Mahatma Gandhi, Christian fundamentalism and Politics of conversion
• My association with Christians dates from 1889 and there was a time in my life when I sincerely considered Christianity as my religion…….. Although I admire much in Christianity, I am unable to identify myself with the orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism, as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, and fills my whole being……
• The missionaries come to India thinking that they come to a land of heathen, of idolaters, of men who do not know God. My own experiences all over India have been on the contrary. An average Indian is as much a seeker after truth as the Christian missionaries are, possibly more so……….If I have read the Bible correctly, I know many men who have never known the name of Jesus Christ, men who have even rejected the official interpretations of Christianity, but would nevertheless, if Jesus came in our midst today in the flesh, be probably owned by him more than many of us. My position is that it does not matter what faith you practice, as long as the soul longs for truth………….
• “To be a good Hindu also meant that I would be a good Christian. There was no need for me to join your creed to be a believer in the beauty of the teachings of Jesus or try to follow His example,” Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi’s devoted followers have portrayed him as a saintly figure that rose above the pettiness of human nature and incorporated various religious ideologies in his daily life. Indeed, he succeeded- to a large extent- in bringing independence to India in a non-violent fashion without sacrificing his inherent saintliness. His open and broadmindedness has generated a deep devotion among his followers and at the same time it has created heated debates among various fundamentalists and self righteous people on either side of the divide who were/are obsessed with unique and/or unquestionably “only true” traditions and belief systems.
Mahatma Gandhi chose to concentrate on human goodness, service to humanity and attempted to bring about discussions about religious beliefs with frankness. He was not afraid to speak up his mind and has written extensively on many religious matters in a straightforward and forthright manner. He synthesized many ideas, distilled them, reflected upon them, and created his own views, which often incensed and infuriated fundamentalists in Hindu and Christian/Islamic divide in India and abroad. He viewed Hinduism as a multi dimensioned and multi faceted living and breathing tradition willing to absorb many differing theological principles and often interpreted the scriptures in a unique manner that reflected his own viewpoint. Repeatedly, he found himself in a difficult situation as he attempted to create alliance of bickering parties with different religious traditions. Fundamental Islamists often accused him of being a closet Hindu pretending to sound sincere and neutral in the political struggle. While Fundamentalists Hindus accused him of pandering to minority viewed him with deep suspicions. Open-minded vast majority of Indians recognized his sincerity and embraced his ideology but many extremists on either side, refused to yield to seek a common ground of understanding. Similarly, many fundamentalist Hindus claimed that he was infatuated with new testaments and Sermon on the Mount and accused him of polluting, corrupting and diluting the precepts of Hinduism. Many Christian fundamentalists accused him of inserting “eastern relativism” in dogmas of Christianity. Some of the Christian missionaries, recognizing of his extraordinary stature in India and around the globe, attempted to use his deep interest in Sermon on the Mount, for an ulterior motive of using him as a “tool” in mass conversion in India.
He refused to take scriptures on its face value from all religions and often challenged their dogmas and doctrines. He strongly objected concrete interpretations of various ancient writings and propagated a view that all the scriptures must be interpreted in an abstract manner. He strongly believed that concretization of scriptures lead to conflict between people of different traditions. He did not hesitate to take a stance that scriptures should be only honored with their metaphorical meanings and must be applied in the present context only. He was very assertive in declaring these views openly and defiantly which caused a great deal of controversy and consternation across the globe and India. He justified and rationalized his actions based on his own unique interpretations of religious scriptures often confounding followers and adversaries. He embraced divinity of Christ but rejected dogmatic interpretations of church. He accepted Christianity in essence but rejected “Churchianity” in a very vocal manner. Some broad-minded Christians accepted and understood his uniqueness but were unable reconcile his Hindu origin and made sincere efforts to convert him to see the “truth” as Christianity envisioned it. Gandhi’s “Dharma” was all-inclusive and did not contain either /or version but “this” as well as “that” version of theology. He did not believe in monopolistic and exclusivity doctrine of Christianity. He was always willing to embrace ‘good’ as he viewed in every tradition and did not see a need to convert to join a different group or reject his own heritage. It was indeed very difficult for many self- righteous groups in west because that would undermine their claims of uniqueness. His religion was a synthesis of all world religions and stated categorically that one need not change the religion of his own heritage to acknowledge goodness in other traditions.
