‘What does God have to do with conversions?’

T.S. VINAY KUMAR writes an open letter to Cardinal Dias, the Bombay-born head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples at the Vatican on his explanation of Pope Benedict’s statement on conversions in India.

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Dear Cardinal Dias

I would like to bring to your kind attention the various anomalies that lie within your statement.

First of all, the Pope has absolutely no right to comment on what a sovereign nation does in its own land. India neither reports to the Vatican nor has the Vatican any say in India’s Constitution.

Nowhere does the Indian Constitution say that the Vatican’s permission is required before any constitutional amendments are made—particularly with respect to religion. Still, I would be happy if you would ponder the points noted below before you conclude that your Pope is right.

You have said that the religious conversion of man is strictly between man and the god. If so, why do you need missionaries? God can himself come and propagate your religion.

Let’s assume, as you contend, that god has indeed appointed your missionaries to go and spread the gospel of truth. Does it mean that they can come and coerce people to join your community?

Yes, the matter is entirely different if a person converts on his own—without any coercion from missionaries. In that case, I am in agreement with your statement. But with missionaries playing a major part in this dirty drama, it makes me wonder about their sinister role in the conversion of faiths.

Let us face the stark facts. Even if you say that missionaries are really required to spread the gospel of truth, why is it that these missionaries always target the poor and the illiterate?

If you take a census across the country on the number of people who have converted or I would say, coerced to convert, you will find that the vast majority of people are from the poor and weaker sections of society who are uneducated. I have myself come across one such case.

These are the targets that can easily get influenced because missionaries can provide a lot of monetary support—which is an essential ingredient for any human being in the times of distress.

What does god have to do with conversions in such cases?

Yet, for countering the misdeeds of missionaries, if any local government brings in legislation, you brand it as obstruction of religious freedom. For a moment, please consider how justified you are in your argument.

Conversion leads to erosion of local culture. One classic example is of Nagaland. Being a totally backward state and only with tribes/aborigines, the majority of the people are converts there (around 90%). English has become the official language in that state. However, it is still an economically backward state where tribal people are forced to learn English. What is your take on this?

I am deeply appreciative of the services that are provided by the Catholic community, but that does not mean that you can brand Christianity as a religion superior to others. It is required that every person appreciates the other religion with equal respect.

If missionaries in India do not go on propaganda, it will do a lot of good for the country and stop the many educated and uneducated fanatics who are causing trouble for Christians (which is a matter of national shame). Can you please ponder for a moment, why is this happening?

Dear Cardinal, there can be no smoke without fire. The insecurity amongst the majority community on the coercive methods adopted by missionaries to convert people is inciting these fanatics resulting in the kind of violence you have mentioned.

I feel, indeed, that it is the missionaries in India who are fanning and contributing their mite to this kind of religious fundamentalism.

It should be noted by Vatican that the bill on ban for religious conversions is not aimed at people converting faiths on their own but to prevent the missionaries or anyone of similar kind from coercing people to change their faith through inducement.

Therefore, dear Cardinal, please take this in your stride, accept the facts and allow our beloved motherland to follow the wishes of our own law.