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Christianity and Conversion in India

By Indian Bibliographic Centre 
(Research Wing)

M.K.Gandhi

 

Gandhi was one of those Hindus who had studied the scriptures of all the important religions with open mind and without prejudice. During his prayer meetings, parts of the Bible were read out and at times Psalms were sung along with ‘bhajans’. The Sermon on the Mount “went straight to his heart” he used to say. During his life-time Gandhi had developed friendship with several Christians. Some of them had become his followers like C.F. Andrews, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur; Madeleine Slade (Mirabehn), and J.C. Kumarappa, to name just a few. The great French writer and philosopher Romain Rolland (who also wrote Gandhi’s biography) used to call Gandhi a ‘second Christ’. In fact Gandhi had shocked the Christian world by living like Jesus without being a Christian. Like Jesus he disowned all property as well as his relatives; became a celebate at the age of thirty seven, lived a simple life adorned by Truth and like Jesus he had gathered around him followers (apostles) who were prepared to do his bidding without demur. His life-style and his preachings added to his charisma. He had become a phenomenon, an enigma, a saint worshipped by millions of people in India.

 

Christian missionaries were greatly tempted to convert a man like Gandhi. They thought that if Gandhi was converted millions of his followers will automatically follow suit. Christian missionaries came from all parts of the world, to discuss with him matters religious but often with the sole aim of converting him to Christianity. They argued with him. He listened to them patiently, argued with them and sometimes even rebuked them for mixing up social work with proselytising. What they had brought to sell did not appeal to the Mahatma. He used to tell the missionaries that he refused to believe that Jesus was the only son of God and that the salvation of a person lay in accepting Jesus Christ as the Saviour (in other words by becoming a Christians).

First Contacts

 

Gandhi’s first exposure to a Christian missionary, while studying in school, was not a very happy event. It left, it seems, a lasting impression on his mind as childhood impressions often do. Gandhi has described this incident in his Autobiography (1929) in the following words:

 

In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.

 

While in England as a student (1888-91) Gandhi met several Christians, made a few friends but most of them were more interested in vegetarian diet than religious matters. Gandhi had become a member of the Vegetarian Society and discussed with other members matters diatary. The real confrontation with Christian missionaries started in 1893 while Gandhi was in South Africa. (This confrontation continued till almost the last days of his life). Gandhi has described these first attempts in detail in his Autobiography thus:

 

The first to come in contact was one Mr. A.W. Baker. He, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher.

 

He (Mr. Baker) upholds the excellence of Christianity from various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find eternal peace, unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour of mankind.

 

During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained my religious views. I said to him: “I am a Hindu by birth. And yet I do not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact I do not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend to make a careful study of my own religion and, as far as I can, of other religions as well.”

 

Mr. Baker was happy to hear that and offered to introduce me to his co-workers in the church which he had built at his own expense. He also gave some religious books to Gandhi to read, including the Holy Bible, of course. Mr. Baker had invited Gandhi to a prayer meeting next day which Gandhi attended. Apart from the general prayer, Gandhi records:

 

“A prayer was now added for my welfare: Lord, show the path to the new brother who has come amongst us. Give him, Lord, the peace that thou has given us. May the Lord Jesus who has saved us save him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.”

 

One of the group was a young man Mr. Coates, a Quaker. He had given Gandhi quite a few books on Christianity and had hoped that he would come round and embrace Christianity. Gandhi continues in the Autobiography:

 

“He (Mr. Coates) was looking forward to delivering me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no matter whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.”

 

Gandhi was introduced to several other practicing Christians, including a family belonging to Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect. One of the Plymouth Brethren confronted Gandhi with an argument for which he A-as not prepared. He said:

 

“How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God’s infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to five in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restless is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.”

 

Gandhi’s reaction to this offer is typical of him and is oft quoted by his western biographers like Erik Erikson and Geoffrey Ash:

 

“The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied: If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.”

 

Gandhi was troubled with what was written in the Bible itself after he started reading it. Gandhi narrates another experience:

 

“Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future. He took me to the Wellington Convention. The Protestant Christian organize such gatherings every few years for religious enlightenment or, in other words, self-purification. --- Mr. Baker had hoped that the atmosphere of religious exaltation at the Convention, and the enthusiasm and earnestness of the people attending it, would inevitably lead me to embrace Christianity. --- The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate the devoutness of those who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing my belief - my religion. It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it.”

Gandhi continues:

“My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians. Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.

 

I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me.”

 

Gandhi was only twenty-four when these skirmishes with Christian missionaries occurred. This shows an amazing maturity of thought at this young age.
 

Confrontation With Missionaries:

 

During his life several Christian missionaries met him and tried relentlessly to convince him about the uniqueness of Christianity and the infallibility of the Bible. Gandhi was frank enough to tell them about their folly and the absurdity of their beliefs. Given below is blow by blow confrontation of Gandhi with Christian missionaries of various hues. These are chronologically arranged. The arguments put forward by Gandhi are very much relevant today. This is nothing but a sort of ‘National Debate’ which some people advocate and some others dismiss as uncalled for. We believe that either of the groups have not read Gandhi. Had they read they would have stopped arguing so convincing are the arguments put forward by Gandhiji.

 

The editors have not put in their views or remarks while presenting these episodes. Let the readers decide for themselves. These are all reproduced from ‘The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’. The volume number appearing with each reproduction are those of the Collected Works.

Over to Gandhi:

14 February, 1916

Speech at Missionary Conference, Madras

 

Hindustan has become a conservative religion and therefore a mighty force because of the ‘swadeshi spirit’ underlying it. It is the most tolerant because it is non-proselytising, and it is as capable of expansion today as it has been found to be in the past. It has succeeded not in driving, as I think it has been erroneously held, but in absorbing Buddhism. By reason of the swadeshi spirit, a Hindu refuses to change his religion not necessarily because he considers it to be the best, but because he knows that he can complement it by introducing reforms. And what I have said about Hinduism is, I suppose, true of the other great faiths of the world, only it is held that it is specially so in the case of Hinduism. But here comes the point I am labouring to reach. If there is any substance in what I have said, will not the great missionary bodies of India, to whom she owes a deep debt of gratitude for what they have done and are doing, do still better and serve the spirit of Christianity better, by dropping the goal of proselytising but continuing their philanthropic work? I hope you will not consider this to be an impertinence on my part. I make the suggestion in all sincerity and with due humility. Moreover, I have some claim upon your attention. I have endeavoured to study the Bible. I consider it as part of my scriptures. The spirit of the Sermon on the Mount competes almost on equal terms with Bhagavad Gita for the domination of my heart. I yield to no Christian in the strength of devotion with which I sing, ‘Lead, kindly Light’ and several other inspired hymns of a similar nature. I have come under the influence of noted Christian missionaries belonging to different denominations. And I enjoy to this day the privilege of friendship with some of them. You will perhaps therefore allow that I have offered the above suggestion not as a biased Hindu but as a humble and impartial student of religion with great leanings towards Christianity. May it not be that the Go Ye unto All the World message has been somewhat narrowly interpreted and the spirit of it missed? It will not be denied, I speak from experience, that many of the conversions are only so called. In some cases, the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the stomach. And in every case, a conversion leaves a sore behind it which, I venture to think, is avoidable. Quoting again from experience, a new birth, a change to heart, is perfectly possible in every one of the great faiths. I know I am now treading upon thin ice. But I do not apologise, in closing this part of my subject, for saying that the frightful outrage that is just going on in Europe, perhaps, shows that the message of Jesus of Narazeth, the Son of Peace, has been little undersetood in Europe, and that light upon it may have to be thrown from the East.

Vol. 13 p. 220

6 June, 1925

Speech to Women Missionaries

 

To try to explain Jesus’ teachings to the followers of Jesus is like carrying the Ganga water to Varanasi. But although I am myself not a Christian, as an humble student of the Bible, who approaches it with faith and reverence, I wish respectfully to place before you the essence of the Sermon on the Mount. If, while doing so, I do not place before you frankly my inmost thoughts, I would be unfit to address you as brothers and sisters. I remember the speech I delivered in 1916 before a Conference of Missionaries in Madras. I had observed at that time that the missionaries were making a grave error in counting the numbers of their followers. I have absolutely no faith in the proselytizing activity that is being carried on today. It may have benefited some persons, but the benefit is of little account when compared with the harm which has followed. Religious controversy serves no purpose. God wants us to profess what we sincerely believe. There are thousands of men and women today who, though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus have more faith and are more godfearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk of its Ten Commandments. Religion is no matter for words, it is the path of the brave. And my humble intelligence refuses to believe that a man becomes good when he renounces one religion and embraces another. I can cite numerous instances of Indians and Zulus who have become Christians but who know nothing of Jesus’ way of love or sacrifice or his message.

 

In this connection, I recall the talk I had with a missionary named Mr. Murray in Johannesburg. A friend had introduced me to him hoping that I would become a Christian. We went out for a walk in -the course of which Mr. Murray cross-examined me by asking me a number of questions. When he has cross-examined me enough, he told me: “No, friend. I do not wish to convert you. Not only that, I will never try to convert anyone in future.” I was very much pleased. He even accepted my interpretation of Jesus’ teaching. Quoting from the Bible itself, I had said to him: “Not he who says ‘God, God’ shall gain deliverance, but he who surrenders himself to God and does His will, he alone shall gain it.”  I am aware of my weaknesses. I am struggling against them with what strength God has given me, not with my own. Do you wish that, instead of thus struggling with my God-given strength, I should repeat parrotwise that Jesus has washed off my sins and that I have become pure?” He looked up, stopped me and said: ‘I understand what you say.’

 

I am today talking to you with the same emotion with which I talked to my friend then, because I want to touch your hearts just as I wanted to touch his. Why do you want merely to count heads, why do you not go on with silent service? Will you please tell me why you wish to convert people? Should it not be enough if, by coming into contact with you, people learn to live pure and noble lives, they give up the way of untruth and darkness and take to the path of truth and light? What more do you want than that you take up a helpless child and help it to earn the means wherewith to feed and clothe itself? Is not this sufficient reward for your work? Or is it that you wish to make the person whom you serve say without conviction, “I have become a Christian’? Today we see competition and conflict among different religions for counting the number of their followers. I feel deeply ashamed of this and, when I hear of people’s achievement in converting such and such a number to a particular faith, I feel that that is no achievement at all, that on the contrary it is a blasphemy against God and the self.

