The Missionary's Swastika: Racism as an Evangelical Weapon
''' Of the various theories of history that have over the years been discredited for lack of evidence, ill-founded or baseless assumptions, or have been simply undermined by superior scholarship, few have been dismantled quite so thoroughly as Aryan Race Theory. Yet, as historian James Schaffer notes above, few other discredited theories have so stubbornly and inexplicably retained credence among the public, the media, and even some academic circles, in spite of direct evidence to the contrary.' Aryan race theory is a fabrication, evolved into a myth, that survives today as an unexamined "truth."
''' And few other spurious "truths" have been so insidious -- or so destructive. Responsible for subjugation of millions of Indians under British rule, Aryan Race Theory continued its wretched legacy well into the twentieth century, mutating into the horrific pseudo-science that rationalized Hitler's Final Solution, and lingering in the bloody ethnic convulsions of modern Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and other troubled areas of the post-colonial world.''
''' Far from being merely an academic exercise, though, Aryan Race Theory is in fact the brainchild of Christian evangelist-scholars, fashioned and tempered in the nineteenth century as a weapon for European expansionism in India. ' Promulgated to generations of Indian children in British-created schools, it created, like so many other Western creeds and dogmas, social divisions where none had hitherto existed, resulting in jealousy, mistrust, and suspicion among communities where peaceful coexistence had been the norm. This theory, which posits the invasion of ancient India by a white-skinned race (the "Aryans") who conquer an indigenous, dark-skinned population, therefore worked ingeniously with the British divide-and-conquer strategy for rule in India.' The theory and its variants continue to be used today by the Vatican and other Christian enterprises in their campaign to "harvest" tribals and other vulnerable communities of Hindus. For these spiritual imperialists, spurious racial theories still hold their divide-and-conquer appeal.'
''' The roots of the theory reach back much further than the pseudo-scholarship of European missionaries, however.' As early as 1312 CE, the Ecumenical Council of Vienna declared that "the Holy Church should have an abundant number of Catholics well versed in the languages, especially in those of the infidels, so as to be able to instruct them in the sacred doctrine." This not only defined the early Church's strategy for evangelizing the "infidels," but also established the very study of language, and the linguistic and philological scholarship that would emerge in later centuries, as tools of evangelism. Thus, when the university (as with society's other institutions) was recruited into the national effort of empire-building, its agents -- many of them pious Christians and nationalists, trained in a predominantly parochial (Catholic, Anglican, etc.) academic system -- enthusiastically pursued knowledge not for the sake of truth, but for the sake of Christianity.
''' Throughout its history, Christianity has never been above the endorsement of fabricated "truths" in order to spread its creed throughout the globe.' So, it is not surprising that when the Boden Chair for Oriental Studies was established in Oxford University in 1832, Colonel Boden, who bequeathed 25,000 pounds (a generous sum for that time) to establish that chair, stated explicitly that the aim of study of Sanskrit literature was not for the sake of knowledge, but to "enable his countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian religion." It was the Boden chair which later emerged as the academic epicenter of Aryan Race Theory. '
''' In fact, it was an Oxford Professor of Sanskrit who vigorously propagated the notion of the Aryan race. Fredrich Max Muller, a staunch German nationalist and Christian missionary, was Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford' labored for years translating the Vedas into English. Muller would comment unequivocally regarding the motives of his life's work,'
Muller's objective, it is seen, was not to make the achievements of Hindu civilization accessible to his European fellows, but to expose them to the scrutiny of his fellow evangelists, so that they may become better in deconstructing them.'
''' In 1851 Muller wrote his first article in English wherein he used the word "Aryan" for the first time in the sense of a race. Max Muller's good friend and fellow Indologist Paul then popularized the word "Aryan" in France. Soon many Christian scholars were seized upon by the theory of Aryan race. In 1859 Swiss linguist Adolph Pictet wrote that the Aryan race was the
Wrote Ernest Renan, the French historian of religion in 1860,
''' Not all scholars of the time accepted Muller's ideas, however. In 1861, after Muller gave three lectures titled "Science of Languages" in which he justified his theory with quotes from Vedas, American historian Louis B. Synder noted that
Synder then went on to remark that "all attempts to correlate the Aryan language to Aryan race were not only unsuccessful but also absurd". ' Even at that time many academics opposed the Aryan invasion theory. Noted scholars such as Jacoby, Hillebrant and Winternitz strongly opposed the racial theory, noting that Indians themselves had had no idea about any distinct Aryan racial identity in their own literature.'
''' Why, then, was a theory that had no grounding in fact so readily accepted and promoted in the Western academic circles and imposed on Indians? Because the theory of the Aryan race and its invasion of India were formulated, and then vigorously promulgated, by Christian missionaries.' As W. W. Hunter, another well-known Indologist of missionary persuasion, candidly admitted, their "scholarship is warmed with the holy flame of Christian zeal." ' As an example, some elements of the theory are clearly attributable to Biblical scripture. For instance, ideas like the existence of an Aryan proto-language were associated with and inspired by the Biblical myth of' the tower of Babel.' Even the date of creation of the Vedas was fixed by Max Muller to tailor-fit a Biblical creation time scale. ' Clearly, those members of the academic establishment who promoted the theory had vested political and religious interests in mind, and the propaganda of religious and racial superiority sanctified by Aryan Race Theory served those interests well. This marriage of racial superiority and the "holy flame of Christian zeal" would ensure the future development of the ugly racist theories that would culminate in Europe's concentration camps and final solutions.
''' The primary political motive of nineteenth-century Britain was, of course, expansion of its empire, and the theory of Aryan race provided a veneer of benevolence that justified colonial rule in India. Protestant missionary John Wilson, President of the Asiatic Society of Bombay from 1836 to 1846, wanted the Indian population to be divided into Aryan and non-Aryan groups so that special target groups like tribals could be easily identified by the missionaries for conversion. In 1856 Wilson delivered a lecture titled "India 3000 years ago," in which he preached the Aryan invasion of India and the theory of Aryan race as historical facts.' Wilson declared, "[w]hat has taken place since the commencement of the British rule in India is only a reunion, to a certain extent, of the members of the same family."' Naturally, this happy reunion had now brought India into contact "with the most enlightened and philanthropic nation in the world." '
''' The racist "scholarship" conducted by the missionaries also helped to diminish any of the pride Indians had developed for their own heritage. Max Muller in his address to the International Congress of Orientalists openly remarked that, thanks to the work of the missionary-scholars, "a more intelligent appreciation had taken the place of the extravagant admiration of the work of their old poets." ' In other words, Indians' appreciation of their own epic literature was to be cut down to size by an application of ' "proper" critical scrutiny, righteously applied by Muller and his Christo-centric cohorts.
''' British cultural "re-education" of the Indian populace was accomplished through imposition of a colonial educational system. To do this the indigenous system of education had to first be eradicated. By the first half of the nineteenth century, the colonial rulers along with their missionaries had already destroyed the vast network of indigenous schools which for generations had proven more efficient and effective than the contemporary British educational system. Parliamentarian Keir Hardie observed, based on the strength of official documents and the reports of missionaries in the field, that prior to British occupation of India, in Bengal alone there had been 80,000 native schools, meaning one school for every 400 of the population. This would change radically once colonization was underway.'Ludlow, in his History of British India, says, "[i]n every Hindoo village which has retained its original form all children were able to read, write and cipher, but where we have swept away the village system as in Bengal there the village school has also disappeared."''
''' The 1823 report of the British Collector of Bellary, A. D. Campbell, is telling.' He first lauds the indigenous education system, saying:
but he then goes on to remark, "[o]f nearly a million souls not 7000 are now at school."' The decimation of the Indian education system thus created a vacuum that then had to be filled. Into that vacuum, eager and waiting, went the missionaries, who swiftly set up their own church-sponsored schools and taught Indian children their own literature and history according to the gospel of Max Muller.'
''' It is by now a well-established fact that education was a means to
Christianize and "domesticate" the native population and render it loyal to the
British empire. Thomas Macaulay, member of the Supreme Council of India and instrumental
in destroying the indigenous educational system and in introducing English language
education in India, remarked in his now famous Minute of 1835, ". . . the
dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary
nor scientific information," and thus were not worthy of preservation.
' However, Macaulay's interest was not educational, but decidedly religious.' In
a letter to his father he proclaimed,
'' Macaulay's boastful predictions, fortunately, would not come to pass. But as the eighteenth century came to a close, Aryan Race Theory had been taught to millions of Indian children in schools operated by the Macaulay-Missionary axis. The damage was done.' The effect of indoctrinating generations of young Indians with a fabricated, racist interpretation of their history was the division of Indian society into "Aryan" and "non-Aryan" communities, polarizing North and South India. In South India, Anglican Bishop R. Caldwell began promoting the idea that South Indians were descendents of a non-Aryan "race," called Dravidians, who were racially different and culturally superior to the Aryans from the North.' Soon many South Indians had accepted these theories, and their new alienation from the Hindi-speaking ("Aryan") North lead to deep political division. Dravidian political parties were formed which, in opposition to the "Aryan" mainstream, were decidedly pro-British. These parties passed resolutions demanding, among other things, that the British should not leave India, even as Indian nationalists were fighting for their country's freedom.*
''' After independence, racial theory continued to be used by the Church as a ploy to further balkanize the Indian populace. As late as the 1950s and 1960s, high Church officials continued to publicly assert that Dravidian Race Theory was a "time bomb" planted by the Church to destroy Hinduism.' Though Macaulay's predictions failed, zealous proselytizers still nurse their bigoted ambitions to eradicate "idolatry."
''' Today, insurgency and terrorism in Northeast India continue to be enflamed by the divisive propaganda of Christian missionaries.' In neighboring Sri Lanka, the violent ethic conflict can also be directly traced to the promulgation of racial theories by Christian missionaries among the Sinhalese and Tamils, who had previously lived together in relative peace. Ana Pararaja Singham, secretary of the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations, remarked while discussing the ethnic conflict in the island,'
". . . While legends and myths of the [founding of Sri Lanka] formed the basis of Sinhala nationalism, the present nationalism is also due to the considerable influence wielded by Europeans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This dealt with racial concepts such as "Aryan". The notion that the Sinhalese were an Aryan people was not a Mahavamsa inspired myth, but an opinion attributable to European linguists who classified the languages spoken by the Sinhala and Tamil people into two distinct categories."
The racial polarization of Sri Lanka began as early as 1856, when Robert Caldwell, in his A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian South Indian Family of Languages , argued that there was "no direct affinity between the Sinhalese and Tamil languages."' Max Muller, meanwhile, weighed in with his Lectures on the Science of Language (1861), in which he declared that after "careful and minute comparison" he was led to "class the idioms spoken in Iceland and Ceylon as cognate dialects of the Aryan family of languages". Though contrary views were expressed by other scholars, Muller's Aryan Race Theory was lent support by a number of prominent European scholars, and the theory therefore held sway.''
'''' Kamalika Pieris , a Sinhalese intellectual, agrees.' In his article, "Ethnic conflict and Tamil Separatism," he examines the origin of the conflict and traces it to the race theories proposed by the missionary-scholars:
'' A century later, the fruits of Aryan Race Theory would be clearly seen in Sri Lanka, with devastating results. One of the first Sri Lankans to realize the enormous political gain to be reaped through exploiting the Mahavamsa mindset was S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who, ironically, was a member of the elitist Christian Bandaranaike-Obeyasekera clan. At the general election of 1956, Bandaranaike " bulldozed his way into political power by successfully marshalling popular Sinhala support on a chauvinistic platform."  ' The polarization of the Tamil and Sinhalese communities would eventually lead to the civil war which ravages the island to this day.
''' It is not only the Indian Subcontinent where Christian evangelists
have used dubious pseudo-science to foment racial division.' Missionaries
have concocted numerous versions of the Aryan Racial Theory, tailored to the history and
circumstances found in various ex-colonial "target" populations. For example,
commenting on the recent Hutu-Tutsi conflicts, the French anthropologist Jean-Pierre
The horrific ethnic cleansing that occurred in Rwanda in the early 90s, then, can be directly attributed to a mindset of racial superiority engendered by Christian missionary-scholars.'
'' Racial theories and pseudo-science continue to be vigorously employed today by the Vatican and other Western evangelist enterprises in their ongoing campaign to harvest souls for Christianity.' But it is not only in the remote corners of the Third World where the unexamined "truths" of Max Muller and his missionary-scholar contemporaries are still used as weapons of propaganda.' Aryan Race Theory is alive and well in the United States.''
''' Take, for instance, white supremacist David Duke, who in one of his recent books speaks of the hordes of Aryans pouring into ancient India:'
Never mind that Duke is only regurgitating a spurious and discredited interpretation of history.' The lies of Aryan Race Theory are as useful for white supremacists today as they were for the Christian missionaries a century ago in their campaign not only to convert the infidels but also to justify the colonization of "heathen Hindoostan."
1. James Schaffer (Case Western University)
concluding his article, "Migration, Philology and South Asian Archaeology," in
Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia: Evidence, Interpretation and History, edited by
J. Bronkhorst and M. Deshpande' (University of Michigan Press, 1998). [back]
*As more and more secular scholars studied these racist theories they started questioning the integrity of Max Muller. During the 1880s Muller began refuting his own racist interpretation of the Vedas. The damage, however, had already been done. [back]
Missionaries in India - Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas by Arun Shourie (New Delhi: ASA, 1994).
An excellent book written by a famous Indian intellectual who examines the methods used by missionaries in spreading Christianity in India; how they aided and in turn were aided by the British; how they destroyed the vast existing network of indigenous vernacular language schools to introduce their own schools; how they then used their educational institutions to indoctrinate the students with Christianity, and how the same mindset continues to this day in India. A must read for anyone who wants to understand what Christianity actually stands for in India.
"The Missionary's Swastika: Racism as an Evangelical Weapon" is copyright
© 2001 by Aravindan Neelakandan.S..
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