From India, where he was conceived, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was born and raised as a Hindu; and thence to Brown University and Oxford, where he honed his intellectual skills and embarked on a spiritual quest.
Already hailed by the media as ‘Wunderkind’, ‘Darling of Washington’, and ‘Republican Star’, Bobby Jindal has certainly come a long way from his father’s native Mater Kotla, in Punjab, to his own political headquarters in the heart of Cajun country.
It’s been a long way too from the Hindu family in which he was lovingly reared by Raj and Amar Jindal, to the Christianity that he has chosen for himself and his young family.
Jindal’s meteoric rise is well known. But not as well known are his struggles. Not the political ones, but his personal ones as he gradually morphed from a devout Hindu to a zealous Christian.
“Only after years of open feuding did my parents realize my new faith had not caused me to reject them or my heritage,” Jindal confessed in an article he wrote more than a decade ago for ‘America’ a respected weekly Jesuit magazine.
At the same time Jindal went on to declare: “New converts often treasure their Catholic faith because of the painful and deliberate process through which they accepted Christ. If Christianity is worth risking family and friends, it is worth practicing on a daily basis.”
Even though he has acknowledged that in his youth “Hinduism provided me with moral guidance and spiritual comfort,” why then did he abandon his religious heritage?
We examine this from Jindal’s perspective, including fifteen written statements during his years at Brown and Oxford, and from an important letter written to a Sikh American friend. In other words, Jindal’s own words.
WHY CONVERSION FROM HINDUISM?
While Hinduism first entered America’s consciousness as a result of Swami Vivekananda’s missionary efforts, today it has become part of the American fabric. Two million Hindu Americans and 200 temples bear witness to the dramatic transformation wrought upon its Judeo-Christian foundation.
The question that intrigues most Indian Americans is this: How and why did Bobby Jindal abandon the faith of his forebears to embrace Christ and the Catholic faith.
As it turns out, the story of Piyush Bobby Jindal’s transformation from a devout young Hindu to a zealous Catholic offers an intriguing glimpse into the struggle, often traumatic, of a young Indian American caught between his heritage and his parents on the one hand and his intellectual and emotional turmoil in America.
The first part reveals the background and the struggle towards his conversion, while the second part examines his involvement with two young women whom he has acknowledged as being key to his spiritual re-birth.
Beginning with his Junior year (1991) at Brown, and for seven years thereafter - including his two years on Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, and while Secretary, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals - Jindal revealed details of his conversion and its aftermath, in a series of first person accounts.
Much of those writings reveal an agonizing spiritual quest.
BOBBY JINDAL’S QUEST
“My journey from Hinduism to Christianity was a gradual and painful one,” Bobby Jindal acknowledged in a 1993 article that he wrote while he was a graduate student at Oxford.
As Jindal readily confessed in that article, “it never occurred to me that I should consider any other religion; to be a Hindu was an aspect of my Indian identity.” Thus, when a childhood friend, intent on converting the world, first introduced him to Christianity by warning him “you and your parents are going to hell,” he recalls that he “was hardly convinced.” Jindal was also “angered by the arrogance of my Southern Baptist friend who claimed his faith was the one true path to God.” That’s because he realized that his friend sought to “deny the experience of billions of people who have never seen a copy of the Bible.”
Nevertheless the event did succeed in motivating him to “examine Hinduism on its own merits and doctrines” even as he was “searching for an objectively true faith that would lead me to God.” Simultaneously he began reading the Bible “to disprove the Christian faith I was learning both to admire and despise.” That was also a time when he “was touched by the love and simplicity of a Christian girl who dreamt of becoming a Supreme Court justice so she could stop her country from “killing unborn babies.”
As he delved deeper into the Bible, says Jindal, “I saw myself in many of the parables and felt as if the Bible had been written especially for me. After reading every book I could find on the historical accuracy of the Bible and Christianity, I was convinced that the Bible had remained unaltered throughout the centuries and that circumstances surrounding Christ’s death led to the conversions of thousands.”
Jindal admits that up to that point his perspective remained intellectual and not spiritual.
The next decisive event in Jindal’s spiritual quest came in the form of a short, black and white film depicting the crucifixion of Christ. As he recalled, “For the first time I actually imagined what it meant for the Son of God to be humiliated and even killed for my sake. Although the movie did not convince me that anything was true, it did force me to wonder if Christians were right. I realized that if the Gospel stories were true, if Christ really was the Son of God, it was arrogant of me to reject Him and question the gift of salvation.”
