After a lively debate with my girlfriend over Bhutan and their proposed anti-conversion law I feel the need to do a little backpedaling. Maestro some calliope music if you please. I feel that, perhaps, my initial culturally centered opinion was a tad harsher than I intended.
First of all drawing comparisons between the constitutions of Bhutan and the United States is not necessarily fair. But, most importantly I left out of the discussion the sad history of abusive missionary efforts by many Christian groups. Christian missionaries have indeed coerced people through fear and more brutal tactics to convert to their version of the “one true faith of god.” Christian missionaries have also decimated entire indigenous cultures because of their arrogance and blind ignorance. Let’s also not forget the introduction of wonderful new diseases such as influenza and syphilis. It is easy to develop the opinion that Christian missionaries have often caused more harm then good in the areas that they work.
It may be with very good reason that the government of Bhutan has chosen to consider officially enacting on paper anti-conversion laws that are already in practice throughout their kingdom. However, my actual concern – which I really did a poor job putting forth – is potential human rights violations. Christian groups can be predatory in their efforts to convert people and win souls for Christ. But, it’s one thing to coerce a person to change religions and another thing to prey on them simply because you disagree with what that group believes.
Anti-conversion laws put a society on a very slippery slope. It’s the potential for abuse that concerns me. For example how will the Bhutanese government determine the veracity of the complaint? The Christian faith requires that its adherents love their neighbors as themselves (in theory anyway) which extends to charitable efforts such as feeding the hungry and helping those in poverty. This does not necessarily require the evangelizing of the people you are helping, although to be fair as we hear from evangelicals in this country proselytizing is often the number one priority. But, it is conceivable that complaints might be raised for petty reasons among other things as often comes up between people living in any society.
On the subject of proselytizing – a practice I find distasteful – will they make a distinction between free speech – guaranteed by Bhutan’s constitution – and the harassment and conversion of others by Christians. By way of a cross cultural comparison this brings to mind Arizona’s immigration laws, which clearly target people along racial lines. Bhutan’s law could and will target people along the lines of religious ideology.
So once again: why should non-theists of every ilk be concerned? Simply, the potential for harassment and abuse of minority groups of, which the Bhutanese Christians are in the minority. As people committed to the use of reason and social justice we need to feel our hackles raising in concern over potential violations of human rights. As I have previously suggested Buddhist nations are not above this type of scrutiny – Sri Lanka being a case in point. This anti-conversion could lead to a dangerous repression more than a protection of Bhutan’s culture