Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

RSS chief redefines ‘minorities’

Author: Sandeep Mishra
Publication: The Times of India

"Muslims and Christians in India should not be labelled as minorities as they have their genetic roots here," Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief K S Sudarshan said on Friday, at the end of his three-day trip to the state.

The RSS chief observed that even though Parsis and Jews settled in our country have a claim on the minority tag, they do not use it. "Parsis and Jews do not have their genetic roots in this country. Still they do not call themselves minorities," he said.

The veteran swayamsevak argued that Muslims and Christians who were rooted to the country's heritage and culture should be considered Hindus because the term Hindu refers to a "way of life, view of life" and not any religion. "Even the Supreme Court has given this observation," he said.

"Hindustan is one of the most tolerant places in the world. It believes that God is one and there are different ways to reach Him.

"Once Muslims and Christians accept this, all disputes would come to an end," he said. According to him, a person should be allowed to follow any path to attain mokshya (salvation) without severing his ancestral bonds.

"Why should I change my name from Sudarshan to Sanderson if I were to pray in a church? Or, why should I be renamed Sudar Khan to be allowed entry into a mosque? Why should I have to cut off ties with my forefathers to practise any religion?" he asked.

Coming down heavily on proselytisation, Sudarshan said notwithstanding the claims made from different quarters, conversion activities are rampant in Orissa.

"Everybody knows that nobody would change his/her religion without allurements or coercion. The claims that no conversion is taking place are absolutely false," the RSS chief contended, while accusing Roman Catholics of attempting to spread their beliefs across India and Asia .

Eulogising the efforts made by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Sudarshan castigated the Communists for laying a claim on Netaji, even though he was not one of them.

"Netaji's image is growing in people's mind because he had played a great role in ensuring our Independence ," he said, adding, "The Congress has all along attempted to relegate to the background freedom fighters other than their own. They have even tried to defame persons like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Veer Sawarkar."

How religion defines America

By Dr Richard Land
Southern Baptist Convention

Unlike some other Western countries, the United States remains an overwhelmingly religious society. The BBC programme What the World Thinks of God examines the modern world's relationship with God. Among those taking part is Dr Richard Land who explains how profoundly religion influences American society and politics.

The USA is a very religious society. Evidence abounds demonstrating Americans' deep and abiding religious convictions.

A Gallup Poll released in November 2003 found that six out of ten Americans said that religion was "very important" in their lives.

In contrast, in Canada and the United Kingdom, two societies often perceived as quite similar to the United States, only 28% and 17% respectively described religion as similarly important in their lives.

A survey done in 2001 by the City University of New York Graduate Center found that 85% of Americans identify with some religious faith.

The same study concluded that by most standards the United States was a more professingly religious country than any European nations except Ireland and Poland.

Conservative belief

The religious convictions of Americans tend toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

An ABC news poll, done in February 2004, found that approximately 60% of Americans believe that the Genesis creation account, Noah's ark and a global flood, and Moses' parting of the Red Sea are "literally true."

Belief in the literal veracity of these biblical accounts was highest among the fastest growing segment of American faith, evangelical Protestantism (nearly 90% acceptance).

How does such robust religious faith impact and influence American government and the nation's domestic and foreign policies?

Religious vote

An ABC news exit poll taken on Election Day 2000 found that among the 42% of voters who attended religious services at least once a week, 58% voted for Bush.

Conversely, Gore won 61% among the 14% of Americans who reported they never attended religious services.

It is difficult to imagine the United States electing a candidate with the beliefs and policies of a George W. Bush, or for that matter a Ronald Reagan, without the strong role an increasingly conservative faith plays in tens of millions of Americans' lives.

Some estimates conclude that perhaps 40% of President Bush's total raw vote was provided by self-identified "evangelical" Christians.

Religion and society

How does this deep and abiding religious belief impact American society?

According to an ICM poll in January 2004, Americans believe in the supernatural (91%), an afterlife (74%), "belief in a God/higher power makes you a better human being" (82%), God or a higher power judged their actions (76%), and perhaps most tellingly "would die for their God/beliefs" (71%).

