Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What Benefits the Christians Get By Converting Others to Christianity?

Religion and religion based politics are nothing new to our world now. Religion based conflicts keep happening. Had it been God who determined the human affairs of religion on earth, then perhaps religious conflicts would not have arisen at all. At least that is my simple logic.

Extending that logic further, it could perhaps be concluded that God has no real place in religious affairs of the men and women of earth as it stands today. Isn't it the people who determine about the who-what-how of God rather than God Himself ? Perhaps God has determined to leave this to the people themselves for the time being till they realize the truths! But realization of the truths perfectly can happen only after all the people get truly matured in their mind capacities!

Anyway, that is not going to happen in the near future. It might take many centuries ahead before all men and women of earth develop to some equitable status in their mind capabilities as determined by their character and competence. 

Till that time they keep creating situations of conflicts among them due to varying degrees of misunderstandings arising out of imperfect comprehension of truths and untruths. The immature ones would not even allow the peace loving, mature folks among them to live in an environment of social brotherhood of peace, friendship and service!

You may be wondering why I wrote all this? Be patient, and read ahead.

I am branded as a Christian in my country India, not because I am a true follower of Jesus Christ, but because I happened to be born to parents who were too branded likewise. I have no idea about those of my ancestors who got converted to this religion abandoning whatever faith or faithlessness they had. I do not even know why they did that. Did they do that under inducements of money, power or force as some now believe? I have no idea. There are no records either.

Yet I am happy for that great decision of my ancestors. I am happy that I now belong to an indigenous Christian church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, which takes pride not only in its Indian character but also in its centuries' old Syrian cultural ancestry and progressive christian values. Even though it is a mere accident of time, I can't help thanking the Almighty that I got the opportunity to be born and brought up in a family that believed in Christian values rather than in any other faith systems that exist today.

Christians world over believe and practice (in varying degrees of conviction and effort) the command that Jesus Christ had believed to have told his followers as recorded in the first book of the New Testament Bible, in the gospel according to St.Matthew @ (28:19):

" Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father (God Almighty) and of the Son and the Holy Spirit

Just as my non-Christian friends, I too had unanswered doubts lingering in my mind for many years about the manner in which Christian missionaries and evangelists convert non-Christians to Christianity. 

What is the real motive behind Christian proselytism? 

Did Jesus really instruct his followers to baptize  all people of all nations as his disciples? Why did Jesus gave such an instruction? What did he actually mean by it? Is this the reason why Christian churches, individual evangelists and groups keep on carrying out their so-called gospel missions and conversion activities?

Why do Christian churches sponsor missionaries and try to convert non-Christians to their fold? Are they doing this for their selfish benefits? Are they doing this for taking control of all nations and making their own super power? Is it a political agenda by some vicious Christian leaders to subjugate all other religions and peoples? 

Modern democratic leaders and for that matter, even the dictators or monarchs of the world, gain power from the majority people. So, being in a majority is commonly thought as having some advantage by the minorities. It may not be a fact, but when in minority, it is always possible for the minorities to consider themselves being exploited for one reason or the other. It is not possible to form a cohesive and equitable society of people when people are all individually different in some physical or mental attributes! It is easy for clever people to inject thought poisons to divide a group of otherwise innocent individuals having varying mind capacities!

The mechanics of 'divide and rule' is nothing new in our world! 

When Christians became a majority in the world order by their centuries old collective and individualized proselytism activities, they happened to be viewed as a threat by those who happened to be in the minority faiths. Christians were a persecuted minority in the past, but in many regions of the world over the centuries, they emerged as a well-to-do and progressive class in general. Divisions in the society did not get eliminated in nations and regions even when all people became Christians. Emerging new religions and divisions within the Christendom caused conflicts to keep happening.

Where they are a minority, Christians are generally labelled as a potential threat by radical thought provokers of modern times who keep postulating their theories very convincingly. The Christian haters do get opportunities to bash the former as Christians too are nothing very different from their other human brethren with regard to their maturity levels!

In the modern world, Christian proselytism is opposed by counter proselytism which adopts both peaceful and violent means. A major Indian political party's right wing cadres have thought it best to launch mass campaigns to bring back the lost members of their faith back to their fold by controversial programs such as the 'Ghar Wapsi' (Home coming)

In the Christian dominated western countries, the new thought is to stick to secularism as the guiding principle of democratic politics and governance rather than having governments under the banner of the dominant religion. Since that idea is again perceived as originating from the affluent Christian dominated nations, non-Christian majority nations and thinkers are apparently not very much enthusiastic to discuss about it. 

'It was their time earlier, but now it's our time!'. Such a thought also seems very logical for many. 

Writers, thinkers and leaders keep debating over these issues. I keep reading what the so-called learned men have to say about the issue of religious conversions.

Here is one such essay by a a foreign writer, perhaps from a Christian background.  

In my country, many influential writers from all faiths keep expressing their own ideas and opinions.

