Christian missionaries have always been clear about their intentions in India and religious conversions. They have been decreed by Jesus Christ himself to spread Christianity all over the world and they zealously believe that unless every group in the world has Christian representation, Judgment Day will not arrive.
In their bid to convert Hindus, missionaries have always maintained that it is essential to understand Hinduism and Hindu society. They have often wondered why despite their efforts, Hinduism hasn’t fallen to Christianity yet and reflect deeply on what their strategy should be going forward. Therefore, it is imperative for Hindus to understand how Christianity perceives them if they are to ward off the gravest threats to their way of life.
In the March 1934 issue of ‘Thought’ (Fordham University Quarterly), A.J. Siqueira wrote, “Our purpose has been to analyze the philosophical and theological complex of the Hindu mind in its attitude to Christ. Hinduism has no infallible exponent, no official interpreter, no authentic “catechism” of doctrine: quot capita tot sententiae. So we have drawn largely on Hindu sources, avoiding the intricacies of Hindu philosophy that would lead the uninitiated reader a merry dance. Indeed, the missionary who would preach Christ to the Hindu should understand the Hindu mentality, lest he beat the air in vain or betray his Master by a timid compromise.” Thus, they were clear that they needed to understand the Hindu mind to be able to make missionary work more effective.
The late Reverend Charles F. Aiken, who was a Professor of History of Religion at Catholic University, wrote of Hinduism, “Hinduism, in its narrower sense, is the conglomeration of religious beliefs and practices existing in India that have grown out of ancient Brahminism, (q.v.), and which stand in sharp contrast to orthodox, traditional Brahminism today. Hinduism is the popular, distorted, corrupted side of Brahminism.” Here, we see a clear effort to alienate Brahmins from Hinduism and to portray Hinduism as a derivative of ‘Brahminism’, contrary to all established fact. He writes further, “In the pantheistic all-god Brahma, the whole world of deities, spirits, and other objects of worship is contained, so that Hinduism adapts itself to every form of religion, from the lofty monotheism of the cultivated Brahmin to the degraded nature-worship of the ignorant, half savage peasant.” India, he says, “has much of value to learn from Christian civilization.”
Sir Monier-Williams, a renowned scholar, said of Hinduism in his book “Brahminism and Hinduism” (1891), “it holds out the right hand of brotherhood to nature-worshippers, demon-worshippers, animal-worshippers, tree-worshippers, fetish-worshippers. It does not scruple to permit the most grotesque forms of idolatry and the most degrading varieties of superstition. And it is to this latter fact that yet another remarkable peculiarity of Hinduism is mainly due—namely, that in no other system in the world is the chasm more vast which separates the religion of the higher, cultured, and thoughtful classes from that of the lower, uncultured and unthinking masses”. Thus, we have reason to suspect that the term ‘Brahminism’ as is currently discussed and understood in the academia has evangelical origins.
In fact, Christian missionaries paid special attention to the Brahmin caste. As per Catherine Cornille, Catholics in the 19th century firmly believed that conversion of Brahmans would lead to a conversion of the rest of the people of India.
Early missionary texts also reveal that Christian missionaries in the 19th century did not really view the caste system in as much of an evil as it does now. Jean-Antoine Dubois, in his book “Hindu manners, customs and ceremonies” that has come to be regarded as an authoritative figure of scholarship, wrote, “For my part, having lived many years on friendly terms with the Hindus, I have been able to study their national life and character closely, and I have arrived at a quite opposite decision on the subject of caste. I believe caste division to be in many respects the chef d’oeuvre, the happiest effort of Hindu legislation. I am persuaded that it is simply and solely due to the distribution of the people into castes that India did not lapse in the state of barbarism, and that she preserved and perfected the arts and sciences of civilization whilst most other nations of the earth remained in a state of barbarism.”
Thus, it appears that Christian demonization of the caste system occurred when they realized after careful introspection that they could use the caste fault-lines within Hindu society to convert the populace.
Alexander Duff, the first overseas missionary of the Church of Scotland to India, wrote, “Our present purpose not being to expose, but simply to exhibit the system of Hinduism, it has all along been taken for granted that in the eye of the intelligent Christian, its best confutation must be the extravagance and absurdity of its tenets.”
Anthony E. Clark, who teaches history at Whitworth University, in his article “All is Not One” elaborates on “Hinduism’s Incompatibility with Christian thought”. He says, “Catholic Christians are beholden to truth, and truth is our best defence against the claims of religious pluralism, which is the foundational assertion of Hinduism.” Clark also believes that there is a contradiction in the belief that “all religious traditions are different paths to the same end.” He states emphatically, “To assert that two conflicting positions are in fact correlative is not only irrational but untruthful. Christianity’s claim to be the only true faith, founded upon the natural and revealed certainties given by one God, cannot by sound reasoning fit into the ideals of religious pluralism.” He adds further, “One of the principal Catholic objections to the Hindu belief that all things are indistinguishable from one another is that it denies the possibility of a creator God. This and the notion of a Brahmanic pantheism are forcefully rejected in the Nicene Creed, in which Catholics proclaim, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.””
