In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996)’ by Shri Sita Ram Goel, to readers old and new. Shri SR Goel was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to VoiceOfDharma.org for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.
Encounter with Mahatma Gandhi
The next dialogue between Hindu Dharma and Christianity was the longest in duration and the richest in content. The spokesman for Hindu Dharma was Mahatma Gandhi. Christianity was represented by many men and women from Bharat and abroad. Some of them occupied high positions in the worldwide Christian mission.
The dialogue started in 1893 when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reached South Africa as a barrister and discovered that the Christians who befriended him were looking forward to his conversion. It ended on December 24, 1947 when Mahatma Gandhi, the father figure in independent Bharat, offered Christmas greetings to Christians in Bharat and abroad, wishing them well and hoping that they will pursue the path of sacrifice and martyrdom shown by Jesus Christ. At the same time he asked his Christian countrymen to shed fears about their future in independent Bharat.
Gandhiji was brought up in an atmosphere of religious tolerance. He had accompanied his mother and father to the Vaishnava Haveli and the temples of Shiva and Rama. Everywhere they worshipped with equal reverence. Jain monks would pay frequent visits to my father and talk with him on subjects religious and mundane. So did Muslim and Parsi friends of his father who listened to them with respect, and often with interest.1
Small wonder that when he saw the behaviour of Christian missionaries for the first time, he developed a sort of dislike for Christianity. He was a school student at Rajkot. “In those days,” he writes, “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 experience.”
His dislike of Christianity deepened when he heard about the doings of a well-known Hindu convert. “It was the talk of the town,” he continues, “that, when he was baptised, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes and that thenceforward 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 and drink liquor and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I 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.”2
By the time Gandhiji read the Bible for the first time, he had developed an eager and reflective interest in religion. Towards the end of his second year in England, he read Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Song Celestial and The Light of Asia. The first work is the famous English translation of the Gita. The second narrates the life of the Buddha. The Gita ‘struck me as one of priceless worth.’ As regards the life of the Buddha, ‘once I had begun it I could not leave off.’ Around the same time, he read Madame Blavatsky’s The Key to Theosophy which ‘disabused me of the notion fostered by missionaries that Hindu Dharma was rife with superstition.’ So he welcomed a copy of the Bible sold to him by a Christian friend who was a vegetarian and who did not drink. “I began reading it,” writes Gandhiji, “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.”3
The New Testament, however, produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. This first impression proved to be his last also. In years to come, he continued to identify true Christianity with the Sermon on the Mount and exclude everything else in Christian theology to the chagrin of Christian missionaries who could neither disown the Sermon nor stop at it. “My young mind,” continues Gandhiji, “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.”4
Gandhiji came in contact with some believing Christians during his stay in South Africa and had an opportunity to reflect on Christian theology. Mr. A. W. Baker, the attorney of Gandhiji’s client in Pretoria was a staunch lay preacher and one of the Directors of the South Africa General Mission. He showed interest in the religion of Gandhiji who confessed that though he was a Hindu, he did not know much of Hindu Dharma and knew less of other religions. Mr. Baker invited Gandhiji to the daily meetings of his missionary coworkers and promised to give him some religious books to read.5 Gandhiji was somewhat intrigued and asked himself, What can be the meaning of Mr. Baker’s interest in me? What shall I gain from his religious co-workers? How far should I undertake the study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature about Hindu Dharma? And how was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without thoroughly knowing my own religion? He came to the conclusion that “I should make a dispassionate study of all that came to me, and deal with Baker’s group as God might guide me and that I should not think of embracing another religion before I had fully understood my own.6
He started attending the meetings where the prayers did not last for more than five minutes. He was introduced to Mr. Baker’s co-workers one of whom was Mr. Coates who loaded me with books, as it were. The books were a mix of the stale and the stimulating. At the end, the arguments in proof of Jesus being the only incarnation of God and the Mediator between God and man left me unmoved. But Mr. Coates was not the man to accept defeat. One day, He saw, round my neck, the Vaishnava necklace of Tulasi-beads and said, come, let me break the necklace. Gandhiji told him, No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my mother.7 Mr. Coates could not appreciate my argument, as he had no regard for my religion. He was convinced that salvation was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that my sins would not be washed away except by intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.8
Another Christian group which Gandhiji met at this time was that of the Plymouth Brethren who proclaimed that as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us.9 One of the Brothers proved as good as his word. He committed transgressions and remained undisturbed by the thought of them. Gandhiji was relieved to know that all Christians did not believe in such a theory of atonement and assured Mr. Coates that the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.10
By now Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future.11 He took Gandhiji to the Wellington Convention of Protestant Christians. Gandhiji’s colour created some problems for him in the hotel and the dining room but Mr. Baker stood by the guests of a hotel. The Convention lasted for three days and Gandhiji appreciated the devoutness of those who attended it. But he saw no reason for changing my belief in my religion. He found it impossible to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. He made a frank confession of his doubts to his Christian friends who were shocked.12
The Convention helped Gandhiji to make up his mind about Christianity. He adhered to these views for the rest of his life. My difficulties, he writes, 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, their 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 view. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, as 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 the Christians. Philosophically 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.13
At the same time, Gandhiji felt greatly dissatisfied with Hindu Dharma as he saw it. He could not understand how untouchability could be a part of Hindu Dharma. As not only his Christian but also Muslim friends were trying to convert him, he wanted to know more about Hinduism. He presented his problem to Raychandbhai, his mentor in Bharat, and corresponded with other religious authorities in India.14 Raychandbhai assured him that no other religion has the subtle and profound thought of Hindu Dharma, its vision of the soul, or its charity. Thus Gandhiji took a path which my Christian friends had not intended for me.15
He continued to read books written by Christians and also to correspond with Christian friends in England. He found that some exponents of Christianity did not adhere to Christian theology and took a broader and deeper view of Jesus and his message. He started moving away from Christianity as preached by the missionaries. The missionaries, however, refused to give him up as a bad job and when he moved to Durban, Mr. Spencer Walton, the head of the South Africa General Mission, found me out.16
The approach this time was softer. Mr. Walton never asked Gandhiji to embrace Christianity. He became Gandhiji’s friend and introduced him to Mrs. Walton. Gandhiji liked them both for their humility, perseverance and devotion to work.17 At the suggestion of some other Christian friends, Gandhiji started attending the Wesleyan Church every Sunday. But he found the sermons uninspiring and the congregation worldly-minded people who went to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.18 On occasions, he fell into an involuntary doze and felt ashamed. He was relieved when he found that his neighbours in the Church were in no better case.19 Finally he gave up attending the Church.
Gandhiji had a standing invitation from a Christian family to join them for lunch every Sunday. “Once we began to compare,” he writes, “the life of Jesus with that of Buddha. ‘Look at Gautama’s compassion,’ said I. ‘It was not confined to mankind, it was extended to all living beings. Does not one’s heart overflow with love to think of the lamb joyously perched on his shoulders? One fails to notice this love for all living beings in the life of Jesus.’ The comparison pained the lady.” The contact came to an end soon after because Gandhiji tried to teach her son the superiority of vegetarian food over meat-eating. The lady felt dismayed and told Gandhiji that my boy is none the better for your company. He took the hint and stopped the Visits.20
Gandhiji had become a famous man by the time he left South Africa for good in 1915 and started working in Bharat. He had not yet emerged as the Mahatma, nor risen to the supreme command of the national movement for freedom from British rule. Christian missionaries regarded him as a friend because of his proclaimed admiration for Jesus. Early in 1916 he was invited to address a Missionary Conference at Madras on the subject of Swadeshi. After having defined Swadeshi as ‘that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote’, he said that “in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition, I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion.”21
He advised the missionaries to serve the spirit of Christianity better, by dropping the goal of proselytising but continuing their philanthropic work. He told them that Christ’s message, ‘Go Ye Unto All the World’, had been narrowly interpreted and that in every case, a conversion leaves a sore behind it. At the same time he held up Hindu Dharma as the embodiment of the Swadeshi spirit. That was the secret, he said, of its being the most tolerant religion.22
Christian missionaries had been propagating that the Reform Movement in Hindu Dharma as well as Gandhiji’s doctrine of Satyagraha were influenced by the principles of Christianity. The proposition was presented to Gandhiji by Rev. Wells Branch in the latter’s letter dated May 9, 1919. He wrote back on May 12 that “I do not think either has anything to do with Christian teaching.” He held modern civilisation and modern education as responsible for the Reform Movement. As to satyagraha, he said that it is an extended application of the ancient teaching.23 In the same letter he rejected the exclusive divinity of Jesus while praising the Sermon on the Mount. Rev. Branch had come to believe that there were many secret followers of Jesus in Bharat who were not coming out in the open because they feared persecution from Hindu society. Gandhiji replied, “I have moved among thousands upon thousands of Indians but I have not found any secret followers of Jesus.24
Thus by the time M. K. Gandhi emerged as Mahatma Gandhi and took command of the national movement for freedom in 1920, he had studied and reflected upon all aspects of Christianity and formed his views on them. He had watched the working of Christian missions from close quarters and understood their role vis-a-vis Hindu religion and culture. In years to come he would identify himself as a sanAtanI Hindu fully satisfied with his ancestral faith. He would explain and elaborate his views on Christianity and Christian missions and defend the principles and practices of Hindu Dharma which the missionaries held in contempt. But because he admired Jesus as a great teacher, he would continue to arouse fond hopes in Christian hearts.
Meanwhile, he had changed from a loyal citizen of the British Empire to its uncompromising opponent. The weapon he forged for fighting the British Raj in Bharat was non-violent non-cooperation. The struggle for freedom was combined with a programme for socioeconomic reconstruction in which the abolition of untouchability was a major plank. His campaigns involved him in conflict not only with the British Government of Bharat but also with Hindu orthodoxy.
While he was in Sabarmati Jail he was interviewed by a representative of The Manchester Guardian some time before March 18, 1922. The Hindu of Madras published the interview on August 15, 1922. The interviewer tried to pin him down by saying that non-cooperation was contrary to Christ’s teaching. Gandhiji replied, “Not being a Christian I am not bound to justify my action by Christian principles.”25
While he was still in jail, the Young India of February 8, 1923 published an interesting item which deserves to be reproduced in full:
Rev. Dr. Macarish, elected head of the Presbyterian Church Synod which recently met at Orillia in Canada referred to the incidental commercial advantages of religious missions in the following words:
One cry in the country had long been markets, wider markets, and since the introduction of the Fordney Bill, that cry has been louder and more insistent than ever. If the farmers and manufacturers desire to create a market, they would do well to get in touch with foreign missions, and we are assured that it would not be long till they received their money back with liberal interest.
Although the missionary went to the foreign fields to win souls for Jesus, the results of his labours also meant the extension of commerce. Trade would follow the banner of the Cross, as readily as it would the Union jack, the Stars and Stripes, or any of the other national emblems, and usually it cost a good deal less.
It cost British Government £225,000,000 to make the Union jack float over Pretoria; yet it is doubtful if the South African war did as much to promote trade, as missions there had previously done. In the past, the missionaries had been the best advertisers of heathen countries. Dr. John G. Paton did more to advertise the South Sea Islands than the sandal-wood traders ever did, and who ever did more to advertise Africa than Livingston?
Fifty years ago, it was said that when a missionary had been abroad for twenty years, he was worth £50,000 to British commerce; and it was probably not extravagant to say that one of our missionaries in India or China to-day was worth a similar sum to any great industrial centre in this country.
Gandhiji had launched his programme for abolition of untouchability soon after he came out of jail. He had made it clear to all concerned that untouchability was a Hindu problem and that Hindus alone should participate in the movement for its abolition. But Christian missions tried to jump into the fray. He received a letter from Mr. George Joseph of Travancore asking whether he could join the satyagraha at Vykom which was going on for securing to the Harijans the right to travel on certain roads and enter Hindu temples for worship. Gandhiji advised him on April 6, 1924 to let the Hindus do the work and referred him to the Nagpur resolution of the Congress which calls upon the Hindu members to remove the curse of untouchability. At the same time he drew Mr. Joseph’s attention to the untouchability practised by the Syrian Christians.26 He also told the Hindus not to seek the support of non-Hindus in the Vykom satyagraha. “If you are fighting as an enlightened against the bigoted Hindu,” he wrote to K. Madhavan Nair on May 6, 1924, “it is your bounden duty not only not to seek but respectfully to reject all support from non-Hindus.”27 He was aware that Christian missionaries were not above exploiting the situation to the disadvantage of Hindu Dharma.
A retired Bharatiya police officer in England wrote in The Manchester Guardian that Christian missionaries had done commendable work for the uplift of Harijans. Gandhiji thought that the article deserved his comment. He wrote a Note under the heading ‘Ignorance’ in the Young India of July 13, 1924. “The writer brings up for commendation,” he said, “the Christian work among untouchables; I must not enter into the merits of Christian work in India. The indirect influence of Christianity has been to quicken Hinduism into life. The cultured Hindu society has admitted its grievous sin against the untouchables. But the effect of Christianity upon India in general must be judged by the life lived in our midst by the average Christian and its effect upon us. I am sorry to have to record my opinion that it has been disastrous. 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.”28
Gandhiji had the leisure to read and look through a large number of books, mostly on religion, while he was in Sabarmati jail. Some of these books had been sent to him by Christians in Bharat and abroad, who wanted to enlighten him about Christianity. Commenting on these books in the Young India of September 4, 1924, he wrote, “I must confess that whilst I recognized their kind motive, I could not appreciate the majority of books they sent. I wish I could say something of their gifts that would please them. But that would not be fair or truthful if I could not mean it. The orthodox books on Christianity do not give me any satisfaction. My regard for the life of Jesus is indeed very great… But I do not accept the orthodox teaching that Jesus was or is God incarnate in the accepted sense or that he was, or is the only son of God. I do not believe in the doctrine of appropriation of another’s merit I do not take the words ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ and ‘the Holy Ghost’ literally, Nor do I consider every word in the New Testament as God’s own word. Between the Old and the New there is a fundamental difference. Whilst the Old contains some very deep truths, I am unable to pay it the same honours I pay the New Testament. I regard the latter as an extension of the Old and in some matters rejection of the Old. Nor do I regard the New as the last word of God… I would therefore respectfully urge my Christian friends and well-wishers to take me as I am. I respect and appreciate their wish that I should think and be as they are even as I respect and appreciate a similar wish on the part of my Mussalman friends. I regard both the religions as equally true with my own. But my own gives me full satisfaction. It contains all that I need for my growth. It teaches me to pray not that others may believe as I believe but that they may grow to their full height in their own religion.”29 He added, “That which I would not have missed was the Mahabharata and the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Bhagavata.”30
Mahadev Desai has recorded in his Diary dated November 3, 1924 that a Swiss missionary met Gandhiji and apologised for his broken English. Gandhiji put him at ease by telling him that English was a foreign tongue for him also. The missionary told him, “Every one knows you all over Europe. In Germany and Switzerland, you are quite a name because you are an excellent Christian.” Gandhiji laughed and said, “But I am not a Christian.” The missionary persisted, “But you follow Christian principles in life faithfully.” Gandhiji pointed out, “Yes, that is true. But those principles are found in my religion as well.” The missionary was a little put out but insisted, “But in Christianity specially so.” Gandhiji observed, “That is doubtful. I think all religions enjoin certain general commandments, ‘speak the truth’, ‘harm nobody’, etc. But personally my own religion gives me peace; if I got it from any other I would certainly embrace that religion.” The missionary did not seem to appreciate this remark, and left.31
The Navajivan dated December 7, 1924 recorded an interview which Gandhiji gave to two American professors. One of them asked, “Do you believe in Christ as the Saviour of humanity through His vicarious suffering?” Gandhiji replied, “I am not much impressed with the concept.” The professor enquired, “Are you shocked?” Gandhiji said, “No, not shocked either, I do not believe at all that one individual can wash off the sins of some other and grant him redemption. It is a psychological fact that one individual may feel pained at the sins and sorrows of another and the consciousness that the former is grieved may lead to the moral uplift of the latter. But I cannot accept the idea that one man die for the sake of the sins of millions and save them.”32
The missionary machine, however, kept grinding in the same old grooves. Its campaign among the Harijans kept on maligning Hindu Dharma. Gandhiji was pained. “Lots of people,” he said at the Antyaja Conference on January 16, 1925, “will come and tell you that your Hindu religion is all wrong, as you are not allowed to go to school or enter the temple. To such people you should say, ‘We shall settle accounts with our Hindu brothers ; you may not come between us as you may not intervene in quarrel between father and son or among relatives.’ And you should remain steadfast to your religion… Many Christian friends ask me to turn Christian. I tell them there is nothing wrong with my religion. Why should I give it up? I have joined the Antyajas and if for that reason Hindus persecute me, do I cease to be a Hindu? Hinduism is meant for me and my soil.”33
Mahadev Desai records in his Diary dated May 30, 1925 that when Gandhiji was in Darjeeling he was invited by Miss Roland, a Christian missionary, to address an audience at the Bengali teaching school for missionaries. About a hundred or hundred and fifty European men and women were present.34 He said, “Conversion to a religion is like passing one’s Entrance Examination, standing at the gateway to Heaven. Whether you accept one religion or another is of no consequence. All that God wants us to say is whether what we profess with our lips, we but believe in our hearts. There are thousands of men and women in India who do not know Jesus or his amazing sacrifice, but are far more God-fearing than many a Christian who knows the Bible and feels he follows the decalouge.”
He had no use for nominal Christians. “In my humble opinion,” he continued, “a man is not ‘converted’ the moment he renounces his own faith and embraces another. I can quote a number of examples of Indians and Zulus who have turned Christians, but have not the faintest idea of the law of love or the sacrifice of Jesus or his message.”35
He acknowledged the debt we owe to missionaries for service to vernacular languages and literatures- Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. He mentioned Pope and Taylor for what they did for Tamil and Gujarati. “But in this,” he said, “you have touched but a fringe. You will serve India best when you pick up the poorest of Indians and that only when you identify yourselves with them.”36 He regretted what Bishop Heber had said about these poor people – Where every prospect pleases, and man alone is vile. “He was wrong. Let God forgive him,” Gandhiji added.37
During the same visit to Bengal, Gandhiji was invited to speak before a meeting of missionaries held at the Y.M.C.A. in Calcutta on June 28, 1925. He started by telling them of his association with Christians since his student days in London. “In South Africa,” he said, “where I found myself in the midst of inhospitable surroundings, I was able to make hundreds of Christian friends.” He made them laugh when he told them, “There was even a time in my life when a very sincere friend of mine, a great and good Quaker, had designs on me. He thought that I was too good not to become a Christian. I was sorry to have disappointed him. One missionary friend of mine in South Africa still writes to me and asks me, ‘How is it with you?’ I have always told this friend that so far as know, it is well with me.”38
Next, he told them about his meeting with Kali Charan Banerjee. “In answer to promises made,” he said, “to one of these Christian friends of mine, I thought it my duty to see one of the biggest of Indian Christians, as I was told he was, – the late Kali Charan Banerjee. I went over to him – I am telling you of the deep search that I have undergone in order that I might leave no stone unturned to find out the true path – I went to him with an absolutely open mind and in a receptive mood, and I met him also under circumstances which were most affecting. I found that there was much in common between Mr. Banerjee and myself. His simplicity, his humility, his courage, his truthfulness, all these things I have all along admired. He met me when his wife was on her death-bed. You cannot imagine a more impressive scene, a more ennobling circumstance. I told Mr. Banerjee, ‘I have come to you as a seeker’ – this was in 1901. ‘I have come to you in fulfilment of a sacred promise I have made to some of my dearest Christian friends that I will leave no stone unturned to find out the true light.’ I told him that I had given my friends the assurance that no worldly gain would keep me away from the light, if I could but see it. Well, I am not going to engage you in giving a description of the little discussion that we had between us. It was very good, very noble. I came away, not sorry, not dejected, not disappointed, but I felt sad that even Mr. Banerjee could not convince me.
Passing on to his present position, he said, “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 Bhagavad 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 on me, I owe it to the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.“39
His love of Hindu Dharma did not mean disrespect for other religions. “I must add,” he said, “that I did not stop at studying the Bible and the commentaries and other books on Christianity that my friends placed in my hands; but I said to myself, 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 the 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.”40
He chided the missionaries for misrepresenting Hindu Dharma. “You, the missionaries,” he said, “come to India thinking that you come to a land of heathens, of idolaters, of men who do not know God. One of the greatest of Christian divines, Bishop Heber, wrote the two lines which have always left a sting with me: ‘Where every prospect pleases, And man alone is vile.’ I wish he had not written them. My own experience in my travels throughout India has been to the contrary. I have gone from one end of the country to the other, without any prejudice, in a relentless search after truth, and I am not able to say that here in this fair land, watered by the great Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Jumna, man is vile. He is not vile. He is as much a seeker after truth as you and I are, possibly more so I tell you there are many such huts belonging to the untouchables where you will certainly find God. They do not reason but they persist in their belief that God is. They depend upon God for His assistance and find it too. There are many stories told through the length and breadth of India about these noble untouchables. Vile as some of them may be, there are noblest specimens of humanity in their midst.”41
And this nobility was not confined to the untouchables of Bharat. “No. I am here to tell you,” he continued, “that there are non-Brahmins, there are Brahmins who are as fine specimens of humanity as you will find in any place on the earth. There are Brahmins today in India who are embodiments of self-sacrifice, godliness, and humility. There are Brahmins who are devoting themselves body and soul to the service of untouchables, but with execration from orthodoxy. They do not mind it, because in serving pariahs they are serving God. I can quote chapter and verse from my experience. I place these facts before you in all humility for the simple reason that you may know this land better, the land to which you have come to serve. You are here to find out the distress of the people of India and remove it. But I hope you are here also in a receptive mood and, if there is anything that India has to give, you will not stop your ears, you will not close your eyes and steel your hearts, but open up your ears, eyes and, most of all, your hearts to receive all that may be good in the land. 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 that 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 even 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.”42
Gandhiji told the missionaries that they stood isolated from the people of Bharat because they come to Bharat under the shadow, or, if you like, under the protection of a temporal power, and it creates an impassable bar.43 He said that he was not impressed by the statistics that so many orphans have been reclaimed and brought to the Christian faith. He asked them to identify themselves with the masses and find out what the masses need most. “You cannot,” he said, “present the hungry and famished masses with God. Their God is their food.”44
A missionary asked him, “Do you definitely feel the presence of the living Christ within you?” Gandhiji replied, “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. We have one thousand names of God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac and my destination would be the Hooghly.”45
An Englishmen defended Bishop Heber’s song on the ground that the song did not refer to Bharatiyas but to Christians and that they described themselves in their songs very often as the worst of sinners. Gandhiji put his defence out of court. He quoted those parts of the song which said that Bharat, Africa and such other countries were inviting the Christians to spread their light in these lands, and that it was there that nature’s prospect pleased but only man was vile, because the heathen was worshipping wood and stone in his blindness. At the end he asked, “Is it not strange, that a song written ages ago is still sung in Christian circles?”46
On August 12, 1925 Gandhiji delivered another speech before the Y.M.C.A. at Calcutta. He started by giving an account of his association with Christianity and Christians. He mentioned Principal S. K. Rudra and C. F. Andrews as among his best friends. Coming to the duty of Indian Christians, he said, “In my humble opinion a Christian Young Indian owes a double duty – to those whose religion he has given up and to those whose religion he has adopted. The Indian Christian’s duty to the religion he has given up is to retain all the good that belongs to it and impart it to the new he has taken. Contrarily, he takes the best of the new religion and transmits it to those whom he has left or who have banished him. But that never happens in a majority of cases. With deep grief that has to be noted. And in Madras you go to different quarters altogether, but by no means a congenial surroundings. You will find there vice double-distilled and no gain on either side.”47
Instead, the Bharatiya Christians had invited a double tragedy. They did not mix with Bharatiyas, and Europeans would not mix with them. “I tried to talk,” he said, “as I kept walking on the Ellisbridge [in Ahmedabad] to young girls walking to their seminary. They did not even return my salaams. I attended a service also. You will be surprised to see that I was sitting in a corner hoping to exchange a word – without avail, not even a glance. Excuses there may be, but that should not be the case. You cut yourself away from your kith and kin.”48
Another great mistake the converts to Christianity were making was to neglect their native languages and try to learn the English language alone. “They are passing through schools and colleges,” he said, “like so many pieces of a machine – but they don’t think, don’t originate, forget their mother tongue. They try to learn the English language, succeed in making a hash of it, and trying to think in a foreign tongue, become paralysed. There is something radically wrong in a system which has brought about such helplessness.”
He commanded to them the example set by Madhusudan Datta who had enriched his mother tongue and Kali Charan Banerjee and S. K. Rudra who had retained their Indianness after becoming Christians. “If the Indian Christians,” he concluded, “want to serve their country, are to serve the religion they profess, it will be necessary to revise a great deal of what they are doing today.”49
He was happy when the speakers who preceded him at a congregation of the Baptist Church on August 20, spoke in their mother tongue. “The man who discards his mother tongue,” he said, “gives up thereby his parents, his friends, his neighbours and his country as well. The man who is capable of snapping such ties of love becomes unfit for doing any good to humanity or to anybody whatever. And the man unfit to serve the world is unfit to know or serve God.”50
He upheld the same spirit of Swadeshi in other spheres of life. “During my travels,” he continued, “I find a general belief that to turn a Christian is to turn European; to become self-willed, and give up self-restraint, use only foreign cloth, dress oneself in European style and start taking meat and brandy. But I think the fact is, if a person discards his country, his customs and his old connections and manners when he changes his religion, he becomes all the more unfit to gain a knowledge of God. For, a change of religion means really a conversion of the heart. When there is a real conversion, a man’s heart grows. But in this country one finds that conversion brings about deep disdain for one’s old religion and its followers, i.e., one’s old friends and relatives. The next change that takes place is that of dress and manners and behaviour. All that does great harm to the country. In my view your object in changing your religion should be to bring about the prosperity of your country.”51
He told them that conversion should not mean license in conduct. He drew their attention to what the Bible teaches about one’s conduct towards one’s neighbours. “Christian friends tell me,” he said, “that when they change their faith, there remains no need for them to observe any restraint. They say, ‘You can do anything you like when you become a Christian.’ I respectfully say that this is a wrong notion. I shall give you an instance to prove my contention. There is a common belief that while some food is forbidden and some allowed in Hinduism, once you become a Christian, you get a license to eat anything you like and drink even liquor. Hence there are a lot of Christians who disregard their neighbour’s feelings and do what they like at the cost of hurting them. But I was told the other day that the Bible condemns such conduct.”52
A student doing post-graduate studies in the U.S.A. wrote to Gandhiji asking for his frank evaluation of the work of Christian missionaries in Bharat. He wanted to know if Christianity has some contribution to make to the life of Bharat and if Bharat could do without Christian missionaries. Gandhiji said, “In my opinion Christian missionaries have done good to us indirectly. Their direct contribution is probably more harmful than otherwise. I am against the modem methods of proselytising. Years’ experience of proselytising both in South Africa and India has convinced me that it has not raised the general moral tone of converts who have imbibed the superficialities of European civilization, and have missed the teaching of Jesus. I must be understood to refer to the general tendency and not to brilliant exceptions. The indirect contribution, on the other hand, of Christian missionary effort is great. It has stimulated Hindu and Mussalman religious research. It has forced us to put our house in order. The great educational and curative institutions of Christian missions I also count among indirect results, because they have been established, not for their own sakes, but as an aid to proselytizing.”53
A Christian Bharatiya domiciled in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but studying in the U.S.A. sent to Gandhiji a number of questions on behalf of students associated with the Y.M.C.A. One of the question was, ‘What is your attitude towards the teachings of Jesus Christ?’ Gandhiji published his reply in the Young India of February 25, 1926: “They have an immense moral value for me, but I do not regard everything said in the Bible as the final word of God or exhaustive or even acceptable from the moral standpoint. I regard Jesus Christ as one of the greatest teachers of mankind, but I do not consider him to be the ‘only son of God’.”54
An English translation of Gandhiji’s autobiography was being serialised in the Young India from December 3, 1925 onwards. When the account of his first encounter with Christianity appeared in the weekly, he received a letter from Rev. H. R. Scott, at present stationed at Surat. Gandhiji published the letter in the Young India of March 4, 1926. “I was the only missionary in Rajkot during those years (from 1883 to 1897),” wrote Rev. Scott, “and what you say about Christian missionaries in Rajkot standing at a corner near the High school and pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods fills me with painful wonder. I certainly never preached at a corner near the High school; my regular preaching station was under a banyan tree in the Pan Bazar; and I certainly never poured abuse on Hindus and their gods. That would be strange way to win a hearing from Hindus. Then you say that a well-known Hindu was baptised at that time, and that he had to eat beef and drink liquor, and to change his clothes, and go about in European clothes, including a hat. No wonder that such a story got on your nerves, if you believed it. Well, I have been over 42 years in India, and I have never heared of such a thing happening; and indeed I know it to be quite contrary to what all missionaries with whom I am acquainted teach and believe and practise. During my time in Rajkot I baptised a number of Brahmins and Jain sadhus. They certainly had not to eat beef and drink liquor, either at the time of baptism or at any other time… I know of course that this kind of story is told about converts to Christianity in Kathiawad and elsewhere in India. It is obviously the wilful invention of people who wish to prevent the spread of Christianity in India and hope thereby to frighten young Hindus who show an inclination to learn the truth about Christianity, and no doubt it has had its results in deterring many such honest inquirers as yourself. But surely you must have had many opportunities since then of discovering that that particular libel is without foundation, and as a sincere lover of truth you cannot lend the great weight of your authority to perpetuate such a wilfully malicious misrepresentation of Christian missionaries.”55
Gandhiji commented, “Though the preaching took place over forty years ago the painful memory of it is still vivid before me. What I have heard and read since has but confirmed that impression. I have read several missionary publications and they are able to see only the dark side and paint it darker still. The famous hymn of Bishop Heber’s Greenland’s icy mountains – is a clear libel on Indian humanity. I was favoured with some literature even at the Yervada prison by well-meaning missionaries, which seemed to be written as if merely to belittle Hinduism. About beef-eating and wine-drinking I have merely stated what I have heard and I have said as much in my writing. And whilst I accept Mr. Scott’s repudiation, I must say that though I have mixed freely among thousands of Christian Indians, I know very few who have scruples about eating beef or other flesh meats and drinking intoxicating liquors. When I have gently reasoned with them, they have quoted to me the celebrated verse ‘Call thou nothing unclean’ as if it referred to eating and gave a licence for indulgence. I know many Hindus eat meat, some eat even beef and drink wines. They are not converts. Converts are those who are ‘born again’ or should be. A higher standard is expected of those who change their faith, if the change is a matter of heart and not of convenience.”56
Gandhiji started giving a series of lectures on the New Testament to the students of the Gujarat National College at Ahmedabad from July 24, 1926 onwards. Some Hindus did not like it. He was accused of being a secret Christian. They feared that reading the Bible to young boys was likely to influence them in favour of Christianity. “We need not dread, upon our grown-up children,” wrote Gandhiji in the Young India of September 2, 1926, “the influence of scriptures other than our own. We libralize their outlook upon life by encouraging them to study freely all that is clean. Fear there would be when someone reads his own scriptures to young people with the intention secretly or openly of converting them. He must be biased in favour of his own scriptures. For myself, I regard my study of and reverence for the Bible, the Koran and other scriptures to be wholly consistent with my claim to be a staunch sanatani Hindu. He is no sanatani Hindu who is narrow, bigoted and considers evil to be good if it has the sanction of antiquity and is to be found supported in any Sanskrit book. I claim to be a staunch sanatani Hindu because though I reject all that offends my moral sense, I find the Hindu scriptures to satisfy the need of the soul. My respectful study of other religions has not abated my reverence for or my faith in Hindu scriptures. They have indeed left their deep mark upon my understanding of Hindu scriptures. They have broadened my view of life. They have enabled me to understand more clearly many obscure passages in the Hindu scriptures.”57
“The charge of being a Christian in secret,” he continued, “was not new. It is both a libel and a compliment – a libel because there are men who can believe me to be capable of being secretly anything, i.e. for fear of being that openly. There is nothing in the world that would keep me from professing Christianity or any other faith the moment I felt the truth of and the need for it. Where there is fear there is no religion. The charge is a compliment in that it is a reluctant acknowledgement of my capacity for appreciating the beauties of Christianity.”58
Gandhiji’s great regard for Jesus was misunderstood by some Christians. W. B. Stover wrote to him, “You have taken the Lord Christ for your leader and guide. There is none better.” Gandhiji replied, “You do not mind my correcting you. 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 an acknowledgement of the Orthodox interpretation of the Bible or the life of Jesus. I must not sail under false colours.”59
Gandhiji had a discussion with some missionaries on July 29, 1927. The questions asked by the missionaries and the replies given by him were reproduced in the Young India of August 11, 1927. He opened the discussion with an introduction on how he looked at the history of religion. “Christianity,” he said, “is 1900 years old, Islam is 1300 years old. Who knows the possibility of either? 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. The powers of God should not be limited by the limitations of our understandings.”
Next, he commented on the role of the missionaries as teachers of religion and said, “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, and you will not be disappointed, neither will you have misread the message of the Bible.” The missionaries asked, “What then are we doing? Are we doing the right thing?” Gandhiji replied, “You are doing the right thing the wrong way. I want you to compliment the faith of the people instead of undermining it… Whilst a boy I heard it being said, that to become a Christian was to have a brandy bottle in one hand and beef in the other. Things are better now, but it is not unusual to find Christianity synonymous with denationalisation and Europeanisation. Must we give up our simplicity, to become better people? Do not lay the axe at our simplicity.“60
The missionaries posed their problem, “There are not only two issues before us, viz., to serve and to teach, there is a third issue, viz., evangelizing, declaring the glad tidings of the coming of Jesus and his death in redemption of our sins. What is the right way of giving the right news? We need not undermine the faith but we may make people lose their faith in lesser things.” Gandhiji’s reply was sharp. “It would be poor comfort to the world,” he said, “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… It is better to allow our lives to speak for us than our words.”61
The missionaries then asked, “But what about animistic beliefs? Should they not be corrected?”62 Gandhiji told them not to concern themselves with their beliefs but with asking them to do the right thing. Finally, the missionaries came out with their dogma, “How can we help condemning if we feel that our Christian truth is the only reality?” Gandhiji saw the implied intolerance and said, “If you cannot feel that the other faith is as true as yours, you should feel at least that the men are as true as you. The intolerance of 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.”63
Gandhiji had received a letter from an American lady who described herself as ‘a lifelong friend of India.’ He reproduced it in the Young India of October 20, 1927. “Believing that Christ was a revelation of God,” she wrote, “Christians of America have sent to India thousands of their sons and daughters to tell the people of India about Christ. Will you in return kindly give us your interpretation of Hinduism and make a comparison of Hinduism with the teachings of Christ?” Gandhiji commented, “I have ventured at several missionary meetings to tell English and American missionaries that if they could have refrained from telling India about Christ and had merely lived the life enjoined upon them by the Sermon on the Mount, India instead of suspecting them would have appreciated their living in the midst of her children and directly profited by their presence. Holding this view, I can tell American friends nothing about Hinduism by way of return. I do not believe in people telling others of their faith, especially with a view of conversion. Faith does not admit of telling. It has to be lived and then it becomes self-propagating.”64
Coming to Hindu Dharma, he wrote, “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 or my spiritual growth. On examination, I have found it to be the most tolerant of all religions known to me. Its freedom from dogma makes a forcible appeal to me in as much as it gives the votary the largest scope for self-expression. Not being an exclusive religion, it enables the followers of the faith not merely to respect all the other religions, but it also enables them to admire and assimilate whatever may be good in the other faiths. Non-violence is common to all religions, but it has found the highest expression and application in Hinduism. (I do not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate from Hinduism.) Hinduism believes in the oneness not of merely all human life but in the oneness of all that lives. Its worship of the cow is, in my opinion, its unique contribution to the evolution of humanitarianism. It is a practical application of the belief in the oneness and, therefore, sacredness of all life. The great belief in transmigration is a direct consequence of that belief. Finally, the discovery of the law of varnashrama is a magnificent result of the ceaseless search for truth.”65
Gandhiji was on a visit to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in November 1927. The Young India dated December 8, 1927 reported his speech at the Y.M.C.A., Colombo. “Gandhiji then took,” said the report, “the case of modem China as a case in point. His heart, he said, went out to young China in the throes of a great national upheaval, and he referred to the anti-Christian movement in China, about which he had occasion to read in a pamphlet received by him from the students department of the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Young Men’s Christian Association of China. The writers had put their own interpretation upon the anti-Christian movement, but there was no doubt that young China regarded Christian movements as being opposed to Chinese self-expression.”
To Gandhiji the moral of this anti-Christian manifestation was clear. He proceeded to advise the Ceylonese Christians. “The deduction,” he said, “I would like you all to draw from this manifestation is that you Ceylonese should not be torn from your moorings, and those from the West should not consciously lay violent hands upon the manners, customs and habits of the Ceylonese in so far as they are not repugnant to fundamental ethics and morality. Confuse not Jesus’ teachings with what passes as modern civilization, and pray do not do unconscious violence to the people among whom you cast your lot. It is no part of that call, I assure you, to tear the lives of the people of the East by its roots. Tolerate whatever is good in them and do not hastily with your preconceived notions, judge them. Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves.”66
He ended with a message for the Buddhists who were members of the Y.M.C.A. and present in the meeting, “To you, young Ceylonese friends, I say: Don’t be dazzled by the splendour that comes to you from the West. Do not be thrown off your feet by this passing show. The Enlightened One has told you in never-to-be-forgotten words that this little span of life is but a passing shadow, a fleeting thing, and if you realize the nothingness of all that appears before your eyes, the nothingness of this material case that we see before us ever changing, then indeed there are treasures for you up above, and there is peace for you down here, peace which passeth all understanding, and happiness to which we are utter strangers. It requires an amazing faith, a divine faith and surrender of all that we see before us. Buddha renounced every worldly happiness, because he wanted to share with the whole world his happiness which was to be had by men who sacrificed and suffered in search of truth.”67
Gandhiji had a discussion with members of the Council of International Fellowship who stayed in his Ashram in January 1928. The discussion was reported in the Young India of January 19. Coming to questions about conversions, he said, “I would not only not try to convert but would not even secretly pray that anyone should embrace my faith: Hinduism with its message of ahimsa is to me the most glorious religion in the world – as my wife to me is the most beautiful woman in the world – but others may feel the same about their own religion. Cases of real honest conversion are quite possible. If some people for their inward satisfaction and growth change their religion, let them do so. As regards taking our message to the aborigines, I do not think I should go and give my message out of my own wisdom. Do it in all humility, it is said. Well I have been an unfortunate witness of arrogance often going in the garb of humility. If I am perfect, I know that my thought will reach others. It taxes all my time to reach the goal I have set to myself. What have I to take to the aborigines and the Assamese hillmen except to go in my nakedness to them? Rather than ask them to join my prayer, I would join their prayer. We were strangers to this sort of classification : animists, aborigines, etc., – but we have learnt it from English rulers. I must have the desire to serve and it must put me right with people. Conversion and service go ill together.”68
A member asked, “Did not Jesus Himself teach and preach?” Gandhiji replied, “We are on dangerous ground here. You ask me to give my interpretation of the life of Christ. Well, I may say that I do not accept everything in the gospels as historical truth. And it must be remembered that he was working amongst his own people, and said he had not come to destroy but to fulfil. I draw a great distinction between the Sermon on the Mount and the Letters of Paul. They are a graft on Christ’s teaching, his own gloss apart from Christ’s own experience.”69
As Gandhiji’s view of the Christian missions became known, the controllers of missions felt concerned. Here was a man whose very humility was putting Christianity in the wrong. John R. Mott was a leading American evangelist and fabulous fund-raiser for the Protestant missions. He came and met Gandhiji on March 1, 1929 and tried to fathom him. The interview was published in the Young India of March 21, 1929. After discussing some generalities such as the future of Bharat, etc., Mr. Mott came to the question he had travelled all the way to pose before Gandhiji. He asked, “What then is the contribution of Christianity to the national life of India? I mean the influence of Christ as apart from Christianity, for I am afraid there is a wide gulf separating the two at present.” Gandhiji replied, “Aye, there is the rub. It is not possible to consider the teaching of a religious teacher apart from the lives of his followers. Unfortunately, Christianity in India has been inextricably 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 of the world. Its contribution to India has been therefore largely of a negative character. It has done some good in spite of its professors. It has shocked us into setting our own house in order.”70
Mr. Mott asked if Christians can help in the removal of untouchability. Gandhiji informed him that the “removal of untouchability is purely a question of the purification of Hinduism and can only be effected from within.” Mr. Mott insisted that “Christians would be a great help to you in this connection.” He cited Rev. Whitehead, Bishop of the Church of England, who had made some striking statements about the effect of Christian mass movements in ameliorating the condition of the untouchables in the Madras Presidency. Gandhiji said, “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 in my opinion vitiates missionary effort.”71
Mr. Mott now came to the point. “There are some who believe,” he said, “that the untouchables would be better off if they turned Christians from conviction, and that it would transform their lives.” Gandhiji was equally clear. “I am sorry,” he said, “I have been unable to discover any tangible evidence to confirm this view. I was once taken into a Christian village. Instead of meeting among the converts with that frankness which one associates with a spiritual transformation, I found an air of evasiveness about them. They were afraid to talk. This struck me as a change not for the better but for the worse.”72
Mr. Mott asked Gandhiji, “Do you disbelieve in all conversion?” Gandhiji replied, “I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another.” Mr. Mott repeated the age-old missionary slogan, “Is it not our duty to help our fellow-beings to the maximum of the truth we may possess, to share with them our deepest spiritual experience?” Gandhiji observed, “I am sorry I must again differ with you, for the simple reason that the deepest spiritual truths are always unutterable. That light to which you refer transcends speech. It can be felt only through the inner experience. And then the highest truth needs no communicating, for it is by its very nature self-propelling. It radiates its influence silently as the rose its fragrance without the intervention of a medium.”73
Finally, Mr. Mott tried the last weapon in his armoury. “But even God,” he said, “sometimes speaks through his prophets.” Gandhiji replied, “Yes, but prophets speak not through the tongue but through their lives. I have however known that in this matter I am up against a solid wall of Christian opinion.” Mr. Mott came down and said, “Oh no, even among Christians there is a school of thought – and it is growing.- which holds that authoritarian method should not be employed but that each individual should be left to discover the deepest truths of life for himself. The argument advanced is that the process of spiritual discovery is bound to vary in the case of different individuals according to their varying needs and temperament. In other words they feel that propaganda in the accepted sense of the term is not the most effective method.” Gandhiji welcomed the statement adding, “That is what Hinduism certainly inculcates.”74 The interview ended on a pleasant note, though it did not satisfy Mr. Mott. He came for two more rounds some years later.75
A Christian missionary from Vizagapatam, Mr. Abel, interviewed Gandhiji on May 1, 1929. “Is not Jesus Christ the only sinless one?” he asked. “What do we know”, said Gandhiji, “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. As a man well-versed in the Bible you ought to have known that.”76
February 23, 1931 was Gandhiji’s day of silence. He wrote a note to Dr. Thronton, a Christian missionary, in reply to some points the latter has raised. “If the missionary friends,” he said, “will forget their mission, viz., of proselytising Indians and of bringing Christ to them, they will do wonderfully good work. Your duty is done with the ulterior motive of proselytising. I was the first to raise a note of warning in this respect. Help certainly you have (brought), viz., what comes through contact with you and in spite of you, i.e., the spirit of inquiry about the shortcomings of our own religion. You did not want us to pursue the inquiry because you saw immorality where we saw spirituality. When I go to your institutions I do not feel I am going to an Indian institution. This is what worries me.”77
Gandhiji gave an interview to the press in Delhi on March 21, 1931. Asked if he would favour the retention of American and other foreign missionaries when Bharat secured self-government, Gandhiji was reported to have said, “If instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work and material service to the poor, they do proselytising by means of medical aid, education, etc., I would certainly ask them to withdraw. Every nation’s religion is as good as any other. Certainly India’s religions are adequate for her people. We need no converting spirituality.”78
This raised a furore in missionary circles in India and abroad. Gandhiji wrote an article, “Foreign Missionaries”, in the Young India of April 23, 1931 in which he was pained to note that “Even George Joseph, my erstwhile co-worker and gracious host in Madura, has gone into hysterics without condescending to verify the report.” He said that what was reported in the press was “what a reporter has put into my mouth.”79 He corrected the press report to read as follows: “if instead of confining themselves to purely humanitarian work such as education, medical services to the poor and the like, they use these activities of theirs for the purpose of proselytising, 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.”80
He proceeded to amplify the bald statement, which, one must say, was not much of an improvement on his earlier statement. He made no concession to conversion by modem methods which has nowadays become a business like any other. He was reminded of a missionary report saying how much it cost per head to convert and then presenting a budget for the next harvest.
He also asked some very pertinent questions: “Why should I change my religion because a doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured me of some disease or why should the doctor expect or suggest such a change whilst I am under his influence? Is not medical relief its own reward and satisfaction? Or why should I whilst I am in a missionary educational institution have Christian teaching thrust upon me?” He did not rule out conversion but gave his own meaning to it. “Conversion in the sense of self-purification, self-realization,” he wrote, “is the crying need of the hour. That, however, is not what is meant by proselytising. To those who would convert India, might it not be said, physician heal thyself?”81 On the same day he cabled a summary of his article to The Daily Herald of London.
The Christian opinion, however, was far from satisfied by his article. On April 11, 1931, James P. Rutnam of Ceylon put some questions to him. “In this great struggle for Swaraj,” he asked, “are we not fighting for liberty, liberty to worship our God as we please, liberty to convince our fellows who are willing to be convinced by our fellows who can convince us? Is India so bigoted as to think that within her are confined all the riches of the world, all the treasures of knowledge and human experience?”82
Gandhiji was painfully surprised at this persistent misunderstanding. He wrote another article, ‘Foreign Missionaries Again’, in the Young India of May 7, 1931. After explaining that he included Christianity among the religions of India, he said, “The attack has therefore surprised me not a little especially because the views I have now enunciated have been held by me since 1916, and were deliberately expressed in a carefully written address read before a purely missionary audience in Madras and since repeated on many a Christian platform. The recent criticism has but confirmed the view, for the criticism has betrayed intolerance even of friendly criticism. The missionaries know that in spite of my outspoken criticism of their methods, they have in India and among non-Christians no warmer friend than I. And I suggest to my critics that there must be something wrong about their methods or, if they prefer, themselves when they will not brook sincere expression of an opinion different from theirs. In India under swaraj I have no doubt that foreign missionaries will be at liberty to do their proselytising, as I would say, in the wrong way; but they would be expected to bear with those who, like me, may point out that in their opinion the way is wrong.”83
He had to return to the theme on May 5, 1931 when he received a long letter from Rev. B. W. Tucker. The missionary was in full agreement with you in your protest against the methods employed by Christian missions in their efforts to gain proselytes through education, medical services and the like.84 He also welcomed Gandhiji’s assurance that a swaraj government will not create any legal enactment compelling missionaries to withdraw if they failed to give up their proselytising activities. But he registered a protest ‘against the implications of your statement that the religions of India are adequate for her.’85
Gandhiji wrote a short comment emphasizing that he still adhered to the statement to which Rev. Tucker takes exception and which is, ‘Religions of India are adequate for her.’ He also made it clear that What is resisted is the idea of gaining converts and that too not always by fair and open means.86 He followed up by yet another article, ‘Missionary Methods in India’, in the Young India of June 6, 1931. A retired Deputy Collector had written to him citing various sources, including Indian Census Report for 1911, and stating that missionaries were using material inducements for gaining converts. “That collection of quotations from named sources,” wrote Gandhiji, “should, instead of offending missionaries, cause an inward search. I have several other similar articles, some from Christian Indians. The writer will excuse me for withholding them. The controversy ought not to be prolonged.”87
Three months later when Gandhiji was in London for attending the Second Round Table Conference, he was invited on October 8., 1931 to speak at the Conference of Mission Societies in Great Britain and Ireland. He started by trying to remove the misunderstanding created by the recent controversy about the place of Christian missions in India after attainment of independence. He ruled out legislation to prohibit missionary enterprises. But he maintained firmly his position about proselytisation. He said, “The idea of converting people to one’s faith by speech and writing, by appeal to reason and emotion and by suggesting that the faith of his forefathers is a bad faith, in my opinion, limits the possibilities of serving humanity.”88 He admitted his indebtedness to ‘Christian influence for some of my social work’ such as a ‘fierce hatred of child marriage.’ But he made it clear that “Before I knew anything of Christianity I was an enemy of untouchability.”89
Rev. Godfrey Philips of London Missionary Society posed a question before Gandhiji. “I wish we could understand one another better,” he said, “with regard to what is happening amongst the ‘untouchables’ in connection with Christian missions… We have found in our experience that when the ‘untouchable’, the outcaste, is down and out, we can do nothing permanent except by implanting in his inmost heart something that has vitalizing power – in our experience that is fellowship with God in Christ.”90
Gandhiji replied that “in my own humble opinion it is an erroneous way” and that as “the rose would not have to speak, neither would the Christian missionary have to speak.” If the Christian missionary believes that “before he can come to the help of the untouchables, he must bring the message of God, or the message of the Bible, to the untouchables, how much more than to a man like me?” Gandhiji emphasised that after having mixed with tens of thousands of untouchables, he was convinced that they do not understand the missionary’s language. “They understand me better,” he said, “because I speak their language. I speak to them about their degraded condition. I do not speak about God. I feel that I take the message of God to them in this particular manner just as to a starving man I take the message of God through the bread I give him. I have no axe to grind. I must not exploit him, I just give him the bread. If I want to convey God to the humble untouchable I must take Him the way that he needs.”91
The next question, put by Rev. C. E. Wilson of the Baptist Missionary Society, was sharp. “Does Mr. Gandhi,” he asked, “mean that it is not right for us to go to India or any place and try to make people disciples, to teach the supreme truth of Jesus Christ, if we believe him to be the highest that we know? Mr. Gandhi has been preaching to us today. Does he mean to exclude all preaching?”92 Rev. W. H. G. Holmes of the Ok ford Mission at Calcutta told an anecdote about the plight of untouchables which he had himself seen. He was extending support to Rev. C. E. Wilson. “Would we be right,” he asked, “in going to teach them about this Father, who I told them loved them as dearly as he loved us, and would Mr. Gandhi encourage them to let us have land to build on in order to teach these people?”
Gandhiji replied, “Yes, I would, on one condition that you will teach them the religion of their forefathers through the religion they have got. Don’t say to them: ‘The only way to know the Father is our way.’ Show the untouchables the Father as He appears in his own surroundings. Unless you are satisfied that we do not know the Father at all, and then of course it is your duty to say. ‘What you know as Father is no Father at all. What you believe comes from Satan.’ I sometimes receive letters saying that I am a good man, but that I am doing the devil’s work. I feel I adore the same Father though in a different form. I may not adore him as God. To me that name makes no appeal, but when I think of Him as Rama, He thrills me. To think of God as ‘God’ does not fire me as the name Rama does. There is no poetry in it. I know that my forefathers have known him as Rama. They have been uplifted by Rama, and when I take the name of Rama, I arise with the same energy. It would not be possible for me to use the name ‘God’ as it is written in the Bible. It is contrary to experience. I should not be attracted. I should not be lifted to the truth. Therefore my whole soul rejects the teaching that Rama is not my God.”93
A member of the Conference referred to the command for Christians to go out to all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Gandhiji said that “if the questioner believed that these were the inspired words in the Bible, then he was called upon to obey implicitly – why did he ask a non-Christian for his interpretation?” The meeting ended with the President, Rev. W. Paton declaring that “Mr. Gandhi had made it abundantly clear that the issue between him and the Christian missionary movement lay much deeper than was supposed.”94
On his way back from London on board S. S. Pilsana, Gandhiji gave a talk on Christ on Christmas Day, 1931. “I shall tell you,” he said, “how, to an outsider like me, the story of Christ, as told in the New Testament, has struck. My acquaintance with the Bible began nearly forty years ago, and that was through the New Testament. I could not then take much interest in Old Testament which I had certainly read, if only to fulfil a promise I had made to a friend whom I happened to meet in a hotel. But when I came to the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount, I began to understand the Christian teaching and the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount echoed something I had learnt in childhood and something which seemed to be a part of my being and which I felt was being acted up to in the daily life around me.”
He had no use, for the Jesus of history. “I may say,” he continued, “that 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 for me.” Finally, he came to Christianity as practised by Christians and as preached by the missionaries. “Reading, therefore, the whole story in that light,” he concluded, “it seems to me that Christianity has yet to be lived, unless one says that where there is boundless love and no idea of retaliation whatsoever, it is Christianity that lives. But then it surmounts all boundaries and book-teaching. Then it is something indefinable, not capable of being preached to men, not capable of being transmitted from mouth to mouth, but from heart to heart. But Christianity is not commonly understood that way.”95
One of the Hindu practices which Christians regard as gross superstition and sin is idol-worship. A Christian, F. Mary Barr, sought Gandhiji’s opinion about it. In his letter dated November 30, 1932, Gandhiji wrote, “What must not be forgotten about me is that I do not consider idol-worship to be a sin, but I know that in some form or other it is a condition of our being. The difference between one form of worship and another is a difference in degree and not in kind. Mosque-going or Church-going is a form of idol-worship. Veneration for the Bible, the Koran, the Gita and the like is idol-worship and even if you don’t use a book or a building but draw a picture of divinity in your imagination and attribute certain qualities, it is again idol-worship and I refuse to call the worship of one who has a stone-image a grosser form of worship: it would be both arrogant and ignorant to look down upon such worship as superstition… All this is a plea for a definite recognition of the fact that all forms of honest worship are equally good and equally efficient for the respective worshippers. Time is gone for the exclusive possession of right by an individual or a group.”96
Gandhiji had received a letter dated November 17, 1932 from Chas. Peacock stating that he was a Bharatiya Christian who wanted to work for the removal of untouchability in Andhra ‘without surrendering my Christ… and without trying to change his religion.’ He replied on December 10, 1932 stating that “Christians who have no desire to proselytise can render substantial help to the Anti-untouchability Movement by working under or with the ordinary Hindu organisations.” At the same time he added, “I observe from the correspondence I am receiving from Christian friends that the Hindu movement has quickened the conscience of Indian Christians and they are impatient to get rid of the taint in their midst.”97 It was a hint that Mr. Peacock would do better to work for the removal of untouchability prevalent among Christians and leave Hindu untouchables to the Hindus.
He made the point abundantly clear in an interview to the Associated Press of India on January 2, 1933. He had received a letter from Colombo informing him that non-Hindus consisting of a Buddhist, a Roman Catholic lady, a Christian and a few Muslims had offered what has been misnamed satyagraha in order to secure-temple-entry for Hindu untouchables. “I have no hesitation whatsoever,” he told the press correspondent, “in saying that this could not be justified under any circumstances. It would be a most dangerous interference if non-Hindus were to express their sympathy by way of direct action. Indeed, I go as far as to say that direct action can be offered [only] by those caste. Hindus who are entitled to enter the temple in regard to which such action is taken, and who being entitled, believe in temple entry.”98
In a letter to Horace Alexander written on January 5, 1933 he pointed out, “I get now and then piteous letters from Christian Indians who, being born of untouchable parents, are isolated from the rest of their fellows.”99
Gandhiji received a letter from Amritlal Thakkar, a Malabar Christian, stating that the Christian Harijan in Travancore is, in matter of civic, or social rights and in abject poverty, absolutely the same as his Hindu Harijan brother. He wrote in the Young India of March 18, 1933, that Christian Harijans should be a contradiction in terms because untouchability was regarded as a special curse of Hindu Dharma. “The present movement,” he said “is automatically helping Christian Harijans, but I should be surprised if advantage is not being taken of the movement to drive out untouchability from the Church.”100
The epic fast which Gandhiji had undertaken in order to oppose the separation of Harijans from Hindu society as intended by Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award, brought him many letters from the West. A majority of them were full of goodwill and appreciation of it and the motive lying behind it. But some letters were critical of the fast. One of them which Gandhiji published in full in the Harijan dated July 22, 1933, was from America and downright denunciatory. The writer thought that the fast had accomplished nothing, not even the publicity it was aimed at. “India whose culture and civilization,” said the writer, “goes back far beyond record, which was given the new tongue of Christ Jesus by Thomas, the disciple, in the first century, and in the centuries just past has been given many opportunities to face the light, still remains in pagan darkness, its caste system of society the greatest sore spot on the modern world.”101
The disciple of Jesus went ahead and repeated all the standard accusations that had been hurled by Christian missionaries against Bharat for years on end – Bharat’s women were without soul, Bharat’s millions lived in nauseating filth, Bharat’s Holy Men sat for years in some deformed position publicly torturing the body to liberate the soul, and Bharat’s pagan religious rites consisted of striking the body full of nails, spears through the tongue, and other revolting tortures. He said he had not read Miss Mayo’s Mother India but ‘am told on good authority that it is a compilation of facts – so horrible that I have known cases of extreme illness from reading it.’
The letter proved, if a proof was needed, that neither the protest registered by Vivekananda nor the admiration for Jesus expressed by Mahatma Gandhi had helped orthodox Christians to emerge out of the self-righteous ignorance in which they had enveloped themselves and stop their vicious propaganda against Hindu Dharma. Gandhiji commented that the writer starts with a bias and ends with it, that he repeats the exploded libel about the women of Bharat, that he had evidently read literature containing ignorant and interested distortions, and that he had indulged in wild generalisations about the tortures which so-called yogis undergo. He concluded, “One can pity the readers, if there were any such, who made themselves sick by reading a book which opened the drains of India and made the readers believe that they were India.”102 He was mild as ever and left it to the readers to judge for themselves the mind from which the letter had emanated.
One of the ways by which the Catholic Church in Bharat sought to alienate Hindus from their ancestral religion was to insist that the children of Hindu husbands and Catholic wives would be brought up as Catholics. It had been seen that most Hindu young men who fell in love with Catholic girls yielded easily to this demand. The issue came before Gandhiji when Manu and Elizabeth, both of whom were known to him, decided for a love marriage. He was never enthusiastic about love marriages which he had seen failing in most cases after the first few years. Moreover, he was opposed to marriages tearing away young people from their families and favoured marriages seeking the approval and blessings of the elders.103 So he expressed his views on the subject in a letter dated November 16, 1933 written to Efy Aristarchi, a friend of Manu and Elizabeth. “The most fatal objection, however,” he said, “that I can see to this proposed match, is that Elizabeth desires, and from her own standpoint perhaps naturally so, that the progeny should be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. I do not mind it at all. But, even though Manu may have no objection, his parents and his people whom he loves dearly will never be able to reconcile themselves to their grandchildren being brought up in a faith other than their own.”104
His objection was based on his perception of a conflict going on between Hindu culture and the Christianity of Bharatiyas. He had seen that Christianity has become synonymous with Western culture which, in turn, may be fittingly described as Christian culture because the religion of the Western people is predominantly Christianity. On the other hand, Bharatiya culture would certainly be described as Hindu culture.
He, therefore, thought it proper that the progeny of Elizabeth must be brought up in entirely different surroundings unless Manu decides to tear himself away from his surroundings and lives an exclusive life or decides to settle down in the West.105 He was of the firm opinion that when husband and wife profess a different faith, the progeny should be brought up in the faith of the husband and he had sound religious and philosophic reasons for this proposition.106
As more and more Christian agencies were coming forward to work for the removal of untouchability, Gandhiji made his terms clear in a speech at the Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur, on December 7, 1993. While inviting these agencies to work in subordination to Hindu agencies set up for Harijan uplift, he said, “You may choose to work independently. You may have the conversion of Harijans to Christianity. You may see in the movement a chance for propaganda. If you work among the Harijans with such aim, you can see that the very end we have in view will be frustrated. If you believe that Hinduism is a gift, not of God, but of Satan, quite clearly you cannot accept my terms. You and I would be dishonest if we did not make clear to one another what we stand for.”107
A group of Christian Harijans came to Gandhiji and the talk he had with them was published in the Harijan of February, 23, 1934. “We are in the same position,” they said, “as Adi-Dravida Hindus. Are we to have any share in this movement?” Gandhiji told them, “You are getting indirect benefit. The Christian missionaries are wide awake and recognize that they should do something.” They proceeded, “We have decided to face the oppressors boldly. We are thinking of changing our faith.” Gandhiji said, “I cannot say anything about that. But I feel that oppression can be no reason for changing our faith.” The Christian Harijans asked, “Shall we get any relief in future from this movement?” Gandhiji assured them, “Yes, I am absolutely certain that, if this movement succeeds untouchability in Christianity is also bound to go.”108
Mahadev Desai recorded in the Harijan dated January 25, 1935 a talk which Gandhiji had with a friend who had reported to him that the progress of the anti-untouchability campaign had disturbed some of our Missionary friends. The friend said, “Your campaign is taking away from the Missionary’s popularity.” Gandhiji replied, “I see what you mean, but I do not know why it should disturb them. We are not traders trenching on one another’s province. If it is a matter of serving oneself, I should understand their attitude, but when it is entirely a matter of serving others, it should not worry them or me as to who serves them.”109
The friend posed the question another way. “But perhaps,” he said, “the authorities in charge of a Mission hospital would rightly feel worried, if you sent your people to go and open a hospital in the same place.” Gandhiji explained, “But they should understand that ours is a different mission. We do not go there to afford them simply medical relief or a knowledge of the three R’s; our going to them is a small proof of our repentance and our assurance to them that we will not exploit them any more. I should never think of opening a hospital where there is already one; but if there is a Mission school, I should not mind opening another for Harijan children, and I would even encourage them to prefer our school to the other. Let us frankly understand the position. If the object is purely humanitarian, purely that of carrying education where there is none, they should be thankful that someone whose obvious duty it is to put his own house in order wakes up to a sense of his duty. But my trouble is that the Missionary friends do not bring to bear on their work a purely humanitarian spirit. Their object is to add more members to their fold, and that is why they are disturbed. The complaint which I have been making all these years is more than justified by what you say. Some of the friends of a Mission were the other day in high glee over the conversion to Christianity of a learned pandit. They have been dear friends, and so I told them that it was hardly proper to go into ecstasies over a man forsaking his religion. Today it is the case of a learned Hindu, tomorrow it may be that of an ignorant villager not knowing the principles of his religion. Why should Missionaries complain, if I open a school which is more liked by Harijans than theirs? Is it not natural?”110
The friend asked, “But if it was a pure case of conscience?” Gandhiji replied, “I am no keeper of anybody’s conscience, but I do feel that it argues some sort of weakness on the part of a person who easily declares his or her failure to derive comfort in the faith in which he or she is born.”111
The Harijan dated March 29, 1935 published an interview which Gandhiji had given to a Christian missionary before March 22. The missionary asked Gandhiji what was the most effective way of preaching the gospel of Christ, for that was his mission. Gandhiji replied, “To live the gospel is the most effective way – most effective in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. Preaching jars on me and makes no appeal to me, and I get suspicious of missionaries who preach. But I love those who never preach but live the life according to their lights. Their lives are silent yet most effective testimonies… If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, then 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.”
The missionary said that “we also see it and try our best to guard against it.” Gandhiji observed, “But you can’t guard against it. One sordid motive vitiates the whole preaching. It is like a drop of poison which fouls the whole food. Therefore I should do without preaching at all. A rose does not need to preach. it simply spreads its fragrance: The fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than that of the rose.”112
The same issue of the Harijan published another interview given by Gandhiji to some missionary ladies, also before March 22. One of their questions was whether the Harijan Sangh was doing anything for the spiritual welfare of the people. Gandhiji replied that with me, moral includes spiritual and that setting up a separate department for spiritual welfare will make the thing doubly difficult. The ladies said that they had something to share with the others and that was the Bible. “Now as for Harijans,” they asked, “who have no solace to get from Hinduism, how are we to meet their spiritual needs?” Gandhiji replied, “By behaving just like the rose. Does the rose proclaim itself, or is it self-propagated? Has it an army of missionaries proclaiming its beauties?”113
The ladies persisted, “But suppose someone asked us, where did you get the scent?” Gandhiji said, “The rose if it has sense and speech would say, ‘Fool, don’t you see that I got if from my maker?'”114
The Harijan dated May 11, 1935 published an interview given by Gandhiji to a missionary nurse before that date. The nurse asked him, “Would you prevent missionaries coming to India in order to baptise?” Gandhiji replied, “If I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytising. It is the cause of much avoidable conflict between classes and unnecessary heart-burning among the missionaries” In Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and drink.115
The nurse commented, “Is it not the old conception you are referring to? No such thing is now associated with proselytisation.” Gandhiji was well-informed about missionary methods. He said, “The outward condition has perhaps changed but the inward mostly remains the same. Vilification of Hindu religion, though subdued, is there. If there was a radical change in the missionaries’ outlook, would Murdoch’s books be allowed to be sold in mission depots? Are those books prohibited by missionary societies? There is nothing but vilification of Hinduism in those books. You talk of the conception being no longer there. The other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket, distributed it among the famine-stricken, converted them to his fold, took charge of their temple and demolished it. This is outrageous. The temple could not belong to the converted, and it could not belong to the Christian missionary. But this friend goes and gets it demolished at the hands of the very men who only a little while ago believed that God was there.”116
The nurse took shelter behind the Bible. “But, Mr. Gandhi,” she asked, “why do you object to proselytisation? Is not there enough in the Bible to authorise us to invite people to a better way of life?” Gandhiji replied, “If you interpret your texts in the way you seem to do, you straightaway condemn a large part of humanity unless it believes as you do…. And cannot he who has not heard the name of Jesus Christ do the will of the Lord?”117
The Harijan dated May 25, 1935 published a discussion which Gandhiji had with Pierre Ceresole on May 16. He told Gandhiji about a book, India in the Dark Wood, which he had recently read and which wanted the main framework of the dominant Hindu philosophy to be shattered. The author of another book, Jesus: Lord or Leader?, also read recently by Ceresole, on the other hand, rejects the claim of Christianity as the final religion and pines for a fuller and richer faith than we have reached and to believe that God who has nowhere left Himself without witness, will use the highest institutions of other systems and many races to enrich the thinking and worship of mankind. He sees definite gain -in the abandonment of special claim for the inspiration of the Bible, and classes himself among those who humbly desire to follow Jesus as leader, though their view of truth will not allow them to worship him as Lord. Gandhiji commanded the second approach, saying “There is a swing in the pendulum.”118
Gandhiji was carrying on a discussion with Mr. A. A. Paul of the Federation of International Fellowships on the so-called mass conversion of a village predominantly or wholly composed of Harijans.119 Mr. Paul asked him to publish a statement giving your view of conversion? Gandhiji replied that it would be easier for him if Mr. Paul could formulate some questions to which he could reply. So the Executive Committee of the International Fellowship in Madras sent to him nine propositions which he published in the Harijan dated September 29, 1935 with his own comments on them.
