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David Frawley, about conversion

Sacrificer           David Frawley
Sacrifice code       wfor0105
Sacrifice date       March 12, 2000

Source text

  • www.hindunet.org
  • shish Sharma, Indian Express, the Express Magazine, March 12, 2000
    Introduction: Who is Dr. David Frawley?

    David Frawley is one of the few Westerners ever recognized in India as a Vedacharya or teacher of the ancient wisdom. In 1991 under the auspices of the great Indian teacher, Avadhuta Shastri, he was named Vamadeva Shastri, after the great Vedic Rish Vamadeva. In 1995 he was given the title of Pandit along with the Brahmachari Vishwanathji award in Mumbai for his knowledge of the Vedic teaching. Vamadeva has received many awards and honors for his work from throughout India. He works with many different aspects of Vedic knowledge on which he has written over twenty books and many articles over the last twenty years. In India his translations and interpretations of the ancient Vedic teachings have been given the highest acclaim in both spiritual and scholarly circles.

    Dr. Frawley is a teacher and practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine and of Vedic astrology (Jyotish) and has done pioneering work on both these subjects. He was recently (Sept. 2000) regarded as one of the 25 most influential Yoga teachers in America by the magazine Yoga Journal. He is now working closely with Deepak Chopra, particularly on his internet projects.

    It is very difficult to get authentic knowledge about Vedic teachings and its related traditions of Yoga, Tantra, Vedanta, Ayurveda and Vedic Astrology. Yoga is often reduced to mere asana or yogic postures. Tantra has become little more than sex. Vedanta has often been reduced to a mere philosophy. Academic presentations of these subjects, not being done by practitioners, remain caught in semantics and theoretical issues. Indian presentations, even authentic and given in English, are often hard to understand and poorly written.

    Dr. Frawley (Vamadeva) presents authentic Vedic knowledge in the Western world and in a lucid presentation recognized by the tradition itself. He has worked extensively teaching, writing, lecturing, conducting research and helping establish schools and associations in related Vedic fields. He has studied and traveled widely gathering knowledge, working with various teachers and groups in a non-sectarian manner.


    The Ethics of Conversion : Part 1

    The Ethics of Conversion, Part I
    By Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley)

    Conversion has always been a topic that arouses, if not inflames our human emotions. After all, the missionary is trying to persuade a person to change his religious belief, which concerns the ultimate issues of life and death, the very meaning of our existence. And the missionary is usually denigrating the person's current belief, which may represent a strong personal commitment or a long family or cultural tradition, calling it inferior, wrong, sinful, or even perverse.

    Such statements are hardly polite or courteous and are often insulting and derogatory. The missionary is not coming with an open mind for sincere discussion and give and take dialogue, but already has his mind made up and is seeking to impose his opinion on others, often even before he knows what they actually believe or do. It is difficult to imagine a more stressful human encounter short of actual physical violence. Missionary activity always holds an implicit psychological violence, however discretely it is conducted. It is aimed at turning the minds and hearts of people away from their native religion to one that is generally unsympathetic and hostile to it.

    In this article I will address conversion and missionary activity mainly in regard to Christianity, which has so commonly employed and insisted upon the practice. Indeed it is difficult to imagine the Christian religion apart from missionary activity, which has been the backbone of the faith for most of its history. Christianity has mainly been an outward looking religion seeking to convert the world. In this process it has seldom been open to real dialogue with other religions. It has rarely examined its own motives or the harm that such missionary activity has caused, even though the history of its missionary activity has been tainted with intolerance, genocide and the destruction not only of individuals but of entire cultures.

    But much of this discussion applies to Islam as well, which shares an agenda with Christianity to convert the world to its particular belief. As an American raised as a Catholic and who attended Catholic school and then later adapted Hindu-based spiritual teachings, I can perhaps provide another angle on this topic that hopefully will give ground for new thinking. I had to break through much religious intolerance and prejudice to make the changes that I did.

    What is Conversion?

    First let us define what we mean by conversion? Let us immediately clearly discriminate between conversion or change of beliefs that happens in free human interchange in open discussion as opposed to organized conversion efforts that employ financial, media or even armed persuasion.

    That certain individuals may influence other individuals to adapt one religious belief or another has seldom been a problem. There should be open and friendly discussion and debate about religion just as there is about science. But when one religion creates an agenda of conversion and mobilizes massive resources to that end, targeting unsuspecting, poor or disorganized groups, it is no longer a free discussion. It is an ideological assault. It is a form of religious violence and intolerance.

    Organized conversion efforts are quite another matter than the common dialogue and interchange between members of different religious communities in daily life, or even than organized discussions in forums or academic settings. Organized conversion activity is like a trained army invading a country from the outside. This missionary army often goes into communities where there is little organized resistance to it, or which may not even be aware of its power or its motives. It will even take advantage of communities that are tolerant and open minded about religion and use that to promote a missionary agenda that destroys this tolerance.

