Hindu View of Christianity and Islam
Hindu View of Christianity and Islam1
(Muir on what Lives of Muhammad should be like—Muir’s Life for thinking Muslims—Missionary angle—Similarities between Christianity and Islam—Christianity as Islam without Muhammad—Debate—“Idolatry” as common enemy—Monotheism— its origin—Pre-Islamic Arabs—Prophetism, an adjunct of Monotheism—Genesis of Religious Intolerance—Yogic spirituality—Advaita—Reincarnation—Christianity and Islam as Intruders—Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa seeking their spiritual roots—How Hinduism can help them in their self- discovery).
Sir William Muir’s The Life of Mahomet was first published in 1861 in four volumes, a pioneering study based wholly on orthodox original sources. An abridged edition came out in 1876. The third edition was published with important alterations in one volume in 1894. After Muir’s Life many Lives of the Prophet have appeared, but it still remains a classic and in some ways has not yet been surpassed in comprehensiveness and in the wealth of material. Thanks to Archeology and other related disciplines, today we know a great deal more about pre-Islamic Arabian culture, but ever since Muir there has been no addition in the source material relating to the Prophet’s life. This was exhausted long ago by early Muslim writers and all this was taken into account by Muir.
Muir belonged to the highest rung of British officialdom in India, but his reputation as an outstanding Arabist and Islamist has proved the most enduring. But he was also a believing Christian and his scholarly labours had a missionary motivation at heart. The motivation gave him a certain direction and a certain way of looking at things, but it did not compromise his scholarship. In fact, he thought that for the very success of the Missionary enterprise, a good biography of the Prophet, based on unimpeachable sources respected by orthodox Muslim scholars, was a first necessary step. While discussing the inaccuracies of Washington Irving’s Life of Muhammad, he stressed the need for a “life of the Prophet of Arabia which is based on sound, orthodox Muslim sources.”
In his various articles which he wrote during mid-1840s and which appeared in the Calcutta Review, we easily get to know what he expected his Life to be and to achieve. He wanted it to oppose two kinds of Lives that were current: one was by Missionary writers who were careless about their facts, slipshod in their scholarship, hostile in intent, unsympathetic in treatment, and uninhibited in expressing their opinions. For example, A. Sprenger, his contemporary, a Missionary and an Islamist of great repute, regarded Muhammad as having a “weak and cunning mind.” Muir disagreed and argued that such a man “could never have accomplished the mighty mission which Mahomet wrought.” Others called Islam “a spurious faith,” and its founder “a false prophet” and a “counterfeit Messiah.” Muir probably shared these opinions, but he discouraged their too open expression. He thought that if the Missionaries used such epithets, how could they get the hearing of the Muslims? He probably also thought that stating facts should do, for they would speak for themselves.
He also wanted his Life to oppose Biographies of the Prophet written by native Muslim writers which were current among devout Muslims. These were highly fanciful and extravagant and were based on fabricated traditions of which the early biographers of the Prophet were quite innocent. For illustration, Muir discussed a biography of the Prophet, Moulud Sharif or “The Ennobled Nativity” written by Ghulam Imam Shahid, an Indian Muslim, during the 1840s. It was very popular among the Muslims and it had already seen a dozen editions. In this biography, the author, an ornate writer, informed us how Allah wishing to manifest himself formed the “light of Muhammad a thousand years before creation”; how when the light was at last transferred to the womb of Ameena, Muhammad’s mother, “200 damsels of the Coreish died of envy”; how angels rejoiced at his birth; how, as he came out of the womb he was already circumcised; and how he repeated the kalima.
Muir tells us that early traditions relating to the Prophet’s nativity contain no such material. He wanted his Life to be faithful to this early tradition, and he thought that such a biography would be respected by the Muslims and would therefore serve the Missionary cause better. He argued: “If we can from their own best sources, prove to them that they are deceived and superstitious in many important points... we shall have gone a great way to excite honest inquiry and induce the sincere investigator to follow our lead.” He wanted to present this biography to “thinking Mohammedans, who are turning their attention to the historical evidence of their faith; and are comparing them with those of Christianity.” In this way, he thought, rather fondly, that “thinking Muslims” would come to prefer Christianity to their own faith. How the stories of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mother, the Only Begotten Son will satisfy their historical sense is not made clear. In fact, some of the “thinking Mohammedans” on whom Muir so much relied remained unmoved by Muir’s labour of love. Sayyid Ahmad (later Sir Sayyid), who wrote his own Biography of the Prophet in reply to Muir’s, argued whether the biblical miracles of Moses and Jesus should not be considered from the same rational viewpoint. But in their turn, the Christians were dogmatic and they had learnt to believe that while the miracles of Jesus were historical and well attested, those found in rival faiths were irrational.
As Missionary scholars studied Islam, mostly with a view to convert Muslims, they found that there was a lot in common between it and their own faith. Both were Judaic in origin and orientation, and both had common prophets. The biblical prophets including Jesus are highly honoured in the Quran. Both shared a common God and a common line of prophets, and both believed in Revelation from the same God. In fact, the prophet of Islam claimed that he communicated with the same God who communicated with Moses and Jesus, and that he was merely reviving the old religion of Ibrahim, the common patriarch of them all. In this revival, he expected the Jews and the Christians to play their part and enlist under his banner. He felt that he was sent to the “people of the Book” as much as to the Arabs. “O ye people of the Book! our Apostle has come to you to explain to you much of what you have hidden of the Book,” Allah told them (Quran 5.18). But by and large, they disappointed him. However, the Prophet still kept his hope, particularly in the Christians. On one occasion, Allah assured him that though the Jews and the idolaters are “the strongest in enmity” towards him, but those who call themselves Christians, “you will find the nearest in love…[and] when they hear what has been revealed to the Prophet, you will see their eyes gush with tears at what they recognize as truth therein” (Quran 5.85, 86).
The Missionaries in turn felt a similar affinity towards Islam and expected much from it. With so much in common — “a one and living God; Mosaic traditions; nay, a belief in Christ,” as Sir Robert B. Edwardes, Commissioner and Govemor-General’s Agent at Peshawar put it—the Muslims should find no difficulty in converting to Christianity. In fact, according to him they should do very well as converts, and in support he quoted his Bible: “For if thou were cut out of the live tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good live tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own live tree” (Rom. 11.24).