The first proposition was: Conversion is a change of heart from sin to God. It is the work of God. Sin is separation from God.120 Gandhiji observed, If conversion is the work of God why should the work be taken away from Him? “I often wonder if we are true judges of our own hearts… And if we know so little of ourselves, how much less we know of our neighbours and remote strangers who may differ from us in a multitude of things, some of which are of the highest moment?”121
The second proposition was: The Christian believes that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s revelation to mankind, that he is our Saviour from sin, that he alone can bring a sinner to God and thus enable him to live.122 Gandhiji said, “The second proposition deals with the Christian belief handed to the believer from generation to generation, the truth of which thousands of Christians born are never called upon to test for themselves, and rightly not. Surely it is a dangerous thing to present it to those who have been brought up in a different belief. And it would appear to me to be impertinent on my part to present my untested belief to the professor of another which for aught I know may be as true as mine. It is highly likely that mine may be good enough for me and his for him.”123
The third proposition was: The Christian, to whom God has become a living reality and power through Christ, regards it as his privilege and duty to speak about Jesus and to proclaim the free offer which He came on earth to make.124 Gandhiji said, “The third proposition too, like the first, relates to mysteries of religion which are not understood by the common people who take them in faith. They work well enough among people living in the traditional faith. They will repel those who have been brought up to believe something else.”125
The next five propositions stated that if a man wanted to repent and live a new life as a disciple of Jesus, the Christian regards it as his right to admit him to the Christian Church; that the Christian will do all in his power to test the sincerity of the convert and point out the consequences of conversion; that the Christian will try his best to prevent conversion for material considerations; that the Christian shall not be accused of using material inducements if the conversion results in the social uplift of the convert; and that the Christian was right in accepting as his duty the care of the sincere convert, body, soul and mind.126
“The other five propositions,” commented Gandhiji, “deal with the conduct of the missionary among those whom he is seeking to convert. They seem to me almost impossible of application in practice. The start being wrong all that follows must be necessarily so. Thus how is the Christian to sound the sincerity of the conviction of his hearers? By a show of hands? By personal conversation? By a temporary trial? Any test that can be conceived will fail even to be reasonably conclusive. No one but God knows a man’s heart. Is the Christian so sure of his being so right in body, mind and soul as to feel comfortably right in accepting as his duty the care of the sincere convert – body, soul and mind?”127
The last proposition was: It shall not be brought against the Christian that he is using material inducements, when certain facts in Hindu social theory, out of his control, are in themselves an inducement to the Harijans.128 Gandhiji said, “The last proposition – the crown of all the preceding ones – takes one’s breath away. For it makes it clear that the other eight are to be applied in all their fullness to the poor Harijans. And yet the very first proposition has not ceased to puzzle the brains of some of the most intellectual and philosophical persons even in the present generation. Who knows the nature of original sin? What is the meaning of separation from God? Are all who preach the message of Jesus the Christ sure of their union with God? If they are not, who will test the Harijan’s knowledge of these deep things?”129
“It is a conviction daily growing upon me,” concluded Gandhiji, “that the great and rich Christian missions will render true service to India, if they can persuade themselves to confine their activities to humanitarian service without ulterior motive of converting India or at least her unsophisticated villagers to Christianity, and destroying their social superstructure, which notwithstanding its many defects, has stood now from time immemorial the onslaught upon it from within and without. Whether they – the missionaries – and we wish it or not, what is true in the Hindu faith will abide, what is untrue will fall to pieces.”130
Extracts from a letter from a Christian friend of Gandhiji were reproduced in the Harijan dated April 18, 1936. He quoted Jesus as saying to the Jews, ‘If you believe not that I am He, you shall die of your sins’ and ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh into the Father, but by me.’ Next, he threw a challenge to Gandhiji, “You must either believe Him to have been self-deceived or deliberately false.” Finally, he declared, “I pray daily that Christ may grant to you a revelation of Himself as He did to Saul of Tarsus, that you may be used to proclaim to India’s millions the sacrificial efficacy of His precious blood.”131
Gandhiji wrote, “This is a typical letter from an old English friend who regularly writes such letters almost every six months. This friend is very earnest and well known to me. But there are numerous other correspondents unknown to me who write in the same strain without arguing. Since I now cannot for reasons of health write to individual writers, I use this letter as a text for a general reply.”132
“My correspondent,” continued Gandhiji, “is a literalist: My very first reading of the Bible showed me that I would be repelled by many things in it if I gave their literal meaning to many texts or even took every passage in it as the word of God. I should find it hard to believe in the literal meaning of the verses relating to the immaculate conception of Jesus. Nor would it deepen my regard for Jesus if I gave those verses their literal meaning. The miracles said to have been performed by Jesus even if I had believed them literally would not have reconciled me to anything that did not satisfy universal ethics. Jesus then to me is a great world-teacher among others. He was to the devotees of his generation no doubt the only begotten son of God. Their belief need not be mine. I regard him as one among the many begotten sons of God.”133 Finally, he said, “The Gita has become for me the key to the scriptures of the world. It unravels for me the deepest mysteries to be found in them. I regard them with the same reverence that I pay to the Hindu scriptures. Hindus, Mussalmans, Christians, Parsis, Jews are convenient labels. But when I tear them down, I do not know which is which.”134
On or after May 10, 1936 Gandhiji had a discussion with Professor Rahm, a reputed biologist from Switzerland. Dr. Rahm said that he was perplexed by the many warring creeds in the world and wondered if there was no way of ending the conflict. Gandhiji gave a very straight-forward reply. “It depends,” he said, “on Christians. If only they would make up their mind to unite with the others! But they will not do so. Their solution is universal acceptance of Christianity as they believe it. An English friend has been at me for the last forty years trying to persuade me that there is nothing but damnation in Hinduism and that I must accept Christianity. When I was in jail, I got, from three separate sources, no less than three copies of the Life of Sister Therese, in the hope that I should follow her example and accept Jesus as the only begotten son of God and my Saviour. I read the book prayerfully but I could not accept even St. Therese’s testimony for myself.”135
Gandhiji proceeded to make his position quite clear vis-a-vis orthodox Christianity. “But today,” he said, “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 today. Of course there are noble but rare exceptions like Andrews and Elwin. But the general trend is the same.”136 For the first time he did not try to reinterpret Christianity for Christians. The obstinacy shown by the orthodox Christians had hardened his attitude.
A Polish student brought a photograph to Gandhiji and got it autographed by him. “There is,” he said, “a school conducted by Catholic Fathers. I shall help the school from the proceeds of the sale of this photograph.” Gandhiji took back the photograph from the student and said, “Ah, that is a different story. You do not expect me to support the Fathers in their mission of conversion? You know what they do?”
The Harijan of June 27, 1936 which relates this incident, continues, “And with this he told him, the story of the so-called conversions in the vicinity of Tiruchengodu, the desecration and demolition of the Hindu temple, how he had been requested by the International Fellowship of Faiths to forbear writing about the episode as they were trying to intervene, how ultimately even the intervention of that body composed mainly of Christians had failed, and how he was permitted to write about it in the Harijan. He, however, had deliberately refrained from writing in order not to exacerbate feelings on the matter.”137
The Harijan dated July 18, 1936 published a discussion which Gandhiji had with Pierre Ceresole and some Christian missionaries. The dialogue deserves to be reproduced at some length because it shows most clearly the missionary mentality and Gandhiji’s opposition to it:
(Missionary Lady) “I have not had the time or desire to evangelize. The Church at home would be happy if through our hospital more people would be led to Christian lives.”
(Gandhiji) “But whilst you give the medical help you expect the reward in the shape of your patients becoming Christians.”
(M.L.) “Yes, the reward is expected. Otherwise there are many other places in the world which need our service. But instead of going there we come here.”
(G.) “There is the kink. At the back of your mind there is not pure service for its sake, but the result of service in the shape of many people coming to the Christian fold. (M.L.) In my own work there is no ulterior motive. I care for people, I cannot do otherwise. The source of this is my loyalty to Jesus who ministered to suffering humanity. At the back of my mind there is, I admit, the desire that people may find the same joy in Jesus that I find. Where is the kink?”
(G.) “The kink is in the Church thinking that there are people in whom certain things are lacking and that you must supply them whether they want them or not if you simply say to your patients, ‘You have taken the medicine I gave you. Thank God. He has healed you. Don’t come again’, you have done your duty. But if you also say, ‘How nice it would be if you had the same faith in Christianity as I have, you do not make your medicine a free gift.”
(M.L.) “But if I feel I have something medically and spiritually which I can give, how can I keep it?”
(G.) “There is a way out of the difficulty. You must feel that what you possess your patient also can possess but through a different route. You will say to yourself, ‘I have come through this route, you may come through a different route.’ Why should you want him to pass through your university and no other?”
(M.L.) “Because I have my partiality for my Alma Mater.”
(G.) “There is my difficulty. Because you adore your mother you cannot wish that all the others were your mother’s children.”
(M.L.) “That is a physical impossibility.”
(G.) “Then this one is a spiritual impossibility. God has the whole humanity as His children. How can I limit God’s grace by my little mind and say this is the only way?”
(M.L.) “I do not say it is the only way. There might be a better way.”
(G.) “If you concede that there might be a better way, you have surrendered the point.”
(M.L.) “Well, if you say that you have found your way, I am not so terrifically concerned with you. I will deal with one who is floundering in mind.”
(G.) “Will you judge him? Have you people not floundered? Why will you present your particular brand of truth to all?”
(M.L.)” I must present to him the medicine I know.”
(G.) “Then you will say to him, ‘Have you seen your own doctor?’ You will send him to his doctor, ask the doctor to take charge of him. You will perhaps consult that doctor, you will discuss with him the diagnosis, and will convince him or allow yourself to be convinced by him. But there you are dealing with a wretched physical thing. Here you are dealing with a spiritual thing where you cannot go through all these necessary investigations. What I plead for is humility. You do not claim freedom from hypocrisy for the Christian Church?138
At this point Dr. Pierre Ceresole, who- pretended to be a ‘liberal’ Christian, intervened:
(P.C.) Most of us believe our religion to be the best and they have not the slightest idea what other religions have revealed to their adherents.
(G.) I tell you have not read as many books on Hinduism as I have about Christianity. And yet I have not come to the conclusion that Christianity or Hinduism is the only way.139
The missionary friend wondered, What exactly should be missionaries’ attitude?
(G.) I think I have made it clear. But I shall say it again in other words: Just to forget that you have come to a country of heathens and to think that they are as much in search of God as you are; just to feel that you are not going there to give your spiritual goods to them, but that you will share your worldly goods of which you have a good stock. You will then do your work without mental reservation and thereby you will share your spiritual treasures.140 The knowledge that you have this reservation creates a barrier between you and me.
(P.C.) Do you think that because of what you call the mental reservation, the work that one could accomplish would suffer?
(G.) I am sure. You would not be half as useful as you would be without the reservation. The reservation means that you belong to a different and a higher species, and you make yourself unaccessible to others.
(P.C.) A barrier would be my Western way of living?
(G.) No, that can be immediately broken.
(P.C.) Would you be really happy if we stayed at home?
(G.) I cannot say that. But I will certainly say that I have never been able to understand your going out of America. Is there nothing to do there?
(P.C.) Even in America there is enough scope for educational work.
(G.) That is a fatal confession. You are not a superfluity there. But for the curious position your Church has taken you would not be here.
(P.C.) I have come because the Indian women need medical care to a greater extent than American women do. But coupled with that I have a desire to share my Christian heritage.
(G.) That is exactly the position I have been trying to counter. You have already said that there may be a better way.
(P.C.) No, I meant to say that there may be a better way fifty years hence.
(G.) Well we were talking of the present, and you said there might be a better way.
(P.C.) No, there is no better way today than the one I am following.
(G.) That is what I say is assuming too much. You have not examined all religious beliefs. But even if you had, you may not claim infallibility. You assume knowledge of all people, which you can do only if you were God. I want you to understand that you are labouring under a double fallacy: That what you think is best for you is really so; and that what you regard as the best for you is the best for the whole world. It is an assumption of omniscience and infallibility. I plead for a little humility.141
Gandhiji had a discussion with C. F. Andrews who had just returned from a visit to New Zealand, Fiji and Australia. He wanted to know Gandhiji’s reaction to the attitude of the missionaries vis-a-vis Harijan uplift. The discussion was reported in the Harijan of November 28,1936. It also deserves to be reproduced at some length:
Gandhiji: Their behaviour has been as bad as that of the rest who are in the field to add to their numbers. What pains one is their frantic attempt to exploit the weakness of Harijans. If they said, ‘Hinduism is a diabolical religion, come to us’, I should understand. But they dangle earthly paradises in front of them and make promises to them which they can never keep. When in Bangalore142 a deputation of Christians came with a number of resolutions which they thought would please me. I said to them: ‘This is no matter for bargain. You must say definitely that this is a matter to be settled by the Hindus themselves. Where is the sense of talking of a sudden awakening of spiritual hunger among the untouchables and then trying to exploit a particular situation?’ It is absurd f’r a single individual to talk of taking all the Harijans with himself. Are they all bricks that they could be moved from one structure to another? If the Christian missions here want to play the game, and for that matter Mussalmans and others, they should have no such idea as that of adding to their ranks whilst a great reform in Hinduism is going on.
C.F.A.: Let me ask one question. I said in Australia that all the talk of Dr. Ambedkar and his followers was not in terms of religion, and I said also that it was cruelty to bargain with unsophisticated people like the Harijans as they are in most parts of India. Then came the London Missionary Society’s statement that the Ezhavas143 in Travancore had asked for Christian instruction. I said then that the Ezhavas were quite enlightened and if they had really asked to be instructed in Christianity, it would be, an entirely different matter. Was I right?
Gandhiji: I do not think so. Whilst there are individual Ezhavas who are doctors and barristers and so on, the vast majority of them are just the same as the Harijans elsewhere. I can assure you that no one representing the body of Ezhavas could have asked for Christian instruction. You should ascertain the facts from our principal workers there.
C.F.A: I see what you mean. Only I wanted to say that the London Missionary Society was a liberal body and would not make an irresponsible statement.
Gandhiji: But they at the centre cannot know, as the Parliament cannot know the truth of what is happening in India.
C.F.A: But that apart, I should like to discuss the fundamental position with you. What would you say to a man who after considerable thought and prayer said that he could not have his peace and salvation except by becoming a Christian?
Gandhiji: I would say that if a non-Christian, say a Hindu, came to a Christian and made that statement, he should ask him to become a good Hindu rather than find goodness in change of faith.
C.F.A: I cannot go this whole length with you, though you know my own position. I discarded the position that there was no salvation except through Christ long ago. But suppose the Oxford Group Movement changed the life of your son, and he felt like being converted, what would you say?
Gandhiji: I would say that the Oxford Group may change the lives of as many as they like, but not their religion. They can draw their attention to the best in their respective religions and change their lives by asking them to live according to them. There came to me a man, the son of Brahmin parents, who said his reading of your book had led him to embrace Christianity… I said to him that you had never through your books asked Indians to take up the Bible and embrace Christianity and that he misread your book – unless of course your position is like that of the late Maulana Mohamed Ali, viz., that a believing Mussalman, however bad his life, is better than a good Hindu.
C.F.A: I do not accept Maulana Mohamed Ali’s position at all. But I do say that if a person really needs a change of faith I should not stand in his way.
Gandhiji: But don’t you see that you do not even give him a chance? You do not even cross-examine him. Suppose a Christian came to me and said he was captivated by a reading of the Bhagavata and wanted to declare himself a Hindu, I should say to him, ‘Now what the Bhagavata offers the Bible also offers. You have not yet made the attempt to find it out. Make the attempt and be a good Christian.’
C.F.A: I don’t know. If someone earnestly says, that he will become a good Christian, I should say, ‘You may become one’, though you know that I have in my own life strongly dissuaded ardent enthusiasts who came to me. I said to them, ‘Certainly not on my account will you do anything of the kind.’ But human nature does require a concrete faith.
Gandhiji: If a person wants to believe in the Bible let him say so, but why should he disregard his own religion? This proselytization will mean no peace in the world. Religion is a very personal matter. We should by living the life according to our own light, share the best with one another, thus adding to the sum total of human effort to reach God.144
Mahadev Desai recorded in the Harijan dated December 5, 1936 a discussion which Mr. Basil Mathew had with Gandhiji about Missionary Methods. “That is a question to which I have given great thought,” said Gandhiji, “and I am convinced that, if Christian Missions will sincerely play the game, no matter what may be their policy under normal circumstances, they must withdraw from the indecent competition to convert the Harijans. Whatever the Archbishop of Canterbury and others may say, what is done here in India in the name of Christianity is wholly different from what they say. There are others in the field also, but as a devotee of truth I say that, if there is any difference between their methods, it is one of degree and not of kind. I know of representatives of different religions standing on the same platform and vying with one another to catch the Harijan ear. To dignify this movement with the name of spiritual hunger is a travesty of truth. Arguing on the highest plane I said to Dr. Mott, if they wanted to convert Harijans, had they not better begin to convert me? I am a trifle more intelligent than they, and therefore more receptive to the influences of reason that could be brought to bear upon me. But to approach the Pulayas and Pariahs with their palsied hands and paralysed intelligence is no Christianity. No, whilst our reform movement is going on, all religious-minded people should say: Rather than obstruct their work, let us support them in their work.”145
Mr. Mathew asked, “Do not the roots of the reform movement go back to the missionary movement? Did not the missionaries wake up the reformers and make a certain amount of stir among the untouchables?” Gandhiji replied, “I do not think that the missionary movement was responsible for a stirring of the right kind. I agree that it stung the reformers to the quick and awakened them to their sense of duty.”
Mr. Mathew persisted, “You have spoken of some good work being done by missionaries. Should not we go on with it?” Gandhiji observed, “Oh, Yes. Do, by all means. But give up what makes you objects of suspicion and demoralizes us also. We go to your hospitals with the mercenary motive of having an operation performed, but with no object of responding to what is at the back of your mind, even as our children do when they go to Bible classes in their colleges and then laugh at what they read there. I tell you our conversation at home about these missionary colleges is not at all edifying. Why then spoil your good work with other motives?”146
Finally, Mr. Mathew asked, “Where do you find the seat of authority?” Gandhiji said, “It lies here (pointing to his breast). I exercise my judgment about every scripture, including the Gita. I cannot let a scriptural text supersede my reason. 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 interpreters. Nothing in them comes from God directly. Matthew may give one version of one text and John may give another. I cannot surrender my reason whilst I subscribe to divine revelation.”147
The Missionary Supremo, John R. Mott, who had been receiving reports about Gandhiji’s uncompromising stand against conversion under any circumstances, thought that it was time he himself sounded the Mahatma once again. So he paid his second visit to Sevagram and had long talks with Gandhiji on November 13-14, 1936. Parts of the conversation were reported in the Harijan dated December 9, 1936.
Mott started by praising Gandhiji for his effort to raise the Harijans, discussed the Yervada Pact and then broached the subject dear to his own heart, “The importance of this movement,” he said, “lies beyond the frontiers of India, and yet there are few subjects on which there is more confusion of thought. Take for instance the missionaries and missionary societies. They are not of one mind. It is highly desirable that we become of one mind and find out how far we can help and not hinder. I am the Chairman of the International Missionary Council which combines 300 missionary societies in the world. I have on my desk the reports of these societies; and I can say that their interest in the untouchables is deepening. I should be interested if you would feel free to tell us where, if anywhere, the missionaries have gone along wrong lines. Their desire is to help and not to hinder.”
Gandhiji replied, “I cannot help saying that the activities of the missionaries have hurt me. They with the Mussalmans and Sikhs came forward as soon as Dr. Ambedkar threw the bombshell,148 and they gave it an importance out of all proportions to the weight it carried, and then ensured a rivalry between these organisations. I could understand the Muslim organisations doing this, as Hindus and Muslims have been quarrelling. The Sikh intervention is an enigma. But the Christian mission claims to be a purely spiritual effort. It hurt me to find Christian bodies vying with Muslims and Sikhs in trying to add to the numbers of their fold. It seemed to me an ugly performance and a travesty of religion. They even proceeded to enter into secret conclaves with Dr. Ambedkar. I should have understood and appreciated your prayers for the Harijans but instead you made an appeal to those who had not even the mind and intelligence to understand what you talked; they have certainly not the intelligence to distinguish between Jesus and Mohammed and Nanak and so on.”149
Mott asked, “But must we not serve them?” Gandhiji said, “Of course, you will, but not making conversion the price of your service.”150 Mott moved to the patent Christian position. He quoted Christ about Preach and Teach and said, “The whole Christian religion is the religion of sharing our life, and how can we share without supplementing our lives with words.” Gandhiji replied, “Then what they are doing in Travancore is correct? There may be difference of degree in what you say and what they are doing, but there is no difference of quality. If you must share it with the Harijans, why don’t you share it with Thakkarbapa and Mahadev? Why should you go to the untouchables and try to exploit this upheaval? Why not come to us instead?”151
Mott came out with more quotations from Jesus. But C. F. Andrews, who was present, sensed Gandhiji’s impatience and suggested a compromise. Gandhiji said. “I do not think it is a matter which admits of any compromise at all. It is a deeply religious problem and each should do what he likes. If your conscience tells you that the present effort is your mission, you need not give any quarter to Hindu reformers. I can simply state my belief that what the missionaries are doing today does not show spirituality.”152
The talks were resumed next day. Mott made a typically American offer. “If money is to be given to India,” he said, “in what ways can it be wisely given without causing any harm? Will money be of any value?” Gandhiji replied, “No, when money is given it can only do harm. It has to be earned when it is required. I am convinced that the American and British money which has been voted for missionary societies has done more harm than good. You cannot serve God and mammon both. And my fear is that mammon has been sent to serve India and God has remained behind with the result He will one day have his vengeance. When the American says, ‘I will serve you through money’, I dread him. I simply say to him, ‘Send us your engineers not to earn money but to give us the benefit of their scientific knowledge.'”153
Finally, Mott presented his pet theory that money is stored-up personality and that Christ is able to dominate both the money and the machine. Gandhiji observed, “I have made the distinction between money given and money earned. If an American says he wants to serve India, and you packed him off here, I should say we had not earned his services It is my certain conviction that money plays the least part in matters of spirit.“154
The Church Times of London published, on October 16, 1936, the news of a meeting of Christian denominations held in that city. The meeting was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The main speaker was Dr. J. W. Pickett, Bishop of a Methodist Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. He was the author of a book, Christian Mass Movements in India, which he said he had written after making studies on the spot. He reported that ‘four and a half millions of the depressed classes in India have become disciples of our Lord’ and that ‘even Brahmins have testified – albeit reluctantly – to the power of Christianity to transform the characters and lives of people whom they once thought incapable of religious feelings, and to whom they denied the right of entrance to temples of Hinduism.’
According to him, ‘900,000 people now profess the Christian faith’ in the Telugu area and ‘a surprisingly high proportion of them speak of a sense of mystical union with God.’ He quoted “their Hindu neighbours” who, according to him, had “admitted that the religion of Jesus Christ had lifted them to a new standard of cleanliness of person and home, and made them a trustworthy people.” As a result, he said, “high-caste people are now coming into the church, literally by dozens of hundreds, in areas where this transformation of life has occurred among the untouchables.” He described this mass movement as a miracle, one of the great miracles of Christian history.155
Gandhiji reproduced the news in the Harijan dated December 19, 1936 and made his own comment on the miracle. “I have rarely seen,” he said, “so much exaggeration in so little space. A reader ignorant of conditions in India would conclude that the figures relate to the conversions due to the movement led by Dr. Ambedkar. I am sure Dr. Pickett could not have made any such claim. He had in mind the figures to date commencing from the establishment of the first church in India hundreds of years ago. But the figures are irrelevant to the general claim said to have been advanced by the Bishop. Where are the multitudes in India who marvel at the transformation in the lives of four and a half millions of the depressed classes? I am one of the multitudes having practically travelled more than half a dozen times all over India and have not seen any transformation on the scale described by Dr. Pickett, and certainly none of recent date. I have had the privilege of addressing meetings of Indian Christians who have appeared to me to be no better than their fellows. Indeed, the taint of untouchability persists in spite of the nominal change of faith so far as the social status is concerned I should like to meet the Brahmins who have testified… to the power of Christianity to transform the characters and lives of people whom they once thought incapable of religious feeling. I must pass by the other generalizations. But I should like to know the hundreds of high caste Hindus who are now coming into the church in areas where this transformation of life has occurred among the untouchables. If all the astounding statements Dr. Pickett has propounded can be substantiated, truly it is one of the greatest miracles of Christian history, nay, of the history of man.”156
At the same time Gandhiji asked, “But do miracles need an oratorical demonstration? Should we in India miss such a grand miracle? Should we remain untouched by it?” Stating that ‘Miracles are their own demonstration’, he drew the attention of the missionaries to the ‘miracle in Tranvancore’ where 2000 temples had been opened to the Harijans who ‘would enter them in their hundreds without let or hindrance from the most orthodox Hindus.’ He concluded that “the learned Bishop had made a caricature of Christianity which hurts me.”157
The story-tellers, however, did not stop at making tall claims. In the Harijan dated December 26, 1936, Gandhiji had to comment on a pamphlet published by the Church Missionary Society of England. It had given a call for an emergency fund of £ 25,000 to enable extra grants to be made during the next five years to those areas where this big movement is taking place. The Society appealed to the whole church to support this effort for the sake of the hundreds of thousands who are dimly groping after Christ and who are finding spiritual life and social uplift through the Gospel.158
Some of the claims made by Dr. Pickett were repeated in the pamphlet which had discovered that the campaign for the removal of untouchability led by Gandhiji had signally failed because he clung to the Hindu system which has been the cause of the trouble. More important, the future prospects for Christianity in certain areas were seen as very promising. It was stated that the Bishop of Dornakal in the Telugu region reckons that about a million people in his diocese are moving Christward and among the Ezhavas 850,000 have waited on the Bishop in Travancore, because they are anxious that their entire community should become Christians.159
Gandhiji commented that he was utterly unconscious of signal failure, and that he who had travelled in Telugu areas often enough had never heard of forty thousand Harijans or any figure near it asking for baptism.160 As for the Ezhavas, he observed, The papers report them to have congratulated the Maharaja on his Proclamation.161 He concluded, There is no other way to deal with exaggerations of which the appeal is full than by living them down and by the truth working through the lives of the reformers.162
Professor Krzenski, according to whom Catholicism was the only true religion, had a discussion with Gandhiji on January 2, 1937. The dialogue was reported in the Harijan of January 16. Gandhiji made use of Socratic wit to disarm him completely:
Gandhiji: Do you therefore say that other religions are untrue?
Krzenski: If others are convinced that their, religions are true they are saved.
Gandhiji: Therefore you will say that everyone would be saved even through untruth. For you say that if a man really and sincerely believes in what is as a matter of fact untruth he is saved. Would you not also hold, therefore, that your own way may be untrue but that you are convinced that it is true and therefore you will be saved?163
Krzenski’s claim that he had studied and compared all religions and found his own to be the best, did not impress Gandhiji for whom religion was not a matter of intellectual examination. He told the professor that “your position is arrogant.” The professor then switched on to the next question, viz., that of fighting materialism. Gandhiji said, “It is no use trying to fight these forces without giving up the idea of conversion, which I assure you is the deadliest poison which ever saped the fountain of truth.”164
Before leaving, the professor said, “But I have great respect for you.” Gandhiji observed, “Not enough. If I were to join the Catholic Church you would have greater respect for me.” Krzenski agreed and said that in that case “you would be as great as St. Francis?” Gandhiji winked, “But not otherwise? A Hindu cannot be a St. Francis? Poor Hindu?”
Krzenski wanted to take a photograph of Gandhiji. He was dissuaded by Gandhiji’s quick remark, “No, surely you don’t care for materialism! And it is all materialism, isn’t it?”165
On January 19, 1937 Gandhiji gave an interview to two Bishops and some other Christians at Kottayam. He had gone there to extend his support to the Maharaja’s proclamation on temple-entry for Harijans. Bishop Moore said he was ready to remove misunderstandings about missionary work in Travancore which had disturbed Gandhiji.
Gandhiji referred him to Bishop Pickett’s claim about conversions in the Telugu country and Travancore, and the Church Missionary Society’s call for funds. Moore pleaded ignorance about the claim and the collection and agreed that exaggerated reports should not be circulated. He also stated that during the last year they could record 530 persons as having been baptised into the Anglican faith. But Bishop Abraham asserted that there was a tremendous awakening among even the middle class savarnas in Telugu areas and that he had addressed meetings which were attended by many of the high-caste people.
Gandhiji said, “That means nothing. To say that hundreds attended meetings addressed by Christian preachers is very different from saying that hundreds have accepted the message of Jesus and from making an appeal for money in anticipation of people becoming Christians in large numbers.” The Christians wanted to know if “Mr. Gandhi had any objection to their stimulating and responding to the spiritual hunger of the people.” Gandhiji said that “the matter was quite irrelevant to the discussion which was entirely about extravagant statements made by responsible people.”166
On the same day he addressed a public meeting in the town. “In the estimation of those who so believe,” he said, “this Proclamation is an act which it would be their duty to resist and to show to the Maharaja that by issuing the Proclamation of liberation he is simply prolonging the agony and giving a new lease of life to a body of superstitions which were bound to die their natural death.” He had the Christian missionaries and their Hindu mouthpieces in mind. “I know,” he continued, “that many Christians throughout the length and breadth of India do not regard Hinduism as a fraud upon humanity or a body of bad usages and superstitions. A religion which has produced Ramakrishna, Chaitanya, Shankar and Vivekananda cannot be a body of superstitions.”
After explaining the ‘essence of Hinduism’ with the help of one incredibly simple mantra of the Ishopanishad167, he suggested to “my Christian and Mussalman friends that they will find nothing more in their scriptures.”168
He declared that he had himself been fighting against whatever corruptions had crept into Hindu Dharma and requested all non-Hindus not to exploit the temporary weaknesses of this great religion. “I felt,” he said, “that I could not do justice to this great meeting, especially a meeting that is held in a Christian stronghold, unless I was prepared to utter a truth I held dear as life itself. We all consciously or unconsciously find and strive for peace on earth and goodwill amongst mankind. I am convinced that we shall find neither peace nor goodwill among men and women through strife among men of different religions, through disputation among them. We shall find truth and peace and goodwill if we approach the humblest of mankind in a prayful spirit. Anyway that is my humble appeal to Christians who may be present in this great meeting… As I have said so often elsewhere, whilst the hand that traced the signature on the Proclamation was that of the Maharaja, the spirit that moved him to do so as that of God.”169
On March 5, 1937 Gandhiji had a discussion with R. R. Keithahn, an American missionary, about the equality of all religions. The missionary was not quite sure what was at the back of Gandhiji’s mind when he said that all religions were not only true but equal. He felt that scientifically it was hardly correct to say that all religions are equal. But he admitted that it is no use comparing religions and that they were different ways.170 Gandhiji said, “You are right when you say that it is impossible to compare them. But the deduction from it is that they are equal. All men are born free and equal, but one is much stronger or weaker than another physically and mentally. Therefore superficially there is no equality between the two. But there is an essential equality: in our nakedness. God is not going to think of me as Gandhi and you as Keithahn, inherently we are equal. The differences of race and skin and of mind and body and of climate and nation are transitory. In the same way essentially all religions are equal… Where is the use of scanning details and holding a religion to ridicule? Take the very first chapter of Genesis or of Matthew. We read a long pedigree and then at the end we are told that Jesus was born of a virgin. You come up against a blind wall. But I must read it all with the eye of a Christian.”171
A Roman Catholic Father came to see Gandhiji on March 5, 1937 and proposed that if “Hinduism became monotheistic, Christianity and Hinduism can serve India in cooperation.” Gandhiji replied, “I would love to see the cooperation happen, but it cannot if the present-day Christian missions persist in holding up Hinduism to ridicule and saying that no one can go to Heaven unless he renounces and denounces Hinduism not so long as there is militant and muscular Christianity.”172
The Father persisted, “But if Indians begin to believe in one God and give up idolatry, don’t you think the whole difficulty will be solved?” Gandhiji put a counter question to him, “Will the Christians be satisfied? Are they all united?” The Father admitted that the Christian sects knew no unity. “Then you are asking,” continued Gandhiji, “a theoretical question. And may I ask you, is there any amalgamation between Islam and Christianity, though both are said to believe in one God? If these two have not amalgamated, there is less hope of amalgamation of Christians and Hindus along lines you suggest. I have my own solution, but in the first instance I dispute the description that Hindus believe in many gods and are idolaters… The whole mischief is created by the English rendering of the word deva or devata for which you have not found a better term than ‘god’. But God is Ishwara, Devadhideva, God of Gods. So you see it is the word ‘god’ used to describe different divine beings, that has given rise to such confusion. I believe that I am a thorough Hindu but I never believe in many Gods.”
Next, Gandhiji proceeded to defend idol-worship. “As for idol-worship,” he said, “you cannot do without it in some form or other. Why does a Mussalman give his life for defending a mosque which he calls a house of God? And why does a Christian go to a Church and when he is required to take an oath swear by the Bible? Not that I see any objection to it. And what is it if not idolatry to give untold riches for building mosques and tombs? And what do the Roman Catholics do when they kneel before Virgin Mary and before saints – quite imaginary figures in stone or painted on canvas or glass?”
The Father made a distinction between ‘veneration’ and ‘worship’. “When I worship God,” he said, “I acknowledge Him as creator and greater than any human being.” Gandhiji observed, “Even so, it is not the stone we worship but it is God we worship in images of stone or metal however crude they may be.”173 The Father said, “But the villagers worship stones as God.” Gandhiji explained, “No, I tell you they do not worship anything that is less than God. When you kneel before Virgin Mary and ask for her intercession, what do you do? You ask to establish contact with God through a stone image. I can understand your asking for the Virgin’s intercession. Why are Mussalmans filled with awe and exultation when they enter a mosque? Why is not the whole universe a mosque? But I understand and sympathise with the Muslims. It is their way of approach to God. The Hindus have their own way of approach to the same Eternal Being. Our media of approach are different, but that does not make Him different.”174
The Father now came to the patent Christian position. “But the Catholics believe,” he said, “that God revealed to them the true way.” Gandhiji replied, “But why do you say that the will of God is expressed only in one book called the Bible and not in others? Why do you circumscribe the power of God?” The Father brought in Jesus who proved that he had received the word of God through miracles. Gandhiji pointed out, “But that is Mahomed’s claim too. If you accept Christian testimony you must accept Muslim testimony and Hindu testimony too.” The Father dropped the subject and became curious about the Congress veering round Communism.175 Gandhiji advised him not to confuse with Communism the Congress campaign against inequality.
Finally, the Father expressed his fear of Hindus coming to power in free Bharat. “When Hinduism comes to power,” he asked, “will it not make a united front against Christianity? There are all the signs of Hinduism coming to power. And if it happens here, as it is happening in Spain,176 Indian Christians will be despised and persecuted and swept off.” Gandhiji told him that his fears were imaginary. “There is no such thing,” said Gandhiji, “as Hindu rule, there will be no such thing: Let me tell you that no Hindu in his wildest imagination ever thought of this. Hinduism was well able to destroy the first Christians that came. Why did it not do anything of the kind? Travancore is a brilliant example of toleration. I was asked while I was there to see the most ancient church where St. Thomas is said to have planted the first cross. Why should he have been allowed to plant it?” The Father revealed his bugbear – Arya Samaj. Gandhiji said, “I agree that the Arya Samaj represents a type of militant Hinduism, but they never believed in the cult of the sword. The worst thing they are capable of is to ask you to become a Hindu if you went and spoke on their platform!”177
A distinguished American clergyman, Dr. Crane, met Gandhiji on February 25, 1937 and asked him various questions. The interview was published in the Harijan dated March 6, 1937. The first question was about Gandhiji’s attitude to Christianity. “For a time,” said Gandhiji, “I struggled with the question, ‘which was the true religion out of those I know?’ But ultimately I came to the deliberate conviction that there was no such thing as only one true religion, every other being false. There is no religion that is absolutely perfect. All are equally imperfect or more or less perfect, hence the conclusion that Christianity is as good and true as my own religion Therefore I am not interested in weaning you from Christianity and making you a Hindu, and I would not relish your designs upon me, if you had any, to convert me to Christianity: I would also dispute your claim that Christianity is the only true religion. It is also a true religion, a noble religion, and along with other religions it has contributed to raise the moral height of mankind. But it has yet to make a greater contribution. After all what are 2,000 years in the life of a religion? Just now Christianity comes to yearning mankind in a tainted form. Fancy Bishops supporting slaughter in the name of Christianity.”178
Dr. Crane asked, “But, when you say that all religions are true, what do you do when there are conflicting counsels?” Gandhiji replied, “I have no difficulty in hitting upon the truth, because I go by certain fundamental maxims. Truth is superior to everything and I reject what conflicts with it. Similarly that which is in conflict with non-violence should be rejected. And on matters which can be reasoned out, that which conflicts with Reason must also be rejected… Well then, given these three criteria, I can have no difficulty in examining all claims made on behalf of religion. Thus to believe that Jesus is the only begotton son of God is to me against Reason, for God can’t marry and beget children. The word ‘son’ there can only be used in a figurative sense. In that sense everyone who stands in the position of Jesus is a begotten son of God. If a man is spiritually miles ahead of us we may say that he is in a special sense the son of God, though we are all children of God.”179
The next question from the clergyman was, “Then you will recognize degrees of divinity. Would you not say that Jesus was the most divine?” Gandhiji said, “No, for the simple reason that we have no data. Historically we have more data about Mahomed than anyone else because he was more recent in time. For Jesus there are less data available, no judge should shoulder the burden of sifting all the evidence, if only for the reason that it requires a highly spiritual person to gauge the degree of divinity of the subjects he examines.”180
The clergyman sought his view about conversion. “I strongly resent,” said Gandhiji, “these overtures to utterly ignorant men. I can perhaps understand overtures made to me, as indeed they are being made. For they can reason with me and I can reason with them. But I certainly resent the overtures made to Harijans. When a Christian preacher goes and says to a Harijan that Jesus was the only begotten son of God, he will give him a blank stare. Then he holds out all kinds of inducements which debase Christianity.”181
Dr. Crane asked him if he regarded Hindu Dharma as a synthesis of all religions. “Yes,” replied Gandhi, “if you will. But I would call that synthesis Hinduism, and for you the synthesis will be Christianity. If I did not do so, you would always be patronizing me, as many Christians do now, saying, ‘How nice it would be if Gandhi accepted Christianity’, and Muslims would be doing the same, saying, ‘How nice it would be if Gandhi accepted Islam!’ That immediately puts a barrier between you and me.”182
Finally, there was a discussion about what Dr. Crane called the caste system. Gandhiji said, “Hinduism does not believe in caste. I would obliterate it at once. But I believe in varnadharma, which is the law of life. I believe that 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 hereditary. The law of varna is nothing but the law of conservation of energy. Why should my son not be a scavenger if I am one?”
Crane was surprised and exclaimed, “Indeed? Do you go so far?” Gandhiji replied, “I do, because I hold a scavenger’s profession in no way inferior to a clergyman’s. For a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your President. That, according to me, is Hinduism. There is no better communism on earth, and I have illustrated it with one verse from the Upanishads which means: God pervades all – animate and inanimate. Therefore renounce all and dedicate it to God and then live. The right of living is thus derived from renunciation. It does not say, ‘When all do their part of the work I too will do it.’ It says, ‘Don’t bother about others, do your job first and leave the rest to Him.’ Varnadharma acts even as the law of gravitation. I cannot cancel it or its working by trying to jump higher day by day till gravitation ceases to work. That effort will be vain. So is the effort to jump over one another. The law of varna is the antithesis of competition which kills.”183
Someone wrote a long letter to Gandhiji. Extracts from it were published in the Harijan of March 6, 1937. The letter said, “Your attitude towards religious conversion and particularly the hope you entertain for the Depressed Classes within the fold of Hinduism, overlooks the prevalent practices of Hinduism as it exists in India today” He also pointed out that “any religion is judged by its fruits.” Hindu temples and mutts, he continued, collected a lot of money from the devotees, but instead of being used for rendering service it was used for the ‘princely lives’ led by the heads of mutts. Religious heads, Swamis and gurus were practising ‘popery in its worst days.’ Temples and mutts had become ‘weapons of superstition and oppression.’ On the other hand, ‘Bishops and priests of Christian religion render humanitarian service unequalled by any other class of human beings who follow any other faith or no faith, and are approachable to all people.’184
Gandhiji commented, “It is good to see ourselves as others see us. The grave limitations of Hinduism as it is today must be admitted; Humanitarian work done by Christian missions must also be admitted. But these admissions of mine must not be interpreted to mean endorsement of the deductions of the writer. The writer had admitted the sublimity of Hinduism as expounded by Vivekananda and Radha-krishnan.“
Gandhiji pointed out that this admission should have led to his discovery of its percolation down to the masses. He said, “I make bold to say that in spite of the crudeness which one sees among the villagers, class considered, in all that is good in human nature they compare favourably with any villagers in the world. This testimony is borne out by the majority of travellers who from the times of Huen Tsang down to the present times have recorded their impressions. The innate culture that the villagers of India show, the art which one sees in the homes of the poor, the restraint with which the villagers conduct themselves, are surely due to the religion that has bound them together since time immemorial.”185
Coming to service, Gandhiji wrote, “In his zeal to belittle Hinduism, the writer ignores the broad fact that Hinduism has produced a race of reformers who have successfully combated prejudices, superstitions and abuses. Without any drum-beating Hinduism has devised a system of relief of the poor which has been the envy of many foreign admirers. It is not the Indian habit to advertise charities through printed reports and the like. But he who runs may see the free kitchens and free medical relief given along indigenous lines. Missionary service institutions, on the other hand, are established with a view to weaning Indians from their ancestral faith even as expounded by Vivekananda and Radha-krishnan.”186
In his talk with Mr. John Mott and some other missionaries Gandhiji has compared the Harijans with the cow so far as understanding of Christian theology was concerned. The missionaries made much of it and went about propagating that Gandhiji had insulted the Harijans. He had explained in the Harijan of January 9, 1937 what he meant by the comparison.187 But that did not stop the missionary campaign. So he returned to the theme in the Harijan of March 13, 1937. “This comparison,” he wrote, “shocked my friends so much that the shock has travelled to America and I have begun to receive letters from America telling me how the comparison is being used to discredit me and my claim to serve Harijans. The critics seem to say, ‘You can have little regard for Harijans if you compare them to the cow!'”