    The missionary business remains one of the largest in the world and has enormous funding on many levels. It is like several multinational corporations with the different Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical groups involved. There are full time staffs and organizations allocating money, creating media hype, plotting strategies and seeking new ways to promote conversion.

    The local native religion has about as much chance against such multinational incursions as a local food seller has if McDonald's moves into his neighborhood with a slick, well funded advertising campaign targeting his customers. Yet while many third world countries have government policies to protect local businesses, they usually don't have any safety mechanism to protect local religions.

    In fact missionary activity is like an ideological war. It is quite systematic, motivated and directed. It can even resemble a blitzkrieg using media, money, people and public shows to appeal to the masses in an emotional way. Missionaries are not seeking to learn from other religious groups or even to find out what they are all about, but to promote their own views and with as much energy as possible, even if this requires denigrating other beliefs.

    Therefore, with missionary activity we are not talking about unplanned, spontaneous or isolated events. We are talking about a religious effort towards world conquest that is quite happy to put an end to other religious traditions - that looks to establish one particular religion for all human beings, in which the diversity of human religions is discredited and forgotten. Regions where missionary activity has been successful have seen their older traditions demoted or destroyed, whether it is those of the pagan Europeans, the Native Americans, or the pre-Islamic Arabs. Hinduism would likely fall along the same wayside should lose the battle against missionary religions, just as Hinduism in Islamic Pakistan has all but disappeared.

    Missionary activity and conversion is not about freedom of religion. The missionary wants to put an end to pluralism, choice and freedom of religion. He wants one religion, his own, for everyone and will sacrifice his life to that cause. True freedom of religion should involve freedom from conversion. The missionary is like a salesman targeting people in their homes or like an invader seeking to conquer. Such disruptive activity is not a right and it cannot promote social harmony or respect between different religious communities. In fact people should have the right not to be bothered by missionaries unless they seek them out. Those of us in the West are irritated by local missionaries like the Jehovah's Witnesses that often come soliciting at our doors. Can one imagine the distress or confusion they could cause to some poor person in Asia? Once let into the door, it is hard to get them out.

    History of Conversion

    Let us look at the history of conversion, how it arose and what it has become through time. Organized conversion on a mass scale hardly existed anywhere in the world before the advent of Christianity some two thousand years ago. It became particularly strong after the Roman Empire became Christian in the fourth century. This resulted in a Roman or imperial church that used the resources of the empire, including the army, to promote the religion, which was a state institution. Church and state become closely tied and one was used to uphold the other. This alliance of church and state occurred well into the Middle Ages and into the nineteenth century throughout much of Europe.

    In the seventh century Islam brought about a religion in which church and state, or religion and politics were not simply allied but became the same, with the Caliph functioning as both the religious and secular head of the empire. This non-division between religion and politics continues in most Islamic countries today, including Pakistan, which has gone so far recently to proclaim the Koran as the supreme law of the land, though it is not a secular law book or any kind of law book. Can one imagine a Western country proclaiming the Bible as the law of the land? Yet the church dominated the laws of Europe for centuries.

    Prior to adapting Christianity Rome had its state religion but this existed largely as a show for political purposes - the worship of the emperor. Rome tolerated all other religions as long as they gave a nominal and political support to the state religion. The Romans persecuted Christians not because they were intolerant of religious differences but because they expected all religious groups to at least afford this nominal recognition for the state religion, which the Christians refused to do.

    When Christianity became the state religion, because of the belief that it alone was the true religion, this tolerance of other religions came to an end in the Roman Empire. Pagan temples and schools were closed, if not replaced by churches or even destroyed, including the closing of the great Platonic academy in Athens in the sixth century. Paganism in all of its forms was eventually banned as not only false, but also as immoral and illegal. Pagan or even unorthodox groups continued to be oppressed in Europe up to the witches of the Middle Ages, which resulted in the deaths of millions in the name of religion and protecting the church.

    In the colonial period Christian missionary activity spread throughout the world and brought with it a great violence and intolerance that continued the anti-pagan crusades as part of colonialism. Missionary efforts in the colonial period, with some exceptions, contributed to or even brought about the tremendous genocide of native populations not only in America but also in Africa and Asia. Native peoples had their religions banned, their holy places destroyed or taken over by the Christians. The history of the Spanish in Mexico and Peru in the sixteenth century is comparable to the Nazis of this century, if not worse, pillaging and plundering a continent in the name of and with the blessings of the church. This process of missionary colonialism reached its zenith in the nineteenth century, in which Native Africans were the main group subject to genocide, and it is only now slowly declining. However missionary groups have done little to apologize much less to atone for the violence and hatred this five hundred years of colonialism created, and which destroyed many traditional religions and cultures.

