Inculturation and How it is Subverting Hindu Practices in India

Inculturation and How it is Subverting Hindu Practices in India

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Apple is widely believed as the pioneer of smartphone revolution. After Apple came out with its first iPhone back in 2007, many other cell phone makers followed its lead and came up with their own versions of smartphones. Some of these phones clearly mimicked many of the designs and features of the iPhone.  Further, some of these models completely replicated the outer structure and interface of the iPhone to fool buyers into believing that they are buying iPhone. Fortunately, the business world is protected by patents and ethical practice laws. Apple was able to take these cell phone makers to court for fraud and intellectual theft of its homegrown technologies which it had developed after years of extraordinary effort and money.

Let’s consider the patent scenario between two religions.  What if religion A adopts the appearance and practices of religion B with the ill intention of deceiving the people of religion B?  What if those practices are deliberate means to convert unsuspecting and ignorant folks of religion B into religion A? One religion can blatantly copy and appropriate characteristics of other without any repercussion. Regrettably between religions, there is no preventive mechanism or laws to discourage such malpractices. And this is what happening in India today. Certain Christian evangelists are unethically and superficially copying many of the practices of Sanatan Dharma to facilitate conversion.

These are not simply isolated events. This is a well established and articulated policy adopted by various branches of Christianity and by the Roman Catholic Church called inculturation where Church teachings are adapted and changed to make them more palatable to non-Christian cultures. The precise definition of this term as listed at Vatican site is following:

The process of inculturation may be defined as the Church’s efforts to make the message of Christ penetrate a given sociocultural milieu, calling on the latter to grow according to all its particular values, as long as these are compatible with the Gospel. The term inculturation includes the notion of growth, of the mutual enrichment of persons and groups, rendered possible by the encounter of the Gospel with a social milieu. ‘Inculturation [is]the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures and also the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.’

Further Vatican site also describes specific efforts required on the part of evangelists to achieve inculturation:

The inculturation of the Gospel in eye modern societies will demand a methodical effort of concerted research and action. This effort will assure on the part of those responsible for evangelization: (1) an attitude of openness and a critical; (2) the capacity to perceive the spiritual expectations and human aspirations of the new cultures; (3) the aptitude for cultural analysis, having in mind an effective encounter with the modern world.

If the purpose of inculturation is not avidly clear from the above references, then following statement from John Paul II describes its purpose without leaving any confusion:

The Church must make itself all things for all men, bringing today’s cultures together with sympathy. There still are milieus and mentalities, as there are entire countries and regions, to evangelize, which supposes a long and courageous process of inculturation so that the Gospel may penetrate the soul of living cultures, respond to their highest expectations and make them grow in the dimension of Christian faith, hope and charity. Sometimes cultures have only been touched superficially and in any case, to continuously transform themselves, they demand a renewed approach. In addition, new areas of culture appear, with diverse objectives, methods and languages.

Herein the Vatican is quite explicit in that the ultimate purpose of the inculturation process is to bring non-Christians who are residing in other cultures into the Christian fold.  There are many such inculturation practices adopted by missionaries in India.

Christian missionaries in Hindu saint dress

  1. Christian Evangelists masquerading as Brahmins, Purohits or Sanyasis adopt Hindu names while wearing saffron outfits.
  2. The Christ presented as a yogi is combined with an entire range of missionary subterfuges.
  3. Missionaries sing bhajans to Jesus instead of Hindu deities like Rama, Krishna or Shiva by substituting their names with Jesus.
  4. Idols of Jesus and Mary are placed side by side with murtis of Hindu deities.
  5. A Christian form of Bharat Natyam has been invented leveraging traditional Hindu dance forms as offerings to Jesus.
  6. Hindu pillars or stambhas are placed in front of churches in South India to look like Hindu temples.
  7. Churches perform arati to Jesus rather than performing the usual Christian rituals.
  8. Churches describe their crowd gathering event as satsang which is a Hindu term.
  9. Mother Mary is made to resemble Hindu Goddesses in her depictions.
  10. Yoga and meditation techniques are copied and presented in desankritized Christian forms.
  11. Deliberately misquoting, mistranslating and misinterpreting Hindu scriptures and puranas in an attempt to prove that Jesus was both an avatar of and a Hindu God.

Infant Lord Ganesha with Mary and Jesus depicted in form of Lord Vishnu

One may wonder why evangelists need to operate using such fraud and deceptive practices in the first place. The answer is simple.  If Hindus were aware of their true practices and beliefs beforehand, then they would not entertain their hidden conversion efforts. Hence evangelists temporarily shield Christian practices and beliefs from Hindus until the missionaries are convinced that the unsuspecting conversion targets are ready to accept Jesus as their ‘only savior’.

It is critical to understand the ethicality of such practices by missionaries from the lens of Christianity itself.  For example, Christianity largely opposes idolatry and even considered such ‘pagan’ practices as a ‘radical sin’.  But during the process of inculturation, no such tenets are adhered to by evangelists.  Does this mean that idolatry is now acceptable by followers of Christ the world over?  Christian authorities will certainly not permit this for their flock as these manipulative practices are intended only for luring the unsuspecting locals.

Furthermore, there are major issues with the use of native Hindu practices by missionaries in the first place. This usage constitutes nothing less than appropriation and, in many cases, fraud and cheating.

Finally, there is the issue of the subversion of original practices of Hinduism.  Many of these practices lose their inherent meaning and value when they are distorted. For instance, the chanting of bhajans without Sanskrit words do not produce the same effect as they do in their original form.

Rajiv Malhotra, prominent Hindu intellectual, elaborates on the long-term impact of the inculturation process on native cultures:

By assuming the mantle of the originators and bearers of universal truths – both sacred and secular – the West has often embarked on and justified programs, missions and schemes to bring the rest of mankind around to its own worldview. I use the metaphors of “tiger” and “deer” to illustrate the process of what I call the “digestion” of one culture by another, carried out under the guise of a desire to assimilate, reduce differences and assert sameness. The key point being made is that the digested culture disappears. This digestion is analogous to the food consumed by a host, in that what is useful gets reformulated into the host’s body, while that which doesn’t quite fit the host’s structure is eliminated as waste.

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