David Frawley's speech, in Debate with Christian Missionaries,
delivered at a public discussion organised by Prajna Bharati A.P., on
"The Ethics of Religious Conversions" at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,
I was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholicschool. My uncle was,
and still is, a missionary. We were told that he was going to South
America to save the souls of the Native Americans, people we were told
were non-Christian and without conversion would suffer eternal
damnation. This is the background that I came from.
Today, throughout the world, and in the United States, with very
little exception, there is no "Sarvadharma Samabhava" taught in
religion. It is something I never encountered in my Christian
education in the West.
We were taught that Hinduism was a religion of idolatry; it was a
religion of polytheism and superstition and that there was no place
for Hindus in heaven. Even a great Hindu like Mahatma Gandhi might be
revered on a certain level, but he was not given the type of religious
credit that he would have been given had he been a Christian.
These attitudes still exist throughout the world and India does not
exist in isolation. And Hindus in India are, and India as a whole is,
still being targeted for conversion. Why is this so? If all the
religions teach the same thing, why is it that certain religions are
seeking to convert the members of other religions to their beliefs?
Hinduism is a pluralistic tradition. It teaches that there are many
paths, many scriptures, many sages, many ways to come to the Divine to
gain self-realization and it should be free for the individual to find
and follow whatever way he or she thinks or feels works best.
But not all religions are pluralistic. In fact, most religions are
exclusive in their mentality and in their beliefs. The two largest
religions in the world, with a few notable exceptions, teach that
theirs is the only true faith. The average Christian throughout the
world has been taught to believe that only Christians gain salvation.
The idea has been projected as an eternal heaven for the Christians
and an eternal hell for the non-Christians, particularly for idol-
worshipping Hindus. And so far, we do not have major Christian leaders
in the world contradicting that statement.
To date, there is no major Christian leader, or Moslem leader, in the
world, who is saying that Hinduism is as good as Christianity or
Islam. I do not know of any Christian leaders in the West who would
say that a Rama or a Krishna is equal to a Jesus. I do not know of any
of them who would honor a Ramana Maharshi, a Sri Aurobindo or a
Mahatma Gandhi as a God-realized or self-realized sage. I realize
there may be some exceptions to this, in the Indian context. But this
is not the case with, and it is also not the official policy of the
Vatican. It is not the policy of the Pope at all!
I want to read a statement, from "The Coming of the Third Millennium",
which was issued very recently by the Pope, in relation to the
situation in Asia:
"The Asia Synod will deal with the challenge for evangelization posed
by the encounter with ancient religions such as Buddhism and
Hinduism. While expressing esteem for the elements of truth in these
religions, the Church must make it clear that Christ is the one
mediator between God and man and the sole Redeemer of humanity."
This is a direct quote. Now, what is it saying about religious
tolerance? Christ is the only way. The pope is saying that we accept
what is true in these religions, but we do not accept them if they do
not follow Jesus as the only way. We still have to convert them. That
is the message. This is not a message of tolerance and live and let
live. It is not a message of let Hindus have their way and we have
our and both are good. It is not a statement that Buddha or Krishna
is equal to Jesus.
It is a statement of exclusivism and my contention is that such
exclusivism must breed intolerance. If I think that mine is the only
way, how can I be really tolerant and accepting of you, if you follow
another way? And such intolerance is going to end up causing conflict,
division, disharmony and poor communication.
It is going to divide communities and cause problems. So, please bear
in mind that, in the Indian context, as Hindus, you have to deal with
these religions as the majority of the people in the world are
practicing and believing in them, and this conversion process is
I also think that we should have a free, open, friendly dialogue and
discussion on all religious matters, both in terms of social
interaction and relative to doctrinal matters. There should be
complete freedom of discussion, freedom of criticism and freedom of
debate just as we have in science.
What generally happens in the field of conversion is that certain
groups are targeted for conversion activity. I would like to
discriminate between two different things. One is the change of
religion, which people may opt for, based upon open and friendly
discussion, debate, dialogue and studies. Nothing is wrong with that.
