Religious conversions have been going on for about 2000 years, and in nearly all parts of the world. Generally, it has been the adherents of one religion converting people of another religion to beliefs and practices of their own religion. It also includes people who have had no religion and are converted to follow the religion of the converter. Since religion plays a great role in the lives of most people, it is important to examine the reason and why it is taking place.
According to Webster’s dictionary, conversion is a converting or being converted: a change from lack of faith towards religious belief; adoption of a religion; a change from one belief, religion, doctrine, opinion etc. to another. From this definition, it would appear that a person initiates the process of conversion by himself. This would mean that there has been no undue influence, promise, allurement or instigation. In practice, however, it is usually the other way around, when adherents from one religion convert people of another to their own.
Let us examine some of the factors that are operational. Harold Rosen, an interfaith educator, has summarized that there are four categories of attitudes towards the religions of all others: No.1. Exclusivity – My religion is the only true one. No. 2. Inclusivity – my religion contains the truths of all others. No. 3. Plurality – each religion has its own respectable truths and values. No. 4. Progressive Unity – all religions have One Source, and will progressively converge.
From the above four definitions, it becomes clear that only the first two are involved in propagating conversions. Since God is Universal Being, and equally available to all religions, no religion has the exclusive rights to the truths. Religious founders have taught fundamental truths that are basic to all religions, even if the wordings are different. We need to remember that teachers of humanity have come at different times, in different locations, using different languages, and had to use metaphors applicable to their particular circumstances. This does not negate the fact that the truth is fundamentally one. The very word religion derives from the Latin re-ligare which means to reunite. In a spiritual sense, it means to reunite the soul with God. This is the essential unity, and truth, and all the scriptures, doctrines, dogmas and rituals are only corollaries to this truth. Therefore, both exclusivity and inclusivity cannot hold the absolute truth.
The third factor of plurality is more in keeping with Spirituality. However, the problem arises that adherents of each religion will have different ideas and practices relating to truths and values. Since spiritual truths are the same, having the same source in Divinity, plurality will miss the point. There can never be harmony.
Progressive unity which holds that all religions have One Source is definitely true. The source is God. God is one. The spirit is one. The universe in which God manifests is one. The consciousness of God is one. The energy of God is one. The intelligence of God is one. Thus, there is enough reason to believe that all religions have One Source.
Religious people have different reasons for wanting to convert others. They may feel a sense of superiority of their religion, or seek to increase their adherents, or satisfy a religious ego, or wanting to “save” others. Usually it is the more educated and economically advantaged who seek to convert the uneducated and materially disadvantaged people. The latter will often convert in order to improve their circumstances. In doing so they often suffer family breakups and isolation from their own communities. Life may become more difficult for them.
Since God is not partial to any one religion, it is not the spiritual thing to do to convert others. Definitely broadcast the teachings, as all the teachers of humanity have done, and let the spiritual seeds fall on whatever fertile heart is ready to receive them. It is important for us to recognize the generic Divinity in the hearts of all, and have love for all.
Dr. J. Das
Kabir Association of Canada