 

Your work does not end with serving people. You should identify yourselves with them. Only when you meet the poorest of the poor will you be able to render true service. In this connection I recall the words of Lord Salisbury (Prime Minister of England), to a deputation of missionaries which waited on him. Those missionaries had arrived from China and were seeking Government protection against the Boxers. Lord Salisbury told them: “I am not unwilling to offer you protection. But will it do you any credit? The missionaries of old were brave. Trusting that the only true protection was God’s they opposed all obstacles and sacrificed their lives. If you must go as far as China for the propagation of religion, you should seek such protection as the godfearing seek and take the risks which one would take for whom religion is one’s very lifebreath would take.” Those were the words of an honest and practical man. You, too, if you wish to serve the people of India, should go on with your work moving about with your life in your hand. Whatever the failures or harassment you may have to face, serve them in a truly missionary spirit.

 

If you would breathe life into these poor people, embrace the programme which I have’ been placing before every Indian today and enter their lives along with it. Through no other kind of work can you fulfil the command of Jesus as well as you can through this.

 

Vol.27 p.204-06.

28 July, 1925

Speech at a Meeting of missionaries (Y.M C.A. Calcutta)

 

Not many of you perhaps know that my association with Christians, not Christians so called but real Christians, dates from 1889, when as a lad I found myself in London; and that association has grown riper as years have rolled on. In South Africa, where I found myself in the midst of inhospitable surroundings, I was able to make hundreds of Christian friends. I came in touch with the late Mr. Spencer Watton, Director of South Africa General Mission, and, later, with the great divine, Rev. Mr. A Murray and several others.

 

My acquaintance, therefore, this evening with so many missionaries is by no means a new thing. There was even a time in my life when a very sincere and intimate friend of mine, a great and good Quaker, had designs on me. (Laughter.) 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 I know, it is all well with me. If it was prayer that these friends expected me to make, I was able to tell them that every day the heartfelt prayer within the closed door of my closet went to the Almighty to show me light and give wisdom and courage to follow that light.

 

In answer to promises made 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 fulfillment 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. This was my final deliberate striving to realize Christianity as it was presented to me. Today my position is that though I admire much in Christianity, I am unable to identify myself with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being and I find a solace in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. Not that I do not prize the ideal presented therein, not that some of the precious teachings in the Sermon on the Mount have not left a deep impression upon me, but I must confess to you that when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagvad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect oil me, I owe it to the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.

 

I have told you all these things in order to make it absolutely clear to you where I stand, so that I may have, if you will, closer touch with you. I must add 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 Koran. I tried to understand what I could of Judaism as distinguished from Christianity. I studied Zoroastrianism and I came to the conclusion that all religions were right, but every one of them imperfect, imperfect naturally and necessarily - because they were interpreted with our poor intellects, sometimes with our poor hearts, and more often misinterpreted. In all religions, I found to my grief, that there were various and even contradictory interpretations of some texts, and I said to myself, ‘Not these things for me. If I want the satisfaction of my soul, I must feel my way. I must wait silently upon God and ask Him to guide me.’ There is a beautiful verse in Sanskrit which says ‘God helps only when man feels utterly helpless and utterly humble’. Some of you have come from the Tamil land. When I was studying Tamil, I found in one of the books of Dr. Pore a Tamil proverb which means ‘God helps the helpless’. I have given you this life-story of my own experience for you to ponder over.

 

You, the missionaries come to India thinking that you come to a land of heathens, of idolators, 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. This reminds me of a French book translated for me by a French friend. It is an account of an imaginary expedition in search of knowledge. One party landed in India and found Truth and God personified, in a little Pariah’s hut. 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 throughout 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. But does my experience exhaust itself merely with the untouchables? No, I am here to tell you 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, with no expectation of reward from the 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 this 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.

 

If you give me statistics that so many orphans have been reclaimed and brought to the Christian faith, I would accept them, but I do not feel convinced thereby that it is your mission. In my opinion, your mission is infinitely superior to that. You want to find men in India and if you want to do that, you will have to go to the lowly cottages not to give them something, might be to take something from them. A true friend as I claim to be of the missionaries of India and of the Europeans, I speak to you what I feel from the bottom of my heart. I miss receptiveness, humility, willingness on your part to identify yourselves with the masses of India. I have talked straight from my heart. May it find a response from your hearts.

 

At the end of the address questions were invited. The most important question and its answer is given below:

 

Q. Do you definitely feel the presence of the living Christ within you?

A. If it is the historical Jesus, surnamed Christ, that the inquirer refers to, I must say I do not. If it is an. adjective signifying one of the names of God, then I must say I do feel the presence of God - Call him Christ, call him Krishna, call him Rama. We have one thousand names to denote 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 Hoogli.

Vol.27 p.434-39. Young India, 6-8-1925

October 8, 1925

Bihar Notes With Aboriginals

 

The Mundas are another tribe whom I met at Khunti on my way to Ranchi. The scope for work in their midst is inexhaustible. Christian missionaries have been doing valuable service for generations, but, in my humble opinion, their work suffers because at the end of it they expect conversion of these simple people to Christianity. I had the pleasure of seeing some of their schools in these places. It was all pleasing, but I could see the coming conflict between the missionaries and the Hindu workers. The latter have no difficulty in making their service commendable to the Hos, the Mundas and the others. How very nice it would be if the missionaries rendered humanitarian service without the ulterior aim of conversion.

 

Vol.28 p. 295-96. (Young India 8-10-1925)

Wardha
December 17, 1925

The Aim of Christian Missions

 

In answering a question from an American student:

 

Q. I would like to know your very frank evaluation of the work of Christian missionaries in India. Do you believe that Christianity has some contribution to make to the life of our country? Can we do without Christianity?

G: In my opinion Christian missionaries have done good to us indirectly. Their direct contribution is probably more harmful than otherwise. I am against the modern method of proselytizing. Years’ experience of proselytizing both in South Africa and India has convinced me that it has not raised the general tone of the converts who have imbibed the superficialities of European civilization, and have missed the teaching of Jesus. I must be understood to refer to the general tendency and to brilliant exceptions. The indirect contribution, on the other hand, of Christian missionary effort is great. It has forced us to put our own house in order.  The great educational and curative institutions of Christian missions I also count, amongst indirect results, because they have been established, not for their own sakes, but as an aid to proselytizing.

 

The world, and therefore we, can no more do without the teaching of Jesus than we can without that of Mahomed or the Upanishads. I hold all these to be complementary to one another, in no case exclusive. Their true meaning, their interdependence and interrelation, have still to be revealed to us. We are but indifferent representatives of our respective faiths which we believe more often than not.

 

Vol.29 p.326. (Young India 17-12-1925)

Bangalore
July 29, 1927

Discussion with Missionaries

 

Gandhiji opened the discussion by claiming himself to be a friend of the missionaries, ever since his close contact with them in South Africa.

 

Though I have been a friend, I have always been a critic, not from any desire to be critical, but because I have felt that I would be a better friend if I opened out my heart, even at the risk of wounding their feelings. They never allowed me to think that they felt hurt, they certainly never resented my criticism.

 

(Then he referred to his first speech before the missionaries in India on swadeshi, since which twelve years had rolled away and with them much of the mists also.)

 

The first distinction I would like to make, after these prefatory remarks, between your missionary work and mine, is that while I am strengthening the faith of the people, you are undermining it. Your work, I have always held, will be all the richer, if you accept as settled facts the faiths of the people you come to serve - faiths which, however crude, are valuable to them. And in order to appreciate what I say, it becomes perhaps necessary to re-read the message of the Bible in terms of what is happening around us. The world is the same, but the spirit ever broadens intensively and extensively, and it might be that many things in the Bible will have to be re-interpreted in the light of discoveries - not of modem science - but in the spiritual world in the shape of direct experiences common to all faiths. The fundamental verses of St. John do require to be re-read and re-interpreted. I have come to feel that like us human beings words have their evolution from stage to stage in the contents they hold. For instance the contents of the richest word - God - are not the same to every one of us. They will vary with the experience of each. They will mean one thing to the Santhal and another to his next door neighbour Ravindranath Tagore. The sanatani may reject my interpretation of God and Hinduism. But God Himself is a long-suffering God who puts up with any amount of abuse and misinterpretations. If we were to put the spiritual experiences together we would find a resultant which would answer the cravings of human nature. Christianity is 19,000 years old, Islam is 1,300 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 understanding. 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.

 

Interesting questions and answers followed, which I summarize below:

 

Q. What then are we doing? Are we doing the right thing?

A. You are trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. I want you to complement the faith of the people instead of undermining it. As the Dewan of Mysore said in his address to the Assembly, the Adi Karnatakas should be made better Hindus, as they belong to Hinduism. I would similarly say to you, make us better Hindus, i.e., better men or women. Why should a man, even if he becomes a Christian, be torn from his surroundings? 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 denationalization and Europeanization. Must we give up our simplicity, to become better people? Do not lay the axe at our simplicity.

 

Q. 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 for our sins. What is the right way of giving the good news? We need not undermine the faith but we may make people lose their faith in lesser things.

A. That lands me into the region of interpretation. Whilst I must not enter into it, I may suggest that God did not bear the Cross only 1,900 years ago, but He bears it today, and He dies and is resurrected from day to day. It would be poor comfort to the world if it had to depend upon a historical God who died 2,000 years ago. Do not then preach the God of history, but show Him as He lives today through you. In South Africa I met a number of friends, and read a number of books - Pearson, Parker and Butler - all giving their own interpretations, and I said to myself I must not bother myself with these conflicting interpretations. It is better to allow our lives to speak for us than our words. C.F Andrews never preaches. He is incessantly doing his work. He finds enough work and stays where he finds it and takes no credit for bearing the Cross. I have the honour to know hundreds of honest Christians, but I have not known one better than Andrews.

 

Q. But what about animistic beliefs? Should they not be corrected?

A. Well, we have been working amongst the so-called untouchables’ and backward classes, and we have never bothered ourselves with their beliefs, animistic or otherwise. Superstitions and undesirable things go as soon as we begin to live the correct life. I concern myself not with their belief but with asking them to do the right thing. As soon as they do it, their belief rights itself.