But I would discriminate that from what I would call the "global
The global missionary business is one of the largest, perhaps even the
largest business in the world. Not only the Catholic Church, but also
various Protestant organizations have set aside billions of dollars to
convert non-Christians to Christianity. They have trained thousands of
workers, have formed various plans of evangelization and conversion
and have targeted certain communities for that particular purpose.
This multi-national conversion business is like any multi-national
economic business. It is not something that is simply fair and open.
It is not simply a dialogue or a discussion.
So what we see with this missionary business is a definite strategy
for one religion to convert the members of other religions. This
conversion business is not about religious freedom. It is about one
religion triumphing over all the other religions. It is about making
all the members of humanity follow one religion, giving up and,
generally, denigrating the religion they had previously been
Why is this conversion business so big in India? Because India is the
largest non-Christian country in the world where missionaries have the
freedom to act and to propagate. Islamic countries -- Pakistan,
Bangladesh -- do not allow this missionary activity at all. In Saudi
Arabia, you cannot even bring a Bible or a picture of Jesus into the
country. China, also, does not allow such wide-scale missionary
So India, because of its very openness to and tolerance of these
missionaries, has become the target. You know from recent newspapers
that one missionary was killed in India, which is unfortunate. But in
that same week, fifty Christians were massacred in Indonesia by the
Moslems there. The religious violence is going on all over the world
and Christians are not always the victims. In India, for centuries,
Hindus have been routinely killed for their religion. Even recently in
Kashmir, a number of Hindus were massacred, but you will notice that,
in the Western media, the death of Hindus for their religion will
never count and will never constitute a story. However, if one
missionary -- one white man -- is killed in India, then these Western
countries will retaliate with sanctions, criticize, and take some
moral high ground.
Missionary activity has a bloody history of genocide on every
continent of the world. I am not going to go into all the details
here. The Inquisition was in operation in Goa in India. The British
used their influence, though less overtly, to force conversions, and
certainly the missionaries had an advantage under colonial rule all
over the world. In a number of countries, colonial interests used
force and persuasion to bring about conversion.
We are told today that we should forget all about that, even though it
has only been a generation or two since the colonial era. I say that
we cannot forget so easily because the very religious groups that
performed these atrocious acts have not yet apologized. If they
recognize that this missionary aggression and violence that was done
before 1947; that was done in the 19th century; that was done in Goa;
that was done in the Americas was wrong, then why don't we get an
apology for it?
You will notice that the Christians in America have made some
apologies for what they did to the Native Americans. We have yet to
see any apology relative to Hindus. If the missionaries want us to
believe that they have changed their ways and are now purely non-
violent and charitable, then why do they not at least apologize for
what they did in the past?
And why should there be conversions at all? What is the motivation
behind most seeking of conversions that is coming out of the Christian
background? It is their belief that Christianity is the only true
religion, Christ is the only saviour of humanity, Christians gain
salvation or heaven and non-Christians gain damnation or hell.
That is not a policy of harmony and tolerance but a blueprint for
disharmony and conflict. What ultimately happens when someone who has
that attitude comes into a community and converts people? People are
taught to reject their ancestors and their traditions. Families are
broken up. Division and conflict almost inevitably occur wherever this
missionary business goes on. There are actually many forms of
Christianity and several different kinds of Christian missionary
activity going on.
And there are Christian groups that are not missionary at all, for
example, the old Greek Orthodox and the Syrian Christians, but which
represent old and tolerant traditions. Then there is the Catholic
tradition which is promoting its missionary activity all over the
world but which is doing it in a more subtle way today. They are no
longer using the force that they once used in the colonial era, but
they are still aiming at global conversion. There are also the old
Protestants, the Anglicans and the Lutherans, who are still promoting
various types of missionary activity. That has gotten reduced to some
degree as well.
However, there is a new evangelical force in the world today,
particularly that coming out of the United States. What are the
fundamentalist Christian groups of America? The World Vision, the
Christian coalition, groups like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons,
Baptists and so on.
