Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gandhi's famous quote

There is a popular quote attributed to Mohandas Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Searching the internet I could not find any reference for the quote so I can’t say if it is accurate or what the context is. However from Gandhi’s autobiography we can see how it is possibly intended. It appears that Gandhi preferred the idea of self purification. The Christians he thought most highly, as he says of Mr. Coates below: “His heart was pure, and he believed in the possibility of self-purification.” The fact is that Christians are not Christ-like and they never will be Paul who arguably was the most influential Christian of all time did not assert that he was Christ like, in fact he acknowledged himself to be the chief of sinners. That the things he does he does not want to do etc. I find most of the Christians who use this quote of Gandhi do so with about as much misunderstanding of Christianity as Gandhi had. It is easy to criticize Christians, easy to criticize any and every religion in fact. After all they are all made up of the same kind of people; sinners.

Here is a bit of Gandhi’s history with Christians found in his autobiography. The first mention of Christians is not terribly nice, he states:

“Only Christianity was at the time an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it. And for a reason. 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 must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one's own clothes did not deserve the name. 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.

“But the fact that I had learnt to be tolerant to other religions did not mean that I had any living faith in God. I happened, about this time, to come across Manusmriti which was amongst my father's collection. The story of the creation and similar things in it did not impress me very much, but on the contrary made me incline somewhat towards atheism.”

Most of us would find this a kind of trivial criticisms of Christianity. Probably a big deal to a Hindu however when a person converts and can eat beef, compelled as Gandhi put it at the time though later in the book he discovered that there is nothing in Christianity that compels a Christian to eat beef or drink liquor.

“About the same time I met a good Christian from Manchester in a vegetarian boarding house. He talked to me about Christianity. I narrated to him my Rajkot recollections. He was pained to hear them. He said, 'I am a vegetarian. I do not drink. Many Christians are meat- eaters and drink, no doubt; but neither meat-eating not drinking is enjoined by scripture. Do please read the Bible.' I accepted his advice, and he got me a copy. I have a faint recollection that he himself used to sell copies of the Bible, and I purchased from him an edition containing maps, concordance, and other aids. I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.”

He found the New Testament a bit better particularly the Sermon on the Mount:

“But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, 'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloke too,' delighted me beyond measure and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt's 'For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal' etc. 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.”

Later Gandhi took up with some Christian friends who supplied him with numerous books, books designed to support the concept of proof in the reality of the Christian faith, by this time Gandhi had left his atheism:

“I read a number of such books in 1893. I do not remember the names of them all, but they included the Commentary of Dr. Parker of the City Temple, Pearson's Many Infallible Proofs and Butler's Analogy. Parts of these were unintelligible to me. I liked some things in them, while I did not like others. Many Infallible Proofs were proofs in support of the religion of the Bible, as the author understood it. The book had no effect on me. Parker's Commentary was morally stimulating, but it could not be of any help to one who had no faith in the prevalent Christian beliefs. Butler's Analogy struck me to be a very profound and difficult book, which should be read four or five times to be understood properly. It seemed to me to be written with a view to converting atheists to theism. The arguments advanced in it regarding the existence of God were unnecessary for me, as I had then passed the stage of unbelief; but the arguments in proof of Jesus being the only incarnation of God and the mediator between God and man left me unmoved.”

Gandhi then relates a theological discussion with a Plymouth Brethren member:

“Many of the contacts for which Mr. Coates was responsible were good. Most struck me as being God fearing. But during my contact with this family, one of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:

'You cannot understand the beauty of our religion. From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can out throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must, It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind.

Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.'

The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:

'If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. 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.'

To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: I assure you, your attempt is fruitless. Think again over what I have said.'

And the brother proved as good as his word. he knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought of them.
But I already knew before meeting with these friends that all Christians did not believe in such a theory of atonement. Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God, His heart was pure, and he believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two ladies also shared this belief. Some of the books that came into my hands were full of devotion, So, although Mr. Coates was very much disturbed by this latest experience of mine. I was able to reassure him and tell him that the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.
“My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard to the Bible and its accepted interpretation”

Ultimately Gandhi could not accept the incarnation of Christ:

“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. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. 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 accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among 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.”

He ends the major reference to Christianity by recounting the boredom and worldly appearing members of a Wesleyan church he attended and often fell asleep in. Something that is all to common an experience for all of us.

No comments: