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October 25, 1999
Stirring A Hornet's Nest
R S Shankar
"You can make Christianity look good," says Subash Razdan. "But is there a need to make other religions look bad?"
Razdan is referring to a 16-page "prayer guide" released this week by America's second largest Protestant group, which says Hindus live in hopeless darkness, and that the Southern Baptists should pray for their conversion -- and apparently, their salvation.
"What are they trying to do? Start a holy war," he asks. The booklet has angered a cross-section of the Indian community in America. Similar booklets issued earlier have earned the ire of Muslim and Jewish groups too.
Razdan, who chairs the board of trustees for the National Federation of India-American Associations is planning to present a rejoinder to the prayer book which was specifically released during the Diwali and Navratri festival season.
"There have been any number of attacks on Hinduism," Razdan says, referring to the haranguing by the likes of the Reverend Pat Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate, who says Indians are confined to poverty because they worship idols and snakes.
"But the efforts by Southern Baptists is a more concerted one," he adds, referring to the plan of the church to use the 16-page prayer book in more than 40,000 of its churches.
The Baptists have plans for books about Buddhist and Sikh religions.
Asserting that the festival of light cannot banish the darkness from Hindu souls, the book asks Christians pray for Hindus so "the power of Satan will be broken".
Razdan is particularly unhappy with the Baptist claim that "Hindus do not have a concept of sin or of personal responsibility".
"That's baloney," Razdan says. "Hindus have the reincarnation of seven lives. That's based on how good your deeds are in the past."
Razdan says he has received many letters and telephone calls condemning the book. "Many of them are from devoted Christians," he says. Among them is Paul Courtright, an expert on Hinduism and director of Asian Studies at Emory University.
Courtright calls the Southern Baptists' claims false, adding they offend every other non-Christian group and dislike non-Protestant Christians.
"It's equal opportunity misrepresentation of all forms of non-Christian traditions," he told newspapers in Atlanta.
"I suppose they'll probably go after Catholics next. I find it loathsome."
Many Hindus, who were upset that during the Janamshathi week an episode of Xena showing Hindu gods in imaginary situations was aired, are further angered by the release of the prayer book during the Hindu festival season.
The decision was a conscious one, Wendy Norvelle, a spokesperson for the group said.
Louis Moore, who edited the Baptist prayer guide on Hinduism told an Atlanta newspaper that his church was not "encouraging people to go out on the streets and buttonhole every Hindu they see. But it would be wonderful if the opportunity arises."
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