Thus, we see clearly, contrary to the popular approach by Hindu spiritual leaders of asserting that Christianity is merely another path that leads to God, Christian intellectuals are very clear on the incompatibility between Hinduism and Christianity. They not only deny the virtues of religious pluralism but exalt Christianity’s rejection of it as one of the Abrahamic religion’s principle virtues.
The zeal of Christian missionaries can be gauged from the fact that the then Pope, John Paul II, exhorted Christian evangelicals to convert the region during his visit to India in 1999. The Chicago Tribune reported, “The 79-year-old pontiff exhorted a synod of Asian bishops to evangelize the region in the coming millennium. He told them to go forth and conquer the continent for Christ just as the church had done in Europe during the first millennium and in the Americas in the second.”
Christianity has always been against all forms of Hindu worship. It has a special enmity towards Yoga. The Nagaland Baptist Church Council, earlier this year, had directed its associate Churches to not practice Yoga as it is incompatible with Christianity. Christian parents in the USA have frequently objected to Yoga being taught in schools. Christian priests oppose Yoga because it puts the human soul in “jeopardy“. The Syro Malabar Church in Kerala asserted that Yoga is against Christian principles and should not be practised as a means to get “closer to God”. Even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself, who would go on to become Pope Benedict XVI, warned Catholics against ‘eastern meditation practices’ such as Zen and Yoga in a letter to Bishops in 1989.
The Hindu response to Christian objection to Yoga has been to forfeit its claim to Yoga which directly plays into the hands of Christian missionaries. Hindus should not sacrifice their claim over spiritual practices if Christians object to them because it merely portrays the insecurity of Hindus.
Another Christian scholar says, “Hinduism lacks any understanding that God created this world for a good purpose. It is common for Hindus to speak of God bringing the universe into existence simply as a “playful” exercise of His power. Also lacking is a conception of God as infinitely holy and righteous and as the One to whom we as His creatures are accountable for the way we conduct our lives.”
One of the most fundamental issues Christians have with Hinduism is idolatry. The worship of idols is denounced in the holy scripture of the faith itself. Ed Stetzer asserts proudly on Christianity Today, “As our love for God increases, our tolerance for idolatry will decrease.” On the other hand, murthi-pujan is essential To Hinduism. Although, there are certain strains of Hinduism that decry idolatry, which could have emerged as a consequence of Christian influence in the medieval past, the majority of Hindus cannot imagine worship without idols.
Thus, we see that Christian missionaries have a clear critique of Hinduism based on their religious scriptures. To us, it appears bigotry but to them, it’s the commandment of their God. While Hindus tend to concede ground to not appear bigoted, they do not care about such indictments as they perceive themselves to be following the will of God.
Christians, based on their understanding of Hinduism, have devoted a great deal of time to perfecting the tactics used to convert Hindus. There are numerous websites on the internet which offer advise missionaries on how to convert Hindus. One such website says, “ Offer Jesus’ Forgiveness. Bakht Singh, a convert from Hinduism and an Indian evangelist, once said, “I have never yet failed to get a hearing if I talk to [Hindus] about forgiveness of sins and peace and rest in your heart” (Hesselgrave, 169). Forgiveness is certainly a need for Hindus because it is not available in their karma-based belief system. The law of karma is like a law of nature — every cause has its effect and there is no place for mercy. The fact that forgiveness is not available in Hinduism troubles many Hindus, for they are aware that the actions that bind them to this illusory realm keep accumulating, and the prospect of escape is hopelessly remote.”
We see in this article that Christians, through the centuries, have critiqued the fundamental tenets of Hinduism through the lens of Christianity. They do not perceive Hinduism as a valid path that leads to the Almighty but a deluded religion that grapples with superstition and absurd beliefs. Furthermore, they have evaluated Hindu society with the objective of conversions in mind.
They have also changed tactics depending on the situation at hand and at some point, realized that they could use the caste fault-lines to their benefit. Conversely, Hinduism views them as one of the many paths that lead to the attainment of salvation. Unfortunately, Christians haven’t accorded to them the same respect. They regard Hinduism as incompatible with Christianity and their missionary work is dedicated to eradicating it.
There has been, however, a Hindu intellectual response to the onslaught of Christianity. That will be the subject of a separate article.