How do you “Force” someone to convert to a religion?

An interesting blog post in the TOIabout minority rights touched upon the subject of forced conversions to Christianity and Islam and how everyone has the right to practice and convert to any religion they want. So called “forced” conversions are illegal in India, but what exactly are they?

Bribing to Convert - Illegal?

Bribing to Convert - Illegal?

Say a priest offers to give a house, money, food, or treatment to a destitute Hindu in exchange for their conversion to Christianity. If that person then “converts,” is it classified as a forced conversion? I had this argument with one of my friends some time ago and it still surprises me that people think doing this should be illegal. Of course, as an Atheist I couldn’t care less what religion a person follows, but it’s the principle of the matter.

Say a person is in terrible need. I go to them and give them a way out as long as they convert to my religion. Am I to be penalized for given him or her a choice? My offer in no way makes their life worse. They can still do whatever they were going to do had I not approached them in the first place.

Think of it as a car uncontrollably sliding down a road towards a cliff. There’s no way out and you’re going to die. But then a side road open up ahead – leading to some place where you have to pay a price for using the road. Does the appearance of that side road force you to take it? Does it worsen your situation in any way? No. If you take the road, it’s because you chose to take it and you can’t then blame the owner of the road for extracting whatever price they’re going to extract. It wasn’t their fault that you were sliding down the road into the cliff in the first place.

Similarly, a Christian priest isn’t responsible for a person’s destitution. By giving them a way out and converting them to Christianity they’re merely offering a choice – a side path. A person can still choose not to take it. But the mere presence of a choice doesn’t make a person’s life worse. It can either make it better or make no difference. So why penalize the priest for offering the choice which many people are obviously grateful for and happy to pay whatever price is asked?

Again, I don’t care about religion in general but forced conversions seems to be an important reason for Hindus being pissed off at either Christians or Muslims. Unless of course, the person is threatened with torture or violence unless they don’t convert. That is a real forced conversion. Not the mere offering of benefits.

Sadly, the Supreme Court in 1977 ruled that even offering benefits in exchange for conversion was illegal. That is a wrong judgement in my opinion since it ignores the rules of common sense.

What do you think of this post?
  • Agree (3)
  • You're an asshole (2)
  • Don't Agree but Interesting (1)

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  1. “The fate of this one boy came to symbolize the entire revolutionary campaign of Mazzini and Garibaldi to end the dominance of the Catholic Church and establish a modern, secular Italian state”

    Scroll thru this site. You will get good books. One is ” The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” It is a true story. The interesting true aspect of this is ” How Italy and rest of Europe became secular”


  2. By and large, non violent…tell that to the destroyed indigenous civilizations the world over.

    The pope of the time ignored (and some say encouraged) the holocaust atrocities. What happened to love thy neighbor?

    Who is forcing altruism? if people want to be altruistic, then let them. Altruism doesn’t come with strings attached.

    To dispense milk powder and bread to “harvest souls,” to take advantage of natural disasters, to demean others, call them devil worshippers, etc, and to kill those opposed to you is fanatical, criminal behavior. Worse, it increases the distance between communities and leads to disharmony and a viscous cycle of violence. That should be discouraged through every legal means possible – such as freezing the assets of these bodies.. It’s no different to other criminal behavior. Or do terrorists have the right to preach death and destruction freely and unopposed? To stir up violence?

    The USA has the patriot act, etc. I would willingly trade some of my civil liberties for safety and harmony. It’s that way in Singapore, too.

    At the end of the day, you need balance. I think india has got the balance mostly right but could do much better in having a free media, more power to the CAG, electoral transparency (the CEC cannot be a family friend of the Gandhi dynasty and voting machines should be checked that they can’t be hacked) more heat on anti-national, anti-social persons and entities, Freedom of speeh will have to serve national interests. Otherwise you can get anarchy and Balkanisation. And that’s a less conducive environment for freedom of speech!


    • In reply to Matt

      See here I think is the fundamental flaw in your reasoning. You cannot hold a civilization, group, or country responsible today for what their ancestors did very long ago. Whatever happened, happened. The perpetrators are no longer living. The victims are not living either.

      If my father raped someone, there’s no shame on me. Similarly, whatever the East India Company (for example) did, that does not reflect in any way on their descendants today.

      Can you give me examples of indigenous civilizations “destroyed” by force in the past few years?

      When you say: To dispense milk powder and bread to “harvest souls,” to take advantage of natural disasters, to demean others, call them devil worshippers, etc, and to kill those opposed to you is fanatical, criminal behavior.

      Only the last is criminal – the killing bit. Everything else isn’t hurting anyone for the reasons outlined in my post.

      As for terrorists, the US has several times upheld their right to preach death and destruction in an abstract manner. But not to actively stir up violence. The golden rule is, preach whatever you want, but don’t advocate specific acts of violence. This principle has been upheld pretty frequently over and over again even by India’s own Supreme Court.


  3. And a fine job india is doing against terrorism…not. You can’t even hang Afzal or Kasab without upsetting vote banks!

    That’s the real reason. India is infamous as a soft state.

    Ignore history and you are doomed to repeat it. The imperative of convert and conquer is unchanged. Historical revisionism that whitewashes the record of Islamic rule in india is rampant.
    Forgive but don’t forget.

    Some missionary and mullah fanatics do advocate violence. They start by demeaning. Then incite violence, crusades or jihads, against the infidel or heathen or pagan. These words are defamatory and there are laws against that.

    Since it is a social menace, legal and media disincentives are must.


    • In reply to Matt

      Are you saying there’s a risk in today’s world of some outside force conquering India through religion?

      One must study history only so that one can analyse the current situation and be warned of what could happen if the circumstances are the same!

      But today’s world is very different from the barbaric past. What possible lessons can you draw from the past which are applicable today?

      As and when missionaries and mullahs advocate violence, they must be punished. You can’t preemptively punish a whole group beforehand for something a few members do. That is not the way justice works.

      And you haven’t told me how it’s a social menace. Can you lay down the consequences for me so I can decide if it’s a social menace or not? Mind you – we’re talking about peaceful conversion and not ones forced by threats of physical violence.


  4. In short, your supreme court law of 1977 against offering incentives for conversion is common sense. It helps maintain law and order. Or would you rather have a violent anarchy with free speech?



    Here you go. Avro Manhattan presents the truth you are asking.

    Read well, my friend.


  6. Yes, the US is more stable, in some senses, than India. But they don’t have the forced conversions of the majority, there, do they?

    “The Vatican protested for decades, because Spain had suppressed the Inquisition. Why? Because the Catholic Church was persuaded, as in the past, that she had the right to IMPOSE her truth. The belief, that it is still her duty to do so, is as alive today. It will remain so in the near and in the distant future. The apologists of the Church assured the contemporary world that the horrors of the Inquisition will never be repeated, ever again. But…”

    I wonder if the word catharsis (“to purge, to cleanse”) is related to the Cathar, a non-Catholic, though Christian, sect that were deemed to be heretics and who were tortured and massacred during various Inquisitions?


    • In reply to Nari

      Well, US law would not consider any conversion “forced” unless there were threats of violence or intimidation used. And even Indian law will consider that illegal.


  7. Read through the post and the comments section. Am not a great fan of religion and conversion and like you have pointed out there is not moral/legal obligation to support a stranger. But paying/offering benefits in return for followers is not the right thing.

    1. It is a definitely a form of bribe. It does leave a choice – a choice between current desperate situation and it not being there. Attaching a intensely personal decision such as religion to this moment is unfair. Here the force is emotional and not physical – but still forced.
    2. The person converts but what happens to his family. Religion is a personal choice but for family members who are not prepared it might be a disaster.
    3. Separation between religion and law exists – but is this correct or should we aim to change it? It is difficult to have secular laws but we need to do what has to be done. Sati was a religious practice but we have laws against it now – can we say that Hindus/others who dint follow it just ignored the pain of those who underwent the trauma?
    4. We cannot ignore it saying why should we bother as long as it does not affect us. Just because I am a Muslim, it does not mean that I ignore the wrongs in a Hindu’s life and not stand up for it.


    • In reply to Sam

      A “bribe” I think is different from a transaction. I wouldn’t call it a “bribe” when I pay a shopkeeper for food they give. Unless someone is obliged to give me something for free, and I have to bribe them to provide it, I doubt if we can call it as such.

      I don’t believe in “emotional” force -as in it’s more like persuasion rather than “force” per se. Wouldn’t you agree that the desperate person would rather have the choice than not to have it? If I was in their situation, I would be grateful to anyone who gave me a way out.

      The family I guess has to deal with it in their own way. That’s between them and the converted person. Since I don’t feel that offering someone money for something is wrong, I’m not ignoring any injustice …

      I really like your blog by the way :)


  8. “Force” is anything that makes you do something – persuasion can also be emotional too.
    Emotional force definitely exists – why does someone fear/part with money in kidnapping, why do I get hurt someone if calls me worthless or fat and hence workout – because fear can not only be physical but imagined(emotional) too.

    Yes, agree that the desperate person is definitely better off with a choice – but wish it did not have strings attached. A transaction is usually a one-time deal – you do it and forget it – is that what we are doing in a conversion? We are asking the person to pledge his life (maybe is family’s belief too) to a belief system life-long.

    Given the transaction is totally immoral, because of bartering money and life belief/value system, we will just be having a bunch of folks who follow things not because its better but because it provides necessities of life. So aren’t we letting them beleive its not the money but the other religion/thinking is providing them better life? There are many aspects of Hinduism that are condemnable – am sure it exists in other religions too. If someone is aware of these and making a choice to shift to another with better practices or become an atheist, it is a well-though out process.

    Thanks for liking my blog. Hoping to see you there often:)


    • In reply to Sam

      I’d like to draw a distinction between persuasion and force. In the kidnapping example, there is an explicit threat of physical violence used against the kidnapped person. So it definitely counts as “force”. Ultimately, almost every decision we make is to avoid pain or obtain pleasure. This doesn’t automatically translate into every decision we make being classified as “force”.

      The reason why I’m so careful to define the meaning of “force”, is that many rowdy elements use the excuse of “they were forced to do this” or “they were forced to do that” when they engage in violence. For example, the vandals who trashed MF Hussein’s paintings also said that “they were forced to destroy the paintings” because “their sentiments were hurt”.

      Many parents kill their children in the name of fake “honor” and claim that they were “forced” to do it.

      So while I can admit that their sentiments really were hurt, I refuse to accept that they were “forced” to go on a rampage and engage in willful destruction of property. This is why I can never accept mere words, paintings, books, speech etc. as justifications for “force”. For me, force has to be physical. Otherwise it’s just not force.

      I had tried to explain this better in an earlier blog post too:


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