In 1880 Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov that "If God does not exist, then everything is permissible."

The history of his native Russia, wracked by the atrocities of atheistic communism for most of the 20th century, serves as a most graphic example of the truth of his conclusion.

Nazism, above all detested religion because it called for allegiance to something greater than the state, namely God.

When 71% of Americans say they would die for their faith, they are pledging allegiance to a loyalty beyond their loyalty to their country and are saying the exact polar opposite of "my country, right or wrong."
It is very important at this point to make a critical distinction: to be willing to die for one's faith is utterly different than to kill for it.

The overwhelming majority of Americans, religious and otherwise, would never feel that it is morally acceptable to kill, or even discriminate against, someone because they were of a differing faith or no faith.
As an evangelical Christian, I would not only die for my faith, I would die for any person's right to live their lives according to the dictates of their own consciences.

My personal commitment to the soul liberty of every human being is as deep as my commitment to Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord.

Like virtually all Americans of faith, I believe that a person's relationship to his or her God is a sacred matter which no other human being or group of human beings (government or religious communion) has the right to forcibly interfere with or seek to coerce.

As an evangelical Christian I believe in the right to share my faith and to seek to persuade others, as they have an equal right to seek to persuade me, but force or coercion - never!

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Battle of the Billions

As Christianity reaches for China and India, a struggle is intensifying

They make up half of humanity: 1.27 billion Chinese, a billion Indians and over 1 billion Christians. For 2,000 years the three populations have shared Eurasia, peacefully for the most part, even with the half-millennium of major intrusions into Asia by Europeans seeking converts, commerce and colonies. Despite centuries of interaction, however, only 2% of people in China and India are Christian, and Chinese and Indians are a tiny fraction of Jesus's followers.

This largely peaceful equilibrium looks set to end, if certain forces resurgent in recent years continue to strengthen. With this month's tiff over the Vatican's canonization of 120 saints martyred in China, frictions are intensifying between Chinese rulers and the Catholic Church. Late last year it looked as if the most populous nation and the most widespread faith were reconciling. Expelled from the mainland in 1951, the Vatican's embassy was set to return from Taipei to Beijing, if China would stop persecuting "underground" Catholics loyal to the Pope. But in February the Chinese ordained five new bishops in the officially approved Patriotic Church, irking Rome. Then came arrests of underground Catholics, including a bishop and priests, and the Oct. 1 canonization, which, to China's anger, coincided with the anniversary of the People's Republic.

Beijing's fear of entities that could publicly challenge its supremacy, revived by a 17-month-old challenge from the Falungong quasi-Buddhist sect, is one oft-cited reason for its crackdown on the underground church. But there are more fundamental factors. Chinese leaders still remember how the Catholic Church helped undermine communist regimes in Europe, particularly in the Pope's native Poland. In fighting for justice and rights, Christian clergy and groups have opposed rulers across the globe, including Hong Kong's over the right of abode for mainlanders. So even setting aside the still-common view that Christianity is a Western imperialist plot, Beijing harbors plenty of fears over a resurgent Church.

In India, the authorities have generally tolerated Christianity, even the present government dominated by the rightist Bharatiya Janata Party. But Hindu chauvinists like the RSS and Shiv Sena groups backing the BJP, have opposed Christian missionary work. Many were stung by the Pope's call for more efforts to spread Catholicism during his visit last year. Anti-Christian campaigns, which can turn violent, intensified recently when a Sister of Charity, part of a Calcutta-based religious order founded by the late Mother Teresa, allegedly burned the hands of four street children caught stealing. Hindu rightists accuse missionaries of using charity work as a ploy to lure the poor and underprivileged to Christianity.

With the Church pushing aid and advocacy for the poor as a tenet, there are bound to be more conflicts between Christians and vested interests in India and China. Add to that Rome's vision of making Christianity's third millennium the Asian one (the first two saw Europe, Africa and the Americas converted). Not to mention the expected anti-foreign backlash to globalization. Unless millennia of statecraft temper the true believers all around, the Battle of the Billions may have begun.

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