I- Mahatma and Scriptures as historical Documents
As regards the historicity of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi says, “I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it was proved by someone that the man called Jesus never lived, and that what was narrated in the Gospels was a figment of the writer’s imagination. For, the Sermon on the Mount would still be true to me.”
It will be of great interest to many people in the world as well as India that he declined to see the scriptures and its narratives as historical truths and said that in more than one way in different forums about Hinduism as well Christianity.
Some of these quotes make this fact abundantly clear.
“Whilst I believe that the principal books are inspired, they suffer from a process of double distillation. Firstly, they come through a human prophet, and then through the commentaries of interpreters. Nothing in them comes from God directly. Mathew may give one version of one text and John may give another. I cannot surrender my reason whilst I subscribe to Divine revelation. (Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi- Vol.64 p. 73- 75)
I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all begotten sons of God, but for each of us there may be different begotten son of God in a special sense. There is no miracle in the story of the multitude being fed on a handful of loaves. A magician can create that illusion. As for Jesus raising the dead to life, well, I doubt if the men he raised were dead. I do not deny that Jesus had certain psychic powers and he was undoubtedly filled with the love of humanity. But he brought to life not people who were dead but who were believed to be dead. The laws of Nature are changeless, unchangeable, and there are no miracles in the sense of infringement or interruption of Nature’s laws. But we limited beings fancy all kinds of things and impute our limitations to God. (Collected works of mahatma Gandhi -April 14, 1937, Discussion with a Missionary Vol.65 p.79-82).
One must also realize the fact that although he was proud of being a tolerant Hindu but he was equally adamant in rejecting historical claims and concrete interpretations in Hinduism and its scriptures as well.
“I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and all that goes by the name of Hindu scripture, and therefore in avataras and rebirth; I believe in the varnashrama dharma in a sense, in my opinion strictly Vedic but not in its presently popular crude sense; I believe in the protection of cow … I do not disbelieve in murti puja”. (Young India: June 10, 1921).
“My Krsna is not the historical Krsna. I believe in the Krsna of my imagination as a perfect incarnation, spotless in every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Gita, and the inspirer of the lives of millions of human beings. But if it is proved to me ... that the Krsna of the Mahabharata actually did some of the acts attributed to Him, even at the risk of being banished from the Hindu fold, I should not hesitate to reject that Krsna as God incarnate.”
“Words have, like man himself, an evolution, and even a Vedic text must be rejected if it is repugnant to reason and contrary to experience.”
His ideas about all inclusiveness of belief system are amply revealed when wrote:
“...Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. In it, there is room for the worship of all the prophets in the world. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but this absorption has been of an evolutionary, imperceptible character. Hinduism tells every one to worship God according to his own faith or Dharma and so it lives at peace with all the religions.”
II- Mahatma and Christian dogma
It is obvious to any one who studies Mahatma Gandhi that bedrock belief of fundamentalist Christianity, “Jesus was the only begotten son of father” was openly and unhesitatingly challenged by Mahatma Gandhi. He was not afraid of stating that resurrection is nothing but a figment of imagination of believers, hell bent on ascribing supernatural powers to their messiah. He was never disrespectful to Jesus Christ but never accepted all the dogmas Christianity. The concept of Virgin Mary never found a believer in Mahatma.
Mahatma Gandhi refused to believe ideology of “born sinners and atonement of Christ” as it defies common wisdom and stated on many occasions, “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.” He went further in stating “Every one of us is a son of God and capable of doing what Jesus did, if we but endeavor to express the Divine in us.” The central element in the Christian faith is atonement and a claim that God sent his Son to “save” us was challenged by Gandhi when he said “Purity of character and salvation depend on purity of heart.”
It is a common knowledge that Christianity claims to be the infallible Word of God, the only God there is; it lays exclusive claims to universal truth. It presents Jesus Christ as humankind’s only way of salvation. Mahatma Gandhi flatly rejected all this self- serving claims outright and observed on many occasions that
• I regard all the great religions of the world as true for the one professing them.”
• All the great religions are fundamentally equal.
• All of us are sons of God. There is only one God but many paths to him
• God wills the salvation of all people in their respective faiths.
Mahatma flatly rejected the claims of Christianity in Bible that God has spoken, once and for all, and that all counter-claims must be weighed against the Bible. He never hesitated to counter those grandiose claims and went even one-step further in advancing a view that all scriptures must be rejected if it is against common wisdom.
III- Mahatma and merits of Religions
Manisha Barua (Gandhi and Comparative Religion) correctly points out that “His mission was not only to humanize religion, but also to moralize it. Gandhi’s interpretation of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity made his religion a federation of different religious faiths.”
