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Gandhi: A Christian Perspective

Early Influences

Childhood: Vaishnavite family, Hindu Scriptures, especially Ramayana, Jain Monks used to visit; Two plays: Harishchandra and Sravana Pitrbhakti;
In England Edwin Arnolds The Song Celestial (About the Gita) and The Light of Asia (About the Buddha): Madam Blavatskys Key to Theosophy, which disabused in me the notion fostered by missionaries that Hinduism is rife with superstition. About the Bible: The chapters in Genesis sent me to sleepI disliked reading the book of Numbers. But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight into my heart

My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly (CWG, vol. 39, p.61)

In South Africa Abdulla Sheths Islam and Koran Mr A.W.Baker, the Attorney of Gandhis client, Lay Preacher and a Director of the South Africa General Mission invited Gandhi for daily meetings of his missionary co-workers. Mr Coates, a Quaker, had given Gandhi many books.; Asked him to remove Tulsi- beads Mr and Mrs Walton Mr Walton never asked Gandhi to embrace Christianity. Gandhi was attending the Wesleyan Church Sunday every week, but found the sermons uninspiring and the congregation worldly minded. (CWG vol.39, pp131-32) Three moderns deeply impressed Gandhi: (CWG vol. 39 p.76) Raychandbhai , a Jain, considered his spiritual Guru Tolstoys book The Kingdom of God is within You John Ruskins Unto This Last AND David Thoreaus Civil Disobedience

Why is Hinduism special to him? Gandhi was a quintessential Hindu. Stoutly defended both the Tradition and Theology of Hinduism Believing as I do in the influence of heredity, being born in a Hindu family, I have remained a Hindu. I should reject it, if I found it inconsistent with my moral sense r my spiritual growth. On examination, I have found it to be the most tolerant of all religions known to be. Its freedom from dogmas makes a forceful appeal to me (CWG vol. 35, p.166-167) An Orthodox Hindu I call myself a sanatani Hindu because, 1) I believe in the Vedas and the Upanisads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu Scripture, and therefore in Avataras and rebirth; 2) I believe in the Varnashrama Dharma in a sense, in my opinion, strictly Vedic but not it its present popular and crude sense; 3) I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular; and 4) I do not disbelieve in idol worship (Young India 6, October, 1921)

All Religions teach the same Suppose a Christian came to me and said he was captivated by a reading of the Bhagavad
and wanted to declare himself a Hindu, I should say to him, Now what the Bhagavad offers the Bible also offers. You have not yet made the attempt to find it out. Make the attempt and be a good Christian. (CWG vol.64, p.20)

Truth and Non-violence

My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. the only

means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsaa perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realization of Ahimsa. To see the universal and all pervading spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself (CWG vol. 12 p.503)

Truth is God
Truth is ot an attribute but the very essence of God, and therefore changed in his later life to Truth is God. All believers and even atheists can come into its fold. If it is at all possible for the human tongue to give the fullest expression to Godthen we must say that God is truthBut I went a step further and said: Truth is GodI never found a double meaning in connection with truth, and even atheists had demurred to the necessity or power of truthHence the definition Truth is God give me the greatest satisfaction (Young India, Dec.31, 1931)

Childhood Dislike for Christianity

In those days Christian Missionaries used to stand in corner near the high school and hold

forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this (Gandhis Autobiography, 1925-29, included in CWG, vol.39, p.33) What does a convert look like? It was of the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes and that thence-forward he began to go about in European costume including a hatI also heard the news 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. (CWG vol.39, p.33) Rev H R Scot, who was the only missionary during those years (1883-1897) questions Gandhis statements on missionary abuse, and also on the baptised believers, saying he had been a missionary in India for 42 years, and baptized many, but never came across such things as Gandhi mentioned. Gandhi accepts Scots Repudiation, but goes on to say that he had seen many missionaries including Heber vilifying heathen. (CWG. vol. 30 p.70)

Christianity is not the most Perfect or Greatest Religion

Gandhis feelings: If Jesus were the Son of God, all of us are. If Jesus was like God, all of us are also like God. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice and a divine teacher, but not as the most 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 acceptPhilosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed that the Hindus greatly surpassed Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions. (CWG vol.39, p.112-113)

