Thursday, June 06, 2013

Kaufman Interfaith Institute lecture and response on "Religious Freedom, Predatory Proselytization, & The Case for Pluralism"

Previously I've mentioned Padma Kuppa of the Hindu American Foundation and her concerns over unethical evangelism by Christians in India which she calls "predatory proselytism." Her April 8, 2013 lecture on this topic at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute is now available in video:
Religious Freedom, Predatory Proselytization, & The Case for Pluralism
The common concept of religious freedom fails to embrace the right to freedom from religious intrusion and exploitation. "Predatory proselytism" is a term used to describe various unethical methods used in the attempt to gain converts. Evangelism should take into account the impact created by an imbalance of power, and an understanding of both colonialization and globalization. Padma Kuppa will make a case for pluralism, and how the existence of groups with different ethnic, religious, or political backgrounds within one society can work only if we respect others' beliefs and practices.
Also featuring a response from Paul Kortenhoven, a former missionary for the Christian Reformed Church to Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Padma Kuppa is an interfaith activist in the Detroit area. She is also active in her own community, the Bharatriya Temple in suburban Troy. Padma is an IT professional in the U.S. automotive industry and a columnist for Padma focuses on interreligious cooperation as an Executive Council Member of the Hindu American Foundation
After watching this video I came away with the following observations.

In terms of production quality, unfortunately, the video is one static long shot, so it is largely best to use this as an audio file. The sound is uneven in the Q&A, and it is difficult to make out the words of Kuppa's respondent.

 On the positive side, this lecture and the response helps provide some introduction to a very important topic in evangelism, missions, dialogue, and interfaith. My reflection on Kuppa's concerns about unethical evangelism, my interactions in religious diplomacy where this and even ethical evangelism and persuasion are concerns, and my interactions with Elmer Thiessen, author of The Ethics of Evangelism (IVP Academic), come together to confirm the importance of this in a number of areas. It deserves wider distribution and reflection.

On the negative side, both perspectives would have been better served by more careful use of terminology, providing definitions of the key terms, and briefly laying out their major arguments. As it is, the listener has to work very hard to try to grasp the gist of the two viewpoints. It would have been especially helpful to hear how the unethical evangelism practices of proselytism relate to ethical evangelism, and whether these are viewed by pluralists like Kuppa as diametrically opposed, or as variations on a spectrum of unacceptability given the pluralist perspective. An argument for the ethics of persuasion from the Christian respondent would have been helpful, as would a back and forth on exclusivist vs. pluralist views on religious truth and persuasion, and how this relates to pluralism in the public square in democracies.

I hope these issues are addressed again in the future.


Unknown said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes

John W. Morehead said...

I will take a look. I will be especially interested in how your proposal overcomes the radically different concepts of the Absolute in order to harmonize them with trinitarian theology.

You might be interested in the new volume by Harold Netland and Gerald McDermott, "A Trinitarian Theology of Religions: An Evangelical Proposal" (Oxford University Press, 2014):