 

Q. How can we help condemning if we feel that our Christian truth is the only reality?

A. That brings me to the duty of tolerance. If you cannot feel that the other faith is as true as yours, you should feet at least that the men are as true as you. The intolerance of the Christian missionaries does not, I am glad to say, take the ugly shape it used to take some years ago. Think of the caricature of Hinduism, which one finds in so many publications of the Christian Literature Society. A lady wrote to me the other day saying that unless I embraced Christianity all my work would be nothing worth. And, of course, that Christianity must mean what she understands as such. Well, all I can say is that it is a wrong attitude.

Vol. 34 p.260-63 (Young India, 11-8-1927)
 

Before July 14,1927

Interview to Mr. And Mrs. Bjerrum

 

Among the new missionary friends is a Danish couple Mr. and Mrs. Bjerrum.

 

Gandhiji: Yes. They have to alter their attitude. Today they tell people that there is no salvation for them except through the Bible and through Christianity. It is customary to decry other religions and to offer their own as the only one that can bring deliverance. That attitude should be radically changed. Let them appear before the people as they are, and try to rejoice in seeing Hindus become better Hindus and Mussalmans better Mussalmans. Let them start work at the bottom, let them enter into what is best in their life and offer nothing inconsistent with it. That will make their work far more efficacious, and what they will say and offer to the people will be appreciated without suspicion and hostility. In a word let them go to the people not as patrons, but as one of them, not to oblige them but to serve them and to work among them.
 

Vol. 34 P. 164 (Young India 14-7-1927)

April 23, 1931

Foreign Missionaries

 

Correspondents angry or curious have sent me clippings from the Press or their comments on what has been ascribed to me by interviewers on the subject of foreign missionaries. Only one correspondent has been cautious enough to ask me whether I am correctly reported. Even George Joseph, my erstwhile co-worker and gracious host in Madura, has gone into hysterics without condescending to verify the report. That is the unkindest cut of all.

 

This is what a reporter has put into my mouth:

 

If instead of confining themselves to humanitarian work and material service to the poor, they do proselytization by means of medical aid, education, etc., then 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 spiritually.

 

I have given so many interviews that I cannot recall the time or the occasion or the context for the statement. All I can say is that it is a travesty of what I have always said and held. My views on foreign missions are no secret. I have more than once expounded them before missionary audiences. I am therefore unable to understand the fury over the distorted version of my views.

 

Let me retouch the statement as I should make it:

 

‘If instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work such as education, medical services to the poor and the like, they would use these activities of their for the purpose of proselytizing, I would certainly like them to withdraw. Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another.’

 

Let me now amplify the bald statement. I hold that proselytizing under the cloak of humanitarian work is, to say the least, unhealthy. It is most certainly resented by the people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal matter, it touches the heart. 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? In my opinion these practices are not uplifting and give rise to suspicion if not even secret hostility. The methods of conversion must be like Caesar’s wife above suspicion. Faith is not imparted like secular subjects. It is given through the language of the heart. If a man has a living faith in him, it spreads its aroma like the rose its scent. Because of its invisibility, the extent of its influence is far wider than that of the visible beauty of the colour of the petals.

 

I am, then, not against conversion. But I am against the modern methods of it. Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business, like any other. I remember having read a missionary report saying how much it cost per head to convert and then presenting a budget for ‘the next harvest’.

 

Yes, I do maintain that India’s great faiths are all-sufficing for her. Apart from Christianity and Judaism, Hinduism and its offshoots, Islam and Zoroastrianism are living faiths. No one faith is perfect. All faiths are equally dear to their respective votaries. What is wanted therefore is living friendly contact among the followers of the great religions of the world and not a clash among them in the fruitless attempt on the part of each community to show the superiority of its faith over the rest. Through such friendly contact it will be possible for us all to rid our respective faiths of shortcomings and excrescences.

 

It follows from what I have said above that India is in no need of conversion of the kind I have in mind. Conversion in the sense of self-purification, self-realization is the crying need of the times. That however is not what is ever meant by proselytizing. To those who would convert India, might it not be said, ‘Physician heal thyself’?
 

Vol. 46 p. 27-29. (Young India. 23-4-1931)

After April 23, 1931

Cable to “Daily Herald”

 

Editor

‘Daily Herald’

London

 

Your wire. Report about foreign missionaries was distortion of my views. Have published ‘Young India” full article setting forth view. Am certainly against use of hospitals, schools and like for purposes conversion. It is hardly healthy method and certainly gives rise bitter resentment. Conversion matter of heart and must defend upon silent influence of pure character and conduct of missionaries. True conversion comes imperceptibly like aroma of a rose. Thus am not against conversion as such but am certainly against present methods. Conversion must not be reduced to business depending for increase upon pounds, shillings, pence. I also hold that all great religions are of equal merit to respective nations or individuals professing them. India is in no need of conversion of type described. Whilst under swaraj all would be free exercise their own faiths. Personally I would wish present methods adopted by missionaries were abandoned even now and that under conviction not compulsion.

 

GANDHI

Note: The article “Foreign Missionaries” referred to in the text way published on April 23 (preceding item).
 

Vol. 46 P.34.

May 7, 1931

Foreign Missionaries Again

Dear Mahatma,

 

A friend of mine gave me a copy of the Madras Catholic Leader of the 26th March, and it is there that you are reported to have given expression to the remarks “Every nation’s religion is as good as any other. Certainly India’s religions are adequate for her people. We need no converting spiritually.”

 

I am a Christian, but I certainly am against Christianity being brought as an instrument of Imperialism. But as a message of love and fellowship, who will deny it a place in Indian life? In this great struggle for swaraj, are we not fighting for liberty, liberty to worship our God as we please, liberty 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?

 

Religion, I deem, is a matter between an individual and his own conception of right conduct. Religion belongs to the great realm of thought and personal experience which knows neither boundaries nor nations. But I would like to know, if you made those remarks, what you meant by them, or I confess they are a mystery to me.

St. Xavier’s
I remain,
Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon,
Yours respectfully,
11th April, 1931
James P. Rutnam
 

 

Gandhiji:

I do not know that in reply to this letter I need do more than refer the writer to my article in Young India. It might be as well to add that in mentioning Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, etc., as India’s religions, I had no desire to claim them as India’s exclusively or to exclude Christianity. The issue was Christianity on the one hand claimed as the one true religion and other religions on the other being regarded as false. In joining issue I contended that the great world religions other than Christianity professed in India were no less true than Christianity. It was thus neither relevant nor necessary for me to assert before Christian missionaries and their protagonists that Christianity was true. Moreover, with my known partiality for the Sermon on the Mount and my repeated declarations that its author was one of the greatest among the teachers of mankind I could not suspect that there would be any charge against me of underrating Christianity. As for Christian Indians, I count among them many warm friends and I have had no difficulty whatsoever in establishing friendly touch with the Christian masses wherever I have gone. Nor is there any fear of my estranging even the foreign missionaries among whom I claim many personal friends. The attack against me 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 on friendly criticism. The missionaries know that inspite 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 method 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 proselytizing, 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.

Vol.46 p-109-10 (Young India, 7-5-1931)

June 4, 1931

Missionary Methods in India

 

Gandhiji has given great umbrage to missionaries by his declaration against the prevailing methods of evangelization, and by challenging the claim to superiority put forward by them on behalf of Christianity. They strongly resent his assertion that their modus operandi is open to suspicion. It was stated in the Indian Census Report for 1911 that the aboriginal tribes accept Christianity, ‘in the hope of obtaining assistance from the missionaries in their difficulties and protection against the coercion of landlords.” In 1821, Raja Rammohan Roy urged in the Brahmanical Magazine that the superiority of Christianity should not be advocated “by means of abuse and insult or by affording the hope of worldly gain.”

 

Mrs. Charles Howard, Secretary, Society for the Education of the Women of India, Chicago, in a letter to Sr. Virchand R. Gandhi of Bombay, wrote in 1896: “But I am more concerned for poor India. Why should Christianity, which is a failure here, be thrust upon India?”

 

This comes from a retired Deputy Collector. The collection of quotations from named sources should, instead of offending missionaries, cause an inward search. I have several other similar articles, some from Christian Indians. The writers will excuse me for withholding them. The controversy ought not to be prolonged. The incautious zeal of reporters, who trusted too much to memory, led to a discussion, which I would fain have avoided.

Vol. 46 p.314 (Young India, 4-6-1931)

Delhi,
February 23, 1931

Note to Dr Thornton (A Christian Missionary)

 

If the missionary friends will forget their mission, viz., of proselytizing Indians and of bringing Christ to them, they will do wonderfully good work. Your duty is done with the ulterior motive of proselytizing. I was one of the first to raise a note of warning in this matter. To realize what harm the missions are doing you have to see a man like Mr. Andrews. He could tell you how his soul rebelled against the missionaries’ presumption to give the Indians new religion. He belonged to the Cambridge Mission, but he left it inasmuch as seeing God everywhere he realized that every religion taught devotion to God, however defective it may be. You may certainly point out and help to correct the, defects in my religion, but insist on my finding my salvation through my own religion. I am reminded of a simile: what is the use of going to a higher altitude when I am born on the plains and must find what nourishment and health the plains can give? The fact is there are no irreconcilable differences between different religions. If you were to probe the surface, you will find one and the same thing at the bottom, forget your missionary spirit and simply live your life in the midst of-people. 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. That is what worries me.

 

Vol.45 p.223-24

Delhi
March 22, 1931

Interview To The Press

 

During an interview to the press on 21 March, 1931 a correspondent asked: If he (Gandhi) would favour the retention of American and other foreign missionaries when India secured self-government, Gandhiji replied.

 

If instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work and material service to the poor, they do proselytizing by means of medical aid, education, etc., then 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 spiritually.

 

Vol. 45 p. 320 The Hindu, 22-3-1931

Delhi
January 14, 1935

A Discussion

Q: Your campaign (against untouchability) is taking away from the Mission’s popularity.

Gandhiji: 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.

 

Q: But, perhaps, 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.

G: But they should understand that ours is a different mission. We do not go there to afford them simple 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 paundit. 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?

