Religious Conversion

The Main Issues

One of the cultural attributes a person could have is religious identity. The process of acquiring a religious identity, whether for the first time, or changing ones religious identity, is called conversion. The vast majority of people who consider themselves as belonging to a religion are converted to this religiou soon after birth or as children. It is normally considered a prerogative of parents to induct their children into their own religion. Since this kind of conversion is considered legal it is usually considered ethical, even though some systems of ethics may not consider that it violates the natural rights of the child.

Problems arise when a person leaves the current religion and adopts another religion. This is particularly the case when the religion does not allow adherence to more than one religion. In such a situation the covert will have to renounce his former religion. This may not be allowed in certain religions where it is called apostasy. In Islam apostasy is an offence for which the apostate can be put to death. In countries where Islam is the official religion apostates can be executed.

Unethical conversion is the pratice of converting people to any religion through force, bribery, or the offer of material inducements. The inducement need not only be offers of money or material goods, but could also involve offer of employment, education, etc. An Unethical Conversion Bill is a law which prohibits the practice of unethical conversions. Such laws have been enacted in a number of countries like India, Israel, Greece, etc. A similar Bill had been introduced in the Sri Lankan legislature but it has never been voted on or passed.

Religions like Christianity and Islam actively encourage their followers to convert others into their religion. In Christianity this practice is called Evangelization. Evangelical churches expend a great deal of money and effort to convert people from other religions to their own. This often leads them to adopt methods of unethical conversion. They do not see anything wrong in this; indeed they might consider it a religious obligation.

The articles in this section explore some aspects of unethical conversion.