The evangelical surge and world peace

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 14 January 2004.) A JUNE Gallup Poll said that 41 per cent of Americans considered themselves Christian evangelists. This sampling may be tentative and augmented by loyalty to President Bush. Be that as it may, there’s a definite trend toward spirituality in universities in America’s northeast, the bastion of US intellectualism and serious study. The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, religious historian and minister of Harvard’s Memorial Church, who arrived on that campus in 1970, says, ‘There are probably more evangelicals here than at any time since the 17th century, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wider range of Christian fellowship activity’. The same trend is evident at Boston University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT, where science is god, and efficiency and rationality deeply embedded, now sports 15 evangelical Christian Fellowship groups. In 1994, the Sunday night service at Boston’s Park Street Church, the flagship location for college evangelicals, attracted 40 people. Today more than 1000 students turn up weekly from BU, MIT, Harvard and other universities. Rather than regard this as threatening, the Bhagavad Gita advises us not to try to look down on such displays of devotion, even if they be ajananam (3.26) or without full knowledge. Rather Krishna advises accommodating such activity. Love of God in any form is progressive. What does this mean? Can non-Vedic faiths be truly devotional? According to the Gita, bhakti can manifest with unlimited variety. The increase in America’s eastern establishment colleges is positive. These thinking evangelicals foreswear casual sex, alcoholism and gambling, and avoid watching movies for entertainment alone. Whether the trend will carry on into adulthood is as yet unknown. Nonetheless, empowering so many serious students at this juncture of their intellectual lives is a very hopeful development. Impressions and habits gained in formative years run deep and aren’t easily forgotten. Bhakti or devotion can be found in people tied to any denomination. A revival of religiosity amongst the questioning and thoughtful young, when coupled with a broad-minded appreciation of people of other faiths, is something we should welcome as essential for world peace. Sri Krishna, God, is also known vedically as ‘bhakta vatsala’. He eschews solemn vows and worldly moralism in order to better serve His devotees. Genuine glorification of God – whatever faith we hold – transcends all divisive faith structures. The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing body commission