Castes and Conversions: Is Christianity a solid monolith?
by G. Anil Kumar on 19 Dec 2008 5 Comments

In India every debate on conversion to Christianity ends with Hindu society's caste-based "poison of divisions". Missionaries and their supporters present conversion as the only "antidote" available. And missionaries are "doctors," hell bent on administering that antidote! And our "secularists" have been repeating it. 

"Caste" was an old weapon of missionaries who established the conversion business in India. Anti-Brahminism, "Dravidianism," conversion as "the solution" to caste and the Aryan-Dravidian divide were effectively introduced as stratagems for conversion by Bishop Robert Caldwell. In his book "Christianity explained to Hindus: Christianity and Hinduism compared" (1893), he wrote that caste first arose from difference of race; people with black skin were "original inhabitants of India" (p. 20).

"On the other hand", he wrote, "Christianity teaches that God gave us life and continually preserves us. He is therefore our Father in heaven… The Brotherhood of man follows Fatherhood of God… But Hinduism makes life a curse instead of a blessing" (p. 20-21). Caldwell’s arguments are well known. His "Dravidian Grammar" was a trend-setter. But why did he painstakingly write so many books? If we read his lecture, "Progress of Christianity in India" we get the answer. 

He says, "an encouraging amount of interest in the progress of Christianity has now at last been awakened, and a demand for information has been excited: it is now felt that a great door and effectual has been opened to us in India, and that the conversion of India to Christ is one of the greatest works, if not the great work, to which the Church and nation of England are called" (Lectures on the Tinnevelly Missions, 1857, p. 4).

For sheer audacity and bigotry, Caldwell could today be called a "cultural terrorist". Yet his views are endorsed by a section of India's "secular" intelligentsia! They were reiterated in Karnataka's recent public debate on conversion.

The debate on conversion was launched by the oldest Kannada daily, Samyukta Karnataka, with some well-researched articles by selected writers and scholars (my own essay has appeared in Karmaveera, a weekly of the same group). Taking the cue, the largest circulated Kannada daily, Vijay Karnataka, provided a platform for a bare-all debate. Noted Kannada novelist Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa started with a big bang with  his  one-and-a half-page article. Every small and big, famous and notorious person in Karnataka has presented his or her opinion on the subject. 

Professional missionaries kept silent; our secularists did all the batting on their behalf! Once again, leftists are proving that they are "more Christian" than the original faith-sellers.

First of all, is it good to debate conversion as suggested by some political leaders time and again? Should anybody debate conversion with anybody else out on the street? Would one debate it with professional missionaries, who have taken a vow, or money, to compulsively meet a number of people everyday just to persuade them to embrace Christianity? Should we organize an open debate at an open forum where anybody, from a scholar to a street vendor, from a professional gangster to a professional pimp, could come and vent his "thoughts"?

I do not suggest we should shy away from such debates. While they do not solve any religious problem, they bring pertinent questions into the open. Let people be aware of everything vis-à-vis conversion and Christianity, and about castes. 

Hindus should not hesitate to debate caste as they have nothing to hide. But they should understand what Christianity is all about.  They should study and debate its history and methods of expansion, its "spiritualism" and "brotherhood." They should ask missionaries why casteless societies were converted to Christianity throughout the ages and throughout the world.

Missionaries' typical answers are well known. In India, "conversion is the best solution for caste-based differences within Hindu society;" in America, "barbaric tribes had to be civilized and spiritualized." They always proffer local issues to justify conversions. In India's case, most proponents of Christianity's "monolithic unity" and Hinduism’s "caste- based divisions" invoke B.R. Ambedkar to remain politically correct while attacking the faith! But all fail to explain why Ambedkar did not convert to Caldwell's "great brotherhood" called Christianity.

In fact, Ambedkar wanted to send a strong message through his religious conversion. After examining Christianity, he wrote in 1938: "caste governs the life of Christians as much as it does the life of the Hindus. There are Brahmin Christians and non-Brahmin Christians. Among non-Brahmin Christians there are Maratha Christians, Mahar Christians, Mang Christians and Bhangi Christians. Similarly in the south there are Pariah Christians, Malla Christians and Madiga Christians. They would not inter-marry. They would not inter-dine" (Selected Speeches and Writings, Vol. 5, Government of Maharashtra, 1989, p. 445-78).

Ambedkar converted to Buddhism as it was a "part and parcel of Bharatiya culture." He said: "I have taken care that my conversion will not harm the tradition of the culture and the history of this land" (Quoted in 'Ambedkar', by Dhananjay Keer, p. 498).

The hard truth is that even Buddhism is not a monolithic unity! It has different schools of thought and different traditional streams. For that matter where do we find the most unified, rock-solid group on earth? Is Islam one single entity? Is Christianity a superb monolith? If so, since when? Since its inception or through "spiritualism"? Since the First Council of Nicaea, when Emperor Constantine decided, at sword-point, what should and should not be the tenets of 'official' Christianity? Or since the Second Vatican Council, when it was decided to establish the supremacy of Catholicism once again? 

Let us examine the facts; consult their own sources.

Christians are not one; they are divided into separate churches and traditions. Over the centuries, Christianity has divided into numerous denominations. Each denomination has its own distinctive beliefs or practices, yet we hold them to be branches of the same religion. But when it comes to Hindu society, every Tom, Dick or Harry talks about caste and asks us "where is the common unity?" as if there is no common thread of beliefs among Hindus!

Although missionaries never talk about their internal divisions openly, conversion always happens to a particular denomination, to a particular church. One can never get converted to "Christianity". He or she can only become a member of a particular church.  When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair converted to the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican community and its church vehemently protested.

Why do street missionaries never talk about their internal divisions? This is an age-old strategy. The famous Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who wrote Mere Christianity, in 1940s, reminded believers about this strategy: "our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is his only Son"!

Let us move on to the denominations. In 1985, it was estimated that there were 22,000 Christian denominations with 5 new ones being formed each week! There are nearly 34,000 (probably more) Christian and Messianic denominations and churches in the world now. These may be broken down to six different main blocks:

1] Independents   22000
2] Protestants        9000
3] 'Marginals'        1600
4] Orthodox            781
5] Roman Catholics 242
6] Anglicans           168
    Total              33791
(Source: World Christian Encyclopedia, by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson; Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd edition, 2001, Vol. 1, p.16-18).

What are denominations? The encyclopedia explains: "a denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions. As defined here, world Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations" (Barrett et al, Vol. 1, page 16, Table 1-5).

Pope John Paul II once called Protestant missionaries "rapacious wolves" for converting Catholics! So much for "monolithic unity"! In the second week of August 2007, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Pentecostals, Orthodox, Evangelicals (sounds like caste names!) gathered to map a "common religious conversion code" in France. The code, which has to be finalized in a year or two, was named "Ethical Conversion Code". 

"Conversion is a controversial issue not only in inter-religious relations, but in intra-Christian relations as well," admitted Dr. Hans Ucko, World Council of Churches programme executive and one of the organizers of the meeting.

So much for "monolithic unity" and "great brotherhood"!

The author is a columnist and Supplement Editor of the Kannada daily, Samyukta Karnataka

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