 

Q: But does it mean that you would say the same thing about a Christian who embraces Hinduism?

G: I would. Here is Mirabehn. I would have her find all the spiritual comfort she needs from Christianity, and I should not dream of converting her to Hinduism, even if she wanted to do so. Today it is the case of a grown-up woman like her, tomorrow it may be that of a European child trusted to my care by a friend. Take the case of Khan Saheb’s daughter entrusted to my care by her father. I should zealously educate her in her own faith and should strive my utmost against her being lured away from it if ever she was so inclined. I have had the privilege of having children and grown-up persons of other faiths with me. I was thankful to find them better Christians, Mussalmans, Parsis or Jews by their contact with me.

 

Q: But if it was a pure case of conscience?

G: 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 from the faith in which he or she is born.
 

Vol.60 p.76-77 Harijan, 25-1-1935

March 22, 1935

Deploring ‘Conversions’

 

A Harijan sevak in Devakottah writes deploring the so-called conversions to Christianity of Harijans in that locality. The public know how they are systematically persecuted by the Nattars. If, affected by the persecution and losing hope of ever receiving help from the other savarna Hindus, the poor Harijans seek shelter in Christianity, we may not be surprised. And our grief is worse than useless if we cannot turn it into powerful energy. Conversion under the stress of physical discomfort is no spiritual conversion. But we may not grumble if Harijans change their faith in order to better their material condition and to secure protection from persecution.

 

What we need deplore is the cause of conversion. Let us realize and own that savarna Hindus are the cause. If the savarna Hindus of Devakottah were alive to a sense of duty by the Harijans of their locality the Nattars, who are themselves savarna Hindus, would not dare persecute Harijans as if the latter were not members of the same human family as the former. The correspondent suggests that some persons from outside Devakottah might go and work among the Nattars and the Harijans. It would be good if this happened. But I doubt if ever substantial results will be obtained by stray outsiders going there temporarily. Any such effort must be vain, as will be that of doctors going among and seeking to cure patients who would not help themselves with the medicines prescribed for them. Both the wings of the savarna Hindus, those who stand aloof and the Nattar savarna Hindus, are suffering from illnesses, the latter from hankering after the persecution of their fellows, and the former from criminal apathy. Outsiders can at best go among them, diagnose the disease and prescribe the remedy. It is for the patients to adopt the remedy. The young savarnas of Devakottah know the cause and the remedy. Will they apply it? Thakkar Bapa is in their midst or will be presently. Will they listen to his advice? Conversions are but one small result of the disease. Remove the cause, and the conversions will cease, as also many worse results.
 

Vol.60 P.327

Before March 22, 1935

Interview to a Missionary(1)

 

A missionary friend who was on a visit to us asked Gandhiji what was the most effective way of preaching the gospel of Christ, for that was his mission.

 

Gandhiji: 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. Therefore I cannot say what to preach, but I can say that a life of service and uttermost simplicity is the best preaching. If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3, 16 and ask them to believe it. That has no appeal to me, and I am sure people will not understand it. Where there has been acceptance of the gospel through preaching, my complaint is that there has been some motive.

 

(Q) But we also see it and we try our best to guard against it.

G: 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 any preaching at all. A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon. If it had human understanding and if it could engage a number of preachers, the preachers would not be able to sell more roses than the fragrance itself could do. The fragrance of religious and spritual life is much finer and subtler than than of the rose.

Vol. 60 p.323 (Harijan, 29-3-19

Wardha
March 29, 1935

Interview with Missionary Ladies

 

Q. Does your Harijan Sangh do anything for the spiritual welfare of the people?

A. With me, moral includes spiritual, and so my answer to your question will be ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’. Nothing, because we have no department to look after their spiritual welfare. Everything, because we expect the personal touch of the workers to transform the men among whom they are working. Even as it is, we are caught in the coil of hypocrisy; but when you set apart a department for the work, you make the thing doubly difficult. In my career as a reformer I have regarded everything from the moral standpoint. Whether I am engaged in tackling a political question or a social or economic one, the moral side of it always obtrudes itself and it pervades my whole attitude. But I admit I have no special department to look after the Harijans’ spiritual welfare.

 

Q. But we, Christians, feel that we, who have something to share, must share it with others. If we want consolation, we find it from the Bible. Now, as for the Harijans, who have no solace to get from Hinduism, how are we to meet their spiritual needs?

A. By behaving just like the rose. Does the rose proclaim itself, or is it self-propagated? Has it an army of missionaries proclaiming its beauties?

 

Q. But supposing someone asked us, ‘Where did you get the scent?’

A. The rose, if it had sense and speech, would say, ‘Fool, don’t you see that I got it from my Maker?’

 

Q. But if someone asks you, 'Then, is there no book?'

A. You will then say, ‘Yes, for me there is the Bible.’ If they were to ask me. I would present to some the Koran. to some the Gita, to some the Bible and to some Tulsidas’s Ramayana. I am like a wise doctor prescribing what is necessary for each patient.

 

Q. But I find difficulty in getting much from the Gita.

A. You may, but I do not find any difficulty in getting much from the Bible as well as from the Koran.
 

Vol.60 p.325-26 (Harijan, 29-3-1935)

May 11, 1935

Interview to a Missionary Nurse

 

Q. Would you prevent missionaries coming to India in order to baptize?

A. Who am I to prevent them? If I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytizing. It is the cause of much avoidable conflict between classes and unnecessary heart-burning among missionaries. But I should welcome people of any nationality if they came to serve here for the sake of service. 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.

 

Q. Is it not the old conception you are referring to? No such thing is now associated with proselytization.

A. The outward condition has perhaps changed but the inward mostly remains. 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. Only 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 Hindus. and it could not belong to the Christians 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.

 

Q. But, Mr. Gandhi, why do you object to proselytization as such? Is not there enough in the Bible to authorize us to invite people to a better way of life?

A. Oh yes, but it does not mean that they should be made members of the Church. If you interpret your texts in the way you seem to do, you straight away condemn a large part of humanity unless it believes as you do. If Jesus came to earth again. he would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity. It is not he who says “Lord, Lord! that is a Christian”, but “He that doeth the will of the Lord” that is a true Christian. And cannot he who has not heard the name of Jesus Christ do the will of the Lord?

 

Vol.61 p.46-47 (Harijan, 11-5-1935)

Wardha
September 28, 1935

About ‘Conversion’

 

Mr. A.A. Paul of the Federation of International Fellowships asked me the other day to define in these columns my position on ‘conversion’. I told him to frame definite questions on which he would like my answers. The result was the following letter with a list of propositions attached:

 

P: You remember that a little over a month ago, I wrote to you asking you whether you would publish a statement giving your views on ‘conversion’. You wrote back to say that it would be easier for you if we could put them in the form of questions or assertions. At the request of the Executive Committee of the Madras International Fellowship, one of our Christian members has prepared the enclosed statement and the Committee has asked me to pass it on to you with the request that you will kindly find it possible to answer these statements in Harijan. Of course you will notice that the questions are framed from the Christian point of view; but the Committee feels that the questions will apply equally well to other missionary religions which are engaged in conversion programme. May I hope that you will find it possible to explain your attitude to these questions?

Propositions

1. Conversion is a change of heart from sin to God. It is the work of God. Sin is separation from God.

2. The Christian believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s revelation to mankind, that He is our Saviour from sin, that He alone can bring the sinner to God and thus enable him to live.

3. 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.

4. If any man’s heart is so moved by the hearing of this message as to repent and wish to live a new life as a disciple of Jesus, the Christian regards ft as right to admit him to the company of His professed believers which is called the Christian Church.

5. The Christian shall do all in his power to sound the sincerity of conviction in all such cases and shall point out, as he can, the consequences of such a step, stressing The duty a man owes to his family.

6. The Christian shall do everything in his power to prevent any motives of self-seeking on his part and of material considerations on the part of the convert.

7. Inasmuch as Jesus came to give full life, and that as a matter of history conversion has often meant an enhancing of personality, the Christian shall not be accused of using material inducements if conversion results in the social uplift of the convert, it always being understood that such shall never be used as a means to an end.

8. The Christian is right in accepting as his duty the care of the sincere convert -- body, soul and mind.

9. 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 Harijan. (But see points 5 and 6).

 

Gandhi: In order to understand the background to these propositions, the reader should know that the origin of the main question was a discussion I was carrying on with Mr. A.A. Paul on the so-called mass conversion of a village predominantly or wholly composed of Harijans. The reader may later on read more of this ‘conversion’. For the present purpose it is enough that he understands that it is the method of mass conversion that has to be tested in the light of these propositions. Indeed the ninth proposition almost says as much.

 

I have read the propositions several times, and the more I read them the more I feel that they can be applied only to individual contacts, never to the mass of mankind. Take the very first proposition. Sin is defined to be “separation from God”. “Conversion is a change of heart from sin to God. It is the work of God.” So says the author of the propositions. If conversion is the work of God why should that work be taken away from Him? And who is man to take away anything from God? He may become a humble instrument in the hands of God. Even so he cannot be a judge of men’s hearts. I often wonder whether we are always true judges of our own hearts. Man, know thyself must have been wrung out of a desperate heart. And if we know so little of ourselves, how much less must 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? 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 to 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. A thick woollen coat would be the thing for one living in the cold region of the earth, as a place of loin-cloth for another living near the equatorial regions.

 

The third proposition too, like the first, relates to the 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.

 

The other five propositions deal with the conduct of the missionary among those whom he is seeking to convert. They seem to me to be 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”?

 

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 fulness 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? What is that of the union with God? What are the signs of him who is united to God? Are all who dare to preach the message of Jesus the Christ sure of their union with God? If they are not, who will test the Harijans’ knowledge of these deep things?

 

This is my reaction to the foregoing propositions. I hope no Christian who reads it will be offended by it. I would have been false to my numerous Christian friends, if I had hidden from them by true position on the nine propositions.