This act is amply supported by many of these compiled quotes made over many decades of his public service.
• I came to the conclusion long ago, after prayerful search and study and discussion... that all religions were true... that I should hold others as dear as Hinduism.
• To me God is Truth and Love. God is Ethics and Morality. God is Fearlessness. God is essence of life and light and yet He is above and beyond all these. God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist. For in his boundlessness, God permits the atheist to live. He is the searcher of hearts. He is a personal God to those who need his personal presence. He is embodied to those who need his touch. He is the purest essence.... He is all things to all men. He is in us and yet above and beyond us.
• The chief value of Hinduism lies in holding the actual belief that all life is one i.e. all life coming from one universal source, call it Allah, God or Parameshwara.
• Is there one God for the Mussalmans and another for the Hindus, Parsis, and Christians? No, there is only one omnipresent God. He is named variously and we remember him by the name, which is most familiar to us.
• Today supposing I was deprived of the Gita and forgot all its contents but had a copy of the Sermon, I would derive the same joy from it as I do from the Gita.
• A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon. The fragrance of religion and spiritual life is much finer and much subtler than that of a rose.
• Do I wish that a Christian would become a Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that a Hindu or Buddhist would become a Christian? God forbid ... the Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.
This kind of broad-minded approach won plaudits and acquired admirers in west as a French philosopher Romain Roland often referred to him as “second Jesus Christ” but at the same time zealots in all religions attacked him as naïve, illogical and inconsistent. Greta Olsoe (commentary on a book by Robert Ellsburg – Gandhi on Christianity) writes “Gandhi’s beliefs represent a complete reinterpretation of the New Testament message and a redefinition of Christianity, and they mirror Gandhi’s own bias……….Sadly, the central message of the Bible, the Gospel is lost on Gandhi. He proposes the oldest counterfeit of all, self-salvation. Self salvation results from two misconceptions: an underestimation of God’s absolute holiness and an overestimation of mankind’s goodness”.
IV- How did Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking evolve about Christianity?
The answer comes from “My experiments with Truth” an autobiography written in 1929.He writes, about his school days “In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this………. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.
Gandhi continues in the Autobiography: “He (Mr. Coates) was looking forward to delivering me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no matter whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.”
‘…… I saw no reason for changing my belief - my religion. It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it.”
Gandhi continues in a different context:
“My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it……. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. ……..Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions…...”
In a speech at Missionary Conference,-Madras, Mahatma Gandhi elucidates his thinking further,
It (Hinduism) is the most tolerant because it is non-proselytizing, and it is as capable of expansion today as it has been found to be in the past. It has succeeded not in driving, as I think it has been erroneously held, but in absorbing Buddhism…… a Hindu refuses to change his religion not necessarily, because he considers it to be the best, but because he knows that he can complement it by introducing reforms. …….. I have endeavoured to study the Bible. I consider it as part of my scriptures. The spirit of the Sermon on the Mount competes almost on equal terms with Bhagavad-Gita for the domination of my heart. I yield to no Christian in the strength of devotion with which I sing, ‘Lead, kindly Light’ and several other inspired hymns of a similar nature. …..It will not be denied, I speak from experience, that many of the conversions are only so called. In some cases, the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the stomach……….. But I do not apologise, in closing this part of my subject, for saying that the frightful outrage that is just going on in Europe, perhaps, shows that the message of Jesus of Narazeth, the Son of Peace, has been little understood in Europe, and that light upon it may have to be thrown from the East. (Collected works of mahatma Gandhi- Vol. 13 p. 220, 6 June, 1925)
In a Speech at a Meeting of missionaries (Y.M C.A. Calcutta) Mahatma once again is equally blunt about his views when he says,
“Today my position is that though I admire much in Christianity, I am unable to identify myself with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being and I find a solace in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. Not that I do not prize the ideal presented therein, not that some of the precious teachings in the Sermon on the Mount have not left a deep impression upon me, but I must confess to you that when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagvad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect oil me, I owe it to the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita Gita. …..
……..if I was to find my satisfaction through reasoning, I must study the scriptures of other religions also and make my choice. And I turned to Koran. I tried to understand what I could of Judaism as distinguished from Christianity. I studied Zoroastrianism and I came to the conclusion that all religions were right, but every one of them imperfect, imperfect naturally and necessarily - because they were interpreted with our poor intellects, sometimes with our poor hearts, and more often misinterpreted. In all religions, I found to my grief, that there were various and even contradictory interpretations of some texts, and I said to myself, ‘Not these things for me. If I want the satisfaction of my soul, I must feel my way. I must wait silently upon God and ask Him to guide me.’ There is a beautiful verse in Sanskrit, which says ‘God helps only when man feels utterly helpless and utterly humble’.
