I live in the German city of Stuttgart. A few weeks back, I had unexpected visitors at my doorstep. I wondered if it was by chance or I had been spotted and singled out for the honor. On second thoughts, I am pretty sure, they came specifically for me.
My doorbell rang; two somewhat old gentlemen stood at my door when I opened the door. They introduced themselves (gave their names) and started talking to me in Hindi. It was such a delight to hear a German in Germany speaking your mother tongue, but it was all very confusing. More confusing were the questions they asked me.
‘Kya aapko lagta hai ki haalat behtar hone waale hai?,’ they asked in Hindi.
Translated it means ‘Do you think that things are going to get better?’
I was too confused to answer. They repeated. I came out of stupor and said ‘yes’. After that I understood the purport of their question. They took out a pamphlet about Christianity and started to explain me how I could be saved and which was the one way the world could be saved.
They explained how becoming a Christian is the right way to make things better, while I stood stupefied and looked at the pamphlet only wondering how they knew enough about me to send Hindi speaking evangelists to my home. Did they notice me and singled me out as a soft target? They could very easily make out that I was Indian. How did they find my address, my mother tongue and other details? Some friends informed me that they had also been approached in similar manner a couple of times. The church seemed to be privy to their data as well.
Is this not a breach of privacy?
“Is there a nexus between the Church and the state for them to be able to have such information in a country obsessed with individual data privacy?’ I thought.
He explained about how Jesus was going to make things better for us and save us. He was reading from the pamphlet in Hindi.
Back home in India, a close relative has two friends who are newly converted Christians, both of them being converted in different churches. Whenever, my relative discusses stress at work or at home with them as one does with friends, they get into a contest for taking her to their very own church. As it turns out, both these wonderful people have converted when they had been under extreme stress and the Church provided as some kind of a moral support for them. That is a fair enough reason; but moral support can also be provided without being induced to convert.
The men at my doorstep promised to come visit me again with their wives, probably hoping I would be more open with and receptive to talks with other women. I smiled and they took their leave.
After this unexpected visit, I started to take cognizance of some of the overt conversion activities. In the marketplace, I had been stopped by a group who wanted me to experience extreme joy by becoming a Christian. I have seen young people standing in the center and shouting their lungs out. Their scripts are always the same. ‘Jesus is the only one who could save us. He died for us’. There are other faiths also being peddled looking for distressed souls to increase their head count. There is Quran being given out to interested candidates. One can also sometimes, albeit rarely, see the ‘Krishna Mission’ group dancing through the marketplace.
I remember having marked myself as non-Christian in my tax data form, which meant I will not pay Church tax. Digging a little deep after this incident, I found that Churches in Germany enjoy quite some privileges, in spite of the fact that Germany in principle has a separation of the Church and state. “Church Tax”, which could be anywhere between 8% to 9% of an individual’s income, is not the only entitlement churches enjoy. The state pays, out of the budget that pays civil servants (not out of the church tax), salaries of bishops and religious teachers who incidentally are not allowed to teach without the consent of their respective churches. The maintenance of buildings owned by the church costing about 450 million euro a year is financed by all taxpayers, in excess of church tax.
Churches do not have a say in state matters in Germany, but the devotion of the State to support and strengthen the Church is obvious. Can this devotion go to the extent of exposing specific personal data of the residents to facilitate efficient conversion activities of the Church? I have noticed, in daily interactions, that people in Germany in general are somewhat cautious about their personal data. Involvement of the state seemed a precarious idea.
The questions still remained, how did the Church have access to my personal data? Dipping membership had raised concerns and instigated churches to employ varied aggressive and soft tactics to attract new members. It is a possibility that the church itself employ private analytics companies, which provide such data to the church. Social media analytics has made such basic information about people quite easy to obtain and deduce. This seemed a more plausible explanation.
What is the exact truth? There is no way of knowing that without rubbing the authorities in the wrong way.
A friend involved actively in Church activities once asked me- ‘how else can you save a faith unless you convert other people to your faith or breed enough? The faith would die if you did not do these two things’. He gave examples of dwindling number of people following Jewish faith. He was statistically correct. The largest faiths, in terms of number of affiliated members, do have a history of forceful, violent, organized, treacherous and incentivized conversions.
He also subconsciously exposed the simple fact that the Church indulges in conversion to save the idea of Jesus and the power it can wield on people thereby; but this number game is no big secret anyway.
As much as I was surprised at having been a targeted customer at soul shop, I was also thankful. Since that day, my awareness and appreciation of my own faith has increased. I am more cognizant of the depth of the faith and philosophy I was born into; and now consciously choose to be a part of. I have become a more aware Sanatani.