Sunday, January 30, 2005

Religion and Spirituality - 1

I went to a lecture by Swami Dayananda Saraswati on Saturday. The hall was packed to capacity. I was fortunate enough to get a seat.
What was surprising was the presence of youngsters, who comprised more than half the audience - this in an era of hidden-cams and seedy MMS clips.
I feel the interest taken by the youth nowadays in sprituality is mainly due to the efforts of Gurus like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Chidbhavananda and Mata Amritananda Mayi. What they have done is to talk in a language understood by the youth. There are also teachers like Eknath Easwaran of Kerala, who set up an ashram in the US. He regards, of all persons, his grandmother as his spiritual guide. (I regard the three part Bhagavad Gita commentary by him as one of the best I have come across).
In these days of information explosion, when everything, including sex, is available at a click of a mouse or just a phone call, parents have a responsibility to guide children towards religion/spiritualism. This doesn't mean we have to make them take sannyas, but provide them with something in which they can fall back upon in times of crises.
But at the same time, we have to watch out for fake swamijis and organisations.
Mahatma Gandhi used to say whenever he faced a problem, all he had to do was to browse the Bhagawad Gita. In fact, the quote is quite famous, but I don't remember it.
More later.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Article from Outlook

American Evangelists

Counting Sheep?

The proselytising zeal of American missionaries knows no slack even in tsunami aid

Are American Christian evangelists using the devastation wreaked by the tsunami to spread the word of God?their God? Disturbing stories from the region and fund-raising appeals from religious leaders in the US who want to "plant Christian principles as early as possible" in the orphans of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India have raised profound questions about proselytisation of vulnerable people in times of tragedy. Some groups send help along with Bibles?in Bhojpuri?to increase the fold in affected countries, making it harder for others to provide relief. By lacing help with questions of faith, however delicately, evangelical groups can deepen religious faultlines at a time when talk of civilisational wars rages in e-chat rooms.

The controversy surfaced earlier this month when Vernon Brewer, president of the Virginia-based missionary group World Help, told journalists he wanted to airlift 300 'tsunami orphans' from Banda Aceh to raise them in a Christian children's home. He quickly retracted when the Indonesian government banned adoptions by non-Muslim groups. From India surfaced a story about Samanthapettai, a fishing village in Tamil Nadu hit by the tsunami, where some Christian missionaries reportedly refused to distribute biscuits and water unless the Hindu recipients agreed to change their faith. When TV reporters approached the nuns, they refused to comment and left.

Local missionaries in India and other non-Christian countries are funded to a large extent by resource-rich American groups?powerful multi-million dollar corporations complete with TV channels and private planes. The websites, updated with fervent appeals for funds and tearful photos of tsunami survivors, are a window to their incredible organisation and explicit agendas for touching the "unreached people" or non-Christians with the hand of God. They look at India and Indonesia as "opportunities" for spreading the gospel. India is often described as a land of darkness, of idol worshippers and an area ripe for redemption.

World Help has printed 1,00,000 Bibles in Bhojpuri, a language it glibly assumes was hidden from evangelists. "Imagine a group of 90 million people who have never been able to read God's Word in their own language until just recently. What an incredible opportunity God is giving us to provide Bibles for the Bhojpuri for the very first time!" declares its mission statement. (Not quite an accurate claim: Bible work in Bhojpuri is nearly a century old in India, even older if you count work targeted at the diaspora.) Yet, the statement goes on: "Our strategy for the next seven years is to plant 1,00,000 organised churches and 1 million house churches in the least-reached area of the world...specifically in the North India(n) state of Uttar Pradesh." This January, World Help is sending a mission to India "where God is overcoming hundreds of years of false religions and idol worship. In...Allahabad alone, 40,000 new believers now meet weekly to worship the one true God."

Another group, Samaritan's Purse, has also energised around the tsunami tragedy. Headed by Franklin Graham, son of presidential godman Billy Graham, this North Carolina-based group's helicopter is helping ferry victims from inaccessible areas. Graham, who appears on his website in a leather jacket more suited to Mick Jagger, called Islam an "evil and wicked" religion after the 9/11 attacks. While organising relief for the tsunami victims, Graham told The Baltimore Sun, "If we are going to depend on Muslims to go in and help Muslims, well, they aren't coming." He publicly hoped the victims and their kin "would come to know the God I know", which to some was an admission of the larger purpose. He has left for Indonesia with a planeload of relief supplies.

Graham sees India as a "vast subcontinent" where Samaritan's Purse projects are "helping bring the gospel to thousands living in spiritual darkness".However, Don Norrington, a spokesman for Graham, told Outlook that proselytisation, which he called an "inflammatory word", was not the group's policy. Currently, it is working in partnership with local Indian affiliates to rebuild a fishing village. The strategy allows US groups to maintain a safe distance from "conversions" while local groups do the work. But the 2003 annual report of Samaritan's Purse announces that in India it "completed 10 church buildings, with another four under construction, and provided support for pastors, Bible schools, Christian schools and a daycare centre".

Mission statements are generally explicit about their goals. Samaritan's Purse says it "serves the Church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ". The World Help website, which opens with a heart-wrenching photo of a crying Indian woman, lists its mission as "effective evangelism, discipleship, church planting, humanitarian aid, child sponsorship, leadership training and literature distribution". A specific appeal, scrubbed clean last week from the site, sought help to place Indonesian orphans so "their faith in Christ could become the foothold to reach the Aceh people".