 

My own detached view may now be stated in a few words. I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the term. It is a highly personal matter for the individual and his God. I may not have any design upon my neighbour as to his faith which I must honour even as I honour my own. For I regard all the great religions of the world as true at any rate for the people professing them as mine is true for me. Having reverently studied the scriptures of the world, I have no difficulty in perceiving the beauties in all of them. I could no more think of asking a Christian or a Mussalman or a Parsi or a Jew to change his faith than I would think of changing my own. This makes me no more oblivous of the limitations of the professors of those faiths, than it makes me of the grave limitations of the professors of mine. And seeing that it takes all my resources in trying to bring my practice to the level of my faith and in preaching the same to my co-religionists, I do not dream of preaching to the followers of other faiths. Judge not lest ye be judged is sound maxim for one’s conduct. It is a conviction daily growing upon me 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 the ulterior motive of converting India or at least her unsophisticated villagers to Christianity, and destroying their social superstructure, which not withstanding its many defects has stood now from time immemorial the onslaughts upon it from within and from 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. Every living faith must have within itself the power of rejuvenation if it is to live.
 

Vol. 61 p.454-58 (Harijan. 28-9-1935)

June 12, 1936

Discussion with a Polish Student

Student I am keenly Interested in rural reconstruction. There is at - a school conducted by Catholic Fathers. I shall help the school from the proceeds of the sale of this photography.(1)

Returning the photograph Gandhiji 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?

 

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 anything 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 Harijan. He, however, had deliberately refrained from writing, in order not to exacerbate feelings on the matter.

 

“But,” said the student, “the Christians among whom the Fathers I mention are working became Christians long ago. “

 

G: Well, there they foment fresh troubles. I do not know why the professors of a noble faith should assist in creating deadly quarrels between two sections of the same faith.

 

S: But I myself am a Christian convert. I cannot tell you the happiness and the solace that Christianity has meant to me.

 

G: I can understand that. You are using the language of a truly converted Christian. You have a heart to lose or to keep. If the Harijans in India reach your intellectual and spiritual level, and experience your sense of original sin I would bless them for voluntarily embracing Christianity. Have you read what I have written on my son’s so-called conversion to Islam? If he had become a Muslim from a pure and a contrite heart, I should have no quarrel with him. But those who had helped him to embrace Islam and are enthusing over his apostasy simply exploited his weaknesses. They are no true representatives of Islam. My letter to the Muslims, I tell you, was written with my pen dipped in my heart’s blood. Similarly there is no redeeming feature about the Tiruchengodu conversions I have spoken to you about.(2)
 

Vol.63 p.47-48 (Harijan, 27-6-1936)


1. On which the student wanted Gandhiji’s autograph.

 

2. Here Mahadev Desai remarks: “The young man could see the deep pain with which Gandhiji was speaking. He did not press him to give the autograph and took his leave.”

 

Wardha
June 23, 1936

Converting Through Hospitals: Discussion with Pierre Ceresole and Christian Missionaries

 

Pierre Ceresole: Religion which should bind us divided us. Is it not a sorry spectacle that whilst people of various denominations find no difficulty in working together all day in hearty co-operation, they must disband when the time for prayer comes? Is religion then meant to divide us?

 

Must it be allowed to become an expression of conceit rather than of a desire to be of service? I want some sort of religious communion between men of different faiths.

 

Gandhiji: Quite possible, if there is no mental reservation.

 

PC.: But a friend of mine, a great humanitarian worker, believes that but for evangelism he should not have taken up his mission work. He gets the driving power from communion with Jesus, he says, because Jesus was always in communion with God.

 

G.: The greatest trouble with us is not that a Christian missionary should rely on his own experience, but that he should dispute the evidence of a Hindu devotee’s life. Just as he has his spiritual experience and the joy of communion, even so has a Hindu.

 

Dr. Ceresole seemed to have no doubt about this, and he said that the broadest view of Christianity seemed to him to have been presented by Frank Lenwood, whose book Jesus - Lord or Leader, deserved to be better known than it is. “He says he has the greatest respect for the personality of Jesus, but he thought he might respectfully criticize him.”

 

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.

 

G.: 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 alleviate pain, because 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 of your medicine a free gift.

 

M.L.: But if I feel that 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 rest 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 your 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 mud.

            G.: Will you judge him? Have your people not floundered? Why will you present your particular brand of truth to all?

 

M.L.: I must present to them 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 we are dealing with a spiritual thing where you cannot go through all these necessary investigations. What I plead for is humanity. You do not claim freedom from hypocrisy for the Christian Church?

 

Dr. Ceresole: Most of us believe our religion to be the best and they have not the slightest idea of what other religions have revealed to their adherents. Dr. -------- has made a careful study of the Hindu scriptures, and he has observed what Hinduism gives to the Hindus.

 

G.: I say it is not enough for him to read the Song Celestial or the Koran. It is necessary for him to read the Koran with Islamic spectacles and the Gita with Hindu spectacles, just as he would expect me to read the Bible with Christian spectacles. I would ask him: ‘Have you read the Gita as reverently as I have or even as reverently as I have read the Bible?’ I tell you I have not read as many books on Hinduism as I have about Christianity. And yet I did not come to the conclusion that Christianity or Hinduism was the only way.

 

Gandhiji discussed the instance of Mr. Stokes - now Shri Satyanand - who was, in his early years in India, nearly killed for preaching Christianity to the Pathans, but who in a truly Christian spirit secured his assailant’s reprieve, and who in the later years said to himself, ‘My faith in Jesus is as bright as ever, but I cannot deliver the message of Jesus to the Hindus unless I become a Hindu. Unless I make the Hindus better Hindus I shall not; he said, ‘be true to my Lord.’

But then, wondered the missionary friends, 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 a mental reservation and thereby you will share your spiritual treasures. The knowledge that you have this reservation creates a barrier between you and me.

 

PC.: Do you think that because of what you call that 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 inaccessible to others.

 

P C.: A barrier would be certainly my Western way of living.

 

G.: No, that can be immediately broken.

 

PC.: 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?

 

PC.: 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 that your Church has taken, you would not be here.

 

PC.: I have come because the Indian women need medical care to a greater ex tent 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.
 

Vol.63 p.90-94 (Harijan, 18-7-1936)

Wardha
11 July, 1936

Letter to A. Donald Miller

 

Of course the readers of Harijan should know fully what missionary effort has done to alleviate the suffering of lepers. It would be churlish of me or anybody to ignore the medical work of the various missions in India and elsewhere. My complaint is that that work is not done without an alien motive behind it. I could not give you an adequate conception of the barrier that this motive erects between them and the thousands who would gladly take advantage of medical and other help that missionaries could render. You will probably rejoin that missionaries are ‘not deflected from the call which they consider to be divine, by knowledge of the barrier. Persons like me who believe in the essential truth of all religions feel on the contrary that the proselytizing effort prevents so many Indians from benefiting by the unadulterated teachings of Jesus which ennobles life in spite of their not believing in him as the only begotten Son of God.

 

I hope you will not regard this paragraph of my letter as in any way qualifying my gratefulness for your articles. I felt that it would not be complete if I did not let you know that my view on proselytization could not in any way affect my recognition of the good that is done by the mission, apart from their proselytizing attempt. I need hardly say that this little discussion of my view is not meant as an invitation to a debate on the subject. This letter itself does not call for any reply. It is merely meant to be one of thanks and nothing more. You may expect questions on leprosy as may be prompted by personal contact with lepers which will probably be my daily lot.
 

Vol.63 p.137

Segaon, Wardha
November 9, 1936

Discussion with C.F. Andrews

 

Gandhiji: Their (missionaries) 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 and you 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 Bangalore a deputation of Indian Christians came to me 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? The poor Harijans have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of difference between God and no-God. It is absurd for 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 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.FA.: 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 Ezhavas 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 vast body of Ezhavas could have asked for Christian instruction. You should ascertain the fact 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.FA.: 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 in this go to the whole length with you, though you know my own position. I discarded the position that there is no salvation except through Christ long ago. But supposing the Oxford Group Movement people 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 asked him if he thought that the religion of his forefathers was wrong. He said ‘No’. Then I said: ‘Is there any difficulty about your accepting the Bible as one of the great religious books of the world and Christ as one of the great teachers?’ I said to him that you had never through your books asked Indians to take up the Bible and embrace Christianity, and that he had misread your book - unless of course your position is like that of the late Maulana Mahomed Ali’s, viz., that a believing Mussalman, however bad his life, is better than a good Hindu.

 

C.FA.: I do not accept Maulana Mahomed 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. Supposing a Christian came to me and said he was captivated by a reading of the Bhagavata and so wanted to declare himself a Hindu, I should say to him: ‘No. 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 light, share the best with one another, thus adding to the sum total of human effort to reach God.

 

Consider whether you are going to accept the position of mutual toleration or of equality of all religions. My position is that all the great religions are fundamentally equal. We must have the innate respect for other religions as we have for our own. Mind you, not mutual toleration, but equal respect.
 

Vol.64 p.18-20. (Harijan, 28-11-1936)

Segaon, Wardha
13/14 November, 1936

Ambedkar’s Bombshell and Discussion with John R. Mott

 

B.R. Ambedkar announced in a speech at Nasik in 1935 that he will renounce Hinduism. In the same year a meeting was held at Yevala in which through a resolution a decision was taken to the effect that “we should Denounce the Hindu religion”. In that meeting Ambedkar had said, “though both a Hindu because I could not help it, I would not die as a Hindu.” This is the “bombshell” Gandhi was talking about in the following discussion.

 

John Mott: Removal of untouchability is the business of your lifetime. The importance of this movement 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 rind out how far we can help and not hinder I am Chairman of the International Missionary Council which combines 300 missionary societies in the world. I have on my desk 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 me where, if anywhere, the missionaries have gone along wrong lines. Their desire is to help and not to hinder.

 

Gandhiji: I cannot help saying that the activities of the missionaries in this connection have hurt me. They, with the Mussalmans and the Sikhs, came forward as soon as Dr. Ambedkar threw the bombshell, and they gave it an importance out of all proportion to the weight it carried, and then ensured a rivalry between these organizations. I could understand the Muslim organizations 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 the 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.

 

Dr Mott referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech, and the talks he had with him, and other bishops and missionary leaders in England, and emphasized the fact that the Christians should in no way seem to be bidding with others for the souls of the Indian people. He said he had a reassurance from the Free as well as the State Church leaders, but in the secular papers it had got abroad that Dr. Ambedkar could hand over 50 million people to those who were prepared to accept them. He had sensed that it might mean a tremendous disservice. He said: “The most trustworthy leaders of Protestant missionary forces would give to what you have said great heed. They do believe increasingly in work for the untouchables. Tell us what we can wisely do and what we cannot wisely do.