But not all shared this bright vision and Muir was one of them. He agreed that Christians had many advantages in the contest. “We have no infidel view to oppose; the existence of sin, and its future punishment is allowed; the necessity of revelation, and even the Divine origin of the Old and New Testament dispensation, are conceded; the most of the attributes of God, the immaculate conception of Christ, the miracles which attested His mission, are all admitted,” Muir said. But he still felt that this convergence was of no avail. For, the Muslims believed in Jesus not because of the Bible but because of the Quran, and his study of the Quran had convinced him that the “object of Mahomet was entirely to supersede Christianity”, and that the conditions upon which he “permitted Christianity to exist were those of sufferance.”
He argued that since the Quran has taken much from the Bible, it therefore abounds with approaches to truth. And this very fact fortifies the Muslims in their present position. “It is a melancholy truth,” Muir said, that “a certain amount of light and knowledge often renders only the more difficult to drive the bigot from his prejudices.” As a result, the supposed advantages, the points common to both, “are thus turned into a barrier against us, into a thick impenetrable veil which effectually excludes every glimmer of the true light,” Muir added.
Some Missionaries wondered why Islam should have in the first instance succeeded at all considering that Christianity was already there in the field and the good news was already known. They believed that the founder of Islam came into contact with a corrupt form of Christianity and that had he known the purer type, the story would have been very different. Isaac Taylor says in his Ancient Christianity, Vol I, that the Christianity which Muhammad and his Khalifahs knew “was a superstition so abject, an idolatry so gross and shameless, church doctrines so arrogant, church practices so dissolute and so puerile, that the strong-minded Arabians felt themselves inspired anew as God’s messengers to reprove the errors of the world, and authorized as God’s avengers to punish apostate Christendom.” Muir expresses the same thought and regrets that a purer Christianity like the one represented by the Anglican Church was not there at hand when Muhammad appeared on the scene.
Sir Monier Williams, a Sanskritist with deep Missionary concerns, speculated in the same vein: “If only the self-deluded but fervent-spirited Muhammad, whose soul was stirred within him when he saw his fellow town-men wholly given to idolatry, had been brought into association with the purer form of Christianity... he might have died a martyr for the truth, Asia might have numbered her millions of Christians, and the name of Saint Muhammad might have been in the calendar of our Book of Common Prayer... Think, then, of the difference in the present condition of the Asiatic world, if the fire of Muhammad’s eloquence had been kindled, and the force of his personal influence exerted on the side of veritable Christianity” (Modern India, 1878).
A new opportunity came again for Christianity when Europe, and particularly England, dominated the world during the last few centuries. During this while, one would have expected, according to Muir, that Christian Europe would have improved its advantages for evangelizing the East, that “Britain, the bulwark of religion in the West, would have stepped forth as its champion in the East, and displayed her faith and her zeal where they were most urgently required.” But, alas! it was not to be so and, Muir continues, “England was then sadly neglectful of her responsibility; her religion was shown only at home and she was careless of the spiritual daricness of her benighted subjects abroad; her sons, who adopted India as their country, so far from endeavouring to impart to its inhabitants the benefits of their religion, too often banished it from their own minds, and exhibited to heathens [Hindus] and Mohammadans the sad spectacle of men without faith...[and] their lives too often presented a practical and powerful, a constant and a living, argument against the truth of our holy faith.”
Though so much alike and having the same origin, Christianity and Islam quarrelled. They quarrelled as soon as they came face to face. For centuries they fought with fire and sword. At one time, it seemed that Islam had won and it was knocking at the door of Europe. But after much labour and luck, the tide was turned. In the long interval of armed peace that followed, Europe greatly improved its weaponry and its military position could not be challenged. Meanwhile, it also added another weapon to its arsenal—ideological warfare.
Islam had no way of meeting this challenge. It could not deal with Christians in the old way, the only way it knew, the way of the sword. It had to listen to the “arguments” of the Christian West with respect and even allow some sort of freedom and physical security to the Christians and the Jews in the countries it dominated.
Meanwhile, many things had taken place in Europe. It had passed through a period of rationalism and it began to discuss Christianity with a new freedom. As a result, it was now less Christian, and it did not apply the Spanish solution to the Muslim problem.
But it did recognize the usefulness of Christianity for the empire, and the Missionaries had a fairly free field. They were still discouraged from a too blatant use of force, but they were well-endowed and they had great political prestige; they often worked in collusion with the white administrators. They fully utilized these advantages.
They had also developed what they call Apologetics, the art of establishing the truths of Christianity and controverting those of other faiths.
The Muslims were new to the art of religious discussion— their forte had been of a different kind—and initially they were at a disadvantage. But they picked up the art soon, and did quite well. The Missionaries tried to prove Jesus with the help of the Quran, Muslims tried to prove Muhammad’s mission with the help of the Bible. The former argued that Christianity was Islam without Muhammad—no great matter according to them; that Muhammad himself had recognized Jesus as an Apostle and Muslims should have no difficulty in going a bit further and recognize him as the only Son and the Saviour. The latter argued that Muhammad’s mission was prophesied in the Bible itself and in recognizing him as the last spokesman of God, Christians would only be true to their own scriptures.
Thus they bluffed each other and the game continued for some time. But they could not always keep the mask on. The Missionaries often let out that Islam was only an inferior reproduction of Christianity, an imitation of the original but not the original itself, and that Muhammad was obviously a pretender; Muslims argued that Muhammad’s revelation was the last one and the Judaic and Christian revelations already stood abrogated. There is in fact a belief among the Muslims based on a hadis that Jesus in his Second Coming will be bom a faithful Muslim, will fight for Islam, “judge Christians, break crosses, kill swine, and abolish jizia" (Sahih Muslim, 287)—jizia would be rendered superfluous as all Christians would become Muslims.
The controversy was sharp, as it often is between creeds which are alike in beliefs and aims and methods—like Stalinists and Trotskyites. Both claimed to believe in the same God, but each claimed sole heirship to his throne. Muir found in Islam “a subtle usurper, who climbed into the throne under pretence of legitimate succession, and seized upon the forces of the crown to supplant its authority.” He also found in it a “dangerous adversary” who “has borrowed so many weapons of Christianity.” Muslims argued that had the Jews and the Christians not falsified their scriptures, they would have long back joined the banner of Islam.
The debate had some interesting features. Each side was rational about the faith of the other, but not about its own. As a result, though Muslims fully utilized the rational critique to which Christianity was subjected by Europe during its recent Age of Reason, they had no use for it for themselves. Hence Muslims yet know no real self-criticism except to say that they are not Muslim enough!