In a Speech to Women Missionaries (28 July, 1925) Mahatma is on a very reflective mood and states,
“…….. although I am myself not a Christian, as an humble student of the Bible, who approaches it with faith and reverence, I wish respectfully to place before you the essence of the Sermon on the Mount. ………I have absolutely no faith in the proselytizing activity that is being carried on today. …..There are thousands of men and women today who, though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus have more faith and are more god fearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk of its Ten Commandments. …. my humble intelligence refuses to believe that a man becomes good when he renounces one religion and embraces another. …..
……Today we see competition and conflict among different religions for counting the number of their followers. I feel deeply ashamed of this and, when I hear of people’s achievement in converting such and such a number to a particular faith, I feel that that is no achievement at all, that on the contrary it is a blasphemy against God and the self.”(Collected works of mahatma Gandhi.Vol.27 p.204-06.)
V- Mahatma and Politics of Proselytization
“My fear is that though Christian friends nowadays do not say or admit it that Hindu religion is untrue, they must harbour in their breast that Hinduism is an error and that Christianity, as they believe it, is the only true religion…so far as one can understand the present (Christian) effort, it is to uproot Hinduism from her very foundation and replace it by another faith”. (Harijan: March 13, 1937).
“When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does however possess material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold.” (Harijan: April 3, 1937)
Mahatma’s thought process about some of these issues is very nicely documented in some of these dialogs and conversation with various individuals at different times.
Q. Do you definitely feel the presence of the living Christ within you?
A. If it is the historical Jesus, surnamed Christ, that the inquirer refers to, I must say I do not. If it is an. adjective signifying one of the names of God, then I must say I do feel the presence of God - Call him Christ, call him Krishna, call him Rama. … (Vol.27 p.434-39. Young India, 6-8-1925)
In answering a question from an American student:
Q. I would like to know your very frank evaluation of the work of Christian missionaries in India. Do you believe that Christianity has some contribution to make to the life of our country? Can we do without Christianity?
G: Their direct contribution is probably more harmful than otherwise. I am against the modern method of proselytizing. Years’ experience of proselytizing both in South Africa and India has convinced me that it has not raised the general tone of the converts who have imbibed the superficialities of European civilization, and have missed the teaching of Jesus….. The indirect contribution, on the other hand, of Christian missionary effort is great. It has forced us to put our own house in order. ………The world, and therefore we, can no more do without the teaching of Jesus than we can without that of Mahomed or the Upanishads. I hold all these to be complementary to one another, in no case exclusive… (Vol.29 p.326. (Young India 17-12-1925)
Q. What then are we doing? Are we doing the right thing?
A. You are trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. I want you to complement the faith of the people instead of undermining it…….. It is not unusual to find Christianity synonymous with denationalization and Europeanization. Must we give up our simplicity, to become better people?
One of the common threads one has noticed over a log history of proselytization is a sense of moral superiority, contempt for other traditions and obsession with righteousness. Let us see how he addresses that specific point in a dialog.
Q. We need not undermine the faith but we may make people lose their faith in lesser things?
A-That lands me into the region of interpretation. Whilst I must not enter into it, I may suggest that God did not bear the Cross only 1,900 years ago, but He bears it today, and He dies and is resurrected from day to day. It would be poor comfort to the world if it had to depend upon a historical God who died 2,000 years ago. Do not then preach the God of history, but show Him as He lives today through you…….
Q. How can we help condemning if we feel that our Christian truth is the only reality?
A. That brings me to the duty of tolerance. If you cannot feel that the other faith is as true as yours, you should feet at least that the men are as true as you. The intolerance of the Christian missionaries does not, I am glad to say, take the ugly shape it used to take some years ago. Think of the caricature of Hinduism, which one finds in so many publications of the Christian Literature Society. A lady wrote to me the other day saying that unless I embraced Christianity all my work would be nothing worth. And, of course, that Christianity must mean what she understands as such. Well, all I can say is that it is a wrong attitude. (Vol. 34 p.260-63 (Young India, 11-8-1927)
In a Discussion with Missionaries (Bangalore, July29, 1927), he goes one-step further challenging dogmatic interpretations.
