?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Violence over religious conversions continues in Orissa, while spreading to Karnataka and Kerala.

The Karnataka CM is unhappy with "forced conversions" and his government wishes to examine the flow of foreign money to missionary organisations.

Meanwhile, the debate rages on.

I think it is only a matter of time before someone (and I don't mean someone on the internet) suggests that we ban conversion altogether.

I have precious little to add to the debate, and will repeat opinions offered before: that conversions - legitimate or illegitimate - do not justify violence, that there are laws to deal with "forced conversions", and that plenty of people are being targeted even though they have nothing to do with conversions. Also, while I do not suppose that there are no conversions that are caused by inducements, such conversions have to be in a minority, since it simply makes no sense from the point of view of those who are trying to convert. 

I suppose one question that is not asked often enough is why conversion - legitimate or "tricked" - makes people so angry. Let us suppose that someone is tricked into conversion. Of course, something of this sort is wrong and should simply not be permitted. But while rape, murder and large-scale corruption only induce yawns from us, why is this crime seen as so particularly nasty? Why does it make people so angry?

I'm not asking these merely as rhetorical questions. I think there is a lesson here in how identity-based conflicts work. If one were to read through the comment threads that I have linked, one will find that most commentators fit into one of three categories: those condemning the violence, those who believe that these conversions are largely the result of financial inducements (some of whom, it must be said, are against the violence), and those who believe that conversion of any sort is wrong and should be stopped immediately.

(I will not address arguments based on demographic paranoia. I think most people have enough sense to see through them)

Of second category, I have this to say: most of them are actually from the third category, but are intelligent enough to see that no rational arguments can be offered against legitimate religious conversion. Hence, the idea that most of these conversions are "tricked" holds great appeal - you can offer a seemingly rational argument that also lets you be "loyal" to your group. I am not saying that this is a conscious thought process. But this is something that most people are susceptible to.

I think we might underestimate the proportion of Hindus who feel that religious conversion of any sort is wrong. These people are not necessarily fundamentalists. Most of them do not hold that Islam and Christianity are faiths alien to India, or that India is an essentially Hindu nation (although one may find both these opinions frequently enough on the internet).

They reason they are angry, I think, is that they see conversion as an attack on Hinduism. Conversion may be seen as an attack in two senses: one, it propagates the idea that Hinduism is an untrue religion, and two, because it reduces the number of Hindus   causes Hindus to "defect" from "their group" and hence be "disloyal". Both are, of course, ridiculous reasons to oppose conversion. But I think it is by and large true that they lie at the root of the anger over conversion.

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
zenicurean
Sep. 17th, 2008 08:23 am (UTC)
I wonder how much struggle between religious groups will intensify in my own corner of the world as communities mingle and opening immigration injects large batches of fresh foreigners into the monolithic secular-Christian establishment. I'm not sure our smug brand of Nordic liberalism will survive Islam undented.
fugney
Sep. 17th, 2008 09:11 am (UTC)
Why must Islam be "survived"? Why do you suppose it can't be integrated into the mainstream? I agree, it seems hard now, but I don't think it is impossible.
zenicurean
Sep. 17th, 2008 09:49 am (UTC)
I suppose no such thing. Islam can and will be integrated into the mainstream of society. Society at large will have to adapt as well, as we cannot simply expect immigrants to mystically conform to each and every detail in the name of integration. It's not simply the most sensible option in real economic and political terms, and the option most conveniently in line with the more general principle of letting people come, go, live, and engage each other largely as they please, but it's also likely what is basically going to happen anyway.

I don't suppose it's going to be a painless process, however, and I expect there to be a real debate over whether Finns should give up on some liberties in the process. Along with cheaper, more efficient labour and healthy new influences, we'll also be importing something of a Problem of Hurt Sentiments.

Edited at 2008-09-17 10:08 am (UTC)
fugney
Sep. 17th, 2008 12:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, OK. I think I misunderstood your original comment.

I agree with that actually, all of that, hurt sentiments and all. Though I wonder - does the problem (of hurt sentiments) not exist at all at the moment in your country?
zenicurean
Sep. 18th, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC)
By and large there's no one there to hurt sentiments and no sentiments to hurt. The traditional culture is almost exclusively Christian, and sufficiently secular that atheist ministers are a genuine and prevalent problem for the state church. (And that state church itself is bland and toothless enough to make even run-of-the-mill UK Anglicans look fiercely theological. I mean, Anglicans actually go to church every now and then.)

While there is always a complement of religious conservatives out there somewhere, wringing their hands about how life is unfair to them, they're mostly worried about liberalism and "Americanisation", not liable to be any more or less welcoming of foreigners than anyone else.

The only fear that could rally widespread political pressure to either check or promote something to do with religion -- the very idea of interfering with matters of faith is incredibly unpopular with politicians, even of the actual Christian League -- in the future is this notion that immigrants might eventually come to seek political protection that deducts from established legal liberties enjoyed by natives. And that is a realistic fear, to some degree, although probably not to the degree the alarmists expect it to be.

And of course this fear -- inchoate and mostly invisible, largely an unprestigious thing spurned by the educated elites aside from one or two lone voices who rant about the Turks at the Gates of Vienna or somesuch nonsense -- is almost exclusively directed toward a small and insigificant minority of Muslims refugees. Not, for instance, the hordes of Chinese immigrant workers and students which are highest in number, proportionate to the population, in all Europe. And I believe the reason is that there's not even a conception, no lingering suspicion, of the Chinese suddenly getting up and pleading for political protection from cartoons depicting Muhammed or some such thing.
mike_higher
Sep. 19th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
My theory is that as long as the incoming religions islam/ x-iaty were syncretic in their ways, there was no real problem. We have lived with sufi saints and annai velankani (Mother mary) for many centuries. It is really the revitalization of evangelistic and proselytizing faces of these religions, with pamphplets condemning idol worship and all that which makes it really difficult.