"This kind of proselytisation demeans the idea of religious conversion, for it uses helplessness to spread a religion," says Ashutosh Varshney, political science professor at Michigan University. "A genuine change in conviction remains the best basis for religious conversion and should not be stopped. Few people in abysmal distress can exercise sound judgement."

John Hare, a professor at the Yale University's school of divinity, says in general Christian groups regard providing relief as part of Christian service. "They don't make a distinction between relief and spreading the gospel. But if they're using aid as leverage in acceptance of the gospel, it is inconsistent with what Christians believe," he said. Sid Balman, a spokesman for InterAction, a coalition of 160 US relief organisations which raised nearly $200 million for tsunami aid, said its charter doesn't prohibit proselytisation but does ask members to respect local norms and abide by laws. Asked how they monitored member groups, Balman said the "only way it would work is if someone complained", an unlikely prospect unless another organised religion gets into the act. At least 30 per cent of the groups in InterAction are faith-based, some Jewish and Muslim.

When religious passions are high, it's important to analyse the role of all religious fundamentalists. While Muslim extremists are commonly denounced in the US media, Christian hardliners are rarely challenged. Leading evangelists routinely smear other religions, specially Islam, on mainstream networks and still receive grants from President George Bush. Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, called Prophet Mohammad "a terrorist" on CBS on October 6, 2002. The insult sparked a riot all the way out in Solapur, India, killing eight people and injuring 90 others.

At a time when America is increasingly viewed as waging a war against the Muslim world, hateful speech and charity with an ambiguous agenda from zealous Christians can only add to the tension.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Benny Hinn

I found this in a Web site:

Among the chief accusations against Hinn: Financial underhandedness; doctrinal confusion; and faith healings that may not be genuine.

In 1998, the Sentinel reported Hinn sued a former employee, Mario Licciardello, to prevent him from disclosing potentially damaging information about the handling of donations to Hinn's ministry.

According to a June article in The Dallas Morning News, shortly after Hinn announced his move to Texas, he said God had told him to build a "World Healing Center," and Hinn appealed for money. As much as $30 million was collected, but the center was never built. In April 2000, he told Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch, "I'm putting all the money we have in the ministry to get out there and preach. The day (to build the healing center) will come. I'm in no hurry; neither is God." In August 2000, a holding company that is a subsidiary of Hinn's ministry began building a "parsonage" - a $3 million, 7,200-square foot oceanfront home - in Dana Point, Calif.

Within the Christian community, Hinn has drawn fire for statements about the nature of God that appear to contradict traditional doctrine about the Trinity, which states God is one but is manifested in three "persons" -Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to information supplied by two watchdog groups, Personal Freedom Outreach, based in St. Louis, and Christian Research International of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., Hinn has said the Holy Spirit has a "spiritbody" and "there are nine" elements of the Trinity - three bodies, souls and spirits. Lee Grady, editor of "Charisma," a magazine for Pentecostals, said Hinn has retracted those views.

As to whether the healings he performs are genuine, Anthony said he has "hundreds" of names of people in his files whom Hinn claimed to have healed but who were not. "He's using standard techniques of autosuggestion. He speaks in a monotone, there is music and lights. Any stage hypnotist could do what he's doing."

Anthony said he tried to persuade Hinn to televise only healings that could be medically verified after six months. At first Hinn agreed, Anthony said, but later changed his mind. "The problem with broadcasting unverified healings is that it gives people false hope. There's a spiritual hunger in America that's massive, and these (televangelists) are taking advantage of it. They think they're helping people, but they're not. The stories we hear are heartbreaking," he said.

(I don't know who this 'Antony' is)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Sankaracharya's 'interrogation' video

There are several questions that arise about the 'interrogation' video.

1. The Seer looks clearly drugged.
2. He is lying down and his speech is incoherent.
3. Why is he lying down? Are 'interrogations' done this way?
4. He seems sleepy and is unable to speak properly.
5. At one point of time, he seems to doze off, but is woken up with a question by the cops.
6. Why are the cops' voices so clear, while the seer's isn't?
5. DID THE SEER KNOW HE IS BEING FILMED ON VIDEO? Or has it been secretly filmed?
6. The seer's postures and looks indicate he is not aware of the filming.
7. How did a police video find it's way to media?
8. Obviously the only source for the leak is the police.
9. Isn't the matter sub-judice? How can the channels telecast it?

The Supreme Court (not the high court) must look into these and bring the cop(s) and the Tamil Nadu Government to book. It will stop all the nonsense.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The plight of Anara Gupta

There is no need to teach our country's policemen how to play with people's live. They seem to be just waiting for opportunities to be under limelight.
One feels sorry for the former Miss Jammu Anara Gupta. Before the cops implicate someone, especially a young woman, of a sexual crime, they must complete their homework first. This they do not seem to have done in the Anara Gupta case.
With the forensic tests proving that the girl in the tape is not Gupta, the J&K Police have a lot to answer.
I wonder why they did not realise that the allegation was so serious that it could end any semblance of normal life for Anara? Were there no women cops who could understand Anara's feelings? Why did they not realise that they were playing with the life of a young woman?
The allegation was that the girl in the video was Anara. Did the cops do anything to cross-check it? May be they got carried away by the fact that they were dealing with Miss Jammu.
It is necessary to be extra-careful when dealing with such allegations.
Though Anara Gupta has been cleared by the forensic people, it will be a long time before she finds her moorings and starts leading a normal life. That is, if the cops release her and clear her of all the charges.