They are very actively asking for donations in America in order to
convert Hindus in India. We see this routinely in the various
television channels that they have. Pat Robertson, one of their main
leaders, has said that Hinduism is a demonic religion.
They show Hindu gods with animal heads and say, "Oh! Look at how
primitive these people are." They look at the political and social
problems of India and say; "These are all owing to Hinduism. Please
donate money to our cause so we can go to India and convert these
people from this horrible religion that they have."
These same evangelical missionaries are going all over the world and
also targeting Catholics. Recently, in Brazil, the Pope called these
evangelical missionaries "wolves" because of what they were doing to,
what he termed, "his flock of Christians", which was converting them
to their form of Christianity.
So this missionary threat continues and some missionaries are going
back to the old hell-fire, damnation, condemnation of Hinduism such as
the Catholics used to do in the Middle Ages and in the colonial era.
So do not believe that there is religious harmony all over the world
and that the other religions respect Hinduism and are willing to live
together quietly with Hindus.
In fact, in textbooks in America, it is taught that Hinduism is not a
religion because Hinduism does not have only one God, one book and is
not a missionary religion seeking to convert or conquer the world. So
it is this missionary business which needs to be questioned and not
And do not be naive about it!
There is a consistent use of social upliftment and charity to promote
conversion. While social upliftment and charity are very good things,
they should be separated from religious conversion. If you want to
raise up a country and help them economically, please do so, but do
not bring religion into it. When you put the picture of Jesus
everywhere obviously religion and conversion are part of your
You will note that no country in the world has been raised up
economically by religious conversion. What has made Japan a great
country economically and what made the United States a great country
economically are economic means, not a change of religion. Christian
countries include some of the poorest countries in the world. The
Philippines is the most Catholic and the oldest Christian country in
Asia. It remains one of the poorest countries in Asia and has one of
the greatest gaps between the rich and the poor. The most devout
Catholics in the world are in Central and South America. They are
certainly not found in North America and in Europe, where Christians
are more nominal than strong believers. Central and South America also
have tremendous social inequality and a tremendous gap between the
rich and the poor. But the Catholics there are not telling the poor
people that they should convert to another religion in order to raise
So this whole attack on Hindu society by stating that we will raise
the poor on religious grounds is based upon the motivation of
conversion. Then here is the whole issue of hospitals, orphanages and
schools. It is all very wonderful to selflessly help other people. But
why do you have to put a religious form there? As long as the picture
of Jesus is there, particularly when you have a two thousand year
history of aggressive conversion activities, how can you expect people
to believe that there is no seeking of conversion? That it is purely
selfless service and love of God?
If we love God, if we love our fellow human beings, we will love them
regardless of what their religious belief is. We will love their
religion as well. We will honor and respect their religion whether
they are aboriginal people, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Moslems
or Christians. We will not see any need to convert them. In fact, we
should not even be conscious of their religion at all. True love of
God does not seek converts. It is not based upon names, forms or
identity. It is based upon recognizing the Divine presence in all.
One of the great swamis of India, Swami Rama Tirtha, when he came to
America, was asked about religion. He said, "You do not belong to any
religion. All religions belong to you." The human being is not a
property of any Church. You are not some thing which is owned by
anyone or anything. The soul does not need to be saved. It is the
eternal and immortal part of our nature. We need only understand the
Divine within us. You cannot change the nature of any human being.
Hinduism is based upon respecting each individual and the Swadharma of
each individual. We should have many paths and many religions. The
idea of only one religious faith for all humanity is like having only
one set of clothing for all humanity. It is like people having to eat
only one type of food, or people having only one type of job. There
should be diversity, abundance and freedom in the religious realm as
Unfortunately, all religions do not have the same goal. Religions have
various goals. Religions are various paths. We should note that all
religions are not theistic. There are non-theistic religions like
Buddhism and Jainism where there is no creator God. There are
religions with a multiplicity of deities. Monotheism is not the only
form of religion in the world and it is not the best form either.
All forms of religious worship have their validity and Hinduism
recognizes them whether they are, polytheism, monotheism or monism.
Even atheists have their place in Hinduism. People should have
complete freedom to reject religion if that is what they want to do.