Gandhiji refused to be browbeaten and did not withdraw the comparison. He explained his simile once again and went farther. “Let my critics and credulous friends understand,” he said, “that apart from the comparison, I stand on unassailable ground when I assert that it is a travesty of religion to seek to uproot from the Harijans’ simple minds such faith as they have in their ancestral religion and to transfer their allegiance to another, even though that other may be as good as and equal to the original in quality. Though all soils have the same predominant characteristics, we know that the same seeds do not fare equally well in all soils. But my fear is that though Christian friends nowadays do not say or admit that Hindu religion is untrue, they must harbour in their breasts the belief that Hinduism is an error and that Christianity as they believe it is the only true religion. Without some such thing it is not possible to understand, much less to appreciate, the C.M.S.188 appeal from which I reproduced in these columns some revealing extracts the other day. One could understand the attack on untouchability and many other errors that have crept into Hindu life. And if they would help us to get rid of the admitted abuses and purify our religion, they would do helpful constructive work which would be gratefully accepted. But so far as one can understand the present effort, it is to uproot Hinduism from the very foundation and replace it by another faith. If the Christian world entertains that opinion about the Hindu house, ‘Parliament of Religions’ and ‘International Fellowship’ are empty phrases. For both the terms presuppose equality of status, a common platform. There cannot be a common platform as between inferiors and superiors, or the enlightened and the unenlightened, the regenerate and the unregenerate, the high-born and the lowborn, the caste man and the outcaste. My comparison may be defective, may even sound offensive. My reasoning may be unsound. But my proposition stands.”189
A joint manifesto, Our Duty to the Depressed and Backward Classes, was issued by fourteen highly educated Indian Christians occupying important positions. It was published in full in the Harijan dated April 3, 1937, though Gandhiji was disinclined to publish it in the Harijan, as “after having read it more than once I could not bring myself to say anything in its favour and I felt a critical review of it might serve no purpose.” He thought it was an ‘unfortunate document.’ But as his criticism was expected and will be welcomed, he decided to tender it. “They seem to have fallen between two stools,” wrote Gandhiji, “in their attempt to sit on both. They have tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. If one section of Christians has been aggressively open and militant, the other represented by the authors of the manifesto is courteously patronising. They would not be aggressive for the sake of expedience. The purpose of the manifesto is not to condemn unequivocally the method of converting the illiterate and the ignorant but to assert the right of preaching the Gospel to the millions of Harijans.”190
Para 7 of the manifesto had proclaimed, “Men and women individually and in family or village groups will continue to seek fellowship of the Christian Church. That is the real movement of the Spirit of God. And no power on earth can stem that tide. It will be the duty of the Christian Church in India to receive such. seekers after the truth as it is in Jesus Christ and provide for them instruction and spiritual nurture. The Church will cling to its right to receive such people into itself from whatever religious groups they may come.”191
Gandhiji commented, “Men and women do not seek fellowship of the Christian Church. Poor Harijans are no better than the others. I wish they had spiritual hunger. Such as it is, they satisfy by visit to the temples, however crude they may be. When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like any other vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He, however, possesses material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold. Then mark, the duty of the Christian Church in India turns into a right. Now when duty becomes a right, it ceases to be a duty… The duty of taking spiritual message is performed by the messenger becoming a fit vehicle by prayer and fasting.”
Conceived as a right it may easily become an imposition on unwilling parties. Gandhiji saw the manifesto as designed to allay the suspicion and soothe the ruffled feelings of Hindus. But, in his opinion, it fails to accomplish its purpose and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. He concluded, In the spiritual sphere, there is no such thing as right.192
Soon after Gandhiji made his comments on the manifesto, a missionary came to him seeking clarification. The discussion which Gandhiji had with him was published in the Harijan of April 17, 1937. “I wonder,” said the missionary, “if those who made the statement were thinking of anything in the nature of legal right. It is, I think, a moral right they claim here rather than a legal one.” Gandhiji replied, “My criticism would apply even if they had used the word ‘moral right’. But it is clear that they mean a legal right because for one thing there is no such thing as a moral right, and secondly because in the very next para of the manifesto, in which they have referred to the Karachi Resolution of Fundamental Rights, they make it clear that they mean by ‘right’ legal right. A moral right, if there is any such thing, does not need any asserting and defending.”193
The missionary came to his next question. “You have objected to Christian propaganda,” he said, “on the ground that Harijans are illiterate and ignorant. What would you say of propaganda amongst non-Harijans?” Gandhiji replied, “I have the same objection because the vast mass of people of India do not understand the pros and cons of Christianity better than a cow. I use this simile in spite of the fact that it has been objected to. When I say that I do not understand logarithms any better than my cow, I do not mean any insult to my intelligence. In matters of theology, the non-Harijan masses can understand no better than the Harijans. Try to preach the principles of Christianity to my wife. She can understand them no better then my cow. I can, because of the training I have had.”
The missionary proceeded further. He said, “But we do not preach theology. We simply talk of the life of Christ and tell them what a comfort His life and teaching have been to us. He has been our guide, we say and ask others also to accept Him as their guide.” Gandhiji observed, “Oh yes, you do say that. But when you say I must accept Jesus in preference to Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, you will have to, go into deep waters. That is why I say, let your life speak to us, even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume.”194
The missionary shifted his ground. “But then,” he said, “your objection is to the commercial aspect of Christian propaganda. Every true Christian will agree that no baits should be offered.” Gandhiji asked, “But what else is Christianity as it is preached nowadays? Why should students attending Mission schools and colleges be compelled or even expected to attend Bible classes?“195 The missionary protested, “That was the old way, not the modern way.” Gandhiji said, “I can cite to you any number of modern examples. Is not the Bishop of Dornakal a modem? And what else is his open letter to the Depressed Classes of India? It is full of baits.” The missionary moved from education to medicine and said, “As regards hospitals, I think philanthropy without the dynamic of some religious teaching will not do.” Gandhiji did not agree. “Then you commercialize you gift,” he said, “for at the back of your mind is the feeling that because of your service some day the recipient of the gift will accept Christ. Why should not your service be its own reward.”196
The missionary shifted his ground once more and said, “But then you must judge Christianity by its best representatives and not the worst.” Gandhiji replied, “I am not judging Christianity as a religion. I am talking of the way Christianity is being propagated, and you cannot judge it by exceptions, as you cannot judge the British system of Government by some fine specimens of Englishmen. No, let us think of the bulk of your people who preach the Gospel. Do they spread the perfume of their lives? That is to me the sole criterion.”
The missionary now wanted to ‘hear from you your attitude to the personality of Christ.’ Gandhiji gave him his settled view that Christ was a great teacher of humanity and not the only begotten son of God.197 The missionary was perplexed. “But don’t you believe,” he asked, “in the perfection of human nature, and don’t you believe that Jesus had attained perfection?” Gandhiji replied, “I believe in the perfectibility of human nature. Jesus came as near to perfection as possible. To say that he was perfect is to deny God’s superiority to man.”
He anticipated the next assertion which the missionary was bound to make in order to prove that Jesus was perfect. “I do not need,” he said, “either the prophecies or miracles to establish Jesus’s greatness as a teacher. Nothing can be more miraculous than the three years of his ministry. There is no miracle in the story of the multitudes fed on a handful of loaves. A magician can create that illusion. But woe worth the day on which a magician would be hailed as the Saviour of humanity. As for Jesus raising the dead to life, well, I doubt if the men he raised were really dead. The laws of Nature are changeless, unchangeable, and there are no miracles in the sense of infringement or interruption of Nature’s laws.”198
In the Harijan dated April 17, 1937 Gandhiji published a letter which he had received from P. 0. Phillip of the National Christian Council, complaining that Caste Hindus in Kerala were molesting Christians, particularly depressed class converts. He commented that he had received several other complaints of a similar nature. “The writers,” he said, “claim that (1) the acts are not isolated; (2) they are perpetrated with the knowledge of influential Caste Hindus; (3) Caste Hindus want to suppress, if possible, the progress of Christianity; (4) communal hatred is on the increase after the Temple Entry proclamation.”199 He advised the complainants to approach the Harijan Sevak Sangh for investigation of all cases.
“I myself,” he said, “will have no hesitation in denouncing the slightest departure by Caste Hindus from the strictest nonviolence. It is difficult for me to see why communal hatred should be on the increase because of the Temple Entry Proclamation. Certainly I observed none during my recent tour in Travancore. And in so far as specific charges of molestation are concerned I would advise Shri Phillip’s correspondent to file complaints in the local courts. I may mention that I have received complaints of a contrary nature from Caste Hindus alleging that Harijans living in or near Christian cheris were molested by Christians. I refused to publish the statements and referred the writers to the local courts. I would have likewise treated the foregoing postcard but for the very serious allegations contained in it. They could only be dealt with publicly and by a public investigation.”200
A friend who had studied the work of the Salvation Army, sent to Gandhiji an interesting note which was published in the Harijan of June 12, 1937. He quoted the Encyclopaedia Britannica which said that the various social activities of the Army were actuated by the sole aim of proselytisation. General Booth, the founder of the Army, had himself written to his son that ‘the social work is the bait, but it is salvation that is the hook that lands the fish.’ Every soldier of the Army had to be a ‘Soul-winner.’201 Gandhiji commented, “Of course what is true of the Army is more or less true of all Christian Missions. The social work is undertaken not for its own sake but as an aid to salvation of those who receive social service. The history of India would have been written differently if the Christians had come to India to live their lives in our midst and permeate ours with their aroma if there was any. But say some of them, If what you say had held good with Jesus there would have been no Christians. To answer this would land me in a controversy in which I have no desire to engage. But I may be permitted to say that Jesus preached not a new religion but a new way of life.”202
In the Harijan dated June 12, 1937 Gandhiji published a long extract from a letter he had received from an American sister who had worked for years as a missionary in Bharat. “But as for Harijans themselves,” she wrote, “I certainly do not agree that they are stupid, or unintelligent, or lacking in religious sense. They are not even unsophisticated. If we tried to use the high-pressure methods of which you accuse us, I assure you we would get no results among them. To me they are just nice people very much like myself and my brothers and sisters and friends. To be sure they are oppressed and illiterate, even unkempt, but they are thoughtful, spiritual-minded, generous, kindly; in character they seem to me above, rather than below, the average of mankind. I like them better than Savarnas – but that is my bad taste, perhaps.”
Next, she proceeded to tell Gandhiji that his attitude towards Harijans was superficial. “The only explanation,” she continued, “that comes to my mind is that you either do not know them or you are insincere. The latter is unworthy of attention. The former might be true – for we sometimes know least those who live in the same house with us. May be, you still unconsciously have a little ‘high caste’ attitude. It may be your city outlook. Whatever it is, you are not seeing them as I see them.”203
She pleaded that she knew the Harijans better because she herself was a villager and had lived with them as one of them. “Our spiritual communion,” she said, “was always on terms of equality. I received as much from them as I gave may be more. At least I can testify that some of the deepest spiritual thinking, the most exquisite spiritual attainment, that I have ever known, I have seen in the souls of Depressed Class Hindus – and I don’t mean exceptional, educated ones, I mean illiterate villagers. But would I have seen it if I had been haggling them to become Christians? I assure you I would not! To be sure they talk politics and economics, but it is only the spiritual interest that holds them till midnight, brings them back at dawn, and in the hot noonday, with the plea, ‘If you knew how we want to hear that God loves us, you wouldn’t want to rest.”204
She also gave some advice to Gandhiji. “If you cannot meet that need,” she concluded, “you cannot hold the Depressed Classes – if you can meet it, you will hold them. For that is what they are asking – yes, and Shudras, too, and even some merchants and Brahmans.”205
Gandhiji rejected her suggestion that he did not know Harijans. “The writer,” he said, “has no warrant for suggesting that I do not know or love Harijans sufficiently because I attribute to Harijans inability to receive Christian teachings. My attitude is not superficial as she will have it to be. Whatever it is, it is based on deep experience and observation dependent not on a day’s or even a year’s contact, but on close contact for years with tens of thousands of India’s masses, not as a superior being but feeling as one of them. But she is wholly right when she says, ‘Whatever it is, you are not seeing them as I see them.’ They are my kith and kin, breathing the same air, living the same life, having the same faith, the same aspirations, and the same earth sustaining us in life as it will in death! And for her?”206
He agreed with her that the spiritual needs of Harijans had to be met and that Caste Hindus had to treat them as equals. But he differed with her as regards the way to meet their spiritual needs. “But I am not so stupid as to think,” he said, “that I or any single person can supply the spiritual needs of his neighbour. Spiritual needs cannot be supplied through the intellect or through the stomach, even as the needs of the body cannot be supplied through the spirit. One can paraphrase the famous saying of Jesus and say, ‘Render unto the body that which is its, and unto the spirit that which is its.’ And the only way I can supply my neighbour’s spiritual needs is by living the life of the spirit without even exchanging a word with him. The life of the spirit will translate itself into acts of love for my neighbour.”207
At the same time he was sure that Christian missions were not meeting whatever spiritual needs the Harijans had. “But to admit that Harijans,” he concluded, “have the same spiritual need as the rest of us, is not to say that they would understand the intellectual presentation of Christianity as much as I would; for instance. I put them on the same level as my own wife. Her spiritual needs are no less than mine, but she would no more understand the presentation of Christianity than any ordinary Harijan would; Presentation, with a view to conversion, of a faith other than one’s own, can only necessarily be through an appeal to the intellect or the stomach or both. I do maintain in spite of the extract I have quoted that the vast mass of Harijans, and for that matter Indian humanity, cannot understand the presentation of Christianity, and that generally speaking their conversion wherever it has taken place has not been a spiritual act in any sense of the term. They are conversions for convenience. And I have had overwhelming corroboration of the truth during my frequent and extensive wanderings.”208
The same issue of the Harijan published a report which Gandhiji had received from Thakkar Bapa about the quality of Christian preaching in the Nizam’s Dominions (the former Hyderabad State). The report said:
“About six months ago an event which took place at Karepally, Warangal District, Nizam’s Dominions, describes the methods adopted by the Christian missionaries to make conversions of Hindus and especially Harijans. Some days previous to the appointed date, the village teachers sent out news of the coming event into all the surrounding villages and made sure that the people of all castes of Hindus and especially Harijans were present on the occasion in large numbers. The pastor arrived at the place bringing with him a girl, about 12 years old, who he said would cure all that were presented to her of all sorts of diseases and also show them the real path to realization of God.
The pastor then stood and said addressing those present, ‘You believe in gods who are dead and gone. Your Rama was born, behaved and acted like an ordinary mortal and then died. So was the case with Krishna also, who had many more vices to his credit. Here is before you a person who is the very incarnation of Christ. Christ is in her now, which fact you can verify yourself by being cured of your diseases at the mere touch of her hands. Why believe in gods who are past and no more effective? You should all believe in and follow the path of Jesus Christ who was born to Virgin Mary, preached the Gospel which leads to salvation, died outwardly but rose again on the third day to redeem the sinning millions of the world.’
A subscription of one anna per head and two annas for a metal cross were charged. They were told that, unless they wore the cross at all times and believed in the truth and efficacy of Christianity, there would not be any good effect in the case of diseased patients.”209
Gandhiji made a brief comment. “If it is true,” he said, “it stands self-condemned. I would like the Mission concerned to investigate the complaint and throw light on it.”210
Another report which Thakkar Bapa sent was about the method of conversion employed by missionaries in the Shahabad District of Bihar. Gandhiji published it in the Harijan of June 19, 1937. “After having visited the village,” said the report, “and having created familiarity with the Harijans they at once start a school and put it in charge of a Harijan teacher who either himself is an influential man or related to such a one. Whenever they come to learn that some tension or actual litigation is going on between the Harijans and other villagers they at once seize the opportunity to take up the side of the poor Harijans and help them with money and advice. They are thus hailed as saviours and conversion follows as if to repay the obligation. Whenever a village Harijan leader accepts the new faith almost all belonging to his clan follow him.”211
The report went on to point out that “In all cases of conversion, new or old, not a single instance can be found in which the acceptance of the new faith was due to any religious conviction… Those of the new and old who are still continuing as nominal Christians are willing to return to Hinduism if their grievances are removed.” Finally, the report listed nine grievances of which only one, namely, refusal of entry into temples was religious.2012
Gandhiji wrote, “If what is said in the report about the conversions be true, it is from my standpoint reprehensible. Such superficial conversions can only give rise to suspicion and strife. But if a missionary body or individual choose to follow the methods described in the report, nothing can be done to prevent them. It is therefore much more profitable to turn the searchlight inward and to discover our own defects. Fortunately the report enables us to do so. Nine causes are enumerated to show why Harijans are induced to leave the Hindu fold. Seven are purely economic, one is social, and one is purely religious. Thus they are reduced-economically, degraded socially and boycotted from religious participation. The wonder is not that they leave Hinduism, the wonder is that they have not done so for so long and that so few leave their faith even when they do. The moral is obvious.”
He called upon the Harijan Sevak Sangh to find more workers for doing service to the Harijans and for propaganda among the so-called caste Hindus, not in the shape of reviling them but showing them that religion does not warrant the treatment that is meted out to Harijans by them.213
A correspondent posed before Gandhiji four questions which were published in the Harijan of September 25, 1937. The first question was whether ‘Hindus who have once renounced their faith for some reason or other and joined Islam or Christianity’ should be reconverted if they sincerely repent and want to come back. The second question was about Lakhs of Depressed Class people in South Bharat who have joined Christianity wholesale but who feel it worthwhile to readopt their ancestral faith. The third question was whether a Hindu who was made to join another faith for certain material conditions and feels disillusioned should be welcomed when he comes and knocks at our door. The fourth question was as to what should be done with Hindu boys and girls who have been brought up and converted in Christian or Muslim orphanages and who now approach us for shuddhi.214
Gandhiji’s reply to all these questions was positive. “In my opinion,” he observed, “they are not examples of real conversion. If a person through fear, compulsion, starvation or for material gain or consideration goes over to another faith, it is a misnomer to call it conversion. Most cases of mass conversion, of which we have heard so much during the past two years, have been to my mind false coin; I would, therefore, unhesitatingly re-admit to the Hindu fold all such repentants without much ado, certainly without any shuddhi… And as I believe in the equality of all the great religions of the earth, I regard no man as polluted because he has forsaken the branch on which he was sitting and gone over to another of the same tree. If he comes to the original branch, he deserves to be welcomed and not told that he had committed sin by reason of his having forsaken the family to which he belonged. In so far as he may be deemed to have erred, he has sufficiently purged himself of it when he repents of the error and retraces his step.”215
Mr. John R. Mott who had come to Bharat in order to preside over a conference of the international Missionary Council to be held at Tambaram in Madras Presidency from December 12 to 29, met Gandhiji on or before December 4, 1938. This was his third visit to the Mahatma. The discussion between the two went on for two days and was published in the Harijan of December 10. “This is a unique convention,” Mott said, “where 14 councils of the younger churches of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and 14 of the older churches of Europe, America and Australia will be represented by over 400 delegates. We want this to be a help and not a hindrance to India; Am I, I ask, right in thinking that the tide has turned a little bit on the great things you impressed on me?” Gandhiji replied, “What I have noticed is that there is a drift in the right direction so far as thought is concerned, but I do feel that in action there is no advance. I was going to say not much advance but I deliberately say no advance. You may be able give solitary instances of men here and there, but they do not count.”216
Some portions of the dialogue that followed are worth being reproduced at some length:
J.M: Is not taking advantage of people’s disabilities being avoided now? I must say I was terribly pained to read of the McGavran incident.217
G: Even on this question, whilst some friends, I agree, are in earnest, so far as action goes, there has been no change.
J.M: You mean there is not action enough?
G: No, there is no action at all. I have plenty of evidence to prove what I say. I do not publish all the correspondence I get. Mr. A. A. Paul, whom you may know, convened a conference some time ago. The proceedings were revealing. Their resolutions were half-hearted. As far as I am aware, there was no unanimity about any definite action.218
J.M.: I was encouraged by a resolution of the National Christian Council which insisted on pure motives and pure practice.
G: You may cite the resolution but you will not be able to show corresponding action.
J.M: They are now talking of conversion of groups and families. I am not quite clear, though, as to what in certain cases the word group implies.
G. I am quite clear. It is mass conversion called by another name.219
J.M: On the third question of the wise use of money I see signs of encouragement.
G: But it is making virtue of necessity. The Indian Christians are thinking aloud and doing things themselves. They are talking of their own responsibilities and saying, Thank God, American money can’t come.
J.M: How many missionaries and Christians in general help in constructive activities like the village industries movement, the new educational movement, and so on?
G: I am happy to be able to say that I have some valued Christian colleagues. But they can be counted on one’s fingers. I fear that the vast bulk of them remain unconvinced. They evidently believe in industrialization and Western type of education. And missionaries as a body perhaps fight shy of movements not conducted wholly or predominantly by Christians.220
But in spite of the best efforts of Christian missions to exploit the situation created by Gandhiji’s call for abolition of untouchability, the tide was turning against conversions. This was admitted by the Tambaram Conference of the International Missionary Council presided over by Mr. J. R. Mott. “We have long held,” proclaimed the Conference, “that the one serious rival for the spiritual supremacy of India that Christianity has to face is resurgent Hinduism, and recent happenings have deepened the conviction. The spirit of new Hinduism is personified in Mahatma Gandhi, whose amazing influence over his fellows is undoubtedly fed by the fires of religion and patriotism. Because he is a staunch Hindu and finds within the faith of his forefathers the spiritual succour he needs, he strongly opposes the Christian claim that Jesus Christ is the one and only saviour. This reminds us again that unless the great Christian affirmations are verified in Christian living, they beat ineffectively on Indian minds.”221
By now the missionaries had realized that India was fast heading towards independence. That rang alarm bells in their mind. But they could not do anything about it except getting reconciled to new power equations. In years to come Christian missions would be forced to change their strategy and raise the slogan of Indigenisation. The Christian Ashram Movement of which we hear a lot these days, was one of the products of this new strategy. Some missionaries started planning to masquerade as Hindu sannyasins.222 Meanwhile they started pestering Gandhiji with questions about the future of Christian missions in India. They wanted him to make some commitment.
The Harijan dated December 12, 1939 published extracts from a letter written to Gandhiji by an American missionary. “Are you and the Congress,” he asked, “generally neutral in regard to which religion a person belongs to?” He himself answered the question, saying, “I believe the Congress claims to be neutral, but my contention is that they are not.” In proof of his assertion he cited two instances. “Your friend, the late Prime Minister of Madras,”223 he stated, “sent a wire of congratulations to Christians who became Hindus. Is that being neutral? And just the other day, here near Bombay in Thana District, when about fifty hill people returned to Hinduism, the leaders in making them Hindus were Congress leaders of Thana District. So that plainly shows that Congress leaders favour Hinduism.” He concluded by expressing fear about the fate of the small minority of Christians under ‘Purna swaraj‘ which he described as ‘Hindu raj‘.224
Gandhiji wrote back, “I am not aware of what Shri Rajagopalachari said. He is well able to take care of himself. But I can give my idea of neutrality. In free India every religion should prosper on terms of equality, unlike what is happening today. Christianity being the nominal religion of the rulers, it receives favours which no other religion enjoys. A government responsible to the people dare not favour one religion or another. But I see nothing wrong in Hindus congratulating those who having left them may return to their fold; I have already complained of the methods adopted by some missionaries to wean ignorant people from the religion of their forefathers. It is one thing to preach one’s religion to whomsoever may choose to adopt it, another to entice masses. And if those thus enticed, on being undeceived, go back to their old love, their return will give natural joy to those whom they had foresaken.”225
The missionaries, however, were loathe to give up. Another delegation came to Gandhiji with some new questions. The discussion was published in the Harijan dated January 1, 1939. One missionary who was a professor asked Gandhiji, “Will you under swaraj allow Christians to go on with their proselytizing activity without any hindrance?” Gandhiji replied, “No legal hindrance can be put in the way of any Christian or anybody preaching for the acceptance of his doctrine.”