    In fact colonialism has not truly ended but has recently taken a more economic rather than military form, along with the Westernization along economic lines. As Christianity is the dominant Western religion, it continues use the current economic expansion of Western culture to promote its conversion agendas. The greater financial resources and media dominance of the West affords Christianity a great edge in religious and social encounters throughout the world. Even when it is a question of a Christian minority in a land dominated by a non-Christian religion, the non-Christians are often at a disadvantage in terms of money and media through the Western support that the Christian community has, particularly in regard to its conversion activities.

    Though most countries in the world today are secular, this still has not created a level playing field in the field of religion. Western religions are still taking an aggressive, intolerant, if not predatory role toward non-Western beliefs. They are using financial and media advantages, including mass marketing, to promote their agenda of conversion. Though missionary activity became less overt after the end of the colonial era it still goes on. And we cannot forget the bloody history of missionary activity or its potential for disruption, violence and destruction should the circumstance again arise.

    The Motivation Behind Conversion

    What is the motivation behind conversion activities? Why should one person want to convert another to his or her religious belief? In a pluralistic world, such as we live in there are many different types of culture, art, language, business and religion that contribute much to the richness of society. Why should we demand that everyone be like us in terms of anything, including religion? Isn't this diversity the very beauty of culture and our greater human heritage?

    Clearly the missionary seeking converts must believe that other people cannot find their goal of life by any other religion than the one that he is propagating. Otherwise there would be no need to convert anyone. And generally the missionary is not simply announcing that he has something good or better, like someone who has invented a better light bulb. He is usually claiming that his religion is the one true faith and that the others are either inferior, out of date, or simply false.

    One could argue that the conversion mentality is inherently intolerant. If I recognize that many religions are good and religious belief should be arrived at freely and without interference, then I will not create a massive organization to covert other people to my belief and get them to renounce what they already have. Only an intolerant and exclusive religious ideology requires conversion or funds it on a massive scale.

    In short conversion activity is anti-secular. It does not tolerate the religious differences that must exist in a truly secular society but aims at eliminating them. The irony is that secular law provides the religious freedom that allows conversion activity to go on. The very missionaries that once used colonial armies to promote their conversion agendas are now maintaining them in the post-colonial era under the guise of freedom of religion. The very groups that denied or limited religious freedom when they were in power in the colonial era, now use freedom of religion to keep those same missionary activities going! This is both ironical and hypocritical!

    Generally missionary efforts are stronger to the degree that the missionary is opposed to the religions that people already follow. The old dominant Christian strategy, which many Protestant groups still promote, is to denigrate non-Biblical beliefs as heathen, or the work of the devil. Evangelical missionaries still identify Hinduism with devil worship. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, two of the most influential American evangelical leaders say this repeatedly, as do their followers, and they are sponsoring missionary activity in India as well. Naturally this gives a missionary much zeal and intensity, saving souls from the clutches of evil and driving out demons.

    Such a zealous missionary inevitably spreads misunderstanding, venom and hatred in society. If I am promoting the idea that your religion is a work of the devil can I be regarded as friend or well wisher to your community? Can such views help your community understand itself or reconcile community differences?

    Today it is illegal in most countries to promote racial hatred, to call a person of any race inferior or the product of the devil (which white Christians used to call the blacks until recently). But Hindus can still be denigrated as polytheists, idolaters and devil-worshippers. This is tolerated under freedom of religion, though it obviously breeds distrust, if not hatred and itself is prejudicial. Prejudicial statements that are not allowed about race are allowed about religion and missionaries commonly employ these derogatory remarks.

    In fact most Christians view Hinduism like the pagan religions that the early Christians had to overcome, the Roman, Greek, Celtic, Egyptians and Babylonian religions, which do have much in common with Hinduism. Equating Hindus with Biblical idolaters promotes the history of missionary aggression and religious conflict. Most such Christians have never seriously or open-mindedly studied Hinduism or other pagan beliefs. They know little of Yoga and Vedanta or the great traditions of Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. They prefer to highlight the Hindu worship of God even in animal images like Hanuman as a form of superstition or evil.

    The Catholic Church is a bit more diplomatic these days. It is now telling Hindus that their religion may have some value but that Christianity is even better! Such a view is a bit more tolerant but cannot be called sincere either.

    If Catholics no longer believe that Hinduism is a religion of the Devil as they were promoting until only recently, they ought to apologize to Hindus for their mistaken notions and the problems that these must have caused. Discriminating Hindus can only look upon this more tolerant Catholicism of the post-colonial era as an attempt to maintain the edge of the church in a less politically favorable era. The Catholics say they respect the spiritual philosophies of India, which they for centuries failed to note, but still feel it necessary to convert Hindus to their religion. What kind of respect is that?