For example in today's Economic Times, I happen to read an article by a well known Hindu educationist, business leader and writer, Mr. T V Mohandas Pai. For the benefit of my readers, I reproduce a photo scan of what he had written, below:


In his article, he is lamenting about the inaction of the people of his community for not making use of the huge wealth of the Hindu temples for social benefits of the Hindu community which, according to him, is giving the opportunity to the Christians to lure the poor Hindus to become vulnerable to Christian proselytism.

Is he or for that matter all those who think in that lines, to conclude that it is the money and such other inducements that force the non-Christian folks to adopt Christianity? Are the evangelists using foreign funds for their missionary acts to lure and convert the hapless victims? Else, what other techniques they adopt to make this happen?

As I have written here above, I too have been thinking about the reasons behind the religious conversions that are initiated by Christian evangelists and missionaries, just as Mr Pai. Mr Pai might not have attended any Christian congregation or church or even interacted with any of those so-called evangelists or missionaries. But I have.

And to be very frank, I am surprised. I do not find any logic in any person, rich or poor, to convert to another faith because of lures of money, inducements, threats or other such influences in these modern times. At the same time I do not deny the fact about the existence of a few such persons who switch their faith for temporary material benefits. But I have not yet come across a person of that sort. If there are some, they are perhaps people with no self esteem just like those who do any thing for money, fame or for some other very selfish non-spiritual gains.

I have studied other religions very closely. Had the other religions been better to satisfy my inner spiritual urge, I would perhaps had overcome the social stigma to get converted to any one of those where I found that satisfaction! 

Perhaps people who get converted to Christianity or other religions are doing that for quenching their spiritual thirsts more than the material thirsts. In my opinion, the material or social prospects alone would not make a person in this modern times to change their faith. In most cases, they overcome the societal stigma of changing faith and convert to another religion because of some inner spiritual awakening about which only they can explain.

Since, voluntary faith conversions take place more to Christianity than to any other religion, there should be some thing special with Christianity that makes it possible.

I had the opportunity to meet several well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do  people who have converted voluntarily to Christianity in the recent times. I do get overwhelmed by their spiritual enthusiasm in their newly acquired faith and religion- some thing that either me or the lot like me do not have. In the times we live, religion and faith are very sensitive issues and therefore, I know the various difficulties they might have faced in taking the decisions to convert to Christianity. Unlike those who do religious conversions for purely temporal or beneficial physical gains such as marriage, those who do it for apparent spiritual benefits face much embarrassment in life. Yet many keep doing it. It is perhaps difficult for many to understand the logic or purpose behind it in pure material terms.

I also know several people who while outwardly retaining their original religious affiliations, remain inwardly as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. I also had occasions when a few such individuals trying to convince me- a branded Christian- to convert to the version of the christian faith that they believe as true. I often wonder why they have more of the christian faith than me!

It is not possible in these days to make a person to fall in line with your thoughts, whatever inducements you try to adopt, unless they themselves have taken such a decision willfully. Human beings are will creatures. The mere fact that they are poor or downtrodden does not change that. It is a mere foolishness to think that the poor class are will-less slaves!

Under physical force and also under conditions of torture, it might be possible to make some people to do some religious rituals or to make them verbally pronounce or denounce their faiths. But that would not make their minds to change, unless they themselves decide for a change. But, true followers of Christ have a legacy of withstanding even great violence and torture! They apparently possess a stronger will that could withstand all physical problems.

The Christian faith is based on the reality of God and the reality of life after death. By combining the old and the new together, the Christian Bible makes one understand the evolutionary aspects of faith under love, compassion and service. The contrasts between the old and the new together with the fatherly love of God to all his creations are great help for all spiritually starved persons to realize the reality of God as their divine father. The history of Jesus as depicted makes one understand the way Jesus made his followers understand the power of simplicity, service, love and humility rather than the material power.  Physical power is easier to perceive and understand, while spiritual power, though superior, is difficult to perceive. 

As with any other religion, Christianity too have been used by evil forces for meeting their vested interests. But it also possessed the self healing systems within itself to overcome such difficulties and to function as a great agent of modern civilization and progress. Perhaps it enjoyed some divine over-care during times of difficulties.

As with any faith, Christians are also not a unified or cohesive force in this world. There are several groups, churches or denominations and all have their differences and agreements of thoughts. Many follow a religion about Jesus Christ and not necessarily the religion of Jesus Christ. Yet, Christianity as it stand today is a religion that essentially nurtures human personality, values and character rather than chaining its followers under regressive mores, rituals or traditions. While they have institutionalized the churches, the churches are all essentially democratic and the individuals members enjoy freedom of expression and thought.

The foremost principle of being a Christian is the principle of loving service to fellow beings, not necessarily fellow Christians. So those who are in Christian faith are more willing to share their wealth for common good. While they contribute for a common cause, very often they are neither doing so for gaining some immediate material gain from a satisfied deity nor to please a God who would otherwise become angry.

I am a member of an Indian church. All members contribute voluntarily to the church for various purposes. Funds are required for maintaining the common infrastructure for the church as well as for doing welfare measures for others in the society who might benefit from it. Those contributions from the members help the churches to build hospitals, schools, training centers and such other things for areas and peoples who really need it. Just as the Indian Christians, all Christians in the world do it as a part of their small commitment towards making a bit difference in the lives of several of their unfortunate human brothers and sisters. Besides, most Christians feel the internal joy of sharing the spiritual wellness of being a follower of Jesus that actually helped them to become an individual capable of sharing both physically and spiritually.