The missionary wanted to know whether the freedom they were having under the British regime would be allowed to them under the national Government without any interference. Gandhiji said, “I can’t answer that question categorically because I do not know what is exactly allowed and what is not allowed under the British regime today. That is a legal question. Besides, what is permitted may not necessarily be the same thing as what is permissible under the law. All, therefore, that I can say today is that you should enjoy all freedom you are entitled to under the law today.”226
The missionary continued, “Some of us are under an apprehension that they may have hereafter to labour under disabilities. Is there any guarantee that such a thing would not happen?” Gandhiji replied, “As I wrote in Harijan, you do not seem to realize that Christians are today enjoying the privileges because they are Christians. The moment a person turns Christian, he becomes a Sahib log. He gets a job and position which he could not have otherwise got. He adopts foreign dress and ways of living. He cuts himself from his people and begins to fancy himself a limb of the ruling class. What the Christians are afraid of losing, therefore, is not their rights but anomalous privileges.”227
Another missionary asked, “Why may I not share with others my experience of Jesus Christ which has given me such ineffable peace?” Gandhiji replied, “Because you cannot possibly say that what is best for you is best for all; And again, is it not super-arrogance to assume that you alone possess the key to spiritual joy and peace, and that an adherent of a different faith cannot get the same in equal measure from a study of his scriptures? I enjoy a peace and equanimity of spirit which has excited the envy of many Christian friends. I have got it principally through the Gita.” Coming to the obstinacy of Christians about their mission, Gandhiji added, “Your difficulty lies in your considering the other faiths as false or so adulterated as to amount to falsity. And you shut your eyes to the truth that shines in other faiths and which gives equal joy and peace to their votaries.”
Finally, the missionary asked, “What would be your message to a Christian like me and my fellows?” Gandhiji said, “Become worthy of the messages that is imbedded in the Sermon on the Mount and join the spinning brigade.”228
A group of American teachers from the Ewing College and the Agricultural Institute, Allahabad, called upon Gandhiji on the eve of their return to America. The talk which Gandhiji had with them was published in the Harijan of January 7, 1939. One of the teachers asked, “What is the place of Christian missions in the new India that is being built up today? What can they do to help in this great task?”
Gandhiji replied, “To show appreciation of what India is and is doing. Up till now they have come as teachers and preachers with queer notions about India and India’s great religions. We have been described as a nation of superstitious heathens, knowing nothing, denying God. We are a brood of Satan as Murdoch would say. Did not Bishop Heber in his well-known hymn ‘From Greenland’s icy mountains’ describe India as a country where every prospect pleases and only man is vile? To me this is a negation of the spirit of Christ. My personal view, therefore, is that, if you feel that India has a message to give to the world, that India’s religions too are true, though like all religions imperfect for having percolated through imperfect human agency, and you come as fellow-helpers and fellow-seekers, there is a place for you here. But if you come as preachers of the true Gospel to a people who are wandering in darkness, so far as I am concerned you can have no place. You may impose yourselves upon us.”229
Gandhiji received a circular letter sent by the Secretary of the Seng Khasi Free Morning School stating that the Seng Khasi Free School Movement had been started in 1921 to break the missionary monopoly on education of the Khasi children and preserve national culture. The educational grants given by the British Government, said the circular, were used by the missionaries for printing Christian literature, including a Khasi translation of the Bible, and prescribing it in the school curriculum. The Deputy Inspector of Schools in Khasi and Jaintia Hills was a Christian. He insisted that the Seng Khasi Free Morning School should stick to the text-books prescribed by the missionaries. The School refused and was denied government aid.
Gandhiji published the circular letter in the Harijan dated March 9, 1940 and commented, “If what is stated here is true, it enforces the argument often advanced by me that Christian missionary effort has been favoured by the ruling power. But I advertise the circular not for the sake of emphasizing my argument. I do so in order to ventilate the grievance of the secretary of the school. Surely he has every right to object to teaching proselytizing literature prepared by the missionaries; It is to be hoped that the school will not be deprived of the grant because of the secretary’s very reasonable objection.”230
Gandhiji had another discussion with Christian missionaries on March 12, 1940. As leaders of Christian thought, they asked for his guidance. “All I can say,” said Gandhiji, “is that there should be less of theology and more of truth in all that you say and do.” They requested him to explain. “How can I explain the obvious?” he said. “Among agents of the many untruths that are propounded in the world one of the foremost is theology. I do not say that there is no demand for it. There is a demand in the world for many a questionable thing.”
The missionary asked a supplementary question, “Are you sure that no great result has come through your own study of Jesus?” Gandhiji replied, “Why? There is no doubt that it has come, but not, let me tell you, through theology or through the ordinary interpretation of theologists. For many of them contend that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to mundane things, and that it was only meant for the twelve disciples.”231
Emily Kinnaird was 86 years old when she met Gandhiji on July 20, 1940. He addressed her as mother. A dialogue started when she observed that Gandhiji’s advice to Britain and Denmark to offer non-violent resistance to Nazi Germany was no good. The dialogue, published in the Harijan of August 4, 1940, is being reproduced below because it is revealing:
G: What was the good of Jesus Christ laying down his life?
E.K: Oh, that was a different matter. He was the son of God.
G: And so are we!
E.K: No. He was the only son of God.
G: It is there that the mother and son must differ. With you Jesus was the only begotten son of God. With me He was a son of God, no matter how much purer than us all, but every one of us is a son of God and capable of doing what Jesus did, if we but endeavour to express the divine in us.
E.K: Yes, that is where I think you are wrong. If you accepted Christ in your heart and appealed to your people to do likewise, you could deliver your message with greater ease and far better effect. He is our salvation, and without receiving Him in our hearts we cannot be saved.
G: So those who accept the Christ are all saved? They need do nothing more?
E.K: We are sinners all, and we have to accept Him to be saved.
G: And then we may continue to be sinners? Is that what you mean? You do not I hope belong to the Plymouth Brothers, do you?
E.K: No, I am a Presbyterian.
G: But you talk like some of the Plymouth Brothers I met long ago in Africa.
E.K: Yes, I am afraid you were so unfortunate in the Christian contacts you formed in Africa. You did not meet the right kind of people.
G: Surely you will not say that. I met a number of estimable people. They were all honest and sincere.
E.K: But they were not true Christians.
Gandhiji told her about Christians he met in South Africa. “And old A. W. Baker,” he said, “who must be over eighty now, is still at me. He writes to remind me time and again that unless I accept Christ in his way I cannot be saved.”232 The lady “wondered why we were so obtuse as not to see what was so obvious to her – the outstanding superiority of Christianity to any other message.” She said that the Bible had been translated into several hundred languages and God’s message made available to many people in their own dialects.
Gandhiji observed, “That proves nothing.” She ignored the remark and went on to say that “whereas fifty years ago there were so many hundred thousand Christians in India, there are today ten times as many.” To that also Gandhiji replied, “Again that proves nothing. But why quarrel about labels? Can we not find a few hundred thousand Indians or Africans who live the message of Christ without being called Christian?”233
Gandhiji had a discussion with Harijan workers on January 8, 1942. One of the questions raised by them was how to deal with temptations given by missionaries in the shape of books, school fees, etc., with a view to the boys ultimate conversion. Gandhiji advised, “The missionaries have of course the right to preach the gospel of Christ, and to invite the non-Christians to embrace Christianity. But every attempt to press material benefits or attractions in the aid of conversion should be freely exposed, and Harijans should be educated to resist the temptation.”234
A Christian wrote to Gandhiji, “You oppose all conversion without conviction. But are you not inconsistent? You profess equal respect for all religions. Why then worry about how the conversion is brought about?”235 Gandhiji gave a reply in the Harijan of March 29, 1942. “I have extracted the question,” he said, “from your long and plausible letter, cleverly written. Conversion without conviction is a mere change and not conversion which is a revolution in one’s life. You seem to forget that equal respect implies respect for my own faith as much as for yours or any other neighbour’s. My respect for my own faith forbids my being indifferent to my children abandoning their parents’ faith without conviction. And I should have little respect for you, if you led my children astray by making all kinds of worldly promises in which matters of the spirit had no play.”236
Soon afterwards, Gandhiji became preoccupied with the Quit India Movement which led him to jail in August 1942. During this crises, the missionaries by and large were ranged on the side of the British. William Paton, Secretary of the International Missionary Council denounced the moral imbecilities of Mr. Gandhi in a letter he wrote on July 21, 1942 to L. S. Amery, the Secretary of State for India.236a But when he came out of jail in May 1944 after a fast which had weakened him considerably, four hundred Christians belonging to the National Christian Party gathered at Juhu (Bombay) where he was convalescing and offered prayer for his health. Gandhiji thanked them in a message dated May 28, 1944.237
On November 5, 1944 Gandhiji wrote a letter to the Metropolitan of Calcutta in response to some criticism the latter had offered. “Utmost frankness,” he wrote, “is a sure test of friendship. I therefore appreciate your criticism, being that of a true friend.” He added that Religion should be a binding, not a disruptive force and commanded the good work which some missionaries had done among the Frontier tribes.238 On December 24, 1944 he sent a Christmas message and noted in his diary, “Today is Christmas Day. For us who believe in the equality of all religions, the birth of Jesus Christ is as worthy of veneration as that of Rama, Krishna, etc.”239
Gandhiji’s Christian disciple, J. C. Kumarappa, had written a book, Practice and Precepts of Jesus. He wrote a foreword to it on March 21, 1945. “It is a revolutionary view,” he said, “of Jesus as a man of God. It is none the less revealing and interesting. Anyway, this reading of the Bible must bring solace to the Christians of India. If they will read the Bible as Prof. K. does, they need not be ashamed of their forefathers or their ancient faith.”240 On July 20, 1945, he wrote to Kumarappa, “I have distributed two copies of your book on Jesus to Indian Christians. Supply me with more books.”241
Mrs. Clara Hopman, a Dutch artist, had made a statue of Jesus Christ measuring 6 ft. by 4 ft. It was priced Rs.10,000. The statue was to be installed in the premises of the All India Village industries Association at Maganwadi. On October 28, 1945 Gandhiji wrote to Kumarappa, “You have good certificate about the sculpture. As soon as it is on view in Maganwadi, I shall set about collecting.”242
The Harijan dated March 3, 1946 published a discussion which Gandhiji had with members of the Friends Ambulance Unit which had worked during the Midnapore cyclone in 1942 and the Bengal Famine in 1943. Prompted by Gandhiji’s remark that even converts to orthodox Christianity today are veering round, a member asked, “By ‘veering’ you mean going back?” He replied, “Yes, I mean going back to real Christianity, to Christ, not Western Christianity. They are beginning to realize that Jesus was an Asiatic. Having realized this, they are reading the Bible through Indian eyes. You should study the meaning of Indian Christianity through J. C. Kumarappa’s book, Practice and Precepts of Jesus.”243
Gandhiji’s spirit of Swadeshi in respect of religion was not confined to Bharat or Hindu Dharma. He wanted to spread the message to the whole world. Some Black soldiers from West Africa came to him some time after January, 1946. He had a discussion with them which was published in the Harijan dated February 24, 1946. The first question they asked him was, There are several religions in the world. They were all originated in foreign countries. Which one of these should Africa follow? Or should she discover her own religion? If so, how? Gandhiji replied, “It is wrong to say that all religions were originated in foreign countries. I had fairly extensive contact with Zulus and Bantus and I found that the Africans have a religion of their own though they may not have reasoned it out for themselves, I am not referring to the rites, Ceremonies and fetishes that are prevalent among African tribes but the religion of one Supreme God. You pray to that God. There are many religions, but religion is only one. You should follow that one religion. Foreigners might bring you Christianity. Christianity as exemplified in Europe and America today is a travesty of the teaching of Jesus. Then there are Hinduism, Islam and Zoroastrianism and so on. You should absorb the best that is in each without fettering your choice and from your own religion.”244
Another question which the Africans asked was, Everything immoral and deadly is attributed to Africa. What steps should be taken to eradicate the foreign prejudice against us? Gandhiji observed, “Many, perhaps most of the evils that are at the back of the prejudice against Negroes are the result of the nominal Christianity imported from America. They have learnt to drink, dance immoral dances and so on. Then there are evil African customs. You must eradicate these and thus disarm foreign prejudice. It is a laborious task but a joyous one. The epidemic of foreign prejudice will then die a natural death.”245
On January 27, 1946 Gandhiji had a question and answer session with constructive workers who had come to attend a conference in Madras. A report of this session was published in The Hindu dated January 29. One of the questions related to receiving assistance from Christian Missionaries in free Bharat. Gandhiji said that they could certainly accept help not only from Christian missionaries but from others also, if such help was offered sincerely and in a spirit of service to the country. He held up the example of C. F. Andrews. “India requires the help,” he continued, “of all men of goodwill who were prepared to offer that help in a spirit of love and service.”246
In the Harijan dated June 30, 1946, he described Jesus as the most active non-violent resister known perhaps to history.247 The Harijan dated July 21, 1946, published his article, ‘Jews and Palestine’. He held the Christians responsible for the Jews seeking a home in Palestine. “It is a blot on the Christian world,” he wrote, that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them. “If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it. If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.”248 He advised the Jews to follow the example of ‘Jesus the Jew’ rather than resort to force in Palestine.
In the Harijan dated October 13, 1946 Gandhiji chided the Hindus of Jubbulpore for being rowdy and disturbing a Christian charity show in the town. The students of the local Christian convent had staged a drama at the end of which angels appeared before an orphaned girl and advised her to have faith in Jesus. A section of the audience had raised a hue and cry and demanded refund of the money they had paid for tickets. The organiser of the show had not been allowed to speak. Someone reported the incident to Gandhiji who wrote, “If what the correspondent says is true, the behaviour described was wholly unworthy. It betrayed extreme intolerance. Those who do not like things that do not coincide with their notions need not patronize them but it is ungentlemanly to behave like less than men when things are not to their taste.”249
On June 7, 1947, Gandhiji had a discussion with some Christian missionaries. He told them, “The British and American missionaries in India have rendered no real service to the country. Their conception of service is to do work of compassion and serve the poor. But by establishing hospitals, schools and other institutions, they attracted our children and men, and our people left their own religion and embraced Christianity. Our religion is in no way inferior to Christianity.”250
Gandhiji was in Rawalpindi on July 31, 1947 when the President of The Punjab Students Christian League asked him two questions. The interview was published in The Hindustan Times of August 3. The first question was if Christian missionaries would be asked to quit after Bharat became independent. “Foreign missionaries,” replied Gandhiji, “will not be asked to quit India. Indian Christians will be free to occupy high official positions in the Indian Dominion.” The second question was “if non-Christians in the Indian Dominion would have freedom to embrace Christianity.” Gandhiji said that “he would be guided in this connection by the rules and laws framed.”251
A Bharatiya Catholic priest and a missionary came to Gandhiji with a report of harassment of Roman Catholics at the hand of Hindus in a village near Gurgaon, 25 miles from Delhi. Speaking at a prayer meeting on November 21, 1947, he said, “The persons who brought the information told me that the Roman Catholics were threatened that they would have to suffer if they did not leave the village. I hope this threat is unfounded and that the Christian men and women would be allowed to follow their religion and carry on their work without any hindrance. Now that we have freed ourselves from political bondage, they, too, are entitled to the same freedom to follow their religion and occupation as they had under the British.”252
Gandhiji addressed a prayer meeting in New Delhi on December 24, 1947. It was the evening before Christmas. He said, “Tomorrow is Christmas. Christmas is to Christians what Diwali is to us; I do not regard Christmas as an occasion for people to indulge in drunkenness. Christmas reminds one of Jesus Christ. I offer greetings to Christians in India and abroad. May the new year bring them prosperity and happiness. It has never been my wish that the freedom of India should mean the ruin of Christians here or that they should become Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs. For a Christian to become a Hindu or a Muslim or a Sikh is a fate worse than death. According to my view a Christian should become a better Christian; I want that all the Christians in and outside India should become free in the true sense. Let them exercise self-restraint and pursue the path of sacrifice and martyrdom shown by Jesus Christ. Let them be free and increase the area of freedom in the world.”253
The one thing that stands out in this long-drawn-out dialogue between Mahatma Gandhi and the Christians is that all along he identified himself as a staunch Hindu. In fact, he took considerable pride in this self-identification. Far from being a dirty word as it would soon become even for some Hindu leaders and organisations, the word ‘Hindu’ conveyed to him all that was noble and elevating. He did not feel that he was being communal when he called himself a Hindu. Nationalism as he saw it came naturally to a Hindu of his definition. Nor did he ever try to impart to this word a merely geographical meaning by equating it with the word ‘BhAratIya’. On the contrary, he understood and interpreted it as the embodiment of what was for him the deepest spiritual message and the greatest cultural heritage. Hindu Dharma for him was not merely ‘a way of life’ as some Hindu leaders have started saying these days. For him, Hindu Dharma was a vast spiritual vision beckoning man to rise to the highest heights.
In the many essays he wrote on the principles and practices of Hindu Dharma, we find him affirming not only the fundamentals of Hindu spirituality but also the framework of Hindu culture and social philosophy. There is no symbol of Sanatana Dharma which does not stir him to his innermost depths and which he does not trace back to its inner and eternal spirit. He accords the highest honour to Hindu Shastras – the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas,254 the Gita,255 the Mahabharata,256 the Ramayana,257 the Bhagavata.258
He defends the much-maligned Brahman and entertains not a shadow of doubt that if Brahmanism does not revive, Hindu Dharma will perish.259 He upholds the spirit behind idol-worship and is prepared to defend with my life the thousands of holy temples which sanctify this land.260 For him cow-protection is the dearest possession of the Hindu heart and no one who does not believe in cow-protection can possibly be a Hindu.261 The sacred thread has a deep meaning for him as it is the sign of the second birth, that is spiritual. He says that vaMAshrama is inherent in human nature, and Hindu Dharma has simply made a science of it.262 He never regards Buddhism, Jainism, Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Sikhism, etc., as separate religions. All of them are for him schools of Sanatana Dharma which allows as many ways as there are seekers.
His view of Hindu Dharma was summed up in the Young India of September 17, 1925. “What the divine author of the Mababharata,” he wrote, “said of his great creation is equally true of Hinduism. Whatever of substance is contained in other religions is always to be found in Hinduism, and what is not in it is insubstantial and unnecessary.”263 Earlier, he had foreseen a great future for Hindu Dharma. “Hinduism,” he had written in the Young India of April 24, 1924, “is a relentless pursuit after truth and if today it has become moribund, inactive, irresponsive to growth, it is because we are fatigued. As soon as the fatigue is over, Hinduism will burst forth upon the world with a brilliance perhaps never seen before.”264
What has caused confusion and misunderstanding about his Hindu Dharma is the concept of sarva-dharma-samabhAva (equal regard for all religions) which he had developed after deep reflection. Christian and Muslim missionaries have interpreted it to mean that a Hindu can go aver to Christianity or Islam without suffering any spiritual loss. They are also using it as a shield against every critique of their closed and aggressive creeds. The new rulers of Bharat, on the other hand, cite it in order to prop up the Nehruvian version of Secularism which is only a euphemism for anti-Hindu animus shared in common by Christians, Muslims, Marxists and those who are Hindus only by accident of birth.
For Gandhiji, however, sarva-dharma-samabhAva was only a restatement of the age-old Hindu tradition of tolerance in matters of belief. Hindu Dharma has always adjudged a man’s faith in terms of his AdhAra (receptivity) and adhikAra (aptitude). It has never prescribed a uniform system of belief or behavior for everyone because, according to it, different persons are in different stages of spiritual development and need different prescriptions for further progress. Everyone, says Hindu Dharma, should be left alone to work out one’s own salvation through one’s own inner seeking and evolution. Any imposition of belief or behaviour from the outside is, therefore, a mechanical exercise which can only do injury to one’s spiritual growth. Preaching to those who have not invited it is nothing short of aggression born out of self-righteousness. That is why Gandhiji took a firm and uncompromising stand against proselytisation by preaching and gave no quarters to the Christian mission’s mercenary methods of spreading the gospel.
In any case, his sarva-dharma-samabhAva did not stop Gandhiji from processing Christianity in terms of reason and universal ethics. Christianity like Islam, he said, was born only yesterday and was still in the process of being interpreted. Christians should not, therefore, present their dogmas as if they were finished products. He found that Christianity had become an imperialist creed when it allied itself with a Roman emperor and that so it had stayed till our own times when it was working hand in hand with Western imperialism. He saw no sense in the Christian doctrine of the original sin and thought poorly of vicarious atonement. He placed Jesus very high as a moral teacher, but denied his virgin birth as well as the divinity accorded to him by Christian theology. Miracles of Jesus which have been the stock-in-trade of Christianity down the centuries, failed to impress him. He dismissed them as silly stories which did no credit to Jesus and were contrary to the unchangeable laws of Nature. And even as a moral teacher Jesus compared unfavourably with the Buddha when it came to universal compassion which for Gandhiji was the essence of spirituality. He spoke rather sharply about theology which Christianity prizes most but which according to him was an agent of a great many untruths known to human history. Thus very little was left of Christianity after Gandhiji had gone through it, claim by claim and dogma by dogma. The only part which survived unscathed was the Sermon on the Mount. Even this was seen by him as a Jewish rather than a Christian contribution. Jesus for him was a Jewish prophet par excellence. In any case, he saw no evidence that the Sermon had ever influenced Christianity as known from history. As for himself, the solace he found in the Gita was missing in the Sermon.265
A Christian scholar has summarised the dialogue which Gandhiji had with the Christian missionaries. He concludes: “The foregoing survey substantiates that, however unacknowledged, Gandhi did leave a stamp on missiological thought and practice in his life, for a time at least on the Indian scene. Most of his Christian missionary contacts being on the Protestant side, his influence too was largely confined to the Protestant side. Their liberal outlook, smaller structures and independent work were favourable to ideological and practical influence from without, though a fundamentalist approach to the Bible prevented a change in their dogmatic approach to non-Christian religions. The Catholic Church by its very size, hierarchically centralised structure and the sheer weight of its long tradition, was necessarily slow and cautious in opening to external influences. It was not before the Second Vatican Council in the early sixties that the new lines and influences in Catholic missiological thought were to receive official recognition in the Roman Church and find their place in the conciliar documents.”266
After giving some salient features of the Second Vatican Council, he continues, “The Council documents on the subject represent only the first step and the first official word in the new thinking on the subject. It will be long before we arrive at the last word if we arrive at all. But it would seem that since the Council itself giant strides have been made in missiology which if not avowedly due to Gandhi’s influence do certainly represent the Gandhian and Hindu line of thinking.”267
It is difficult to say whether the new formulations of the Second Vatican Council represented a change of heart or a change of strategy in the altered situation when Christianity was having a difficult time in the West and being forced to seek a new home in the East. If it was a change of strategy, one wonders whether it would have become a change of heart in case a continued pressure from ‘Gandhian and Hindu line of thinking’ had been maintained after the passing away of the Mahatma. History does provide some instances when change of strategy has become a change of heart due to unyielding resistance from victims of aggression. Unfortunately, however, the class of people who came to power after independence had no use for the ‘Gandhian and Hindu line to thinking.’
