Very quick comments on religious conversion

Rohit Dhankar

Some religions are traditionally proselytizing religions. Islam and Christianity are aggressively so. [‘Aggressive’ here means “having or showing determination and energetic pursuit of your ends” and not necessarily physical aggression.] Their scriptures, histories, and religious leaders agree with that; however, their common believers may not. Some religions have been traditionally non-proselytizing. Hinduism (if that qualifies as a religion) has been so. But right from the attempts of Arya Samaj in 1920 people have been trying to ‘convert’ Hinduism itself to a proselytizing religion; initially with the names of ‘shuddhi’ or ‘ghar-vapasi’, but now also in the full-fledged sense of the term. The Hindu zealots now differ only in capability to effect conversion, not any more in wish to do so.

Conversion with conviction is part of the personal autonomy of an individual and can neither be banned not be morally condemned. Attempts to convert people of other faiths through intellectual persuasion and helping form convictions is, again, part of liberty of through and expression; and so is a perfectly legal and moral act in a democracy.

Conversion through deceit, emotional blackmail, lure of any kind and force is certainly morally condemnable and legally punishable.

The motivation to convert others to one’s own faith might be attributed to several things. In Islam and Christianity it is a duty of a true believer to spread the good word to ignorant people, of course, for their own good, as their religion being the only true religion. [Recently in Vatican III the Roman Catholicism has officially recognized that religions other than Christianity can also be true religions. But whether that recognition reduced the enthusiasm of the Church for conversion is yet to be seen.]

Religion has always been closely connected with economic and political power. Therefore, much of the desire to convert others also comes from non-spiritual and very worldly motives. In my personal view almost all attempts to convert spring from such motives.

All people who try to convert others to their own faiths either live by a bag of false beliefs (either due to intellectual deficiencies or delusions), or are plain hypocrites. Or both.

The act of conversion on the part of the proselytizer is an act of spreading falsehood and delusion; therefore, involves epistemic violence. Necessarily involves emotional violence and disruption in human relationships. It is an act of acquiring power over the other.

The act of conversion on the part of the convert is an act of loss of self-confidence, taking leave of independent judgment and submission to the other’s will. It is a degradation of humanity; however, most people will not agree with this. To establish it one needs a more detailed argument.

Therefore, all who are interested in dignity of human being, secular state and democracy should be very concerned with all attempts to convert. Religious conversions have had very profound impact in human history and will have very profound impact on the future of human species. At present though the idea of conversion is a morally accepted idea, still it should be debated. It should not be, and cannot be, dealt with legalities.

It is a battle of wits between those who recognize the dignity of humanity in its autonomous judgment and those who want humanity to submit to a false set of dogmas. Therefore, it has to be dealt with analysis, exposer and critique. It has to be defeated intellectually.

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