St.Thomas School, Ranchi witnessing a sports meet 
for the underprivileged children of the remote schools the church members started just an year ago

At times, some Christians become too ecstatic in sharing their spiritual joy and for any onlooker it might appear as an effort by them to induce others to their fold. But as I explained, it is not possible for any one to change a person's mind by material inducements alone. I have reasons to believe that human faith under voluntary conditions can change only with some unseen divine intervention! Christians commonly believe this as the work of the all pervading effect of what they call and identify as the act of the Holy Spirit.

Once a senior bureaucrat and a Hindu by faith who was a fellow air passenger with me on a flight from Port Blair told me some thing he found as difficult to explain by any simple logic. He was the government commissioner of the Nicobar islands. How could the many remote islanders of Nicobar become Christians several decades or centuries ago? Who converted them and by what method at a time when there was no modern communication methods available? Even with all government support, he said, these islands are difficult to reach. Then how these people speaking different languages or dialects were contacted so that they changed to a new faith in large numbers? He had no answer, nor had I.

But that is the manner in which the world population got converted to Christianity. It started with the Jews, Greeks, Egyptians and the elite Romans some 1900 odd years ago. Human inducement or divine intervention? I do not know. But humans alone cannot do it. That I am sure.

If my fellow Christians start discarding their faith and embrace other faiths in large numbers, I would not get angry. I believe religious faith is a matter of personal choice. But I would be perplexed and puzzled to know the reason. My human curiosity would try finding the reasons by talking to those of my fellows who changed their faith. If I get convinced, I too would perhaps join them. Otherwise not. But would I ever get convinced to overcome the various barriers to take the decision for a conversion? I doubt. I would need an irresistible spiritual boost to over come the mind barrier. If it is like that for me, it might apply to others as well.

Why did Jesus tell his disciples the way it is written in the Bible? He was not interested in becoming the king or the emperor. But then why did he tell that way? Why did he want the whole nations of the earth as his disciples? For political power or for some thing else?

I was curious to know the details of what he might have actually told. Then quite surprisingly I got the answer in my favorite book (the Urantia Book). The book says that Jesus taught most authoritatively after he got resurrected the third day after his death on the cross. One day before his ascension, he instructed his followers about preaching the good news and about the realities of the kingdom of God to all people who live in ignorance.

Let me quote what is written in this book:

"Peace be upon you. For a full week have I tarried that I might appear again when you were all present to hear once more the commission to go into all the world and preach this gospel of the kingdom. Again I tell you: As the Father sent me into the world, so send I you. As I have revealed the Father, so shall you reveal the divine love, not merely with words, but in your daily living. I send you forth, not to love the souls of men, but rather to love men. You are not merely to proclaim the joys of heaven but also to exhibit in your daily experience these spirit realities of the divine life since you already have eternal life, as the gift of God, through faith. When you have faith, when power from on high, the Spirit of Truth, has come upon you, you will not hide your light here behind closed doors; you will make known the love and the mercy of God to all mankind. Through fear you now flee from the facts of a disagreeable experience, but when you shall have been baptized with the Spirit of Truth, you will bravely and joyously go forth to meet the new experiences of proclaiming the good news of eternal life in the kingdom of God. You may tarry here and in Galilee for a short season while you recover from the shock of the transition from the false security of the authority of traditionalism to the new order of the authority of facts, truth, and faith in the supreme realities of living experience. Your mission to the world is founded on the fact that I lived a God-revealing life among you; on the truth that you and all other men are the sons of God; and it shall consist in the life which you will live among men—the actual and living experience of loving men and serving them, even as I have loved and served you. Let faith reveal your light to the world; let the revelation of truth open the eyes blinded by tradition; let your loving service effectually destroy the prejudice engendered by ignorance. By so drawing close to your fellow men in understanding sympathy and with unselfish devotion, you will lead them into a saving knowledge of the Father's love. The Jews have extolled goodness; the Greeks have exalted beauty; the Hindus preach devotion; the faraway ascetics teach reverence; the Romans demand loyalty; but I require of my disciples life, even a life of loving service for your brothers in the flesh".[The Urantia Book, Paper 191:5.3]

My dear reader! I now have the answer to the question that was in my mind for so long. Christians are not there to defend and protect their religion or their god. It is the God that acts through many of them, if not all of them. The baptism that Jesus preached was about the baptism of the mind and a change from ignorance to wisdom and loving service. Since all men and women are children of God, there is no need for any one to make a formal declaration or a physical ritual to embrace the good things that he revealed.   

Read the above quote once again. You would know the difference!

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    A very nice post again. I imagine a society where individual members of a family can follow different faiths or simple be an atheist and still live under one roof. It should just be a personal choice just like everything else in our lives. Though am not a Christian, I appreciate their contribution to the field of education and healthcare. Enjoyed your post.

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