Another feature was that even though the language of the debate was often sharp, its parameters were limited; they consisted of a single God who communicates with his followers through a privileged single medium, and who exercises an unbending enmity towards heathens and infidels. Throughout the debate, these premises remained unquestioned and no awareness was shown of the concerns of a deeper spirituality.
Though Christianity and Islam quarrelled between themselves, their real and ultimate target remained “Idolatry"— their name for all non-Semitic religions, which means all religions of the past and most religions of the present. The Missionary writers highly appreciated Islam’s role in “cleansing the world from the scourge of idolatry, and for preparing the way for the reception of a purer faith.” Similarly, Islam recognized Christians as “people of the Book,” no small honour and no small point of security. This recognition allowed the Christians to practise their faith under certain disabilities and also provided some sort of physical security to their persons, something which was denied by Muslim Arab rulers to their Own blood brothers, who had to submit to a choice between Islam and death.
It is well-known that Christians and Muslims derived their much-vaunted Monotheism from the Jews, but the Jews themselves were not monotheists in the beginning. Like other neighbouring peoples, they had their tribal god towards whom they felt a special loyalty but it did not occur to them yet to deny the gods of others. True, the gods sometimes quarrelled as their followers quarrelled, yet it was still far from the thought of the Jews to deny “other” gods. That other gods did not exist or were false, and that their god alone was true and enjoyed some sort of universal sovereignty, was a later development. This development had to wait till the arrival of their Prophets, beginning with Moses.
It seems that the early Jews did not know Jehovah according to the biblical testimony itself. “By name Jehovah was I not known to them,” says the Bible (Exod. 6.3). Probably, the Jews borrowed Egyptian Gods, at least in some measure, while they were in Egypt and they continued worshipping them even during the days of their wanderings in the desert. There are also indications that the new religion, whatever it was and whenever adopted, was imposed against great opposition and with great ferocity. While Jehovah revealed himself to Moses as the only God of the Jews, they were worshipping another God under the symbol of a Bull (Has it something to do with Nandi of Hinduism?), a mode they had probably adopted in Egypt. “Slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour,” ordered Jehovah to those who truly followed him. Three thousand men were killed in a day and a new religion was inaugurated or an old one established.2 The killers were consecrated and they became the priestly class, the Levites.
Some thinkers believe that Moses had borrowed the idea of a single God while in Egypt under the influence of Akhnaton’s religious reforms. But this God was too mild and pacific, and would not do for the new life of the Jews. Therefore, during their wanderings, they adopted another God, the God of Midian- ites, a Volcano God. And that is how they acquired a god who was both militant as well as single. He became the God of the Jews and they became His people. Freud says that a God of this nature was “better suited to a people who were starting out to occupy a new homeland by force.” He promised them “a land flowing with milk and honey,” while he urged them to exterminate its inhabitants “with the edge of the sword” (Exod. 3.8; Deut.13.15).
As events settled, many Jewish scholars tried to allegorize the events of Exodus and ethicalize their God. The Talmuds, as these commentaries are called, contain much that is noble and inspiring. But the biblical tradition still remained strong. Its God could not shed his jealousy and his exclusive character, and it continued to regard the Gods of other people as “abominations.”
In course of time, this God in all his exclusiveness and jealousy was adopted by Christianity and Islam. In fact, in their hands, he became still more exclusive and jealous. He also became more ambitious and bellicose. While with the Jews, he remained their God alone; but, except spasmodically, he refused to be the God of others. Other people had to make do with their own Gods, howsoever “false,” and these Gods had to be content with their own followers, howsoever benighted and out of grace with Jehovah. But things changed with the advent of Christianity and Islam. Through them, Jehovah came into his own and He offered to be the God of all. He asked his followers to go in all directions and preach His name, to “go out into the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in.” He armed them and asked them to declare from the housetops several times a day that He alone was true and that other Gods were false. Others could refuse this invitation or call at their own peril, spiritual and physical. As His followers became more powerful, the peril became increasingly more physical.
There was another difference. Though the Jewish God was single, yet he spoke through many mouths. Moses was probably the most important, but a plurality of prophethood was recognized. It is unfortunate that the Judaic religion could not take full advantage of this principle. As the Mosaic-Monotheistic tradition was too strong, in practice the Prophetic message tended to be the same—more of the same Mosaic God. For the same reason, even movements like those represented by the Essenes, influenced by Hinduism-Buddhism, could not break away sufficiently from that tradition. But the principle of plurality of prophethood is in itself important, and some day it may become a source of significant spiritual changes.
Monotheism of the Semitic kind was also unknown to Pre- Islamic Arabs.3 They very well knew the Jews and the Christians but they had no particular attraction for their God. They had their own Gods and they were perfectly satisfied with them. The more religious of the Arabs who sought a deeper contact with their Gods often retired to the hills in their vicinity and engaged themselves in fasts and vigils. Muhammad also did it and in this he was following a long-established practice of his people.
But they were surrounded by neighbours who followed a faith which had a single God and a single Prophet. Traders returning from these lands brought news of how powerful and rich they were and how they were connected with the most powerful Empire of the time. Thus monotheism and prophetism were already prestigious creeds and they could not be without attraction for some persons.
Muhammad was one of those persons who were attracted by the new creed. He adopted the God of his powerful neighbours and claimed that He communicated with him as He had earlier communicated with Abraham, Moses and Jesus; that in fact his communication updated earlier communications and even abrogated them. He told his people that they had been worshipping false Gods, and that they should now take to the true one of his preaching. In his preaching, he also insisted that he was not only the latest but also the last apostle of this true God.
There was a long struggle. The Prophet harangued, castigated, mocked, denounced, fulminated against the traditional Gods of his people but without being able to move them. In the process, at one stage, he even felt isolated. In this state of mind, he recognized the traditional deities as worthy intermediaries. The Meccans were pleased and offered to make up. But the Prophet began to have doubts and thought that the conciliatory verses were inspired by Satan. These are called Satanic verses which, thanks to Salman Rushdie episode, are widely talked about but without many knowing what these are about. But from a deeper spiritual angle, these were probably the most Angelic of the Quranic verses.
The Prophet took up haranguing and ridiculing again. He appealed to the Arabs’ patriotic feeling that his was an Arabic revelation, something which God had hitherto neglected to send, and that he was sent to the Arabs as their prophet, the only prophet ever sent to them. But the people argued that he was a poet, or a soothsayer, or was plainly out of his mind. He insisted that he was a prophet. It is not certain what the Meccans objected to, whether to the idea of a a single God or to Muhammad being His prophet, but the tussle continued, and he held out threats against their disbelief. He told them what they were heading for. Verily the day was not far off when they would cry in vain: “Yea! a warner came to us, and we called him liar...Had we but listened or had sense we had not been amongst the fellows of the Blaze”— the Quranic name for Hell.
As the Prophet gained strength, he supplemented spiritual threats with physical ones, while the Arabs observed constraints of their tribal code. The Meccans were waylaid, their caravans looted and eventually Mecca itself was invaded. The traditional idols were pulled down and their shrines were converted into houses of the new God. The Arabs were given an option between conversion and death. The story of Arab resistance to the new religion and how it broke down under superior force is ably shown by Sita Ram Goel in his Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Part II. Those interested in the subject may find it there.
But force alone would not have sufficed. The new creed was also found attractive economically and politically. The believers were promised not only houris in paradise but they were also given a share in the booty accruing from new religious wars that were becoming the order of the day; they also had a share in the large revenues coming from a fast expanding Muslim Empire. Every Arab was drafted as a soldier of Islam and his name was put on payroll. Umar regularized the system. Every Arab was a partner in the revenues derived from the loot and exploitation of the newly conquered lands — Muslim brotherhood in action. The scales were fixed according to one’s nearness to the Prophet. The widows of Muhammad received an annual allowance of 10,000 dirhams each; the famous Three Hundred of the Battle of Badr had 5,000 dirhams each; those of the Pledge of the Tree received 4,000 each; every one who had converted to Islam before the Battle of Badr got 4,000 each, and their children 2,000 dirhams each; and so on, they graduated downwards to 200 dirhams. Wives, widows, and children had each their share. Every Muslim had a share in this classification. Officers of the Arab Occupation Armies in different cantonment areas of the Empire received yearly from 6,000 to 9,000 dirhams; and every boy, as soon as bom, received 100 dirhams each; every Muslim had the title to be entered on the payroll, with a mini-mum annual allowance of ten pieces, rising with advancing age to its proper place. For a fuller account of the Civil List (Diwan), one can refer to the Tarikh-i-Tabari (Khilafat Rashida, Part I, Urdu, Nafis Academy, Karachi).
These stipends were hereditary, and they created a class of people who lived on the fat of the land they occupied. They laid the foundation of a thorough imperialism which was more durable than any other the world had known in the past. And this is how a people who had been hitherto upright and chivalrous, became a great scourge and cruel invaders and rulers. Their ethical code suffered a great decline.4 They began to live on the labour and sweat of others.
But the greatest decline was in the concept of their Godhead which was at the root of all other kinds of degradation. Their new God was “one”; it was male; it was exclusive and intolerant; it took pride in refusing “partnership” with “other” Gods— whatever that may mean. It was also different from their accustomed Gods in another important sense: their traditional Gods spoke to them directly, but the new one dealt with them through an intermediary.
Pagan Arabs were a tolerant people. In fact, many Christians and Jews had found shelter with them; they were fleeing away from the intolerance of their own fellow religious men in the neighbouring countries. But as soon as the Pagan Arabs became Muslim, it was a different thing. Jews and Christians were turned out of the land of Arabia. Pagan Arabia accepted Jews and Christians but rejected their God for itself; Muslim Arabia embraced their God but rejected His people. This is a measure of the difference between the two approaches: Pagan and Semitic. Paganism has multiple Gods but believes in one humanity; Semitic religions have one God but at least two humanities: believers on one hand and unbelievers or infidels or heathens on the other. The division is not just social, or racial, or cultural; it is metaphysical. Believers owe nothing to infidels, not even ordinary ethical behaviour. The Quran requires that Muslims “are vehement against misbelievers, but kind amongst themselves” (48.29).
The theory of a single God had a necessary adjunct in the theory of a single Prophet or Saviour or Interpreter. The two theories have a family likeness and go together. In fact, as the Semitic God was becoming one, he was also becoming exclusive in his communication. Even when he had a chosen people, these people had no direct approach to Him. He told them that He will send them a prophet and “will tell him what to say and he will tell the people everything I command. He will speak in my name and I shall punish anyone who refuses to obey him.”
In due course, the intermediary became more than a medium. In Christianity, he became the Saviour; in Islam, he became the Intercessor and also the last Prophet through whom God ever spoke.
Claims began to be made on his behalf, claims almost as tall as for the God he represented. In fact, the God tended to become redundant and the intermediary took his place, who in turn was re-presented by his own nominees. The New Testament says: “Salvation is to be found through him (Jesus) alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us” (Acts 4.12). At another place it says: “God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the Church as the supreme Lord over all things.” Such claims are offensive to man’s rational as well as to his spiritual sense, but they have proved highly profitable to those who speak in the name of these intermediaries. Now they represent a great vested interest.
Intolerance must be the fruit of such bitter seeds. Other Gods must be dethroned, and so must also die those who speak in the name of other Gods (Deut.18.18-19).
The Semitic God is jealous, and so is his sole prophet. Just like his God, he too can brook no rivals. Jesus tells us that “all who came before me are thieves and robbers” (Jn.10.8). He warns his flock again and again against rival claimants. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves”(Mt.7.15; or 24.4). Muhammad admitted some prophets in the past in order to give his own prophethood an ancestry, but he abolished further prophethood. He was the latest and also the last prophet, the seal of Prophecy.
The fact is that intolerance is inbuilt into the basic Semitic approach and cursing comes naturally to it. The Bible is full of curses invoked on rivals — gods, prophets, apostles, doctrines. For example, Paul told his Galatian followers that “should anyone preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” This tradition has continued and has been the strongest element in Christianity, whether Catholic or non-Catholic. For example, the “Articles of Religion” of the Anglican Church lays down: “They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth... For holy Scripture set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”
Christians claim that Jesus is an incarnation. One is not sure what he incarnated, but it is not difficult to see that Christianity incarnated a new religious intolerance, a tradition which Islam also faithfully continued. Religious intolerance was there before, but it was spasmodic and it was not supported by a theology. It was with the coming of Christianity and Islam that religious bigotry and arrogance descended on the earth on a large scale and with a new power. They know so little about themselves but they claim to know everything about God, and in imposing their definition upon others, they have killed millions of people. They have been even more fanatic about their founders. “If you won’t believe that you’re redeemed by my redeemer’s blood, I’ll drown you in your own,” says the Christian, to put it in the language of Aldous Huxley. The same is true of Muslims. In their practice, Muhammad has been more central to their religion than their One God. You could jest about this God but woe unto him who jests about the Prophet. His punishment is death: Ba khuda diwana bash, wa ba muhammad hoshiyar.
Some apologists of Islam say that Islam was better in the beginning and that intolerance is a latter-day growth. But it is not so. According to Margoliouth, “Islam was intolerant in the beginning as it is to-day.” Intolerance is part of its very creed. It is a declaration of war, a battle-cry against non-Muslims and their Gods, and historically it began so and continues to be so. Five times a day, a pious Muslim is expected to declare that the Gods of others are false and that only his God is true.
If religious tolerance is a value, Christianity as well as Islam lack it badly. Wherever they have gone, they have carried fire and sword and oppressed and destroyed so far as it lay in their power. They demolished and occupied the temples and shrines of others. Any tolerance shown was an exception, intolerance was the rule. Hindus know to some extent what the Muslims did, but the Christian record in this matter has not been less thorough. For that one has to know the history of Christianity in Europe,5 North Africa, Americas, and even in South India under the Portuguese and the French. As Ishwar Sharan observes in his The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, “Aurangzeb is nobody in comparison to St. Xavier when it comes to temple-breaking and bloodshed.” Their record has been matched only recently by Communism, considered a Christian heresy by thinkers like Bertrand Russell. In China, the communist regime destroyed half a million Buddhist shrines. (Were the Buddhists there also in the habit of hoarding their gold in their shrines, thus attracting communist expropriatory justice and getting them destroyed in the process? Or was it a rare example of an act purely motivated by an ideology? Probably Stalinist historians of the JNU would like to explain.)
It is obvious that this ideology of a single god, a single prophet, a single revelation, a single church or ummah, and also of a single life and single judgement (Hebr. 9.27) is very different from the one the world at large has known in the past or even at the present. Historically speaking, it is more of an aberration, a local vogue which consolidated itself through conquest and propaganda, and it could impose itself in no other way. It is different not only from polytheism, a religious expression at a more popular level, but also from mystical religions expressing man’s more intensive search for a spiritual life. It is certainly different from the spirituality known in the East by Hermetics, Stoics, Pythagoreans, Taoists and Vedantists; it is different from them in most matters, particularly in its concept of deity, man, and nature; it is different in its definitions, modes, theory and praxis.
Man is a born worshipper and has an innate need for God. Therefore, all peoples and cultures have a God in one form or another. But the word does not mean the same thing everywhere, even within a single culture; it represents different grades and levels. Ordinarily, the concept of God is much mixed up with man’s lower needs and nature and God is sometimes no more than a glorified Pharaoh or Caligula. But such a God cannot last long unless this meaning is frozen and made enduring with the help of a theology. More often, a God has to have other, more humane qualities and serve more humane ends. He has to be a helper and a guide and provide solace and succor to man in his difficulties — and sometimes even in his more questionable designs, like his designs against his enemies who may have done no wrong to him.
This much of God is enough for most people, but it will not do for all. Some seek a deeper meaning, a more final explanation of life, a higher law of conduct; they seek to find out Who they are, Where they come from, Where they are going. In short, they raise questions about their origins, their self-identity, their true home. They seek a transformed life; they seek to be led from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.
All higher spirituality in general and Hindu spirituality in particular has concerned itself with these questions. It has found that questions about Gods are ultimately questions about one’s own true Self. It has also found that man lives for the most part in his external self, in his desires, hates, ego and nescience, and that this veils his true soul-life. It has found that in order to uncover this higher life, man has to purify his instruments of knowing, and develop new powers of the soul, like faith, tapas, self-restraint, harmlessness, truthfulness, steadfastness, forgiveness; he has to develop powers of concentration and meditation; he has to develop devotion, spiritual discrimination, detachment, equal-mindedness and universality.
As he goes within, he enters into new realms and realities hitherto unknown. He meets many psychic formations and spiritual beings of various grades of purity and power corresponding to his own purity, needs and readiness. He also meets desire- gods and ego-gods and if sufficient purity is not established in the soul, he may identify himself with one of them; he may then declare that his god is the God, and he may prophetically demand that his God be worshipped by all.
On this journey, the pilgrim sees God or Gods as powers of the soul, and he also finds that the qualities that satisfy and nourish the soul the most are also the most God-like—the dam sampad of the Gita. Here the deity does not take particular pride in being single or object to being multiple, for it knows that it is both. Here there is no “jealous” God at war with “other” Gods; here Gods are friends, and each images all. Here the soul also discovers that it is kin to the deity, and like unto that which it worships.
Here a man may come to know that he is one with the Father, but that is not enough. He must also know that this is true of all. But Christian Theology says that while Jesus was one with God, the rest are one with Adam. The exclusive Sonship is a gratuitous and non-spiritual assumption.
Here one also does not find the “one” God of Semitic persuasion, but one discovers a new togetherness of all things, a unity holding all. The soul sees itself in all. Here a man is one with all humanity; in fact, with all living beings and even with all elements. Here one feels friendliness towards all. There are no infidels and heathens here.
It is not all just a “funny feeling,” as an American Jesuit friend described it. It is a deeper spirituality, a deeper conception of God that develops when one knows how to dive deep into oneself. It is science and art of inward journey developed by the Hindus and called by them Yoga. We cannot discuss the subject adequately here, but we have already mentioned some of its features above and that should suffice for our purpose here. Yoga is a special contribution made by religions belonging to the Santana Dharma family.
Hindu spirituality seeks Self-Knowledge, or atma-jnana. This also leads to the highest knowledge of Gods. In fact, without atma-vada, there cannot be developed deva-vada. Here the deity is known in deep meditation by a mind at its most luminous and intuitive, dhyana-gamya and buddhi-gamya, he is seated in the cave of the heart (guhahitam, and hridayastha), or he resides inside the lotus-plexus situated between the two eyes (ajnachakrabja-nilaya), or in the thousand-petalled chakra in the crown of the head (sahasradalapadmastha). All these are Yogic concepts based on a deep knowledge of man’s inner topography, his spiritual body in touch with larger subtle worlds and spiritual cosmic forces and powers. There is nothing analogous to them in most other religions. Jehovah and Allah are non- Yogic Gods,6 belonging to non-Yogic religions—religions which are more like ideologies than spiritualities. They are self- regarding Gods and embody an intolerant idea. They do not project a too happy psyche, and as their source is not a dhyana- bhumi sufficiently deep and pure, they would hardly do for the Gods of developed spiritualities. Readers who are interested in this approach to the problem may refer to our Introduction to Inner Yoga by Sri Anirvan.
The “oneness” attributed to these non-yogic Gods is different from the “oneness” of a yogic God. The oneness of the latter is like the oneness of the sky which pervades all, which is everywhere and is in all; it contains everything, though it is contained by none; it is advaita, undifferentiated reality, not the monadity of numbered things. A yogic God is a unity, not a unit, it is compatible with “other” Gods, includes them, and is manifested by them. The advaitic-God of the Yogas and the Puranas is not the monad-God of the Bible and the Quran.
A spirituality based on Yoga also makes a man aware of the great law of karma of inscrutable working; through it he becomes aware of the forces of inertia and the forces of transformation; he becomes aware of many lives he has lived and the many lives he has yet to live. This is called the doctrine of Incarnation, Rebirth. But behind these repeated births, this spirituality also makes one aware of a state of the soul which is free and untainted, pure and immortal.
According to the doctrine of Reincarnation, it is the soul which carries the body and not the body which carries the soul. According to this belief, the soul exists before it takes on a body and after it quits it This belief is universal and is widely shared. It is found among people who are called “primitive” as well as those who are called “civilized.” It is found among the Eskimos, Australians, Melanesians, the Poso Alfur of Celebes in Indonesia, among Algonquians, Bantus, Finns and Lapps, old Teutonics and Druids, the Lithuanians and Lettish people, among the old Greeks and Romans and the Chinese. Plato believed that the soul is immortal and it participates in many incarnations. The doctrine was preached by Pythagoreans, and the teachers of Orphic mystery; it was named by them metensomatosis, or “changing of bodies”, almost in the language of the Gita. It was also preached by Manicheans who once formed the most formidable opposition to Christianity. It holds a central place in Taoism and in all great religious systems forming part of Santana Dharma.
In short, the doctrine has the support of the spiritual intuition of most mankind, ancient or modem. It is strange that Semitic religions could do without it. There was a time when the belief was held by Christianity too, but it was given up at an early stage, strangely enough, first at the wishes of Empress Theodora. It was condemned at the Council of Constantinople (AD 543) as an Origenist error. “If anyone says or thinks that human souls had a previous existence—anathema sit," the Council declared.
It had to do it. Following Plato, Basilides, Origen and many other early Christian writers believed that souls in their original purity pre-existed, that any punishment of hell was temporary, to be followed by the general restoration of all souls to their former state (apokatastasis). But this belief went completely against some of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity: the doctrines of one life and one judgement, of pre-election, of some saved but many condemned to suffer eternal punishment in hell. Therefore, reincarnation had to be given up.
The idea could not have a better fate in Islam. The idea is known here as tanasukh and we meet it only amongst the Druzes, and some heretic sects such as Ali Ilahis, who ask men not to fear death because death is like the dive the duck makes. But the idea is incompatible with mainstream Islam and, indeed, with all religious ideologies that lack spiritual spaces and believe in one life, and one judgement.
There are many other differences between Semitic religions and the spiritualities based on Yoga. The latter are little concerned, as one can easily find, with Vicarious Atonement, Begotten Sons, Last Prophets, Special Covenants, Chosen Churches or Ummas, proxies and surrogates, Missions and jihad, threats of hell and promises of a paradise, which are the staples of the former.
There is no wonder that Yoga is unwelcome to prophetic religions. It is subversive of dogmas and special claims, and is too universal in spirit. Only recently, in 1989, the Vatican issued a 23-page document, approved by Pope John Paul, to its monasteries and convents warning them against the lure of “Eastern meditation practices” which obscured “the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements.”
A New Thinking
Over most of the world, there is a new thinking on religious questions. In many countries, there is also a growing awareness that their present religions were imposed on them and that they themselves belonged to a different religious tradition. Ralph Borsodi, an American educationist and social thinker, in his The Challenge of Asia observes that “everywhere in the world excepting in Asia Minor, the three great Semitic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—are intruders;” that “indigenous Asia is Brahmanist, Confucianist, Buddhist, Taoist; indigenous Europe is pagan;” that “in Europe, Christianity is a superimposition;7 in Asia, Islam is.”
As in many other things, Europe also leads this stir. It is witnessing a revival of its ancient religion; it is remembering its past and it is trying to throw off the yoke of Christianity and revive its old religious tradition that expressed itself in the language of Gods. Last year, the Pagans of Great Britain held a meeting attended by 300 representatives. They had met a year before, but their meeting was not allowed to be held by the Fundamental Christian Coalition. This time however they were able to hold their deliberations undisturbed. As reported in Hinduism Today (February, 1991), they said at the meeting that Christianity has buried them with a theology that has masculan- ized God, separated man from Divinity, and robbed the land of its sacredness. They promised to return divinity to the land and treat it as a friend, not an enemy.
They also found that their old religion was part of a larger religious system which once prevailed in other parts of the world as well. Nigel Pennick, author and thinker, found great similarity between old European Paganism and Hinduism. He said that Hinduism represented the Eastern expression of this universal tradition and foresaw the possibility that Hindus might come to accept Europe’s Pagans as a European branch of Hinduism.
Prudence Jones, the spokesperson for the U.K. Pagan Federation, said the same things. She observed that all the world’s indigenous and ethnic religions have three features in common: they are nature-venerating, seeing nature as a manifestation of Divinity; secondly, they are polytheistic and recognize many Gods, many Manifestations; the third feature is that they all recognize the Goddess, the female aspect of Divinity as well as the male. She showed how European Paganism was similar to Hinduism, Shintoism, and the North American tradition. She thought that apart from doctrinal similarity, it would be useful for the European Pagans to be affiliated with a world Hindu organization which would give them legal protection — remember, that Paganism in Europe is still a heresy and it has no legal rights and protection. She emphasized that European Pagan religion is the native, indigenous religion of Europe, and religions with doctrines like Christianity came later.
Among the indigenous peoples of two Americas, there is a growing awareness of their old identity. The ancient New World has a great message to give to the new Old World; it has to tell us about the mystery of the Mother Earth, tell us that we not only come to the Earth but we also come from the Earth. But one wonders if it is articulate enough culturally and, in fact, if enough of its old authentic religious tradition still survives to become the basis of a new revival. Indigenous America is poor, deprived, demoralized and not conscious enough of its spiritual heritage. In Central and Southern America, where there is still considerable native population left, things are no better. They are by far under the tutelage of Christian priests and functionaries who have ruled the roost for centuries. Now these priests are opposed, sometimes even violently, by lay Christians, by Evangelists from the North, and by radical Christianity which calls itself Liberation Theology. But they are sides of the same coin, and it has brought no relief to indigenous religions.8 Indigenous culture is as much opposed by the orthodox church as by the radical one. The former used to sell Jesus as a Saviour, the latter sells him as a liberator. The aim of both is the same: to keep indigenous America in cultural bondage. Old America will never rise politically unless it rises culturally and it revives its old religion.
Countries under Islam
The condition of countries now dominated by Islam is a difficult one. People here have yet to win the basic struggle for intellectual freedom. Once this is done, the rest would be a question of time. The people will be free to inquire into the dogmas of Islam, and look at the life and revelations of their Prophet more critically; they will also know more about other religious traditions including their own past religions. This may bring the necessary corrective and may even topple the Islamic apple-cart. Who knows that in not too distant future the awakened Arabs may not demand the restoration of their old Temple at Mecca which Muslims destroyed?
However, despite discouraging conditions for the time being, some advanced thinkers in Muslim countries have shown awareness of the fact that Islam was an imposition on their country. For example, Tawfiq al-Hakim, a well-known dramatist and social thinker of Egypt, was writing in the twenties and the thirtees of this century on this subject. Quite understandably, he had to do it guardedly. He said that the “classical Arab”, his name for Islam, was inadequate for “spiritual” Egypt, which he identified with Pharaonic golden age. He also found that Hinduism and Pharaonic Paganism of ancient Egypt were congruent and had been in contact. He thought that the responsibility for articulating a spiritual alternative to Europe’s materialism lay on neo-Pharaonist Egypt and Hindu India. There is a highly informative and analytic article on the subject by Dennis Walker, a young Australian Arabist.
Iran, another ancient country which lost its individuality when it was conquered by Islam, also shows signs that it is aware of its “Aryan” past. But it has made two mistakes. First, it thought it could combine its pride in its ancient religion and culture with its present-day Islam; secondly, it underestimated the power of Ayatollahs, the fanatic Muslim priests. It has to realize that it cannot revive its religious and cultural individuality so long as Islam holds it down.
The African continent has been under the attack of the two monolatrous religions, Christianity and Islam, for centuries. Under this attack, it has already lost much of its old culture. Recently, the attack has very much intensified and indigenous Africa is almost on the verge of losing its age-old religions. Some time ago, there was an article in the London Economist praising it for taking this attack with such pagan tolerance. But there was no word of protest against intolerance practised against its peoples and their religions. Thanks to the powerful Missionary lobby in the United Nations, there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has a right to embrace the religion of his choice. But where is a similar Declaration which says that tolerant philosophies and cultures have a right to protect themselves against aggressive, systematic proselytizing ? Are its well-drilled legionaries, organized round a fanatic and totalitarian idea, to have a free field? Should not the Missionary Apparatus, a threat not only to Africa but to the whole Third World, be wound up? Has the UNO no obligation in this regard?
Within what is now known as the Indian Sub-continent and Greater India itself, Islam is very powerful. But there is no doubt that once Hinduism comes into its own and begins to speak for itself, those who were forced to leave it under very special circumstances will return to their old fold.
Hinduism can help all peoples seeking religious self-renewal, for it preserves in some way their old Gods and religions;9 it preserves in its various layers religious traditions and intuitions they have lost. Many countries now under Christianity and Islam had once great religions; they also had great Gods who adequately fulfilled their spiritual and ethical needs and inspired in them great acts of nobility, love and sacrifice. But for many centuries they have been under great attack and much has been said against them while they gracefully retired to give the new total ist deity a chance to give whatever it had to offer. The results have been disastrous. Religious bigotry descended upon the earth; the concept of “one” God brought in the concept of two humanities and religious aggression became the highest duty and morality. Religion itself became dogmatic and lost its inwardness and vision. People both individually and collectively felt empty inside.
Now in their search for meaning, many peoples are turning to their old Gods. But during the long period of neglect, they lost the knowledge which could revive those Gods. Hinduism can help them with this knowledge.
In its simplest aspect, Europeans can best study their old pre- Christian religion by studying Hinduism. It is possible because there was a time when the two peoples shared a common religious milieu. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says: "Celtic religion, presided over by Druids (the priestly order), presents beliefs in various nature deities and certain ceremonies and practices that are similar to those in Indian religion. They also shared certain similarities of language and culture, thus indicating an ancient common heritage." But the problem has also a deeper aspect which we have discussed in our The Word As Revelation: Names Of Gods, and into which we need not go here. Suffice it to say that in this book, we have shown that, spiritually speaking, monotheism has no natural superiority over polytheism and, in point of historical fact, it has been worse. We also said that Hinduism has still the knowledge of the archetypal spiritual consciousness which expresses itself in the language of Many Gods, and therefore can help countries which are seeking their lost Gods. We said that those Gods are not lost but have merely gone out of manifestation, and that they can reappear again if properly invoked; that it could be a rewarding pilgrimage if we journeyed back to them to make our heart’s offerings.
We said that it will help the pilgrim nations in many ways. They have been taught to regard their past as a benighted period of their history, but a more understanding approach to their old Gods will make for a less severe judgement on their past and their ancestors. It will fill the generation gap, not the one we generally talk about, but the deeper one of historical rootlessness of nations. Gods provide an invisible link between the past and the present of a nation; when they go, the historical link also snaps. The peoples of Egypt, Iran, Greece, Germany, Scandinavian and Baltic countries are quite ancient but as they lost their Gods, they also lost their sense of historical identity.
We also said that what is true of Europe is also true of Africa and South America. The countries of these continents have recently gained political freedom, but it has done little to help them to regain their spiritual identity. If they wish to rise in a deeper sense, they must recover their soul, their Gods, their roots in their own psyche. If they need any change, and there is no doubt they do, it must come from within themselves as a part of their own experience. They have to make the best use of their own psychic and spiritual gifts. They cannot rise through imported deities, saviours and prophets.
Muir thought that comparative studies of Christianity and Islam and their founders would also yield an indirect benefit. Writing in the Calcutta Review in 1845, he said that as “the Hindu, sickened by idolatry (Islam’s and Christianity’s common name for Hinduism), turns to the other two religions which surround him, and inquires into their respective claims...we must be ready at hand to meet him with the proofs of our most holy faith... the comparison of the two religions, Christianity and Islam, cannot fail to be of essential service, under God’s blessings, to lead to practical results.”