Christian Missionaries
It pains me to have to say that the Christian Missionaries as a body, with honourable

exceptions, have actively supported a system which has impoverished, enervated and demoralised a people considered to be among the gentlest and the most civilized on earth (CWG vol. 24, p.476)

On Sermon on Mount 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 Upanisads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mountwhen 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 Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me(vol. 27,p.435) Today supposing I was deprived of the Gita and forgot all its contents but had a copy of the Sermon on the Mount, I should derive the same joy from it as I do not from the Gita (CWG, vol. 17, p.80) The Sermon on the Mount competes almost on equal terms with the Bhagavad Gita fpr the domination of my heart. It is the Sermon on the Mount that has endeared Jesus to me (Gandhi, The Message of Jesus Christ)

On Jesus Christ
An Indian Christian living in Ceylon: What is your attitude towards the teachings of Jesus Christ? Gandhi: They have an immense moral value for me, but I do not regard everything said in the Bible as the final word of GodI regard Jesus Christ as one of the greatest teachers of mankind, but I do not consider him to be the only son of God. (CWG vol. 30, p.47) thus to believe that Jesus is the only begotten son of God is to me against Reason, for God cant marry and beget children. The word son there can only be used in a figurative sense. In that sense every one who stands in the position of Jesus is a son of God (CWG vol.64 p.398)

Is not Jesus the only sinless one?

What do we know of the whole life of Christ? Apart from the years of his life given in the four

gospels of the New Testament---we know nothing of the rest of his life (CWG vol. 40 p.315)

Was Jesus Christ your leader and guide?

I regard Jesus as a human being like the rest of the teachers of the world. As such he was undoubtedly great. But I do not by any means regard him to have been the very best. The acknowledgement of the debt which I have so often repeated that I owe to the Sermon on the Mount should not be mistaken to mean any acknowledgement of the Orthodox interpretation of the Bible or the life of Jesus. I must not sail under false colours (CWG vol.34, p,10)

Jesus was an Asiatic

But to-day I rebel against Orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted the

message of Jesus. He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered through many media and when it had the backing of a Roman emperor, it became an imperialist faith which it remains to-day (CWG vol.62, p.388)

On Atonement
Two American Professors asked Gandhi: Do you believe in Christ as the Saviour of humanity through His vicarious suffering? Gandhi: I am not impressed with the concept...I do not believe at all that one individual can wash off the sins and sorrows of another and grant him redemptionI can not accept the idea that one man die for the sale of the sins of millions and save them (Mahadev Desai, Day-to-Day with Gandhi, vol.5, p.39)

Not Jesus of History, but Christ of Faith

A Missionary: Do you definitely feel the presence of the living Christ within you? Gandhi: 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 Godcall Him Christ, call him Krishna, call him Rama. We have one thousand names of God (CWG vol. 27, p.439) Gandhi: It would be poor comfort to the world if it had to depend upon a historical God who died 2000 year ago. Do not then preach the God of history, but show Him as He lives today through you (CWG vol. 34, p.261-62)

I may say that I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it was proved by some one that the man called Jesus never lived, and that what was narrated in the Gospels was a figment of the writers imagination. For the Sermon on the Mount would still be true to me (CWG vol. 48, p. 437)

On miracles and prophesies

Gandhi: I do not need either the prophecies or miracles to establish Jesus greatness as a teacher. Nothing can be more miraculous than the three years of his ministryAs for Jesus raising the dead to life, well, I doubt if the men he raised were really deadThe laws of nature are changeless, unchangeable (CWG vol.65, p.82)

Christ was a Non-resistant

Gandhi: Jesus is the most active non-violent resister known perhaps to history (CWG vol.84, p.372)

On St Pauls letters
I draw a great distinction between the Sermon on the Mount and the Letters of St Paul. They

are a graft on Christs teaching, his own gloss apart from Christs own experience (CWG vol.35 p.464)

Christians mixed up with the British John R.Mott: What is the contribution of Christianity to the National life in India? I mean the influence of Christ apart from Christianity?