 

G.: So far as this desire of Dr. Ambedkar is concerned, you can look at the whole movement with utter calmness and indifference. If there is any answer to Dr. Ambedkar’s appeal and if the Harijans and he take the final step and come to you, you can take such steps as your conscience suggests. But today it seems unseemly and precipitate to anticipate what Dr. Ambedkar and Harijans are going to do.

 

Deenabandhu Andrews referred with condemnation to the Lucknow Conference a, id Dr. Mott said that what the Conference did was not authoritative.

 

G. It becomes authoritative owing to the silence of Christian bodies. If they had disowned all that happened it would have been well, but those who met at Lucknow perhaps felt that they were voicing the views of the missionary bodies who, in their opinion, were not moving fast enough. (See also p. 83)

 

J.M.: But there was a disclaimer

 

G.: If there was, it did not travel beyond the English Channel.

 

J.M.: But there is a deplorable confusion of thought and divided counsel even amongst friends. The Devil would like nothing better. My life has been mostly spent for the intellectual classes, and I feel very much conscience-moved to help in this movement.

 

Gandhiji cited the example of good Christians helping by working under the Hindu banner. There was Mr. Keithahn who was trying hard to smooth the path of the untouchables. There were Miss Barr and Miss Madden who had thrown themselves into the rural reconstruction movement. He then adverted to the problem in Travancore where an indecent competition was going on for enticing away the Ezhavas from the Hindu fold.

 

The Ezhavas in Travancore want temple-entry. But it is no use your asking me whether they want temple-entry. Even if they do not want it, I must see that they enjoy the same rights as I enjoy, and so the reformers there are straining every nerve to open the temple doors.

 

J.M. But must we not serve them?

 

G. Of course you will, but not make conversion the price of your service.

 

J.M. I agree that we ought to serve them whether they become Christians or not. Christ offered no inducements. He offered service and sacrifice.

 

G. If Christians want to associate themselves with this reform movement they should do so without any idea of conversion.

 

J.M. Apart from this unseemly competition, should they not preach the Gospel with reference to its acceptance?

 

G. Would you, Dr. Mott, preach the Gospel to a cow? Well, some of the untouchables are worse than cows in understanding. I mean they can no more distinguish between the relative merits of Islam and Hinduism and Christianity than a cow. You can only preach through your life. The rose does not say: ‘Come and smell me.’

 

J.M. But Christ said: ‘Preach and Teach’, and also that Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. There was a day when I was an unbeliever. The J. E. K Studd of Cambridge, a famous cricketer, visited my University on an evagelistic mission and cleared the air for me. His life and splendid example alone would not have answered my question and met my deepest need, but I listened to him and was converted. First and foremost we must live the life; but then by wise and sympathetic unfolding of essential truth we must shed light on processes and actions and attitudes, and remove intellectual difficulties so that it may lead us into the freedom which is freedom indeed. You do not want the Christians to withdraw tomorrow?

 

G.: No. But I do not want you to come in the way of our work, if you cannot help us.

 

J.M.: The whole Christian religion is the religion of sharing our life, and how can we share without supplementing our lives with words?

 

G.: Then what they are doing in Travancore is correct? There may be a 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?

 

J.M.: The whole current discussion since the Ambedkar declaration has become badly mixed with other unworthy motives, which must be eliminated. Jesus said. ‘Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.’ A good Christian has to testify what he has experienced in his own life or as a result of his own observation. We are not true as His followers, if we are not true Witnesses of Christ. He said: ‘Go and teach and help through the mists and lead them out into larger light.’

 

Deenabandhu Andrews here asked to be permitted to put forward a concordant. He said: “There are fundamental differences between you and the missionaries, and yet -- are the friend of missionaries. But you feel that they are not playing the game. You want the leaders of the Church to say: ‘We do not want to fish in troubled waters; we shall do nothing to imply that we are taking advantage of a peculiar situation that has arisen.’

 

G.: 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.

 

J.M.: What are the governing ideals and aims of this Indian Village Industries movement? What is the object of your settling down in this little village?

 

G.: The immediate object of my stay in Segaon is to remove to the best of my ability the appalling ignorance, poverty and the still more appalling insanitation of the Indian villages. All these really run into one another. We seek to remove ignorance not through imparting the knowledge of the alphabet by word of mouth, but by giving them object-lessons in sanitation, by telling them what is happening in the world, and so on.

 

J:M.: What you are doing here has great industrial significance. Japan with about as high a rate of literacy as any country in the world is not exempt from the sins of industrialism.

 

G.: But I am not seeking to industrialize the village. I want to revive the village after the ancient pattern, i.e., to revive hand-spinning, hand-ginning, and its other vital handicrafts. The village uplift movement is an offshoot of the spinning movement. So great was my ignorance in 1908-1909 that I mixed up the spinning-wheel with the loom in my small book on Indian Home Rule.

 

J.M.: What is the cause of your greatest concern, your heaviest burden?

 

G.: My greatest worry is the ignorance and poverty of the masses of India, and the way in which they have been neglected by the classes, especially the neglect of the Harijans by the Hindus. This criminal neglect is unwarranted by any of the scriptures. We are custodians of a great religion and yet we have been guilty of a crime which constitutes our greatest shame. Had I not been a believer in the inscrutable ways of Providence, a sensitive man like me would have been a raving maniac.

 

J.M.: What affords you the greatest hope and satisfaction?

 

G.: Faith in myself born of faith in God.

 

J.M.: In moments when your heart may sink within you, you hark back to this faith in God?

 

G.: Yes. That is why I have always described myself as an irrespressible optimist.

 

J.M.: So am I. Our difficulties are our salvation. They make us hark back to the living God.

 

G.: Yes. My difficulties have strengthened my faith which rises superior to every difficulty, and remains undimmed. My darkest hour was when I was in Bombay a few months ago. It was the hour of my temptation. Whilst I was asleep I suddenly felt as though I wanted to see a woman. Well a man who had tried to rise superior to the sex instinct for nearly 40 years was bound to be intensely pained when he had this frightful experience. I ultimately conquered the feeling, but I was face to face with the blackest moment of my life and if I had succumbed to it, it would have meant my absolute undoing. I was stirred to the depths because strength and peace come from a life of continence. Many Christian friends are jealous of the peace I possess. It comes from God who has blessed me with the strength to battle against temptation.

 

J.M.: I agree. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

 

Next day:

 

J.M.: If money is to be given to India, in what ways can it be wisely given without causing any harm? Will money be of any value?

 

G.: No. When money is given it can only do harm. It has got 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 that 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.’

 

J.M.: But money is stored-up personality. It can be badly used as well as well used. Through money you can get the services of a good engineer But far more dangerous than money is human personality. It makes possible the good as well as the bad use of money Kagawa of Japan admits the use of money and machinery is attended with peril but insists, and I agree with him, that Christ is able to dominate both the money and the machine.

 

G.: 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. But take Pierre Ceresole who came at his own expense, but after our consent, to serve earthquake-stricken Bihar. We would love to have as many Ceresoles as could possibly come to our help. No. It is my certain conviction based on experience that money plays the least part in matters of spirit.

 

J.M.: If money is the root of evil, we are living in a time when there is more money than ever was before.

 

G.: Which means that there is more evil in the world.
 

Vol.64 p.35-41 (Harijan, 19-12-1936 and 26-12-1936)

Note: John Mott was an American evangelist, a prominent Y.M.C.A. leader and Chairman, International Missionary Council. 


Segaon, Wardha
24 November, 1936
Discussion with Basil Mathews acid others

 

Mr. Mathews referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech at the Central Hall, Westminster. Gandhiji said:

 

That is a question to which I have given great thought 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.

 

M.: 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?

 

G.: 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. They say: ‘Here is some good work being done by these missionaries; they open schools and hospitals, train nurses. Why don’t we do these things for our own people?’ And they try to do something in indifferent imitation.

 

M.: You have spoken of some good work being done by missionaries. Should not we go on with it?

 

G.: 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?

 

Mr. Mathews was curious to know if Gandhiji followed any spiritual practices and what special reading he had found helpful.

 

G.: I am a stranger to yogic practices. The practice I follow is a practice I learnt in my childhood from my nurse. I was afraid of ghosts. She used to say to me: ‘There are no ghosts, but if you are afraid, repeat Ramanama’. What I learnt in my childhood has become. a huge thing in my mental firmament. It is a sun that has brightened my darkest hour. A Christian may find the same solace from the repetition of the name of Jesus and a Muslim from the name of Allah. All these things have the same implications and they produce identical results under identical circumstances. Only the repetition must not be a lip expression, but part of your very being. About helpful readings we have regular readings of the Bhagavad Gita and we have now reached a stage when we finish the Gita every week by having readings of appointed chapters every morning. Then we have hymns from the various saints of India and we therein include hymns from the Christian hymn book. As Khan Saheb is with us, we have readings from the Koran also. We believe in the equality of all religions. I derive the greatest consolation from my reading of Tulsidas’s Ramayana. I have also derived solace from the New Testament and the Koran. I don’t approach them with a critical mind. They are to me as important as the Bhagavad Gita, though everything in the former may not appeal to me - everything in the Epistles of Paul for instance, nor everything in Tulsidas. The Gita is a pure religious discourse given without any embelishment. It simply describes the progress of the pilgrim soul towards the Supreme Goal. Therefore there is no question of selection.

 

M.: You are really a Protestant.

 

G.: I do not know what I am or not; Mr. Hodge will call me a Presbyterian.

 

M.: Where do you find the seat of authority?

 

Pointing to his breast, Gandhiji said:

 

It lies here. I exercise my judgement 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 commentaries of interpreters. Nothing in them comes from God directly. Mathew may give one version of one text and John may give another. I cannot surrender my reason whilst I subscribe to Divine revelation. And above all, ‘the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.’ But you must not misunderstand my position. I believe in Faith also, in things where Reason has no place, e.g., the existence of God. No argument can move me from that faith, and like that little girl who repeated against all reason ‘yet we are seven’ I would like to repeat, on being baffled in argument by a very superior intellect, ‘Yet there is God.’
 

