“... the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you,' No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytising.”
It is Pope Francis who said it in a recent interview he gave to an Argentine weekly. The Catholic Church was the foremost champion of religious conversions for centuries. The Church now has a visionary leader in the person of the Pope.
What reminded me of the interview is a report that appeared on the front page of today’s Hindu with the headline, BJP, Parivar outfits to intensify campaign against ‘love jihad’. The last paragraph of the report reads:
“On December 23, the martyrdom day of Swami Shraddhanand (the leader of the 19th century Shuddhi (re-conversion) movement) we will convert Muslims to Hinduism in at least 50 locations in west UP” he [Rajeshwar Singh, coordinator of Religious Awakening, an affiliate of the RSS] said. “On December 25, the day when Christians convert people to their religion, this year, we will do the reverse – by converting them back to Hinduism. In two-three years, the rural hinterland will be free of Christians.” Asked how he planned to convince people to become Hindus, he said, “It will be a test of who is stronger, Hindus or them. You just wait and watch.”
The irony is striking. The supreme leader of the religion which was the champion of religious conversions in the bygone era is saying that religious conversion is “the worst thing” and in the India of the electronic era a leader of a religion which was against religious conversions of any form (including intra-religion conversions: from one caste to another) is threatening us with forced conversions.
“My instincts tell me that Modi will only work for the corporate sector and use one particular religious community for furthering his ends. Modi will engender a civil war in the country if he becomes its Prime Minister, my instincts predict.” I wrote this in a blog on Feb 16, much before Mr Modi was ensconced on the throne in Indraprastha. My instincts are perturbed again now. People like Rajeshwar Singh and organisations like Religious Awakening don’t enter the front page of national dailies without powerful political backing. I hope time will prove my instincts wrong. Let there be peace and harmony in the country. “Let noble thoughts come to us from every side,” as Rig Veda says (1:89-i).
Is it worthwhile to fall back on religion in order to achieve any objective in the contemporary world which is driven by science and technology? Why are people like Rajeshwar Singh unable to understand that the religion, particularly the kind that is propped up by him, is a regressive agency in today’s global society?
The answer is evident to anyone who has studied history in some detail. The answer is that it is not about religion at all. It is about political power. Religion has become the handmaiden of political power umpteen times in history, each with disastrous consequences to certain segments of populations.
R G Collingwood, professor of metaphysics, defined civilisation as an attitude (in contradistinction to process or progress) which tends to create a society that is “less violent, more scientific and more welcoming to outsiders” [as quoted by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto in his massive book, Civilizations].
When science and its technology have pervaded every aspect of our lives, when countries have opened up their borders to people from anywhere, when the whole world is aspiring to move towards a global human society, why are some people in India thinking of driving a wedge between communities?
Is a religious identity important to India anymore? If it indeed is important, then the best advice is what I quoted at the beginning of this blog. Not conversion but attraction. Attract people to your religion by your good deeds. Let your light so shine that people are drawn towards it naturally. Force is an outdated concept among people who possess the attitude called civilisation.