If you have not seen those faces of x-ianity or islam.. well.. go down to south tamil districts..

so yeah, conversions can get really touchy
fugney
Sep. 19th, 2008 06:02 am (UTC)
It is our cultural immaturity (as Indians) that makes this a problem.

Don't get me wrong... I don't like evangelists myself. But that is different from wanting to kill them.
rfmcdpei
Sep. 17th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC)
MIchael Gildea's recent history of France makes the point that, in France, religious feelings seemed to be strongest in areas where there was competition between religions.
rfmcdpei
Sep. 17th, 2008 11:08 am (UTC)
Also, while I do not suppose that there are no conversions that are caused by inducements, such conversions have to be in a minority, since it simply makes no sense from the point of view of those who are trying to convert.

Foreign wealth, no? Also, are forced conversions actually recognized as legitimate by religious institutions at whatever level?

Another possibility for the strength of the reaction might be the challenge that the conversions pose to the critics' own identity: If it isn't good enough for them, is it really good enough for me?
fugney
Sep. 17th, 2008 12:35 pm (UTC)
>>Foreign wealth, no?<<
I'm not sure what you mean by that.

>>Also, are forced conversions actually recognized as legitimate by religious institutions at whatever level?<<

I'm not sure. I think it should be fairly simply process to verify if a conversion is genuine (give a little religion test to see if the converted understand what they have converted to). But I doubt if anyone bothers with something like that. That said, I don't understand why anyone with any faith would do it, and what justifications they would offer to themselves.

>>Another possibility for the strength of the reaction might be the challenge that the conversions pose to the critics' own identity: If it isn't good enough for them, is it really good enough for me?<<

Possible, especially in the immediate environment of the convert, where the whole community might be asked to consider conversion.
rfmcdpei
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what you mean by that.

The dirty wealthy foreigners who are coming into our idyll to destroy it and ruin our people's true faith, of course, if we don't stop them.
fugney
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes. There's a lot of that.
dubaiwalla
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
I think it should be fairly simply process to verify if a conversion is genuine (give a little religion test to see if the converted understand what they have converted to).
Goodness, fugney, do you seriously mean to suggest that the government, or indeed anyone else, should get into the business of judging who is a 'real' Hindu/Muslim/Christian?
fugney
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC)
The government? No. But I see no harm in religious organizations verifying conversions for themselves if they have any doubts. Of course, I'm not saying that there should be any laws to ensure this, or that churches *should* do this.

That statement was in response to Randy's question - do churches recognize "trick" conversions, or not? My response: I don't think they verify, although it wouldn't be very hard to do.
dubaiwalla
Sep. 18th, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
I see no harm in religious organizations verifying conversions for themselves if they have any doubts.
So the World Hindu Council could 'verify' which villagers in Orissa are 'real' Christians?
fugney
Sep. 18th, 2008 07:26 am (UTC)
Dude, I had meant that churches could verify conversions done by those *working under them*. And that is, if they wanted to.
goldenflames
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
I heard an interesting theory the other day, about conversion, except it was related to Buddhism.

We probably must have had similar problems when Buddhism was first starting out. Of course, I couldn't think that forced conversions would have been an issue, but the idea of an "attack on Hinduism" or Hinduism not being good enough for large numbers of people must have frightened many people back then. According to the person that I was talking to, the reason that Buddha was adopted as an avatara of Vishnu was, mainly, to integrate Buddhism into Hinduism, so that people wouldn't feel the need to convert (since they'd be Hindus anyway), and, even if they did, they would still technically remain Hindus.


Of course, that won't work with Christianity or Islam, but I think the principle is sound. We've been integrating other faiths or minority sects for years now, and I think that Hinduism definitely has the potential to be very flexible as far as belief systems go. It's just a question of trying to be rational about the issue and finding a rational solution that works for everyone.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
Do you think Buddhists believe in that Vishnu reincarnation theory?
fugney
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:11 pm (UTC)
Well, to an extent that solution has already been tried... what with the "all faiths are same" blah we hear all the time. But to me it sounds like can't-we-all-get-along solution. It is weak, and gives in to that cultural immaturity that causes us to confuse disagreement with insult, especially when it comes to religion.

The only permanent problem to this solution is for people to accept that there is nothing wrong with religion being criticized either by the faithless, or by reformists, or by equally nutty evangelicals (because, let's face it, they are).
goldenflames
Sep. 17th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
I like your solution, since it would also address the problem of going after people for hurting religious sentiments.



I could never understand why some people feel the need to go around protecting their religion from everyone with a different viewpoint. If it's that weak, it isn't going to survive anyway, and if it's a religion that's survived for thousands of years, chances are, it's going to survive without your efforts too.
fugney
Sep. 18th, 2008 07:28 am (UTC)
Me, I just feel that the "effort" bit to "protect" your religion need not be violent, and should be based on addressing the arguments offered, rather than getting angry and asking people to shut up.
rythm
Sep. 17th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC)
I have had this topic in mind for 2-3 days now. Will try to post separately on my thoughts later. Dont wana make this thread any longer;)
fugney
Sep. 18th, 2008 07:27 am (UTC)
Waiting.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

KK
fugney
Phani V K

Latest Month

September 2008
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930    

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner