Why Christianity Failed to Spread in the Sub-Continent despite 200 years of British Rule
Updated on January 21, 2014
Jesus was perceived as a "White God"
Church in tribal area
Inside an Indian Church
White Missionary with converts
The British ruled India for close to 200 years. Generally it is accepted that the Battle of Plessey (1757) under Robert Clive which the British won, marks the start of British rule. By a policy of divide and rule the British became the paramount power in the sub continent. This continued till 1947 when the British had to leave India very reluctantly. The retreat from the sub continent was brought about by Adolf Hitler who severely weakened England that it just could not hold on to its colonies. In short the victory in the Second World War was a Pyrrhic victory.
British Rule and Missionaries
During the almost 200 years of British rule, a lot of good took place as the British laid the framework of a modern nation. This also fuelled a nationalism which went beyond caste and religious lines. Gandhi and Bose successfully channelized this nationalism as well as instituted a sense of pride in the culture of the sub continent which was dominated by a vast Hindu population and minority Muslim believers.
The British being the paramount power also allowed Christian missionaries to come to India. Their purpose was to civilize the people of the sub-continent and convert them to Christianity. A lot of impetus was given by the Pope who made unlimited funds available for the missionaries to facilitate the conversion of the Hindus and Muslims to Christianity.
The Role of the Missionaries
The missionaries spread out in the hinterland of India concentrating on tribal areas and poor Hindu and Muslim residents. These were given ample gifts and were told that these were sent by Jesus Christ and as such they should convert to Christianity. This inducement by the church marked the hall mark of the thrust under guidance from Rome to convert as many as possible to the Christian faith. I will add that the main trust was from the Catholics from Rome and in comparison the Protestants were not that zealous in their attempt to convert Indians to Christianity.
Failure of the Missionaries
Despite unlimited funds and food aid, the missionaries made little headway in the sub continent. They did do some good also as they set up schools and hospitals, but the overall framework was to spread the gospel. In this they felt anything including inducements was justified. Fr the missionaries the end justified the means. But despite a vigorous thrust for 2 centuries the missionaries could barely convert 2% of the population to the Christian faith. The reason is not far to seek as Christianity came face to face with Muslim and Hindu religion and the missionaries just could not , despite all the inducements counter the appeal of Hinduism and to a lesser extent Islam.
Reasons for Failure
One of the reasons which I think stand out now is that all the missionaries were whites and these appeared to the people as Alien. The Christian god Jesus was thus associated with white race and most people in the sub continent were averse to being ruled by whites. Another reason was that despite the concerted attack on Hindu ideals and philosophy the people felt that Christianity as a religion lacked the deep spiritualism of the Hindu faith. This was a major reason as despite preaching the gospel along with inducements, the locals never converted to Christianity. In fact there were cases of missionaries being attacked and many were killed. Many people felt that if the Church was sincere, why it was not advocating freedom from British rule.
This was a major flaw and like in America a where the church condoned and supported slavery, the church in India also never advocated an end of British rule. In fact with the protection of the state they penetrated deep into India but the result was an abysmal failure.
One other reason for the failure of Christianity is that the rulers were Protestants and they looked at the actions of the missionaries with askance. In fact most Protestants were keen to revive Indian culture and many studied Hindu philosophy, but Protestants made no concerted attempt to convert the local people to Christianity.
The failure of the Church and Catholic faith to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity will remain a discussion point. It will not be wrong to say that Christianity in particular the Catholic faith met its waterloo in India.