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Tag Archives | Missionaries

60 Minutes Feature on Mt. Athos

Mt. Athos in Greece is a unique place where Orthodox monks live a monastic life. Though Greece protects the peninsula, it is self governed by the monks of the 20 monasteries of the Eastern Orthodoxy. Special permission is needed to visit Mt. Athos and only a few visitors are allowed each month. Mt. Athos does not permit women to enter and this ban has been in place since 1045 CE, since the time of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos. Mt. Athos does not even permit female animals (female cats are allowed since they catch rats).

Most of us will never set foot in this autonomous monastic state where orthodoxy has been preserved for a millenia. So the next best option is to watch the CBS 60 Minutes feature on this. (Part 1, Part 2). Ironically, the CBS clips are sponsored by viagra.

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The Criminals who destroyed Easter Island

In an insightful post on why he travels to Mexico, Peru and Bolivia, Hari Jagannathan Balasubramanian writes about the intentional assault on local civilizations by Europeans.

While the predominantly tribal societies of North America had been conquered by European Protestants, the massive empires of the Central and South had been downed by a band of daring conquistadors from Catholic Spain. The Caribbean natives faded in the decades after Columbus’ arrival; Argentina’s natives were exterminated in the eighteenth century. But in Mexico and the Andean nations (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia) the descendants of the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Incas (and many other indigenous groups) are still there. The conquests were no less devastating, but a forcibly imposed Catholicism had brought Indians into its fold, even as it erased earlier beliefs.

The arrival of the Europeans to America was a Black Swan – an unprecedented event that had a massive impact. No one could have predicted the consequences. Millions of American Indians died, either due to disease or conquest, and the Americas (especially North America) lost their voice and culture. Europe and Asia benefited immensely from the crops and foods domesticated in the Americas (corn, tomatoes, potatoes, chilies to name a few). Europeans found a new place to emigrate to – for them it was a positive Black Swan that unleashed new energies. [The motivation behind the travel]

In the case of Easter Island, locals and rats were blamed for the decline and Western missionaries and invaders were absolved. Now it turns out that Western missionaries and invaders indeed are to be blamed for eradicating a culture.

Archaeological evidence supporting a theory of pre-European internal-collapse is thin on the ground. “Rather than a story of self-inflicted deprivation, I agree with the view that substantial blame has to rest with Western contact,” said Dr Croucher. “Visitors brought disease, pests and slavery, resulting in the tragic demise of the local population and culture.” [Easter Island Was Devastated by Western Invaders and Not Internal Conflict]

The missionaries converted the remaining population to Christianity, encouraging them to abandon their traditional beliefs. Even then, several hundred inhabitants were driven off the island to work on sugar plantations in Tahiti. By 1877, a population of just 110 people was recorded. [Outsiders blamed for Easter Island’s historic demise]

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Converting Tiger Woods

When it was discovered that Tiger Woods had a distributed harem, one of the issues that came up was his faith: Woods is Buddhist. Fox News anchor Brit Hume suggested that Tiger convert to Christianity and obtain “forgiveness and redemption.” The reason this conversion was needed is because Christianity offers a way for redemption from sin while Buddhism does not.

This can be quickly dismissed by blaming Hume’s ignorance of Buddhist philosophy, but that suppresses a larger issue hidden in that statement. To the question on if  Buddhism offers a way of forgiveness and redemption, the answer will always be no. According to Buddhist philosophy, there is no one to forgive you; you attain nirvana through spiritual practice without belief in constructs like Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

The issue here is not of theological difference, but of theological superiority and this argument has been made before regarding another Indic religion; it was a common theme among missionaries operating in India in the 18th and 19th centuries.

To see an example we need to go to go to Serampore (in Bengal) of 1799 where the Baptist missionary William Ward preached. He was an evangelical who believed that even unbelievers had to hear the Gospel to be saved from damnation. According to his colleague and mentor William Carey, Hindus definitely had knowledge of God, but it was not the same as attaining salvation by accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Ward, who had gone beyond the rituals of Hinduism, agreed with this. He was not one of those missionaries, who during Alexander Duff’s time, preached in street corners. He had learned Sanskrit from the Head Pundit at Fort William –  one Mrityunjay Vidyalankar. He had read Vedanta and even translated Vedanta Sara.