Hindu tradition is a sadhana tradition that aims at spiritual practice
for self-realization. Most Christian traditions, for example the
Protestant tradition, claim that faith alone is enough to save you.
This means that a person may be a mass murderer, but if on his
deathbed he converts to Christianity, he will go to heaven. Another
person may live the life of a saint, but if he does not convert to
Christianity, there will be no heaven for him. Recently, in the United
States, a woman who had been convicted of murder was converted to
Christianity on death-row and the Christian leaders -- particularly
the fundamentalist Christians -- asked for the death sentence to be
removed because since that woman had converted to Christianity
therefore the sin no longer counted.
The same people would not have made the statement had the woman
converted to Hinduism or any other non-Christian faith. We do need
religious harmony and dialogue throughout the world. One of the most
unfortunate things is that there is so much misinformation and even
disinformation about Hinduism in the world. For example, in the New
York Times, only last year, there was a story about the Amarnath
pilgrimage in India. And what did the New York Times call it?
"Hindus going to worship the sex organs of Shiva, the God of
Destruction." What kind of tolerance is that? What kind of point of
view is being projected by it? But I have to tell you that the fault
for this is not really all with these western people. The fault lies
with Hindus themselves. They have been very poor at expressing what
their religion is and in countering disinformation and propaganda
against them. They do not study their religion properly and so, they
cannot explain what it is. They are also misinformed about other
religions and think that other religions are just Hinduism in another
But you will not find these rich traditions of yoga, meditation, Vedas
and Vedanta, in other traditions. Particularly in the Protestant
tradition in the West they are rejected almost altogether and, to
these Evangelical Christians, they are considered to be the work of
the devil. Some people say that all religions teach the same thing.
Well, Hinduism teaches the Law of Karma and Rebirth.
Christianity and Islam do not accept that. Some people say all
religions teach the same things and they only differ in inessentials.
Is the Law of Karma and the process of Rebirth something inessential?
Now, certainly there should be a respect for universal, ethical values
such as truthfulness, non-violence, peace and harmony. These should be
accepted for all human beings regardless of their religion. In fact,
they should be projected for all of nature. One of the problems that I
see in Christianity, as most Christians believe it, is that animals
are considered to be devoid of a soul and only human beings can gain
One of the reasons that we are exploiting and destroying this planet
is because we do not see the presence of a soul and consciousness in
nature, the animals and the rest of the Universe. We must move beyond
all our narrow, human-centric creeds. True religion is not a matter of
name, form or identity. It is a matter of that which is eternal, that
which is universal, that which no one owns and is a matter of
consciousness, awareness and Truth.
The highest goal of the Hindu religion is self-realisation, not simply
knowing God, but understanding who we are and the Divine presence
within us. One of the main problems of humanity is that we do not
understand ourselves and our motivations. Instead, based upon some
dogma or belief, we are trying to get others to think and act like we
do before we understand ourselves and understand them.
So let there be a dialogue. Let there be open, friendly and also
critical communication in religion just as in science. But please let
us expose and put an end to this missionary business and let us not
think that the missionary business is tolerant. The missionary
business is not about freedom of religion. It is about the triumph of
one religion. It is not about secularism. The missionary business
accepts that only one religion is true. It is a religious war aimed at
The way to challenge this is not through violence or through
intolerance, but through being properly informed. It is through being
open, friendly, dialoguing and talking to people, so they understand
what the Hindu point of view is, so that any distortions about
Hinduism are removed. We are all the same Divine being. We all share
the same human nature and we must recognise that in all human beings
for harmony to exist.
At the same time, we should not be naive about the forces of the world
and the forces that are trying to disintegrate this society and this
culture. I think it would be a tremendous loss if India gave up
Hinduism and became another Christian or Islamic country. We have
enough of these already. India has a wealth of its own spiritual
traditions that the rest of the world needs. Why do Westerners come
here? They come here for this wealth of spiritual knowledge. In fact,
you should be exporting your religion. That is one thing you have
enough of. There are other more important things that you need to