    The Ideology of Conversion

    Conversion reflects a certain ideology. In fact it mainly involves getting people to change beliefs, ideas or ideology. Conversion demands that we follow a certain ideology and reject others. The dominant ideology behind organized conversion efforts is that of an exclusive monotheistic religion. There is only one God, one book, one savior, one final prophet and so on. Most Christian missionaries try to get people to accept Christ as their personal savior and Christianity in one form or another as the true faith for all humanity.

    A religion that is pluralistic in nature like the Hindu cannot have such a conversion-based ideology. Hindus accept that there are many paths, so naturally they will not feel compelled to get everyone to abandon their own path and follow the Hindu path instead. In fact there is no one Hindu path but rather a variety of paths, with new paths coming into being every day.

    It has long been the dominant belief of Christians and Muslims that only members of their religion go to heaven, while member of other religions go to hell, particularly idol-worshipping Hindus and other pagans. This promise of heaven and threat of hell has long been used for conversion purposes and is a prime part of the ideology and its propaganda. Christians have often been motivated by this medieval heaven-hell idea in their conversion efforts. The old nineteenth century idea was a Christian missionary going to Asia to save the pagan babies from the clutches of hell.

    This eternal heaven-hell idea does arouse a certain passion as well as intolerance, but one can hardly call it enlightened. In fact it causes emotional imbalance in people, which many Christians, particularly Catholics, have sought psychological help to overcome.

    A God who has created heaven for his believers and hell for those who follow other religious beliefs is a recipe not only for missionary activity but also for emotional turbulence and violence. In fact this promise of great rewards and threats of great punishment is the basis of most forms of conditioning, brain washing and hypnosis. It is the dominant strategy of all mind-control cults.

    Conversion, Charity and Social Upliftment

    Many missionaries claim today that they are not seeking converts but merely doing charity, trying to help the downtrodden in life. Given the mentality behind conversion efforts and its history, one can only greet that statement with skepticism, though in a few isolated instances it may be true. The very missionaries that only recently used colonial governments and armies to their advantage cannot be regarded as suddenly without any overt conversion motivations.

    However, if missionaries simply want to bring about social upliftment, then why don't they just open up a hospital or school and give up all the religious trappings about it. As long as the religious ornaments are there in these charitable institutions they are still seeking converts. Once you give your charity or social work a religious guise, the conversion motivation must be there and communal disharmony is likely to be promoted even by your charities.

    If missionaries want to uplift society they can do that through education or economic help on a secular level. There is no need to bring religion into it. That is how societies have uplifted themselves throughout the world, whether it is the United States or Japan. It was not religious charity that raised up these countries economically. In fact bringing religion into social upliftment confuses the issue. Converting people to an exclusive creed doesn't eradicate poverty or disease, much less promote the cause of religious harmony.

    The Philippines, the most predominant and oldest Christian country in Asia, is one of the poorest countries in the region. Conversion to Christianity did not raise the country economically. Central and South America, which are much more staunchly Catholic and religious and North America, are also much poorer and have a lower level of education. In fact the more evangelic and orthodox forms of Christianity are more popular in poorer and less educated groups in the West. Fundamentalist Christianity is more common in America with farmers and those who didn't go to college. Educated people in the West are less likely to be staunch Christians, and many of them look to Eastern religions for spiritual guidance.

    In India Christians claim that by eradicating the caste system they are helping people and raising them up socially. They could do this easier by helping reform Hindu society rather than by trying to destroy or change the religion. Clearly they are using, if not promoting caste-differences as a conversion strategy. Christian cultures still have their class and other social inequalities, particularly in Central and South America, but Christians don't see that the religion has to be changed in order to get rid of these.

    The desire to help people in terms of social upliftment and the desire to change their religion are clearly not the same and can be contradictory. Changing a person's religion may not help them in terms of health, education, or economics.

    A similar argument is that the conversion effort is part of service to humanity, that the missionary is motivated by love of humanity. This is also questionable. If you are motivated by love of humanity you will help people regardless of their religious background. You will try to help people in a practical way rather than aim at getting them to embrace your religious belief. You will also love their religion, even if it is an aborigine worshipping a stone. You will give unconditional love to people, which is not the love of Jesus or the church but universal love. You will not condemn any person to hell for not following your particular belief. You will not interfere with that person's religious motivation and seek to convert him to your belief. You will honor the Divine in that person and in his belief.

    Such social work born of love is hardly to be found in missionary Christianity, though it likes to pretend that this is the motivation. If one were truly motivated by love of humanity and the need to serve humanity, one would not promote massive conversion agendas. In fact one would regard such practices as inhumane, which they are.


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