UNITED STATES, March 24, 2013 (Huffington Post, by Anantanand Rambachan): We recently lost a beloved family elder. He lived out his life within the structures of meaning and ritual provided by the Hindu tradition. These guided his commitment to work, his devotion to family, and his sense of justice. The beginning and the end of his life were marked by traditional Hindu ceremonies. He was a paragon of fidelity and a repository of rich life experiences that he shared passionately in stories with receptive grandchildren. The Hindu tradition is still domestic centered. Since funeral ceremonies are performed at home, it is customary, in Hindu obituaries, to mention the address, identify the funeral ritual as Hindu and specify the place of cremation.
We received many cards, notes and letters of sympathy in the days following the funeral ceremony. There were several, however, from persons whose names and addresses we did not recognize. Each one was structured in a similar way. The writer opened with words of sympathy, making mention of many personal details from the obituary. This was followed by Biblical texts about the way to eternal life and reunion with loved ones. The letters spoke of punishment for unbelievers but also of the promise of salvation from effects of sin "through the ransom sacrifice of ...Jesus Christ." The letters included published Christian literature. We quickly realized that these Christian letter-writers searched newspaper obituaries with the aim of identifying families belonging to other religious traditions with the aim of proselytization. We learned also that this was not unusual and that Hindus experiencing death in their families regularly received such invitations to convert.
Some Christians, like these letter writers, assume a religious need in the other for Christianity and make no effort to understand the religious life of the other. They conclude wrongly that traditions other than Christianity have no good resources and insights for helping their practitioners understand and cope with the loss of a loved one and they appeal to fear of punishment as a basis for religious commitment. They are driven by their need to convert the other and not by the need of the other for conversion. Christians will understand better our discomfort by taking our places and imagining themselves as recipients of invitations, from Hindus, to convert in the midst of grief for a loved one.
What troubled me also about this effort to proselytize is the undisguised attempt to exploit what they saw as an occasion of emotional vulnerability resulting from our grief. Such exploitation is not dissimilar to proselytization in circumstances of poverty or in situations of natural disaster that we witnessed, for example, on the occasion of the Asian tsunami. Grief-evangelism, as I choose to describe what we experienced, is similar to aid-evangelism and both need to be vigorously repudiated by people of all religions. There are many good reasons for reading obituaries. Trolling for opportunities to proselytize is not among the good ones.
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