"But have we no rights to proclaim our faith, to
preach Gospel? You are the editor of such a large news-paper. You
express your views on issues. Do we not have the same right?" It was
Bishop George Anathil, of Indore, the Chairman of the Commission for
Proclamation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.
It so happens that I am not the editor but the
twice-dismissed editor of such a large newspaper! And I would
certainly stand for the right of every Bishop to speak his mind,
assuming of course that he too would not cavil at being
In any case, no one is suggesting that missionaries
should not have the right to proclaim the truth as they see it. I
was talking about conversions - about how these did not harmonise
with the doctrine the Church has now acknowledged, namely the
possibility of salvation in every religion; about the need to heed
the great anger which is building up against conversions; and about
the need therefore to join in giving the State and the courts the
authority to examine whether force or fraud or allurement have been
used in any case to secure the conversion.
The analogy which Bishop Anathil drew between the
right to free speech and the right to practice and propagate one's
religion is actually a good one: the freedom of religion guaranteed
by Article 25 and 26 should be subject to the same sort of
restrictions as is a secular right like freedom of speech. Article
19(2) lists the grounds on which the right of speech can be
regulated. These are much wider than the grounds mentioned in
Article 25 and 26.
Furthermore, the courts have, to take one instance,
specifically held that the administration of 'minority institutions'
under Article 29 and 30 cannot be regulated on the ground that the
regulation is required in the national interest.
In a secular country why should the right to
practise and propagate religion not be subjected to the same sorts
of perimeters as apply to other secular rights? In a country the
very survival of which is in such jeopardy, in a country the
territorial integrity of which is being assailed by murderous
campaigns stoked in the name of religion, why should the right to
practice and propagate religion not be subject to the requirements
of the security of the State, to the national interest?
It is for these reasons that in A Secular
Agenda I have urged that the right to religion must be placed,
exactly as Bishop Anathil's analogy suggests, at par with, and no
higher than other secular rights.
"I have a comment, more than a question," Bishop
Patrick D'Souza of Varanasi observed. "I know that Gandhiji said
those things about the motives behind missionary services etc. But
schools and hospitals set up by Christian missionaries are
everywhere. If there was any truth in this view, all of India would
by now have become Christian. This has not happened. Is not the
accusation itself motivated?"
My own experience would point to what you say: I
studied at a college set by Christian missionaries, no one ever
tried to convert me. But against that, and against what you say, we
must put what the missionaries who talked to Gandhiji acknowledged.
They too were truthful, and they stated in terms that the ultimate
motive, or inspiration if you like, which informed such work was to
convert people to Christianity. Even more important, there are the
basic premises of the Church to which I drew attention earlier: that
there is one Truth, that it has been revealed to the one and only
Son of God, that it is in one Book etc. A missionary cannot but
subscribe to these premises. And one who subscribes to them cannot
but have one overriding objective: to save souls by bringing them
into the Church.
Today, spurred by the new "Liberation Theology,"
the Church is spurring the movements among so-called Dalits etc. But
many of the leaders you have patronised by way of helping "Dalits"
speak with poison in their tongue. They advocate hatred. They have
been eulogizing Bhindranwale. Now, when you patronise them, why do
you cavil at the charge that you are patronising them? How can you
escape the constructive responsibility for the consequences of the
hatred they are spreading? In a word: if you feel that you just must
work among such groups because as Christian missionaries you have
both some special responsibility and some special message for such
groups, hold them to the means of Jesus, of Gandhi.
"Your view that religious questions should only be
addressed to those who can decide, I found patronising," a
participant observed. "There is the presumption behind it that the
tribals etc. are not in a position to understand these matters. But
in working among them, I find that they get the central point very
Would you concede the same discerment to "Dalits"
who have "relapsed" back to Hinduism -- that they too are able to
assess things? Or is it that only those who see the point of
Christianity are in a position to assess religious questions, and
not the others?
As for presumptions, look at the premise behind the
entire work of the Church in tribal areas. The tribals are leading a
perfectly normal life with the help of their own religion, are they
not? When you go in to convert them, are you not being presumptuous
-- are you not presuming that you and the Church know better than
them what is good for them?
"You were educated in a Christian College,"
Archbishop Alphonsus Mathias of Bangalore remarked. "What aspects of
Jesus strike you?"
That he was prepared to suffer so much, that he was
prepared to suffer to the end for truth. That no bitterness entered
his heart even when he had been nailed to the Cross. That, when he
saw wrong, he spoke so clearly -- as to the Pharisees in the
"No, I mean: What is your opinion about the
Christian claim that Jesus is the incarnate God?"
I have not the capacity to judge such a claim. But
as, for the sorts of reasons I mentioned, I am not yet able to
believe in God as He has been pictured to us -- All Powerful, All
Knowing, All Compassionate -- I am not able to conceive of that God
"In one of your recent articles you wrote about
nanotechnology and the rest" said a participant. "What role do you
think religious organisations have in such an age?"
To remind us about, to educate us to the
inner-directed search. That is the pearl of great price which the
religious traditions, specially the religious traditions of India
have preserved through the millennia. That is what religious
organisations should direct their efforts to.
As we dispersed for tea, the exchange continued, as
did the banter: "He knows more about Christianity than your
students," Archbishop Mathias of Bangal ore told Bishop D'Souza of
Pune, teasing him and me. "He knows more about Christianity," said
the latter who overseas one of the best seminaries in our country,
"than many of our professors!"...
The things I had been saying were hardly the things
that the Archbishop, the Bishops and the scholars assembled there
agreed with, they were certainly not the things that they would find
agreeable. But they heard me out in pin-drop silence, and with
unbroken patience. They told me unambiguously that they did not
agree with what I had said. Several of their observations left no
doubt that they were put out by what I had said. But they pasted no
motive. They were courteous and the very models of dignity and
I left feeling I had been among friends.
If only we could learn at least this one thing from
them: If we could only learn how to disagree, how much better off
our country would be.