Gandhi: It is not possible to consider the teaching of a religions teacher apart from the lives of his followers. Unfortunately, Christianity in India has been inextricable mixed up for the last one hundred years with the British rule. It appears to us as synonymous with the materialistic civilization and imperialistic exploitation by the strong white races of the weaker races if the world. Its contribution to India has been therefore largely of a negative in character (CWG vol. 40, pp. 58-59)

Sublimating Casteism
Dr Crane: Does Hinduism believe in Caste system?
Gandhi: Hinduism does not believe in Caste. I would obliterate it at once. But I believe in varna dharma, which is the law of life. I believe some people are born to teach and some to defend and some to engage in trade and agriculture and some to do manual labour, so much so that these occupations become heredity. The law of varna dharma is nothing but the law of conservation of energy. Whys should my son not be scavenger if I am hold a scavengers profession in no way inferior to a clergymansFor a one?...I , scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your PresidentGod pervades allanimate and inanimate (CWG vol. 64, p.400)

Gandhi vs Ambedkar (Poona Pact in 1932) On Mass Movements

Gandhi: I distrust mass movements (of this nature). They have as their object not the upliftment of the untouchables, but their ultimate conversion. This motive of mass proselytisation lurking at the back is my opinion vitiates missionary effort (CWG vol. 40, p.59)
George Joseph of Travancore asked Gandhi in 1924 whether he could join the satyagraha at Vaikom, where there was an agitation to secure for Harijans the right to travel on certain roads and enter temples. Gandhi: Let the Hindus do the work. He also advised Joseph to the untouchability practiced by the Syrian Christians. (CWG vol. p.391)

Conversions are wrong because

When every religion is as good as the other, where is the need for conversion? Conversion is a personal matter between the individual and God Conversions are largely not spontaneous change of heart, but done out of fear or material gains Conversion causes disruption in the family

Should not Missionaries share good news?

Missionaries should carry out their noble educational, medical work without any ulterior motive of converting people under these guise. Gandhi: the rose would not have to speak, neither would the Christian missionary have to speak (CWG vol. 48 p.124)

Religious Pluralism: Equality of All Religions?

In the Hindu religion, God is known by various names. Thousands of people look doubtless

upon Rama and Krishna as historical figures and literally believe that God came down in person and by worshiping him one can attain salvation. History, imagination and truth have got so inextricably mixed up. It is next to impossible to disentangle them. I have accepted all the names and forms attributed to God as symbols connoting one formless omnipresent Rama. To me, therefore, Rama described as the lord of Sita, and son of Dasharatha is the all powerful essence whose name inscribed in the heart, removes all sufferingmental, moral and physical ( Harijan, 2 June, 1946)

Religious Pluralism encounters questions on


epistemology, ethics, Logic eschatology)

Gandhian ideals: Christian inspiration

Ahima or Non-Violence Truth is God. Objectifying God. (Stanley Jones) Satyagraha Brahmacarya or Celibacy (self control) Sarvodaya. (John Ruskins Unto This Last) Rama Rajya Swaraj Swadeshi Bread Labour Trusteeship Prayer and Silence

Is Gandhi a Christian?
Gandhi embraced Christ but rejected Christianity. (Louis Fischer, Life of Mahatma Gandhi,

p.131) Gandhis Satyagraha is Christianity in Action. A Christian is necessarily a Gandhian, but a Gandhian need not be a Christian, in the traditional sense of the term. (SK George, Gandhis Challenge to Christianity) This little man has taught me more of the spirit of Christ than any other man in East and West He was a Hindu by allegiance, but a Christian by affinity (E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation. P.11 )

Christ ontologically necessary, epistemologically not?

I give you my assurance that there is a great deal of good in India. Do not flatter yourselves

with the belief that a mere recital of the celebrated verse in St John makes a man a Christian. If I have read the Bible correctly, I know many men who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ or have rejected the official interpretation of Christianity will, probably, if Jesus came in our midst today in the flesh, be owned by him more than many of us. I therefore ask you to approach the problem before you with open-heartedness and humility (CWG vol. 27, p.437)