Francis Xavier Clooney : Building the Trojan Horse

via Dr. Vijaya Rajiva published on December 20, 2011

Time was when the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus established in  1539 by St.Ignatius of Loyola) used every method to establish the ascendancy of Catholic Christianity over the globe. Hindu India will remember the infamous Goa Inquistion (1560)conducted by the followers of St. Francis Xavier (said to be among the founders of the Jesuit order) against the hapless Hindus of Goa. Francis Xavier was also a founding member of the Society of Jesus and also the initiator of the Inquisition (1545) Everything ranging from ferocious torture to murder and mayhem were practiced in Goa (and elsewhere during the Inquisition) all in the name of the Holy Church. The book Breaking India (2011) by authors Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan also writes about the first of the Jesuits in India, Robert di Nobili (came to Goa in 1605 and settled in Tamil Nadu in 1606)   who , in addition to  claiming to be a scholar of Tamil, did not hesitate to fulminate against the paganism of the Hindus. The goal of Christianity in India has never changed : convert the Hindu pagans, harvest their souls, as the Pope said publicly in India. His comment was : in the first millennium Christianity spread to Europe, in the second millennium it spread to the Americas, and in the third millennium it will complete its mission in Asia. Since much of south east Asia has become Christianised, India alone remains unconverted. The present writer believes that this will remain so thanks to the devotion of the aam admi Hindus to their ancestral religion and thanks to the spiritual strength of the traditional acharyas, gurus, maths and so on.

Hence, the attempt of the Jesuit order to woo the elite of India is another aspect of their strategy. The days of large scale conquests and violence are over. The soldiers of Christ are heavily into the phenomenon known as inculturation, started by Italian Jesuit Roberto di Nobili himself, the borrowing of native cultural habits and practices and in general ingratiating themselves into local culture. This inculturation was intended to subvert the native cultures by stealth. An example would be di Nobili wearing saffron instead of white and using Hindu words to describe Christian rituals and so on. And now, Hindu-Christian dialogue (one wonders what the purpose of this dialogue is).

 An important  aspect of the Jesuit order which needs to be mentioned : their commitment to scholarship. Francis Xavier Clooney represents that branch. He is a Jesuit, an accomplished scholar of comparative religion and has published several books and articles. He is currently a professor at the Divinity school at Harvard University (USA). He has impressed many Hindus by his knowledge of Tamil and the bhakti religious tradition of Tamil Hindus. Neverthless, as a Jesuit and as a dedicated  Christian his innermost and first priority is the conversion of pagan Hindus to Catholicism. Needless to say this is never openly talked about. The goal of the Jesuits(and of Christianity as a proselytizing faith) has never changed, despite the change in methods. Dr.Clooney is heavily into the process of inculturation. This is made possible by many intellectual Hindus who have been drawn into what is called interfaith dialogue.

This was evident in the interfaith dialogue (so called) in which  Dr.Clooney participated, along with author/writer Rajiv Malhotra. This took place at the University of Massachussetts during the talks on Malhotra’s new book Being Different(2011) After Shri Malhotra’s talk on his book, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, Dr.Clooney followed up with an approximately 45 minute talk mainly focused on Malhotra’s book Being Different. This book, according to the author, is about a game changer. Instead of being the object of Western scholars, Hindus must now view the West and the Judaeo Christian tradition from the Hindu dharmic point of view. This is in itself not  a novel  idea and whether the contents have been appropriately handled  will remain a  question mark.

After Malhotra’s lecture, Clooney took the podium and the spectacle was extremely illuminating to any discerning viewer. Clooney’s strategy was to heap high praise( a euphemism for fulsome flattery !) on Malhotra, who during his own comments on Clooney’s talk, agreed with him !  Clooney as mentioned above is a well trained scholar and Rajiv Malhotra was no match for him, in a sense. The range of Clooney’s intellectual cogitation was impressive both for its subtlety and its delicate handling of contentious issues.

In addition , his manner was courteous, soft spoken and well spoken (beware of the Greek who comes bearing gifts !).

Some samples of the exchange between the two men are revealing:

Clooney : This is not the first time that Hindus have looked critically at the West. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati and Swami Vivekaanana did that. However, Rajiv has updated this in a sophisticated manner (read ‘improved’ on it, with the former being unsophisticated Hindus !).

Rajiv Malhotra was obligingly silent, presumably he agreed with this remark. He must believe that he is an improvement on Swami Dayananda and Swami Vivekananda ! Since liberal theorists in India such as Jyotirmaya Sharma have written sneeringly about them, the least that Malhotra could have done was to modestly insert some remark about their great contribution to Hindu nationalism and the ongoing resurgence of Hindu thinking, not to mention their profound spirituality and writings on Hinduism) But that would go against Clooney’s agenda. To resume.

Clooney : Authors such as Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goyal have politicized the Hindu Christian relationship. Rajiv does not do that. He is respectful of the differences and shows understanding (one can guess at Clooney’s target : authentic Hindus who resist Christian conversion methods !)

Rajiv Malhotra : I am not interested in ‘ politicization’. I am interested in knowledge systems (By this time any discerning listener must surely wonder where he is going with all this ready agreement with Clooney. What does this remark mean except that it is a hit at Hindu nationalism ? Or at Hindutva ? The intellectual and spiritual errors involved in this distancing of himself from both need to be pointed out).

In that one statement Malhotra distanced himself from the aam admi Hindu and Hindu nationalism. There were also some slighting references  to the ignorance of Hindu gurus regarding Western thought. His eagerness to secure Francis Clooney’s endorsement for his book Being Different was all too obvious. It was also clear that the magic of the Jesuit’s flattery was working on him, slowly but surely.

This raises the question of why the intrepid author of the book Breaking India (2011) was doing his own version of a u turn. That book clearly documents the insidious workings of Christian missionaries in India. It speaks about the first Jesuit Roberto di Nobili’s infamous methods. It talks about inculturation and so on. It recognizes quite explicitly that since the time of Max Mueller (the indologist) , the chosen enemy for Christianity was Hinduism .

Ofcourse, the  authenticity and strength of the book Breaking India also come from the fact that the co author Aravindan Neelakandan is a Tamilian and is knowledgeable about Tamil history, which constitutes a large part of the book.

Mr. Malhotra is economically independent and has over a period of time in the Hindu diaspora in North America done service to the community by establishing the Infinity Foundation and helping with other Hindu causes. He is articulate, intelligent and well read. Economic motives, the acquistion of wealth, cannot be his agenda. Ofcourse, as with any author/writer he would like to maximize the sales of his books. In his case, there is also an almost messianic notion of wanting to reach out to Hindus to empower them. Some would simply call it an ego trip. There is also the fact that he is an autodidact and therefore his excursions into Judaeo Christian and Western thought are a novel exercise for him. In this exhilarating exercise (novel for him !) he lost sight of many things.

 Purva Paksha, the  method  he borrows  from ancient Hindu intellectual/spiritual thought, and claims to use ,becomes simply an occasion for self  advancement. Mr. Malhotra is no Shankara. Purva Paksha is not simply a ‘gaze’ at the adversary, but is accompanied by a rigorous unflinching critique of the enemy, as Adi Shankara did, and alas, Rajiv Malhotra is unable/unwilling to do ! Adi Shankara’s aim was to defeat, not to accommodate the enemy. As is well known,  Shankara’s efforts led not only to the creation of Advaita Vedanta, but to the clearing of the decks for the ongoing continuation of Hinduism. In Mr.Malhotra’s hands it becomes a  distortion both of the method and its aims.

Malhotra  wants to accommodate the enemy so to speak (although that is not his conscious agenda or so one hopes) and is therefore, a good candidate for Francis Xavier Clooney’s agenda. The ripple effect of these many discussions/debates on Hindu-Christian dialogue are Clooney’s great opportunity at further inculturation.

And Rajiv Malhtora is entirely unprepared for this unequal balance of power, whatever his own subjective feelings about the importance of such events and the impact of his book. By putting forward his work as something different from what other Hindus are already doing and by a constant running down of Hindu gurus  that they are not prepared to debate with the West, Malhotra is in effect trying to advance, at the expense of Hindus. This contradicts his own well meaning efforts at the empowerment of Hindus !

For Hindus, both in the diaspora and in the homeland, the lesson to be garnered from the Clooney-Malhotra discussions (euphemistically called Hindu-Christian dialogue)  is that the tried and tested strength of Hinduism will endure. New fangled attempts are just that. They can be a fun read, but not to be taken seriously. The aam admi Hindu and the traditional acharyas, gurus, maths, etc. will continue their traditions. There are no signs that this will give way to what  at present looks like the intellectual equivalent of Wallmart’s attempted entry into Indian retail.

Has Mr. Malhotra set up only a straw man, the non existent uninformed Hindu of his imagination, in order to demolish this straw man , and thereby highlight his own albeit  limited work ? And is Francis Clooney attempting the impossible, the destruction of Sanatana Dharma ?

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

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