“……. that while I am strengthening the faith of the people, you are undermining it….. The world is the same, but the spirit ever broadens intensively and extensively, and it might be that many things in the Bible will have to be re-interpreted in the light of discoveries - not of modem science - but in the spiritual world in the shape of direct experiences common to all faiths. The fundamental verses of St. John do require to be re-read and re-interpreted.”
He also acknowledged similar problems in Hinduism as well.
“…… The sanatani may reject my interpretation of God and Hinduism…….. I have not read the Vedas in the original, but have tried to assimilate their spirit and have not hesitated to say that though the Vedas may be 13,000 years old - or even a million years old, as they well may be, for the word of God is as old as God Himself even the Vedas must be interpreted in the light of our experience. To you who have come to teach India, I therefore say, you cannot give without taking. If you have come to give rich treasures of experiences, open your hearts out to receive the treasures of this land,……………”
In a discussion with Foreign Missionaries (April 23, 1931) he said, ‘If instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work such as education, medical services to the poor and the like, they would use these activities of their for the purpose of proselytizing, I would certainly like them to withdraw. ….. Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly, the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another.’ I hold that proselytizing under the cloak of humanitarian work is, to say the least, unhealthy. It is most certainly resented by the people here. …..Or why should I whilst I am in a missionary educational institution have Christian teaching thrust upon me? In my opinion, these practices are not uplifting and give rise to suspicion if not even secret hostility. ….I am, then, not against conversion. But I am against the modern methods of it. Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business, like any other. I remember having read a missionary report saying how much it cost per head to convert and then presenting a budget for ‘the next harvest’.
Yes, I do maintain that India’s great faiths are all-sufficing for her. Apart from Christianity and Judaism, Hinduism and its offshoots, Islam and Zoroastrianism are living faiths. No one faith is perfect. All faiths are equally dear to their respective votaries. What is wanted therefore is living friendly contact among the followers of the great religions of the world and not a clash among them in the fruitless attempt on the part of each community to show the superiority of its faith over the rest….. Conversion in the sense of self-purification, self-realization is the crying need of the times. That however is not what is ever meant by proselytizing. To those who would convert India, might it not be said, ‘Physician heal thyself’? (Vol. 46 p. 27-29. (Young India. 23-4-1931).
Mahatma and Missionary activities
In a Note to Dr Thornton (A Christian Missionary) he went on to write,
“If the missionary friends will forget their mission, viz., of proselytizing Indians and of bringing Christ to them, they will do wonderfully good work. Your duty is done with the ulterior motive of proselytizing…..? The fact is there are no irreconcilable differences between different religions. If you were to probe the surface, you will find the same thing at the bottom, forget your missionary spirit and simply live your life in the midst of-people… (Vol.45 p.223- 24)
It is interesting to note what Mahatma said to a missionary about true meaning of human mission
“To live the gospel is the most effective way most effective in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. ….But I love those who never preach but live the life according to their lights….. I cannot say what to preach, but I can say that a life of service and uttermost simplicity is the best preaching. If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3, 16 and ask them to believe it. That has no appeal to me, and I am sure people will not understand it. Where there has been acceptance of the gospel through preaching, my complaint is that there has been some motive. …….A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon….. The fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than that of the rose”. (CWMG, Vol. 60 p.323, Harijan, 29-3-19)
A dialog with Christian missionary ladies is equally revealing his extraordinary willingness to respect the scriptures of various faiths.
Q. Now, as for the Harijans, who have no solace to get from Hinduism, how are we to meet their spiritual needs?
A. By behaving just like the rose. Does the rose proclaim itself, or is it self-propagated?.....
Q. but supposing someone asked us, ‘Where did you get the scent?’
A. The rose, if it had sense and speech, would say, ‘Fool, don’t you see that I got it from my Maker?’
Q. but if someone asks you, ‘Then, is there no book?’
A. You will then say, ‘Yes, for me there is the Bible.’ If they were to ask me. I would present to some the Koran. to some the Gita, to some the Bible and to some Tulsidas’s Ramayana. I am like a wise doctor prescribing what is necessary for each patient.
Q. But I find difficulty in getting much from the Gita.
A. You may, but I do not find any difficulty in getting much from the Bible as well as from the Koran. Vol.60 p.325-26 (Harijan, 29-3-1935).
Yet another illuminating dialog took place with a mission nurse in May 11, 1935.
Q. why do you object to proselytization as such? Is not there enough in the Bible to authorize us to invite people to a better way of life?
