Gandhi, Christ and Christianity

“He did not mouth the name of Christ,
but acted as if he accepted every word on the Sermon on the Mount. Not since St. Francis of Assisi has any life known to history
been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity and forgiveness of enemies.”

– Will Durant

Editor’s Note: India will always have a very special place in the annals of the Society of African Missions. It was to this vibrant and deeply spiritual nation that our founder, Melchior de Marion Brésillac, first travelled as a missionary. He spent 12 years in India from 1842 to 1854. Having spent some months learning the Tamil language in Pondicherry, he was appointed curate of Salem, and then afterwards was put in charge of the minor seminary of Pondicherry (now in Bangalore).

His departure from India was not a happy one. He suffered rebuke by confreres and colonialists because he shared a belief that Mahatma Gandhi would later embrace – that those designated by the Indian caste system as ‘untouchable’ were, in fact, ‘children of God’ and consequently, deserving of the dignity and rights that the God of Truth intended for all. This is a subject we have addressed before and can be revisited by clicking here.

Mahatma Gandhi. Photo: (c) Don Mullan

On 2nd October 2019 we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of this preeminent Hindu Soul. 

In his autobiography, ‘The Story of my experiments with Truth’, Gandhi recalls how, in London and South Africa, British Christians introduced him to the Gospels which he respectfully and reverently read. Consequently, Gandhi became a great admirer of Jesus of Nazareth. 

The Bhagavad Gita, carried by Mahatma Gandhi. Photo: (c) Don Mullan

He also records in his autobiography his disappointment at the closed minds of the Christians he encountered when he sought to reciprocate by introducing them to the Hindu Holy Book The Bhagavad-gita. Few, if any, would read it as they considered it to be full of superstition, dismissing the fact it contained ancient spiritual teachings and wisdom. 

As we reflect on how Christians might respectfully respond to this significant anniversary for the people of India and, indeed, the whole world – the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gandhi – the SMA Communications Department has sourced the following essay by Pascal Alan Nazareth, ‘Gandhi, Christ and Christianity’. We have been given permission to reproduce the article in full by TRK Somaiya, Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal | Gandhi Book Centre: www.mkgandhi.org/ We are deeply grateful.

Below we offer the opening two paragraphs of Pascal Alan Nazareth’s essay, followed by the concluding two paragraphs, with a link to the full essay for those who are interested. 

We can be certain that Gandhi would have been outraged at the attacks on Christian communities perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists in the lead up to Christmas 2018, as reported by Church in Chains, which you can read by clicking here. Sadly, it was a Hindu fundamentalist who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 because he believed he was too accommodating towards Indian Muslims. 

Christians and Muslims, as well as Hindus, still have much to learn from the Mahatma’s respect and openness to all faiths.

Gandhi, Christ and Christianity
By Pascal Alan Nazareth

Gandhi’s fundamental contribution in the field of religion was to give primacy to Truth and rationality rather than conformity to traditional practices. In fact he made Truth the basis of all morality by declaring: “I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality”.

Though a deeply devout Hindu, Gandhi’s basic approach to all religions was ‘sarvadharma samabhav’ (equal respect for all religions). For him all religions had equal status and were different paths to the same goal of achieving union with the Divine. His religion was that “which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, binds one indissolubly to the truth within and ever purifies. It is the permanent element in human nature which leaves the soul restless until it has found itself, known its maker and appreciated the true correspondence between the maker and itself.” He affirmed “For me different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden or branches of the same majestic tree.” He often said he was as much a Moslem, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsee as he was Hindu and added “The hands that serve are holier than the lips that pray.” At his prayer meetings there were readings from all the holy books. His favourite hymn began with the line “He alone is a true devotee of God who understands the pains and sufferings of others.” His religiosity is therefore best described as a spiritualized humanism.

Gandhi on Christ. Photo: (c) Don Mullan

Will Durant, in volume 1 of his ‘The Story of Civilization’ lauds Gandhi thus “He did not mouth the name of Christ, but acted as if he accepted every word on the Sermon on the Mount. Not since St. Francis of Assisi has any life known to history been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity and forgiveness of enemies.”29

Writing from the Abbey of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton concludes his Foreword to ‘Gandhi on Non Violence’ as follows “Gandhi’s principles are extremely pertinent today, more pertinent even than when they were conceived and worked out in practice in the ashrams and villages of India. They are pertinent for everybody but especially for those interested in implementing the principles expressed Pope John XXIII, in Pacem in Terris. Indeed this Encyclical has the breadth and depth, the universality and tolerance of Gandhi’s peace-minded outlook. Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism and intolerance; neither can it be built on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation. There can be no peace on earth without the inner change that brings man to his “right mind”. Gandhi’s observations on the prerequisites and disciplines involved in Satyagraha, the vow of Truth, are required reading for anyone seriously interested in man’s fate in the nuclear age.”30

… READ FULL ARTICLE