Interfaith Dialogue: Discourse of the Deaf and the Dumb – Virendra Parekh

Virendra Parekh“The Church inviting Hindus for an interfaith dialogue while going ahead with converting weaker sections of Hindu society through force, fraud and allurements, is like a pickpocket preaching virtues of renunciation to a man while relieving him of his purse. Hindu scholars and sanyasins must make stoppage of conversions by Church in theory and practice as a pre-condition to their participation in any interfaith dialogue.” – Virendra Parekh

Bartholomaeus ZiegenbalgVade vade jayate tattvabodhah” (Every debate brings forth understanding of principles), says a Sanskrit subhashita. In their long history, Hindus as a people have been fond of discussing matters of religion, philosophy and spirituality, among themselves and with others. In spite of what Islam and its votaries had done to Hindus and their civilization, Brahmins participated in discussions organized by some Muslim rulers between scholars of different faiths. When a German missionary Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682-1719) sent in 1712 a large number of letters to a selection of Hindus inviting answers to a number of questions, he received no fewer than 104 responses.

Christianity, on the other hand, has traditionally preferred monologue i.e. it alone talked and others were made to listen. It was ensured in advance that the monologue was not disturbed by arguments from the other side. Convinced that it had the monopoly of Absolute Truth which others had to accept from it in all humility, it saw no need for holding any dialogue with any kind of paganism.

But times have changed. The collapse of Christianity in the West and the retreat of Western imperialism have forced the Church to change its methods. Buyers of its stale and discredited merchandise are becoming increasingly scarce. Gone are the days when the Church spoke and others had to listen. It can no longer use the might of the state (once described as secular arm of the church) to crush the adversaries. So, now the church is not just prepared to enter into a dialogue with heathens, it is actually organizing it.

But the Church is uncomfortable with the new environment. It knows, from its experience in the West, what reason and open inquiry can do to its dogma. At the same time, the closed and arrogant mindset, fashioned by centuries of dominance, has not changed. Short-term tactics have changed, but the long-term goal remains unaltered. There is a change in the language, but not in the ideology. These show a striking continuity over the centuries.

For instance, annals of the mission record one instance of a public debate in sixteenth century Goa, when Jesuits, aided by a convert, deputed with pundits. After a while, forty pundits were banished from the debate for “proving obstinate.” No more dialogues were held in Portuguese possessions thereafter.

Writing four hundred years later, Richard Fox Young, who records this incident in his Resistant Hinduism (Vienna, 1981, pp. 20-21), concludes that Hindu tolerance towards other religions is a myth because Hinduism resisted Christianity instead of accommodating it! The author sees nothing wrong with the wanton Christian onslaught of which he himself provides prolific proof.

Sita Ram Goel & Ram SwarupIn our own day, the ex-communication is practiced in a more sophisticated way. Fr. Francis Xavier Clooney, professor at Harvard Divinity School, says that in the past Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekanand had attempted a critical look at the West from a Hindu perspective, but post-colonial authors like Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel had politicized the Hindu-Christian relationship. In other words, even the adversaries of the Church need a character certificate from it before their contributions are recognized. And the grant of that certificate depends on the degree of accommodation shown by the Hindu scholar to Christianity, especially to conversions.

Fr. Clooney would have been within his rights as well as bounds of a healthy dialogue if he had pointed out where these authors had misquoted a source, or quoted it out of context, and how the context altered the apparent meaning, or used logic which was not straight, or passed a value judgment which was not valid. But that is not on his agenda. The Church has no use for authentic scholars like Ram Swarupji or Sita Ramji precisely because their critique is too comprehensive, too accurate and too fundamental for its comfort.

As to the closed mind, one example would suffice. Ziegenbalg, who worked in south India, travelled around and held conversations with Brahmins. He recorded these conversations in some detail and passed them on to Halle (Germany) which published them from 1715 onwards. Only thirty-four of these conversations were translated and published in English in 1719. The preface to the book Thirty-Four Conferences Between the Danish Missionaries and Malabarian Brahmans (or Heathen Priests) in the East Indies (London, 1719), sums up the Brahmana’s “Divine Law sent from Heaven” in the following eight Precepts:

“I. Thou shalt not kill any living creature whatsoever it be, having life in the same: For thou art a creature of mine and so is it: Thou art endued with soul and it is endued with the same. Thou shalt not therefore spill the blood of anything that is mine.

II. Thou shalt make a covenant with all thy five senses. First, with thy eyes, that they behold not things that be evil. Secondly, with thy ears, that they hear not things that be evil. Thirdly, with thy tongue, that it speaks not things that be evil. Fourthly, with thy palate, that it takes nothing that be evil; as wine, or the flesh of living creatures. Fifthly, with thy hands, that they touch not things defiled.

III. Thou shalt duly observe the times of devotion, thy washings, worshippings and prayers to the Lord thy God, with a pure and upright heart.

IV. Thou shalt not tell false tales, or utter things untrue, by which thou mightest defraud thy brother in dealings, bargains or contracts; by this consenage to work thy own peculiar advantage.

V. Thou shalt be charitable to the poor and administer to his need, meat, drink, and money, as his necessity requires, and thine own ability enableth thee to give.

VI. Thou shalt not oppress, injure or do violence to the poor, using thy power unjustly to the ruin and overthrow of thy brother.

VII. Thou shalt celebrate certain festivals; yet not pampering thy body with excess of anything; but shalt observe certain seasons for fasting, and break off some hours by watching, that thou may’st be fitter for devotion and holiness.

VIII. Thou shalt not steal from thy brother anything, however little it be, of things committed to thy trust in thy profession or calling; but content thyself with that which he shall give thee as thine hire; considering that thou hath not right to that which another man calleth his.”

BrahminYet, according to the same Preface “there is not, perhaps, a more wicked race of men treading upon God’s earth (than the Brahmanas).” “The Brahmanas”, it continues, “are the greatest impostors in the world; their talent lies in inventing new fables every day, and making them pass for incomprehensible mysteries among the vulgar.” Brahimins of today would readily underscore the above summary of the precepts of their faith. Does the Church today have any different opinion of those who disagree with its dogma and resist its incursions?

“The purpose of this correspondence (of the letters referred to above),” writes Dr. H. Grafe, “as stated by Ziegenbalg, is three-fold:

1. To make for increased publicity of the missionaries’ work,

2. To reach people whom they are not able to meet personally,

3. To get better informed about Hinduism and particularly about Hindu objections to Christian Faith.” (“Hindu Apologetics at the Beginning of the Protestant Mission Era in India”, by H. Grafe in Indian Church History Review, June, 1972, p. 48.)

Is the purpose any different today? Like a multinational corporation marketing a dubious product, what the Church craves above all is attention tampered with indulgence. Hindu scholars and sanyasins are making a big mistake if they harbour the illusion that they are educating the Church in principles of Sanatan Dharma. The Church has no use for those principles. It wants Hindu intellectuals and Sanyasis for their brand value (such as it is) within the Hindu society – to market its own product. Their erudition, their carefully constructed caveats, provisos and arguments will be lost upon ordinary Hindus who will only remember that these worthies have something to do with what the Church is saying.

By participating in high-profile well-publicised dialogues with spokesmen of Christianity, modern-day Hindu scholars and sanyasins may be making the same mistake that Gandhiji did. As Sita Ram Goel observes, “Mahatma Gandhi’s meeting the Christian missionaries again and again and wasting so much breath in talking to them on the same point, namely, the uniqueness of Jesus and their right to convert in his name, made them respectable in the eyes of Hindus at large. Till the Mahatma started advertising the Christian missionaries in his widely read weeklies, Hindus had looked down upon them as an unavoidable nuisance deserving only contempt and ridicule. The Mahatma invested them with unprecedented prestige and made them loom large on the Indian scene.”

In any case, the Church has studied Hinduism and Hindu society in far greater detail than Hindu scholars have studied Christianity. Missionaries have studied Hindu scriptures not as Mumukshus, but like army generals mapping out the enemy territory before attacking it.

Hindus are committing a great mistake in regarding the encounter between Hinduism and Christianity as a dialogue between two traditions of Dharma. Christianity has never been a Dharma; it has always been a predatory imperialism par excellence. The encounter, therefore, should be viewed as a battle between two totally opposed and mutually exclusive ways of thought and behaviour.

“But can we not sort out differences in perceptions, attitudes and approaches through an amicable dialogue? What is the harm in talking?” one may ask. The harm is that the dialogue is intended to be a distraction from the merciless and incessant attacks of the Church on the roots of Hindu Dharma. The whole purpose of the interfaith dialogue is to wear down Hindu resistance to conversions, first among the elite and then, hopefully, among the laity.

Arun ShourieAs Sita Ramji points out, Hindus from seventeenth century Pandits of Tamil Nadu (who conversed with Ziegenbalg) to Arun Shourie have expended tremendous amounts of ink and breath to demolish the dogma of Christianity. But it has hardly made any difference to the arrogance of Christian theologians and missionaries. That is because dogma was never meant for discussion. It is meant for propagation, by any and every means permitted by times and circumstances.

The Church knows more than any Hindu that its dogma cannot stand any discussion. It is an axiom of logic that that which cannot be proved need not be disproved. And who can ever prove that the nondescript Jew (if at all he existed) who was crucified by a Roman governor of Judea in 33 AD had atoned for the sins of mankind for all time to come? Who can ever prove that those who accept that Jew as the only Saviour will ascend to a heaven of everlasting bliss and those who do not will burn for ever in the blazing fire of hell?

Glorified by high-sounding theological bunkum, the dogma is no more than a subterfuge for forging and wielding an organizational weapon for aggression against other people. It is high time for Hindus to dismiss the dogma of Christianity with the contempt it deserves, and pay attention to the Christian missionary apparatus planted in their midst. The sole aim of this apparatus is to ruin Hindu society and culture, and take over the Hindu homeland.

The Church inviting Hindus for an interfaith dialogue while going ahead with converting weaker sections of Hindu society through force, fraud and allurements, is like a pickpocket preaching virtues of renunciation to a man while relieving him of his purse. Hindu scholars and sanyasins must make stoppage of conversions by Church in theory and practice as a pre-condition to their participation in any interfaith dialogue. They should not fall prey to the sweet language that is designed to deceive them and other Hindus. For, Ko va durjanvagurasu patitah kshemeñ yatah puman? (Who has ever escaped unscathed after falling in the trap of words of a wicked man?) – Vijayvaani, New Delhi, Jan. 27, 2012

Acknowledgment

» The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai.