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Don’t Delete My Dalit

I wish I could find just one religion without its violent wackos. I’ve long given up on the Abrahamic faiths, and Japanese Buddhism during World War II rules them out. So how about Hinduism?Sure it was a Hindu fanatic who killed Gandhi, and who knows how many Muslims have died at the hands of Hindu extremists, but that was then. How about now? Doesn’t Hinduism value ahimsa, nonviolence? So how about it people? Peace anyone?

‘Fraid not. During this past Christmas season Hindu fanatics burned down 55 churches and 600 houses owned by Christians. But, as Ramesh Modi, a leader in the World Hindu Council, which promotes Hindutva or Hinduness, these Christians, really brought the violence on themselves.

Their crime? Illegally converting Hindus to Christianity. Forced conversion is illegal in much of India, but there is no evidence that Hindus are being forced to abandon Kali for Christ. On the contrary, millions of Hindu “Untouchables” doomed to a life of misery by the officially illegal yet culturally unstoppable caste system are freely choosing the Cross of Christ to the cross of caste.

This is not to say the evangelical passions of Christian missionaries do not lead them to vitriolic attacks on Hinduism and Hindu Deities, but this is still not conversion at the point of a sword. Whether dalits (“untouchables”) are becoming Christian because of a genuine love of Christ or because they see it as a way out of an unjust and oppressive caste system is beside the point. People should be free to choose their own religion.

As usual it is hard to separate politics from theology. Like politicians everywhere, using a minority to whip the majority into a mindless frenzy is often good for business. Just as the political success of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat is attributed in part to its involvement in anti-Muslim violence, so other Hindu groups hope to win votes on the heals of anti-Christian persecution as well.

Defenders of religion will tell me that this is the manipulation of faith at the hands of politicians. They aren’t wrong. But if the faith wasn’t ripe for such manipulation it couldn’t be done. Religion is not innocent in these matters, even if it is not the instigator of them. Even as seemingly inclusive a religion as Hinduism still suffers from the us-versus-them mentality that poisons all religions.

People are naturally oppositional. But religion should challenge that tendency rather than feed it. Where is a real religion of peace, justice, compassion, human rights, women’s emancipation and environmental sanity? Unitarian Universalism, anyone

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is director of the One River Foundation in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This column appeared originally on his blog.