Muir deserves our thanks for thinking so much of debates and “proofs” in establishing the superiority of his faith. This was a language quite new to Islam and until not long ago also to Christianity. It does not however appear that the Hindu was sickened by his own religion, and that he was impatient to join one of the two Semitic religions. But he had certainly been under a great barrage of attack of the two monolatrous religions, and anything which improved his level of information and education about them was a welcome development. Muir’s book was and still is a great help to such Hindus who care to, know more about the Prophet of Islam, and, indeed, about Islam itself — for no other creed is so synonymous with its founder. Voice of India, therefore, deserves our thanks for bringing out a reprint of Muir’s The Life of Mahomet as it did a few years ago of D.S. Margoliouth’s Mohammed and the Rise of Islam. That too carried our Introduction, in which we had discussed the importance of such studies for India and the need for her to develop her own scholarship and perspective. We had also pointed out that hitherto we have looked at Hinduism through the eyes of Islam and Christianity, but that it is high time that we now also learn to look at them through the eyes of Pagan religions in general and of Hinduism in particular. The two Introductions may best be read together.
Introduction to the reprint of The Life of Mahomet by Sir William Muir. ↩
But Jehovah continued to be worshipped under the form of a Bull or Golden Calf for quite many centuries. There are repeated reference to this fact in the Old Testament (Num. 23.22; 24.8; Hosea 8.5, 6; 13.2; 1 Kings 12.28-30). Jehovah also continued to be worshipped as a brazen serpent till Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18.4). ↩
Among the Arabs and the Phoenicians, el, eloah, elohim, lah, were common names for a God. But following the political fortunes of his votaries, a lah, a god, also became al-lah, the God, and underwent enlargement without showing any corresponding moral improvement. ↩
Margoliouth shows how and when it happened, how “men who had never broken an oath learnt that they might evade their obligations... men to whom the blood of the kinsmen had been as their own began to shed it with impunity in the cause of God; … [how] lying and treachery in the cause of Islam received divine approval, hesitation to perjure oneself in that cause being represented as a weakness... [how] Moslems became distinguished by the obscenity of their language… [how] coveting of goods and wives ( possessed by Unbelievers) was avowed without discouragement from the Prophet” (Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, p. 149). ↩
Christian history in Europe is full of great vandalism in which Christian “saints” played a most conspicuous role. St. Maurillius burnt idols in Gaul; St. Firminus of Amiens destroyed them wherever he found them; St. Columban and St. Gall destroyed shrines, groves and images on the Continent, especially in Germany, and St. Augustine in England. Another Saint, Gregory, also a monk, destroyed, among many pagan temples, two Vaishnava temples in Syria, built by Hindu colonists there, in 304 A.D., even before Christianity was adopted by the Roman Emperor. ↩
It is not that Semitic religions had no better model. They must have known the surrounding Hermetic, Pythagorean, even Vedantic and Buddhist traditions but they fought off these influences. For example, early Christianity had a Gnostic tradition which opposed Jehovah, the biblical God — male, one, and jealous. The Secret Book of John, a Gnostic work, says that when Jehovah “in his madness”, declared that “I am God, and there is no other beside me”, he was “ignorant of… the place from which he came”, and that in declaring that he was a jealous God and there was no other God, he proves ” that another God does exist; for if there was no other one, of whom would he be jealous?” Similarly, another Gnostic work said that when Jehovah boasted that there was no otheT God, “he sinned against all the immortal ones.”
The story of Islam is no different. Prophetic Islam is inimical to mystic ideas. In the beginning, some Sufis courted martyrdom, but eventually they bought peace and safety by surrendering to Prophetic Islam. There have been some outstanding Sufis, but by and large the Sufi movement has been part of a larger aggressive apparatus, just like Christian Missions of Imperialism. Though Islam persecuted “infidels”, destroyed their temples, enslaved and looted them, we find no Sufis protesting. In fact, they were often beneficiaries of this vandalism. “In many cases there is no doubt that the shrine of a Muslim saint marks the site of some local cult which was practised on the spot long before the introduction of Islam," says Thomas Arnold making it look quite normal and harmless. Mu'in al-Dln Chishtl’s dargah at Ajmer is one such shrine built on the ruins of an old Hindu temple. The saint had also got the present of a Hindu princess, part of the booty captured by a Muslim General, Malik Khitab, when he attacked the neighbouring pagan land. Sufi saints often took full part in Islamic jihad. R.M. Eaton’s Sufis of Bijapur, published by Princetone University (1978), illustrates it amply. No wonder, the book has been banned by the Government of India. ↩
Christianity conquered Europe “from above”, but many parts still continued to be pagan for quite some time. The Baltic States, for example, were pagan till the time of the Crusades. These were eventually conquered by the Order of Knights Templars, initially formed to fight the Saracens. ↩
Norman Lewis in his The Missionaries (Seeker.) tells us that the new missionaries are working in pretty the same old way, and that nothing has changed since the seventeenth-century Jesuits, except that that the new crusaders are equipped with planes, radios and refrigerators stocked with soft drinks. The very first story in the book, set in post-war Guatemala, tells us of an American Evangelist who tries to suppress Indian festivals and replace traditional Indian symbols on women's blouses with Disney animals. The author tells us of two organizations which lead the hunt for converts: The Summer Institute of Linguistics, which masquerades as an institute to study tribal languages, and The New Tribes Mission, which recruits less educated fundamentalists from the American Bible Belt. Missionaries in Bolivia and Paraguay are involved in rounding up the Ayoreo, one of the last nomadic peoples of forbidding Chaco. Many of the terrified 'savages' die in the process of being captured, and many lapse into prostituting their girls, but the self-appointed saviours take it all philosophically.
Lewis saw the worst missionary callousness and deviousness when he went to investigate atrocities against the Ache ill Paraguay and the Panare in Venezuela. In each case, the villains were from The New Tribes Mission. The Ache were herded into mission compounds because ‘Hell is where those who cannot be reached will spend eternity.’ Unfortunately the Ache had no concept of hell. So they were told that ‘A fire hotter than anything they could make is waiting for each one of them without Christ.’ Similarly the Panare were told that ‘God will exterminate the Panare by throwing them on the fire. It is a huge fire.’ ↩
This very fact gives some Missionaries great hopes. They feel that they can do to Hinduism what they did to old classical religions. The late Fr. J. Monchanin, the founder of Sacchidananda Ashram in Tiruchirapalli (now presided over by Fr. Bede Griffiths), and a Missionary of the De Nobili school, says that the problem of Christianizing India is “of the same magnitude as the Christianization, in former times, of Greece”, and he finds that “the Christianization of Indian civilization is to all intents and purposes an historical undertaking comparable to the Christianization of Greece.” ↩