Vol.64 p. 73- 75

Segaon, Wardha
1 December, 1936

Work of the Missionaries: Answers to Questions

 

Question: Do you see a reason for Christian workers in the West to come here, and if so what is their contribution?

Answer: In the manner in which they are working, there would seem to be no room for them. Quite unconsciously they do harm to themselves and so to us. It is perhaps impertinent for me to say that they do harm to themselves, but quite pertinent to say that they do harm to us. They do harm to those amongst whom they work and those amongst whom they do not work, i.e., the harm is done to the whole of India. They present a Christianity of their belief but not the message of Jesus as I understand it. The more I study their activities the more sorry I become. There is such a gross misunderstanding of religion on the part of those who are intelligent, very far advanced and whose motives need not be questioned. It is a tragedy that such a thing should happen in the human family.

 

Q. You are referring to things as they are at present. Do you visualize a situation in which there is a different approach?

A. Your ability is unquestioned. You can utilize all those abilities for the service of India which she would appreciate. That can only happen if there are no mental reservations. If you come to give education, you must give it after the Indian pattern. You should sympathetically study our institutions and suggest changes. But you come with preconceived notions and seek to destroy. If people from the West came on Indian terms, they would supply a felt want. When Americans come and ask me what service they could render, I tell them: ‘if you dangle your millions before us, you will make beggars of us and demoralize us.’ But in one thing I do not mind being a beggar. I would beg of you your scientific talent. You can ask your engineers and agricultural expects to place their services at our disposal. They must not come to us as our lords and masters but as voluntary workers. a paid servant would throw up his job any day, but a volunteer worker could not do so. If such come, the more the merrier. A Mysore engineer who is a Pole(1) has sent me a box of hand-made tools made to suit village requirements. Supposing an engineer of that character comes and studies our tools and our cottage machines and suggests improvements in them, he would be of great service. If you do this kind of work in a religious spirit you will have delivered the message of Jesus.

 

Q. There is this mood abroad in the world.

A. I would like to see it amongst missionaries in general in India.

 

Q. What would happen if there is an increase in the process of multiplying Christians?

A. If there is an appreciable increase, there would be blood feuds between Harijans themselves, more savage than the feuds we have in Bombay. Fifty per cent of the residents in Segaon are Harijans. Supposing you stole away 10 Harijans and built a church for them, you would set up father against son, and son against father, and you would find texts in the Bible to support your action. That would be a caricature of Christianity.

 

Here Gandhiji explained that the whole story of the sudden uprush of spiritual hunger among the millions of untouchables was absurd. A speech at Central Hall, Westminster, made by Bishop Pickett, of which he had read a report in the Church Times, had greatly shocked him. He said:

 

He has made such extravagant statements that I would want a demonstration of them - even of the statement that millions were seeking to be converted.

 

Q. Apart from the contribution through the realm of scientific achievement, evangelism seems to be out of the question in establishing relationships between East and West?

A. I do say that. But I speak with a mental reservation. I cannot only reconcile myself to - I must recognize a fact in nature which it is useless to gainsay - I mean proper evangelization. When you feel you have received peace from your particular interpretation of the Bible, you share it with others. But you do not need to give vocal expression to it. Your whole life is more eloquent than your lips. Language is always an obstacle to the full expression of thought. How, for instance, will you tell a man to read the Bible as you read it, how by word of mouth will you transfer to him the light as you receive it from day to day and moment to moment? Therefore all religions say: ‘Your life is your speech.’ If you are humble enough you will say you cannot adequately represent your religion by speech or pen.

 

Q. But may not one in all humility say, ‘I know that my life falls far short of the ideal: let me explain the ideal I stand for’?

A. No. You bid good-bye to humility the moment you say that life is not adequate and that you must supplement it by speech. Human species need not go to animals and shout to them: ‘We are humans. ‘The animals know them as humans. The language of the soul never lends itself to expression. It rises superior to the body. Language is a limitation of the truth which can be only represented by life.

 

Q. How then is experience to be passed on from generation to generation without some articulate expression?

A. There is no occasion for articulate expression. Life is its own expression. I take the simile of the rose I used years ago. The rose does not need to write a book or deliver a sermon on the scent it sheds all around, nor on the beauty which everyone who has eyes can see. Well, spiritual life is infinitely superior to the beautiful and fragrant rose, and I make bold to say that the moment there is a spiritual expression in life, the surroundings will readily respond. There are passages in the Bible, the Gita, the Bhagavata, the Koran, which eloquently show this. “Wherever”, we read, “Krishna appeared, people acted like those possessed.” The same thing about Jesus. Spiritual life has greater potency than Marconi waves. When there is no medium between me and my Lord and I simply become a willing vessel for his influences to flow into it, then I overflow as the water of the Ganges at its source. There is no desire to speak when one lives the truth. Truth is most economical of words. There is thus no truer or other evangelism than life.

 

Q. But if a person were to ask the source of such a life, what then?

A. Then you will speak, but your language will be well thought out. You will yourself feel that. It defies expression. But then the questioner probes further, if he is a searcher. Then you will draw him to you. You will not need to go to him. Your fame will so spread that people from all parts of the world will flock to see you and listen to you. You will then speak to them.

 

Q. You see any indication that there is a drawing together of those who have intimations of a higher life?

A. Yes. But not through these organizations. They are a bar to the process. Why am I at Segaon? Because I believe that my message will have a better chance of penetrating the masses of India, and may be through them to the world. I am otherwise not a man capable a shutting myself up. But I am so downright natural that once I feel a call I go forward with it, whatever happens. Mr. Hofmeyer(2) of the South African Delegation appreciated any desire not to move out: he did not resent it as pride or indifference. Economy of words and action has therefore its value. Only it has to be natural.
 

Vol.64 p.98-101. (Harijan, 12-12-1936)

1: Maurice Frydman

2. He visited India in September 1936 


Kottayam
January 19, 1937
Extravagant Statements By Missionaries

Interview to Bishop Moore, Bishop Abraham and Others

 

Bishop Moore received Gandhiji cordially and welcomed the Temple-entry Proclamation (in Travancore) as an important event. He inquired if the savarnas and Brahmins also welcomed it, or if there was any opposition on their part.

 

Gandhiji said he had seen no signs of opposition. He had met several thousands of people, visited several temples, and had found savarnas and avarnas entering the temples in perfect friendliness.

 

Bishop Abraham asked if the Ezhavas were ready to treat the Depressed Classes of lower castes on terms of equality.

 

Gandhiji said he could not reply with confidence but he was striving to emphasize that point everywhere, and he hoped that the Proclamation would be carried out in that spirit.

 

Bishop Moore said that he had heard that Mr Gandhi was disturbed over reports of Christian missionary work in Travancore, and that he was ready to remove any misunderstanding that it was possible for him to remove.

 

Gandhiji said that he was indeed surprised at the report of conversions of thousands of people in the Telugu country and in Travancore made in Bishop Pickett’s speech in England and in a statement of the Church Missionary Society appealing for funds over the signature of Prebendary Cash. He could not understand how responsible Christians could make extravagant statements to the effect that thousands had experienced a spiritual awakening and accepted the Gospel. The Bishop of Dornakal had even stated that those thousands included not only the Depressed Classes but a large number of so-called high-caste Hindus. Gandhiji said he had challenged the truth of these statements in the columns of Harijan and had invited them to prove that he was wrong. He had also met leaders working in Andhra and asked them to make inquiries into the truth of these extravagant statements.

 

Bishop Moore, confessed that he had trot read either the appeal for funds or Bishop Pickett’s speech and could not, therefore, express any opinion thereon. He was quite sure, however, that no responsible missionary journal should ever publish statements that were not based on actual facts, and he wanted to assure Mr. Gandhi that no wrong information had ever been supplied from his diocese for which alone he could speak. During the last year they could record 530 persons as having been baptized into the Anglican faith.

 

Bishop Abraham said he had been to the Andhra country and had seen with his won eyes that there was a tremendous awakening there even among the middle-class savarnas he had addressed meetings which were attended by many of the high-caste people.

 

Gandhiji: But that means nothing. Hundreds of students attend meetings addressed by Dr. Stanley Jones, but they cannot be said to seek conversion to Christianity. 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 Christian in large numbers.

 

Mr. Kuruvilla here put in whether Mr. Gandhi had any objection to their stimulating and responding to the spiritual hunger of people.

 

Gandhiji said it was wholly irrelevant to the issue.

 

Bishop Abraham said they were responding to the spiritual hunger of the people. Mr. Gandhi could have no objection to that?

 

Gandhiji: said he could have no objection to responding to spiritual hunger, provided it was genuinely felt and expressed. But the matter was quite irrelevant to the discussion which was entirely about extravagant statements made by responsible people. He said to Bishop Moore that he would furnish him with a copy of the C. M. S. statement and he would like to know what Bishop Moore would have to say regarding it.
 

Vol.64 p.285-86. (Harijan, 13-3-1937)
Note: The interview took place at Bishop Moore’s house at Kottayam. The object was to clear up misunderstandings.
Segaon, Wardha
January 30, 1937
Amrit Kaur’s Views

 

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was with me during the Travancore pilgrimage. Though she could not enter the temples, she followed the pilgrimage in all other respects. She has felt moved by what she observed during the pilgrimage, and has placed in my hands the following letter which I dare not withhold from the reader:

 

I am of opinion that the missionary with the best intention in the world – for we must credit him with honesty of purpose - has wronged Indian Christian in more ways than one. Many converts here have been denationalized, e.g., even their names have been changed in many instances to those of Europeans; they have been told that there is no true light to be found in the religion of their forefathers. The ancient scriptures of their ancestors are a closed book to them. At the same time, while there has been no conscious effort to purge the Indian Church of the taint of untouchability that exists within its own doors, the untouchability that exists in Hinduism has been exploited to the extent of so-called Christianity of the Depressed Classes. I say’ so-called Christianity’ advisedly, because I know that not one of these poor people to whom I have spoken and I have spoken to many - has been able to tell me anything of the spiritual implications of his change of faith. That he is equally ignorant of the faith of his forefathers and has been sadly neglected by his own community does not seem to me to be ample or any reason for transplanting him to an alien soil where he can find no root.