According to him Non-Christians — Africans, Indians, Greeks, Romans — all knew about God. That was not sufficient; only through divine revelation, you would know how to worship God. Hence the idolaters would never reach the Kingdom of Heaven and any religion which did not have this concept was irrational and absurd.

Three decades after Ward, Peter Percival who spent fifteen years in Tamil Nadu, did a similar comparison. He found that the goal of a Hindu was to merge with the sole, self-existing essential spirit. He then held this concept of an impersonal Brahman against Hinduism; the God mentioned in the Bible had personality, free will, and absolute power and hence that theism was more attractive.

You just can’t win.

In his staged apology for the media, Tiger Woods talked about his religion

Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.[Tiger Woods’ apology: Full transcript]

Tiger Woods also ignored the televangelist’s suggestion.

References:

  1. Dr G A Oddie, Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900 (Sage Publications, 2006). 
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The man who coined 'Hindooism'

In 1767, a 21 year old Charles Grant, like many other twenty year olds traveled to India to join the East India Company’s military service. Arriving in Bengal, he was offended by the corrupt activities of the company and the officers. Soon a personal incident changed him forever and his life went in a new direction. He became an evangelical and argued vehemently for the introduction of Christianity — which was against company policy — to enhance the morality of Indians. In the process he coined the word “Hinduism” and redefined the way how the world viewed the traditions of India.

When Grant arrived in Calcutta, a decade after the Battle of Plassey,  the company was in charge of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Robert Clive had left and the company officers we indulging as best as they could. Corruption was rampant and the famine had reduced the Bengal population by a third. Though he argued that the company had done quite a lot, he was troubled by the suffering. But interestingly, in his letters written during this period, there is no mention of religion or God.

After the famine he got a severe fever and had to return to England to recover.  He returned in 1773 with his new bride – the 18 year old Jane Fraser. The young Mrs. Grant did not take to Indian climate very well and this worried Charles, but those worries went away with the birth of his daughter Elizabeth. He got promoted as the Secretary of the Board of Trade, but that did not prevent him from criticizing the Warren Hastings’ administration.

By then he had a secure life: good friends, great family, terrific salary. If you have watched any non-Adoor Gopalakrishnan Indian movie, you will know that usually there is a song here and then it all goes downhill. What is true now, was true in the year of American Independence too; Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret died of small pox, just nine days apart.

A devastated Grant took refuge in Christ and became a sincere believer; he became an evangelical and few missionaries in the area helped him overcome his pain. He became a new man, renounced vices like gambling, and letters written during this period contain references to God and salvation.

After taking a position as the Commercial Resident of Malda, Grant took an interest in the moral nature of Indians. He rejected the argument that Hindus were people in whom mild and gentle qualities dominated; he thought that they were morally depraved. He wanted to bring in social and economic reform and the way for that, not surprisingly, was to make people acquainted with the truth of Revelation and free them from the ‘false religion’.

In his words

With the argument for the introduction of Christianity and Western education in India, Grant was years ahead of Thomas Macaulay and Alexander Duff. The charter of the East India Company did not officially permit missionary activity, but Grant was convinced that it had to change. This social revolution, Grant argued, would promote the well being of the population and in turn protect the company’s interests.

In 1787 Grant wrote a letter to one Mr. Wilberforce which contained the following paragraph.

This is important for one reason: it is the first time the word Hindooism is ever used; it replaced descriptions like  “Hindoo religion” and “Hindoo creed”. By coining this new term and advocating it, Grant’s label made it convenient to refer to the various religious traditions of India.

This was a time when there were apparently four religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Paganism. Now the Paganism of India had a name and a comparison to Christianity could be done. For example what was the religious structure and accepted scriptures of Hinduism? How similar or how different was it from the Protestant religion?

He had answers for this: Hinduism was Brahmanism and Brahminism was Hinduism. These crafty priests had enslaved the population — people who did not have a mind of their own — through rituals and the caste system. These slaves, enslaved through fear and ignorance practiced barbaric rituals like sati, hook swinging and the devadasi system. Also unlike in his religion, only those crafty priests could read the sacred texts.

