Saturday, June 12, 2010

David Frawley's speech, in Debate with Christian Missionaries

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

missionary business".

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

conversion activities.

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

simply conversion.

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

themselves economically.

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

religious control.

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


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