conversions and hopefully eliminate this menace over time.

    Although organizations such as RSS, VHP and few others are seriously attempting to force this issue, there is a need to involve a much wider segment of our community to brain storm this issue so as to identify new ways to tackle this important social problem and provide a new direction. Our religious institutions too should get deeply involved to carry on this struggle. Possible we should initiate an online movement under the banner of “THAPAS” as well as similar media to identify more innovative solutions from among our community to halt this menace of conversion as well as projecting the glory that is ‘Sanathana Dharma’.

    Bharath Mata Ki Jai.

    Ram Seshan.

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