Though he despised the Brahmins, he thought they were the descendants of Noah and  were blessed in the Garden of Eden. These Brahmins who once held belief in a rational Supreme Being, had now fallen from grace into the ignorant ways of polytheism and idolatry.This belief, that Brahmins were descendants of Noah,was nothing new and was prevalent in India at that time. While Grant was in Bengal, the French-Catholic missionary Jean-Antoine Dubois who was working in South India, too connected Brahmins to Noah

After the flood, the whole world was repopulated again. For this, Noah and his  sons dispersed around the world. One group went West, while the others under the guidance of Magog, Noah’s grandson, went to the Caucasian range. From there they came via the North into India and populated it. He even has a date  for this migration – nine centuries before Christian era. Thus the Brahmins, according to Dubois, were descendants of Magog’s father Japheth.[The Biblical Migration Theory]

Grant wrote all these ex cathedra pronouncements in Observations on the State of Society among Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain, but initially showed it only to a few evangelical friends. Grant later became a member of the Board of Directors of the EIC, but still then the pamphlet was not released publicly. Even other missionaries had not seen it. So why should these comments by a delusional missionary matter?

His work, along with the work of others, influenced the British perception of India. This was the beginning of the establishment of a dominant paradigm — defining Hinduism for Indians and rest of the world. Since the colonial power was in the control, their representation of the traditions became the accepted norm, which we continue to use even today.

Also in 1813,the Charter of the company came up for renewal and by then the Evangelicals had gained strength. People like Zachary Macaulay, father of Thomas Macaulay, had become influential and wanted the ban on missionaries to be removed.  On the eve of that debate, Grant’s work was printed as a parliamentary paper.

The evangelicals won in 1813.

References:

  1. Dr G A Oddie, Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900 (Sage Publications, 2006). 
  2. Henry Morris, The life of Charles Grant (J. Murray, 1904).
  3. Image from Wikipedia
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The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 2

The headquarters of thePropaganda fide in Rome

(Read Part 1)

It would be wrong to say that at that point in time Indians of the 1830s hated English. At the Hindu college, which was established by Indians, the British themselves admitted that the English education was as good as any school in Europe. When the Government decided to establish a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta, Ram Mohan Roy was disappointed. He wanted Indians to learn European math, science, chemistry instead of “grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions”.

After further objections to the “imaginary learning” of Hindu schools, he [Ram Mohan Roy] summarily assures Lord Amherst that “the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculat-  ed to keep this country in darkness.” What he wants to see established is “a more liberal and enlightened system of  instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, with other useful sciences.” This, he urges “may be accomplished with the sums proposed, by employing a few gentlemen of talent and learning educated  in Europe and providing a College furnished with neces- sary books, instruments, and other apparatus.” [The life and letters of Raja Rammohun Roy]

Mohan Roy’s letter to Lord Amherst did not get an answer. By then the fight between the Anglicists and Orientalists had reached a point where a decision had to be made. Macaulay arrived on the scene in 1834 and he had a clear idea about the future direction. Also Duff’s independent efforts had convinced Macaulay that an Anglical education system would succeed.

Macaulay was of the opinion that there was no point in perfecting the vernaculars, since there was nothing intelligent, but falsehood in them. In his Minute, he noted that he had no knowledge of Sanskrit or Arabic, but was convinced that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. On the other hand, whoever learned English had access to the vast intellectual wealth of the wisest nations of the earth and the literature available in English is valuable that the literature of all languages of the world together.[Macaulay’s Education Part 3: The Minute]

Lord William Bentinck signed Macaulay’s draft into law. While the goal of British Government was to promote European literature and science, the Oriental schools were not to be closed. Instead it was decided not to subsidize the students. The large amount of money spent on printing Oriental books were to be stopped and the money instead was to be used for promoting European literature.

Duff had already done this without any Government support and had solved many problems which the administration would face later. When a medical college was established in Calcutta there seemed to be a problem since Hindu shastras prohibited touching a dead body for anatomical purposes. To find a way out, the education commission visited Duff’s school. The students told the commission that it was a fact that shastras prohibited handling of a dead body, but they did not care. They wanted to take up the medical profession. Later orthodox priests told William Bentinck that there was no prohibition against touching a dead body for learning, but Duff was praised for showing that modern science was compatible with traditionalism.

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