Mentioning the missionary to India in my last blog reminded me of a lecture I heard at New Perspectives on Faith. The lecturer was Chad Bauman who had studied the attitudes of Ghandi and three other influential conservative Hindu clerics toward the efforts of Christian missionaries to convert the members of their religion to Christianity.
These Hindu conservatives are non-violent, yet they regard conversion from one religion to another as a form of violence. They resent it when a convert is torn from his birth culture and made to conform to an alien religion.
The Hindu scholars wrote of conversion as “over” and “up.” To them, conversion over is transferring from one religion to another. Conversion up is a transformation that may take place within every religion, not just the christian religion. Conversion up makes conversion over unnecessary for an adherent may be transformed within the religion of his birth.
Many years ago Rachel and Eldon gave Rhoda and me a book authored by a man converted from Buhdism to Christianity. The Old Fool doesn’t remember the title but he remembers the contents. The author lamented that Christian missionaries had asked him to give up more of Buddhism than was necessary to be a christian.
The Old Fool remembers his experience the night of the Festival of Carols in Sauder Hall and how his own spirit thrilled to the words of the Christmas myth and the sounds that amplified them .
No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground:
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.
Now, having listened again to the arguments posed by Hindu scholars, The Old Fool is emboldened to ask himself and the readers of his blog to ponder anew the need to celebrate as we do the myths surrounding the Christmas story. If we do so celebrate let it be known that it is for ourselves alone, for those born and raised in this culture, and not for another.
It is possible, don’t you see, for Gandhi to be a conservative Hindu and yet model the kind of behavior that will make the blessings of peace and justice to flow nonviolently as far as the curse of greed and violence is found.
This is not the end of the story. The Old Fool understands that Christianity grows fastest among the “untouchables” of the caste system. Hindu scholars might be asked to reckon with the need for “untouchables” to convert over to the christian faith in order to convert up in the caste syste
I asked my missionary friend how he did mission work in India. He replied with two words: slowly, prayerfully.
Click here to hear the entire lecture by Chad Bauman on the subject “Is Conversion Violence.”