Christianity’s Failure in India? Think Again

Historian Philip Jenkins has a post at Aleteia in which he takes on a piece in an Indian magazine by Tony Joseph claiming that Christianity has failed in India, evidenced by its small and declining numbers.  Jenkins voices strong cautions about Joseph’s arguments, including ones about the Indian census:

Nobody can claim that Christianity has claimed major shares of the Indian population, or that it is likely to do so in the near future. But some counter-arguments do need to be stressed, especially about the overall numbers. No sane person believes the religious content of the Indian national census, which is one of the world’s great works of creative fiction. At all levels, there is enormous pressure of all kinds – cultural, political and bureaucratic – to minimize the presence of all non-Hindu religions, including Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. That pressure becomes overwhelming when dealing with people of low and no caste, those who are most tempted to defect to one of the alternative faiths. Bureaucrats are especially hard to convince in matters of religious conversion from Hinduism.

He claims even more strongly that Christianity is not populous in India because others want it that way:

Also, Joseph is wrong to suggest any deep-laid cultural reasons why Christianity is incompatible with Indian culture. As recently as the 1940s, Chinese Christian numbers were just as tiny as those in India, and they have ballooned. The reason the same thing has not happened in India is because of systematic and widespread persecution by Hindu extremist sects, often operating in alliance with local governments and police authorities — violence that receives virtually no publicity in the West. If and when conversion became easier and less dangerous, we would presumably see a Christian boom in India comparable to that in China or Korea.

Jenkins reminds us that in a country that is intensely religious and one of whose greatest challenges is managing religious pluralism, religious freedom is not all that it is cracked up to be.




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Daniel Philpott

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