Freedom of religion is not right to convert

To convert is to condescend. It's the pontification, nay trivialisation, of a person's (earlier) faith so much that he or she is full of aversion to the primary or parental faith and full of euphoric enthusiasm for the new one

Sumit PaulUpdated: Sunday, December 11, 2022, 11:17 PM IST
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Conversion is subversion; subversion of volition and also a perversion of religion. - M K Gandhi to his friend and Christian missionary Charles Freer Andrews, 1932


The Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday, November 28, that it's contemplating measures to “curb” the menace of conversion through “force, fraud, allurement and deception”, while arguing that the “right to freedom of religion doesn't confer a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion.”

Being a student of comparative religions and a complete apatheist (one who has gone beyond theism and atheism), I've always wondered why conversions from one faith to another do take place in the first place. A professor friend of mine would often say that a conversion is a commodification of religiosity. In other words, it's tantamount to selling one's own self for a perceived state of religious betterment provided by the new faith; a greater spiritual deal, to use a euphemism. Obviously, it's not something that's fundamentally desirable in the realms of religions. But unfortunately, it has been happening right from the advent of all man-made organised faiths. While this shifting and shuttling is not so common among other faiths, Semitic religions, esp. Christianity and Islam, have been into it since their inceptions. Islam's rather condescending Hidayat-e-Allah (god's prudence bestowed upon chosen human/s) and Dawat-e-Islam (Invitation to Islam) and Christianity's Spread the God's Word/Gospels have witnessed many dubious conversions in the annals of religion. Even Muhammad Iqbal once asked his favourite teacher and mentor Dr Thomas Arnold whether conversion was ever a wholly independent process of free will because Iqbal's Sapru Brahmin ancestors from Kashmir embraced Islam. Arnold told him that there was hardly a single completely free, cerebral and conscientious conversion in the history of mankind. There was always an element of doubt and dithering. Interestingly, Arnold had a secret desire to convert Iqbal to Christianity.

To convert is to condescend. It's the pontification, nay trivialisation, of a person's (earlier) faith so much that he or she is full of aversion to the primary or parental faith and full of euphoric enthusiasm for the new one, that's being drilled into his vulnerable self. The perpetrators of the new faith who want you to embrace it, leaving your old one will make you believe covertly as well as overtly that your earlier faith is useless and it has failed to deliver what you expected. Now our faith will give you what you've been looking for. This is spiritual snobbery and psychological beckoning that can bamboozle a weak-minded person, bemused and befuddled at the lowest ebb of his/her life and career. A drowning man will clutch at a straw and a circumstantially susceptible brain will fall for such rosy but dubious claims.

Missionaries have been doing this in all parts of the world for two millennia. There's a famous quote that underlines how missionaries christianised a huge chunk of the continent of Africa and enslaved its people: “When missionaries came, we had land and they had the Bible. When they left, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

With the passage of time, Christianity and Islam became recruitment agencies. Islam's regimentation and Christianity's recruitment converted people en masse. Look at the history of the subcontinent. Almost all Muslims and Christians had Hindu ancestry. Their Hindu ancestors were forcibly or 'affably' converted to Christianty and Islam. This has been going on and in recent years, this conversion spree has intensified. What's happening in Punjab is for everyone to see. Christianity is spreading in the hinterlands of Punjab and the poor pockets of Odisha, North East, MP, practically the length and breadth of the country. Here I'd like to make a little comparison in the religious approaches of Semitic faiths vis a vis Hinduism. Hinduism doesn't believe in the ritualistic conversion of Semitic faiths. It believes in the Vertical Conversion: Elevation of noble qualities at an individual level, unlike the Horizontal Conversion of the Semitic faiths, i.e, spreading the numbers. French dramatist, Novelist and Nobel laureate Romain Rolland rightly opined, "The best part of Hindu consciousness is that it encompasses all the world and its myriad and varied people belonging to all faiths. You could be a Christian or a Moslem, but your spirit remains dovetailed to Hindu consciousness." Conversion are needed when a faith is organised and structured like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. The very crux of Hinduism is assimilation, the religio-spiritual assimilation. If one's deeply drawn to this consciousness, one becomes one with the faith unlike the Semitic faiths that need proof in the form of a conversion. Someone beautifully put it, Conversions in Christianity and Islam are stamped, whereas it's subsumed in Hinduism. So very correct analysis!

Furthermore, why should you mislead a person and lead him/her up the garden path? My god is greater than yours and my scriptures are more correct and authentic than yours are puerile claims. If at all there's any god, he or she is immanent and within you and there's no religion greater than humanity. So, stop this head-hunting (a reverse euphemism for conversion) and be a good human. Lastly, psychologists have found a kind of religious dichotomy among people who convert to other faiths. They've found that the person is always torn between his former and latter faiths. This psychological oscillation is not good for an individual's mental as well as spiritual health.

Government must see to it that conversions, whether open or on the sly, must be stopped. Mankind has already had enough of God and religion. Give it breathing space.

Sumit Paul is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages

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