It required many hours of discussion with a pastor before he was “ready to take that leap of faith and accept Christ into my life.” It would be another two years before he would be baptized into the Catholic faith. But in deference to his parent’s wishes Jindal reveals that he chose to have the ceremony in Providence rather than in Baton Rouge.
Jindal recalls, “My parents were infuriated by my conversion and have yet to fully forgive me.” He even steeled himself for the worst by becoming financially independent. But that hardly prepared him for the emotional battles that ensued.
As Jindal explains, “My parents went through different phases of anger and disappointment. They blamed themselves for being bad parents, blamed me for being a bad son and blamed evangelists for spreading dissension. There were heated discussions, many of them invoking family loyalty and national identity.”
He elaborates: “My parents have never truly accepted my conversion and still see my faith as a negative that overshadows my accomplishments. They were hurt and felt I was rejecting them by accepting Christianity. According to Jindal, his parents resorted to “ethnic loyalty” to counter his new faith
In his 1993 article, Jindal says wistfully, “I long for the day when my parents understand, respect and possibly accept my faith. For now I am satisfied that they accept me.”
What was the motivation for Jindal’s rejection of Hinduism and his acceptance of Christianity? The answer can be pieced together in his own words.
Essentially Jindal claims that having studied the Bible, he accepted Jesus Christ’s radical claim to divinity, along with Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross. That is, Christ had died to redeem mankind from sin.
“I was comfortable in my Hindu faith and enjoyed an active prayer life; I only gradually felt a void and stubbornly resisted God’s call…it was truth and love that finally forced me to accept Christ as Lord” Jindal recalled in an article.
In comparing Hinduism with his new faith, Jindal noted that whereas “Hinduism taught me to earn my way to God’s grace” he found Christ’s sacrifice on the cross meant something personal for him. “God loved me and was lifting me up to Him” declared Jindal, two years after his conversion.
The young Hindu American had examined Hinduism and found it wanting. Looked at from another perspective, the Hindus whom he approached were not competent enough to satisfy his intellectual curiosity.
Having quenched his spiritual needs he went on to declare: “If Christianity is merely one of many equally valid religions, then the sacrifices I made, including the loss of my family’s peace, were senseless.”
While he explains that he is aware of “gross injustices in the name of truth and God” committed by missionaries in India and elsewhere, Jindal is appreciative of their enormous contributions to health and education. That’s why he exhorts: “Let us all become missionaries and live so that the world will know us by our love.”
As Jindal went on to explain, there is need for a balance between ecumenism and evangelism. That’s why he exhorts fellow Christians: “we must be humble enough to recognize that we can learn from other faiths but also that love should motivate us to share our faith with others.”
While dependence on God and belief in His supremacy is key to Jindal’s acceptance of what he calls “one objectively true faith,” his vision of Christianity also means that because each individual is born with an inner need to know God, he too is “called to share his faith in Christ so as to help others fill that void.”
CONCERN OF INDIAN AMERICANS
Meanwhile Indian Americans, who have contributed handsomely to Jindal’s campaign chest, are raising some legitimate concerns.
For example, in an article entitled ‘Who is the real Bobby Jindal?’ written by Ramesh Rao and published in the newsletter of the Indian American Policy Institute, the following question is raised: “One-third of the money Jindal has raised, we are told, was contributed by Indian-Americans. Should they not be wondering what made Jindal convert to Catholicism? None seemed to have bothered to ask. He tells the usual story of how Jesus came into his life: more or less the standard spiel that every Campus Christian Crusader spouts. What was missing in his Hindu faith and background that made him convert? We don’t get any insight from the simple mention of how a high school friend gave him a Bible, and how he read it, and how it changed his life.”
Ramesh Rao goes on to explain: “I have very, very high regard for Bobby Jindal for his accomplishments, and for his ability to articulate ideas. I am very, very concerned, however, about his far right views. When Indian-American supporters assert that Jindal is "One of us", I really don´t know what is meant by that except that he is a son of Indian immigrants. … It is almost as if his Indian supporters and Indian-American newspapers want to ignore what he truly is: an ultra-conservative Christian politician.
The suggestion is that Jindal’s conservative agenda, and his conversion to Catholicism “indicate that when Jindal, as an 18 year-old converted to Catholicism, knew well that that was the only way, as an Indian-American Hindu he could achieve his political ambitions.”
(In our next article we will examine Bobby Jindal’s deeper excursion into Catholicism as a result of his involvement with two individuals – including his “spiritual warfare”)