A. Oh yes, but it does not mean that they should be made members of the Church. If you interpret your texts in the way you seem to do, you straight away condemn a large part of humanity unless it believes as you do. If Jesus came to earth again. He would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity. ……Vol.61 p.46-47 (Harijan, 11-5-1935)
This is vintage Gandhi unafraid to speak up with candor and he continues further in the dialog. “It is highly likely that mine may be good enough for me and his for him. A thick woolen coat would be the thing for one living in the cold region of the earth, as a place of loincloth for another living near the equatorial regions. ….. Thus how is the Christian to sound the sincerity of the conviction of his hearers?........ Who knows the nature of original sin? What is the meaning of separation from God? What is that of the union with God? What are the signs of him who is united to God? Are all who dare to preach the message of Jesus the Christ sure of their union with God?”
A very important discussion took place with Emily Kinnaird in relation to conceptual framework of original sin and redemption from it.
E.K. If you accepted Christ in your heart and appealed to your people to do likewise, you could delivery our message with greater ease and far better effect. He is our salvation, and without receiving Him in our hearts, we cannot be saved.
Gandhi. So those who accept the Christ are all saved. They need do nothing more?
E.K. We are sinners all, and we have but to accept Him to be saved.
Gandhi: And then we may continue to be sinners? Is that what you mean? ………….. Vol. 72 p. 297-99 (Harijan, 4-8-1940)
It is also interesting o understand Mahatma’s mindset in a wonderful dialog with Stanley Jones when Gandhi carefully enunciated shortfalls of missionary activities all over the world.
Stanley Jones asked Gandhi: “How can we make Christianity naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and a foreign people, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift?
He responded with great clarity and directness:
• First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ.
• Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down.
• Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity.
• Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.
He took a position that conversion is inherently a politically motivated phenomenon derived form hunger and economics but tacitly accepted that there may be a case of a rare exception and said, “Christianity in India has been inextricably mixed up for the last one hundred and fifty years with the British rule. It appears to us as synonymous with materialistic civilization and imperialistic exploitation by the stronger white race of the weaker races of the world. It’s contribution to India has been therefore, largely of a negative character….. Cases of real, honest conversion are quite possible. If some people for their inward satisfaction and growth change their religion, let them do so”.
He declined to accept conversion as a policy in a dialog with CF Andrews, as he outlined his rationale to objection in proselytization when he said, “I would say that, if a non-Christian (say a Hindu) came to a Christian and made that statement (about conversion), he should ask him to become a good Hindu rather than find goodness in change of faith. In the similar fashion he goes further “Supposing a Christian came to me and said he was captivated by reading of the Bhagavat and so wanted to declare himself a Hindu, I should say to him; “No. What the Bhagavat offers, the Bible also offers. You have not yet made the attempt to find out. Make the attempt and be a good Christian”. He continues, “If a person wants to believe in the Bible, let him say so, but why should he disregard his own religion…..My position is that all the great religions are fundamentally equal. We must have the innate respect for other religions as we have for our own. Mind you, not mutual toleration, but equal respect.
He further outlines his views (Young India: April 23, 1931) emphatically stating “I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never to be to undermine another’s faith. This implies belief in the truth of all religions and, therefore, respect for them. It implies true humility.”
Indeed this mutual respect and humility about our shortcoming is missing all over the world. Obsession with self-righteousness and intolerance of others is the tragedy and a cause of pain and suffering of human race obsessed with religious dogmas.
I am convinced that Mahatma will agree with a profound scholar of Hinduism when he outlined following scenario.
Suppose Jesus of Nazareth was teaching and a man came and told him: “What you teach is beautiful. I believe that it is the way to perfection and I am ready to follow it; but I do not care to worship you as the only begotten Son of God.”
What would be the answer of Jesus of Nazareth?
“Very well brother, follow the ideal and advance in your own way. I am not a shopkeeper. I do not trade in religion. I only teach truth, and truth is nobody’s property. Nobody can patent truth. Truth is God himself. Go forward” (Vivekananda, “Christ the Messenger”)
• Mr. Polak - , “Mr. Gandhi, the Man,
• M.K. Gandhi, ‘Young India’, 5.3.1925.
• M.K. Gandhi, ‘In search of the Supreme’
• M.K. Gandhi, an Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth
• E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation,
• Gandhi on Christianity, edited by Robert Ellsberg,
• Collected works of mahatma Gandhi (CWMH)