They continued to swear by the Mahatma and even installed him as the Father of the Nation. But that was no more than an empty ritual. For all practical purposes no other country has bid goodbye to Gandhiji to the same extent as the country where he was born and from which he drew all his inspiration. In the world outside he is honoured as a great Hindu and an outstanding exponent of Hindu Dharma at its best, both in word and deed. His philosophy of life, based on Hinduism, is inviting serious attention from the intellectual elite in America, Europe and Japan. In his own country, however, he has been disfigured into the patron saint of a Secularism which decries Hindu Dharma as ‘communalism’ and goes out of its way to give protection to closed theologies of aggression, ideological as well as physical. Small wonder that the change of mission strategy has failed to become a change of heart.
But, at the same time, it has to be admitted that Mahatma Gandhi’s prolonged dialogue with Christian theologians, missionaries, moneybags, and the rest, left the Hindus at home more defenseless vis-a-vis the Christian onslaught than they had been ever before. Whatever laurels the Mahatma may have won abroad, he has proved to be a disaster for the Hindus in Bharat. The sorry turnout can be traced to three basic infirmities from which his position vis-a-vis Christianity and its missions had suffered. Firstly, he coined and made fashionable the utterly thoughtless slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhAva vis-a-vis Christianity (and Islam). Secondly, he upheld an unedifying character like Jesus as a great teacher of mankind, and glorified no end the sentimental nonsense that is the Sermon on the Mount. Thirdly, he failed to see the true character of Christian missionaries, and nourished the illusion that he could tame them by his reasonableness and good manners. We are taking up the points one by one as they do call for some elaboration.
Sarva-dharma-samabhAva was unknown to mainstream Hindu Dharma before Mahatma Gandhi presented it as one of the sixteen mahAvratas (great vows). in his booklet, MaNgala-PrabhAta. It is true that mainstream Hindu Dharma had always stood for tolerance towards all metaphysical points of view and ways of worship except that which led to AtatAyI-AchAra (gangsterism). But that tolerance had never become samabhAva, equal respect for all points of view. The acharyas of the different schools of Sanatana Dharma were all along engaged in debates over differences in various approaches to Sreyas (the Great Good). No Buddhist acharya is known to have equated the way of the Buddha to that of the Gita and vice versa, for instance. It is also true that overawed by the armed might of Islam, and deceived by the tall talk of the sufis, some Hindu saints in medieval India had equated Rama with Rahim, Krishna with Karim, Kashi with Kaba, the Brahmana with the Mullah, pUjA with namAz, and so on. But, the sects founded by these saints had continued to function on the fringes of Hindu society while the mainstream followed the saints and acharyas who never recognized Islam as a dharma.
In modern times also, movements like the Brahmo Samaj which recognised Islam and Christianity as dharmas had failed to influence mainstream Hindu Dharma, while Maharshi Dayananda and Swami Vivekananda who upheld the Veda and despised the Bible and the Quran, had had a great impact. This being the hoary Hindu tradition, Mahatma Gandhi’s recognition of Christianity and Islam not only as dharmas but also as equal to Sanatana Dharma was fraught with great mischief. For, unlike the earlier Hindu advocates of Islam and Christianity as dharmas, Mahatma Gandhi made himself known and became known as belonging to mainstream Hindu Dharma.
It remains a mystery as to how Mahatma Gandhi came to regard Christianity and Islam as ways of spiritual seeking rather than as terrorist and totalitarian ideologies of predatory imperialism. Here we have doctrines with a deity who is exclusive and jealous of all other deities, who makes himself known to mankind not directly but through a proxy, who has chosen people with whom he enters into covenants for imposing him on the rest of mankind by means of force, who commands his chosen people to wage a permanent war on all other peoples, and who is most happy when his worshippers commit massacres, destroy whole civilizations root and branch, and plunder and enslave helpless men, women and children. Here we have histories stretching over hundreds of years and hailing as heroes and saints some of the most bloodthirsty gangsters and altogether despicable characters.
Mahatma Gandhi’s recognition of these ideologies as dharmas as good as Sanatana Dharma leads only to two conclusions. Either his own perception of Sanatana Dharma was not as deep as it sounds. Or the politician in him prevailed over his spiritual perception and he said what he did from the platform of Sarva-dharma-samabhAva in the hope of winning over Christians and Muslims to the nationalist camp. In any case, the utter failure of his attempt to achieve this goal proves that the attempt was foolhardy. He failed to win any significant section of Christians or Muslims either to the nationalist cause or to the camp of Sarva-dharma-samabhAva. But in the process of popularising this slogan, he diluted the definition of dharma beyond recognition, and placed Hindu society permanently on the defensive. No other slogan has proved more mischievous for Hindu Dharma than the mindless slogan of Sarva-dharma-samabhAva vis-a-vis Christianity and Islam.
The Mahatma’s heaping of admiration on Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount has proved no less mischievous. Before the Mahatma appeared on the scene, neither Jesus nor the Sermon on the Mount was known to Hindu society at large. It was only the small circle of Brahmo Samaj which had swooned on the name and the nonsense. But Mahatma Gandhi extolled them both, day in and day out, till they became household words, at least among the Hindu intelligentsia. It was a great solace to the Christian theologian and missionary that in the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi he could silence all Hindu criticism of Christianity by merely mentioning these two magic names : Jesus and the Sermon. One wonders whether the Mahatma knew what modern research had done to the myth of Jesus. In any case, he was not at all called upon to lend his helping hand in the building up of a mischievous myth in this country. As regards the Sermon on the Mount, it has only to be referred to a Vyasa or a Valmiki or a Confucius or a Socrates, and it will be laughed out of court as bogus ethics devoid of discriminative wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi was not called upon to sell this mindless clap-trap as the sum and substance of the highest moral code. In any case, the Christian missionaries themselves had never known the beauties of the Sermon on the Mount till Mahatma Gandhi discovered it for them. Now onwards they could strut around with superior airs.
Finally, Mahatma Gandhi’s meeting the Christian missionaries again and again and wasting so much breath in talking to them on the same point, namely, the uniqueness of Jesus and their right to convert in his name, made them respectable in the eyes of Hindus at large. Till the Mahatma started advertising the Christian missionaries in his widely read weeklies, Hindus had looked down upon them as an unavoidable nuisance deserving only contempt and ridicule. The Mahatma invested them with unprecedented prestige and made them loom large on the Indian scene. One wonders why he failed to consult a text-book of missiology and find out for himself that Christian missionaries are trained and employed as incorrigible casuits, crooks, liers, and practitioners of despicable frauds. He was certainly living in a fool’s paradise if he hoped that Christian missionaries could become straight and honest and serve in a humanitarians way. By inviting them to be of unmotivated service to their victims, he bestowed on them an aura which they had never had before. The result has been an unprecedented strengthening and multiplication of the Christian missionary apparatus for subverting Hindu society and culture. He had done the same when he salvaged the Muslim mullahs from their ghettos and made them look like giants during the infamous Khilafat agitation.
Bishop Heber’s Hymn
From Greenland’s icy mountiais,
From India’s coral strand,
Where Africa’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain.
What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle,
Though every prospect pleases
And only man is vile.
In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strewn,
The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone.
Can we whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
Can we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation, oh, Salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till each remotest nation
Has learn’d Messiah’s name.
Waft, waft, ye winds, His story,
And you, ye waters! roll,
Till like a sea of glory
It spreads from pole to pole;
Till over our ransom’d nature
The Lamb for sinners slain
Redeemer, King, Creator
In bliss returns to reign.
1 The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 39, New Delhi, 1970, p. 32.
2 Ibid., p. 33.
3 Ibid., p. 61.
5 Ibid. p. 100.
6 Ibid., p. l0l.
7 Ibid., p. 102.
8 Ibid., p. 103.
10 Ibid., p. 104. This was, however, the most logical and legitimate interpretation of the Christian doctrine.
11 Ibid., p. 111.
12 Ibid., p. 112.
13 Ibid., pp. 112-13.
14 Ibid., 113.
15 Ibid., p. 114.
16 Ibid., p. 13o.
17 Ibid., p. 131.
18 Ibid., pp. 131-32.
19 Ibid., p. 132.
21 Ibid., Volume 13, New Delhi, 1979 reprint, p. 219.
22 Ibid., p. 220. The passage (Mark 16.15) is now recognised as an interpolation by Biblical scholarship. It is not found in some manuscripts and ancient translations of the gospel.
23 Ibid., Volume 15, New Delhi, 1979 reprint, p. 304.
24 Ibid., p. 305.
25 Ibid., Volume 23, New Delhi, 1967, p. 104.
26 Ibid., p. 391. Non-Hindus continue to meddle in Hindu affairs with the tacit support of secular editors and the Government, whether it concerns Sat! or temple-entry.
27 Ibid., p. 545.
28 Ibid., Volume 24, New Delhi, 1967, p. 476.
29 Ibid., Volume 23, New Delhi, 1967, pp. 85-86.
30 Ibid., p. 86.
31 Mahadev Desai, Day-to-Day with Gandhi, Volume 4, Varanasi, 1969, p. 86.
32 Ibid., Volume 5, Varanasi, 1970, p. 39.
33 The Collected Works, Volume 26, New Delhi, 1967, pp. 8-9.
34 Mahadev Desai, op. cit., Volume 7, Varanasi, 1972, p. 50.
35 Ibid., p. 52.
36 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
37 Ibid., p. 55. The full text of Bishop Heber’s hymn is given in the Appendix at the end of this chapter. It is only one of the many specimens of contempt which Christians have shown for Hindus. The hymn was included in the official hymns of the Anglican Church in England and elsewhere.
38 The Collected Works, Volume 27, New Delhi, 1968, p. 434.
39 Ibid., p. 435.
40 Ibid., p. 436.
42 Ibid., p. 437.
43 Ibid., P. 438.
44 Ibid., p. 439.
46 Mahadev Desai, op. cit., Volume 7, p. 155.
47 Ibid., pp. 161-62.
48 Ibid., p. 163.
49 Ibid., p. 164.
50 Ibid., p. 184.
52 Ibid., pp. 185-86.
53 The Collected Works, Volume 29, New Delhi, 1968, p. 326.
54 Ibid., Volume 30, New Delhi, 1968, p. 47.
55 Ibid., Only excerpts from Rev. Scott’s letter are given in this Volume. In fairness to the missionary, we have reproduced the letter at some length from M.K. Gandhi, Christian Missions, Ahmedabad, 1941, pp. 12-13.
56 Ibid., pp. 70-71.
57 Ibid., Volume 31, New Delhi, 1968, pp. 350-51.
58 Ibid., p. 351.
59 Ibid., Volume 34, New Delhi, 1969, p. 10.
60 Ibid., p. 261.
61 Ibid., pp. Z61-62.
62 Ibid., p. 262.
63 Ibid., pp. 262-63.
64 Ibid., Volume 35,New Delhi, 1969, p. 166.
65 Ibid., pp. 166-67.
66 Ibid., p. 249.
67 Ibid., p. 250.
68 Ibid., pp. 462-63.
69 Ibid., p. 464.
70 Ibid., Volume 40. New Delhi. 1970, pp. 58-59.
71 Ibid., p.59.
72 Ibid., P. 6o.
75 Mr. Mott lived to publish a book, The Larger Evangelism, in 1944 and share the Noble Prize for Peace with Emily Queen Balch in 1946.
76 Ibid., p. 315.
77 Ibid., volume 45, New Delhi, 1971, pp. 233-34.
78 Ibid., p. 320.
79 Ibid., Volume 46, New Delhi, 1971, p. 27.
80 Ibid., p. 28.
81 Ibid., pp. 28-29.
82 Ibid., p. 109.
83 Ibid., p. 110.
84 Ibid., p. 237.
85 Ibid., p .238.
86 Ibid., p. 239.
87 Ibid., p. 314.
88 Ibid., Volume 48, New Delhi, 1971, p. 121.
89 Ibid., p. 122.
90 Ibid., p. 124.
91 Ibid., pp. 124-25.
92 Ibid., p. 125
93 Ibid., pp. 126-127.
94 Ibid., p. 127.
95 Ibid., pp. 437-433.
96 Ibid., Volume 52, New Delhi 1972, p. 96.
97 Ibid., p. 164.
98 Ibid., pp. 344-45.
99 Ibid., p. 365.
100 Ibid., Volume 54, New Delhi, 1973, pp. 106-107.
101 Ibid., Volume 55, New Delhi, 1973, p. 284.
102 Ibid., pp. 286-87. Earlier, Gandhiji had described Miss Mayo as a drain inspector.
103 Ibid., Volume 56, New Delhi, 1973, p. 234.
104 Ibid., pp. 234-35.
105 Ibid., p. 235.
106 Ibid., p. 236.
107 Ibid., pp. 310-11.
108 Christian Missions, p. 301.
109 Ibid., p. 195.
110 Ibid., pp. 195-96.
111 Ibid., pp. 196-97.
112 The Collected Works, Volume 60, New Delhi, 1974, p. 323. John 3, 16 says, For God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.
113 Ibid., p. 325.
114 Ibid., p. 326.
115 Ibid., Volume 61, Ahmedabad, 1975, p, 46.
116 Ibid., pp. 46-47.
117 Ibid., p. 47.
118 Ibid., p. 68.
119 Ibid., P. 456.
120 Ibid., p. 455.
121 Ibid., p. 456,
122 Ibid., p. 455.
123 Ibid., P. 456.
124 Ibid., p. 455.
125 Ibid., p. 456.
126 Ibid., p. 455.
127 Ibid., pp. 455-57.
128 Ibid., p. 455.
129 Ibid., p. 457.
130 Ibid., pp. 457-58.
131 Ibid., Volume 62, New Delhi, 1975, pp. 332-33. Jesus’ bombast about himself ‘I am He’, etc. – can be seen in John 14.6. Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of Christians before his conversion to Christianity. He became Paul after his conversion, and a great persecutor of mankind at large. He is one of the darkest figures in human history. Some scholars have seen him as the real inventor of Christianity and the father of the criminal history of this creed.
132 Ibid., p. 333.
133 Ibid., pp. 333-34.
134 Ibid., p. 334.
135 Ibid., p. 388. St. Therese or Terese is honoured as one of the great Christian mystics by the Catholic Church
136 Ibid., p. 388.
137 Ibid., Volume 63, New Delhi, 1976, p. 47.
138 Ibid., pp. 90-92.
139 Ibid., p. 92.
140 Italics in source.
141 Ibid., pp. 92-94.
142 Gandhiji was in Bangalore from May 31 to June 13, 1936.
143 A depressed section of Hindu society in Kerala.
144 Ibid., Volume 64, New Delhi, 1976, pp. 18-20.
145 Christian Missions, pp. 211-12.
146 Ibid., p.212.
147 Ibid., pp. 213-14.
148 The reference is to the Yeola Conference called by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in September 1935. The Conference had adopted a resolution which said, The depressed classes must leave the Hindu fold and join some other religion that gives social and religious equality to them.
149 The Collected Works, Volume 64, p. 35.
150 Ibid., p. 36.
151 Ibid., p. 37.
152 Ibid., p. 38.
153 Ibid., pp. 39-40.
154 Ibid., p. 40.
155 Ibid., pp. 149-50.
156 Ibid., pp. 150-51.
157 Ibid., p. 151.
158 Ibid., p. 176.
159 Ibid., pp. 176-77.
160 Ibid., p. 177.
161 This proclamation had opened Hindu temples to Harijans.
162 Ibid., p. 178.
163 Ibid., pp. 202-03.
164 Ibid., p. 203. Emphasis added.
165 Ibid., pp. 203.
166 Ibid., pp. 285-86.
167 Ibid., p. 289. The mantra is the very first one of the Ishopanishad: ISAvAsyamidam sarvam yatkiñcit jagatyAma jagat /tena tyaktena bhuñjithA mA gridhaH kasyacit dhanam. Gandhiji translated it as follows: God pervades everything that is to be found in this universe. Therefore the condition of enjoyment or use of the necessities of life is their dedication or renunciation. Covet not anybody’s riches.
168 Ibid., p. 290.
169 Ibid., p. 291.
170 Ibid., p. 419.
171 Ibid., pp. 419-20.
172 Ibid., p. 421.
173 Ibid., pp. 421-22.
174 Ibid., pp. 422-23.
175 Ibid., P. 423.
176 At that time, Communists were waging a civil war in Spain and Persecuting Christians wherever Communist power prevailed.
177 Ibid., pp. 423-24.
178 Ibid., pp. 397-98.
179 Ibid., p. 398.
180 Ibid., pp. 398-99.
181 Ibid., p. 400.
182 Ibid., p. 401.
183 Ibid., pp. 425-26.
184 Ibid., pp. 401-02.
185 Ibid., pp. 426-27.
186 Ibid., p. 427.
187 Ibid., p. 218.
188 Church Missionary Society based in London.
189 Ibid., pp. 440-41.
190 Ibid., Volume 65, New Delhi 1976, p. 47.
191 Ibid., pp. 47-48.
192 Ibid., p. 48.
193 Ibid., p. 79.
194 Ibid., p. 80.
195 Ibid., pp. 80-81.
196 Ibid., p. 81.
197 Ibid., pp. 81-82.
198 Ibid., p. 82.
199 Ibid., pp. 91-92.
200 Ibid., p. 92.
201 Ibid., pp. 295-96.
202 Ibid., pp. 295-96.
203 Christian Missions, p. so.
204 Ibid., p. 103.
205 Ibid., pp. 103-04.
206 Ibid., p. 105.
207 Ibid., p. 104.
208 Ibid., pp. 104-05.
209 Ibid., pp. 106-07.
210 Ibid., p. 107.
211 The Collected Works, Volume 65, pp. 316-17.
212 Ibid., p. 317.
213 Ibid., pp. 317-18.
214 Ibid., Volume 66, New Delhi, 1976, p. 63.
215 Ibid., pp. 163-64.
216 Ibid., Volume 68, New Delhi, 1977, pp. 165-66.
217 McGavaran had contributed to the missionary magazine, World Dominion, a fabricated report of a talk between Gandhiji on the one hand and Bishops Pickett and Azariah on the other.
218 Ibid., P. i66.
219 Ibid., p. 167.
220 Ibid., p. 170.
221 Tambaram Series, Volume 3, Evangelism, London, 1939, p. 126.
222 See Sita Ram Goel, Catholic Ashrams.: Sannyasins or Swindlers?, second England Edition, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1994.
223 The reference is to C. Rajagopalachari who was Prime Minister of Madras from 1937 to 1939 when the Congress Ministry resigned.
224 Ibid., Volume 71, New Delhi, 1978, p. 52.
225 Ibid., p. 53.
226 Ibid., p. 53.
227 Ibid., pp. 79-80.
228 Ibid., p. 80.
229 Christian Missions, pp. 288-89.
230 The Collected Works, volume 71, p. 219.
231 Ibid., p. 328. Emphasis added.
232 Ibid., Volume 72, pp. 297-98.
233 Ibid., P. 299.
234 Ibid., Volume 75, New Delhi, 1979, p. 207.
235 Ibid., p. 422.
236 Ibid., p. 423.
236a The Transfer of power, London, Volume II, p. 552.
237 The Collected Works, Volume 77, New Delhi, 1977, p. 296.
238 Ibid., Volume 78, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 269-70.
239 Ibid., pp. 384 and 394.
240 Ibid., Volume 79, New Delhi, 1980, p. 279.
241 Ibid., Volume 80, New Delhi, 1980, p.9.
242 Ibid., Volume 81, New Delhi, 1980, p. 432.
243 Ibid., Volume 82, New Delhi, 1980, p. 155. In 1952, only four years after the Mahatma’s death, Kumarappa became a drum-beater for Mao Tsetung and his criminal gang. At the same time he saw Gandhi incarnate in Communist China. He turned out to be a crank of rare vintage.
244 Ibid., Volume 83, New Delhi, 1981, p.11.
245 Ibid., p. 12.
246 Ibid., p. 39.
247 Ibid., Volume 84, New Delhi, 1981, p. 372.
248 Ibid., pp. 440-41,
249 Ibid., Volume 85, New Delhi, 1982, p. 420.
250 Ibid., Volume 88, New Delhi, 1983, p. 96.
251 Ibid., p. 471.
252 Ibid., Volume 90, New Delhi, 1984, p. 80
253 Ibid., P. 293.
254 Mahatma Gandhi, Hindu Dharma, Ahmedabad, 1950, p. 7.
255 Ibid., p. 36.
256 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
257 Ibid., p. 178.
258 Ibid., p. 22.
259 Ibid., pp. 391-92.
260 Ibid., p. 73.
261 Ibid., p. 297.
262 Ibid., p. 374.
263 Ibid., p. 4.
265 Modern research has discovered that the Sermon on the Mount can be found in Jewish sources quite some time before Jesus was born. It was by no means a characteristic contribution of Jesus. He had learnt it as a Jewish rabbi and preached it, if at all, in the same capacity. It is significant that the Sermon is missing from St. John’s Gospel which imparts a divine status to Jesus and which Christian theology places above all other gospels.
266 Father I. Jesudasan, S.J., Gandhian Perspectives on Missiology, Indian Church History Review, July 1970, pp. 67-68.
267 Ibid., p. 69.
(To be continued…)
Book: History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996) (Chapter 1 & 2)
Author: Sita Ram Goel
Originally published:1989 (2nd edition 1996)
Published by: Voice of India
Available on: Amazon
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