 

Your utterances during your pilgrimage of penitence in Travancore have been a great joy. In particular do I rejoice in your special message to the Christian community at Kottayam. In admitting once again the equality of all religions you have given Christians much food for thought, and I hope and pray that this will be the beginning of an era of self-purification for them no less than for the members of the Hindu fold. Are we not all Hindus inasmuch as we are the children of Hind? Is there not room for Jesus in Hinduism? There must be. I cannot believe that any who seek to worship God in spirit and in truth are outside the pale of any of the great religions which draw their inspiration from Him who is the fountain-head of all Truth. I am sure I am not the only Indian born in the Christian faith who holds these views, but I feel that if the teaching and example of Jesus are to enrich the life of our country, Indian Christians must turn the search-light inwards and seek to serve in that spirit of humility and tolerance which is the essence of all true religions and without which there can be no unity and no peace and goodwill on earth.

 

Will you not help the Indian Christian to realize his mission? You can, because you have drawn inspiration from Jesus’ undying teachings as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. We assuredly stand in need of guidance.

 

Owing to her close contact with me there was hesitation on my part over the publication. But the knowledge that she has very imperfectly voiced what other Christian friends have told me has overcome my hesitation. But I do not feel competent to guide Indian Christians. I can, however, appeal to them as I did at Kottayam and as I have done before then through these columns. I am on safer ground in responding to the Rajkumari’s belief that there is in Hinduism room enough for Jesus, as there is for Mahomed, Zoroaster and Moses. For me the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree. Therefore they are equally true, though being received and interpreted through human instruments equally imperfect. It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world’s progress towards peace. ‘Warring creeds’ is a blasphemous expression. And it fitly describes the state of things in India, the mother, as I believe her to be, of religion or religions. If she is truly the mother, the motherhood is on trial. Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity and vice versa? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man? If the morals of a man are a matter of no concern, the form of worship in a particular manner in a church, a mosque or a temple is an empty formula, it may even be a hindrance to individual or social growth, and insistence on a particular form or repetition of a credo may be a potent cause of violent quarrels leading to bloodshed and ending in utter disbelief in religion, i.e., God Himself.
 

Vol.64 p.325-27 (Harijan. 30-1-1937)

Note: Rajkumari Amrit Kaur belonged to the royal family of Kapurthala (Punjab) and was daughter of Sir Harnam Singh who had embraced Christianity. Thus Amrit Kaur was a Christian though a devoted disciple of Gandhi like several other Christians.

 

March 6, 1937
As Others See Us

 

Here is a letter which has been lying on my file for some time:

 

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.

 

Any religion is judged by its fruits. Here is a contrast. Take the case of the Christian religion, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. The funds that are collected from the rich and poor are carefully accounted for and repaid in the form of medical and educational service. Religious worship is open to all alike. The number of schools, colleges, dispensaries, hospitals and orphanages admirably served by their religious institutions bear eloquent testimony to the quality of faith that is in them. It is not a theology and philosophy which they possess but the self-sacrificing service which they render in abundant measure towards all that is a contrast to the service rendered by the temples and mutts (A Hindu monastery). What are the uses of the wealth of temples and mutts? Are not these weapons of superstition and oppression? The heads of these mutts live princely lives with vast endowments. I am informed that there are regular lawyers to collect dues and serve the interests of these religious heads, swamis and gurus. This state of affairs is an oppression worse than popery in its worst days. Not merely the accumulated wealth and the annual collections, which in all these mutts must amount to several crores, are never properly accounted for, but this gigantic system of ghastly exploitation continues to be supported by the most intellectual leaders of the people as if Hindu society will break up by questioning it. This is practical Hinduism. Why should there be any surprise that the Depressed Classes alone should revolt against a system which denies them equal rights to worship the Deity but keeps them also in perpetual social excommunication? Why is it that no one ventures to question the priestly oppression, this draining away annually the wealth of the people without any service whatever?

 

It is exploitation by religious heads that has crushed the people, and the money-lender and the State combined have finished the process. It is not more work and harder work, and the variety of cottage industries that these half-dead half-living masses require, but more vocational schools and dispensaries, maternity and child-welfare centres and better food. If the State is not moved very easily by your Herculean endeavours, Hinduism requires a far more drastic purge as it has been established some thousands of years longer than this alien Government.

 

Bishops and priests of the Christian religion, in spite of the fierce criticism levelled against them in this land and every other country, render humanitarian service unequalled by any other class of human beings who follow any other faith or no faith, and are approchable to all people.

 

It is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves fully as we are, especially the evil side of us. This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will fake in good part whatever they might have to say. Anyway, I propose to examine the foregoing criticism as dispassionately as I can. The grave limitations of Hinduism as it is seen today in practice must be admitted. Many mutts and their administration are undoubtedly a disgrace to Hinduism. The money that is poured into some of them does not return to the worshippers in the form of service. The state of things must be ended or mended.

 

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. Economic and educational relief is required by most poor Indians in common with Harijans. But the latter suffer from special disabilities. It is not a question of what disabilities they resent. It is the duty of the so-called superior Hindus to break the chains that bind the Harijans even though they may hug them. The admission by the writer of the sublimity of Hinduism as expounded by Vivekanand and Radhakrishnan should have led to his discovery of its percolation down to the masses. 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 whom 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 from time immemorial.

 

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. I myself feel that it leaves much to be desired. It has its evil side. But from the philanthropic standpoint it has wholly justified itself. 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.

 

The writer belittles village work. It betrays gross ignorance. If the mutts and the revenue offices were extinguished and free schools were opened, the people would not be cured of their inertia. Mutts must be reformed; the revenue system must be overhauled, free primary schools must be established in every village. But starvation will not disappear because people pay no revenue and mutts are destroyed and schools spring up in every village. The greatest education in the villages consists in the villagers being taught or induced to work methodically and profitably all the year round whether it be on the land or at industries connected with the villages.

 

Lastly, my correspondent seems to resent acceptance by us of humanitarian services by missionaries. Will he have an agitation led against these missionary institutions? Why should they have non-Christian aid? They are established with the view of gleaning Indians from their ancestral faith even as expounded by Vivekanand and Radhakrishnan. Let them isolate the institutions from the double purpose. It will be time enough then to expect non-Christian aid. The critic must be aware of the fact that even as it is some of these institutions do get non-Christian aid. My point is that there should be no complaint if they do not receive such aid so long as they have an aim which is repugnant to the non-Christian sentiment.
 

Vol.64 p.425-27 Harijan, 6-3-1937

Segaon, Wardha
April 3, 1937

An Unfortunate Document

 

Fourteen highly educated Indian Christians occupying important social positions have issued a joint manifesto setting forth their views on the missionary work among Harijans. The document has been published in the Indian Press. I was disinclined to publish it in Harijan, as after having read it more than once I could not bring myself to say anything in its favour and I felt that a critical review of it might serve no useful purpose. But I understand that my criticism is expected and will be welcomed no matter how candid and strong it may be.

 

The reader will find the manifesto published in full in this issue. The heading(1) is also the authors’. They seem to have fallen between two stools 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 patronizing. They would not be aggressive for the sake of expedience. The purpose of the manifesto is not to condemn uniquivocally the method of converting the illiterate and the ignorant but to assert the right of preaching the Gospel to the millions of Harijans. The key to the manifesto is contained in paragraphs 7 and 8. This is what one reads in paragraph 7:

 

“Men and women individually and in family or village groups will continue to seek the 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 group they may come. It will cling to the further right to go about in these days of irreligion and materialism to awaken spiritual hunger in all.”

 

These few sentences are a striking instance of how the wish becomes father to the thought. It is an unconscious process but not on that account less open to criticism. Men and women do not seek the fellowship of the Christian Church. Poor Harijans are no better than the others. I wish they had real spiritual hunger. Such as it is, they satisfy by visits to the temples, however crude they may be. When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like any vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will - distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does, however, possess material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold. 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. Performance of a duty requires one quality - that of suffering and introspection. Exercise of a right requires a quality that gives the power to impose one’s will upon the resister through sanctions devised by the claimant or the law whose aid he invokes in the exercise of his right. I have the duty of paying my debt, but I have no right to thrust the owed coppers (say) into the pocket of an unwilling creditor. 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.

 

Thus the manifesto, undoubtedly designed to allay suspicion and soothe the ruffled feelings of Hindus, in my opinion, fails to accomplish its purpose. On the contrary, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I venture to suggest to the authors that they need to reexamine their position in the light of my remarks. Let them recognize the fundamental difference between rights and duties. In the spiritual sphere, there is no such thing as a right.

 

1. The heading of the manifesto was. “Our Duty to the Depressed and Backward Classes”.

Note: The signatories were: K.K. Chandy, S. Gnanaprakasam, S. Gurubatham, S. Jesudasen, M. P. Job, G. Joseph, K.I. Matthai, A. A. Paul, S.E. Ranganadham, A.N. Sudarsanam, O. F.E. Zacharia, D.M. Devasahayam, G.V. Martyn.
 

Vol.65 P. 47-48 (Harijan, 3-4-1937)

Segaon, Wardha
April 14, 1937

Discussion with a Missionary

 

Missionary: I have been following your comments on the statement regarding mass movement made by the Indian Christians. I wonder if those who made the statement were thinking of anything in the nature of a legal right. It is, I think, a moral right they claim here rather than a legal one.

 

Gandhiji: 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 on 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.

 

The main purpose of the manifesto was to check the agitation that is going on in certain quarters. I admit that if it was meant to be a protest, it was not properly drafted.

 

That is why I have called it “an unfortunate document.” And is there anything like a moral right? Give me an illustration.

 

M. Have I not a moral right to speak?

 

G. It is not a moral right, but a legal right. There is no right but is legal. Divorced from legality moral right is a misnomer. And therefore you either enforce a right or fight for it. Whereas nobody asserts one’s duty. He humbly performs it. I shall take an illustration. You are here. You feel like preaching to me the Gospel. I deny the right and ask you to go away. If you regard praying for me a duty, you will quietly go away and pray for me. But if you claim the right to preach to me, you will call the police and appeal to them for preventing my obstructing you. That leads to a clash. But your duty no one dare question. You perform it here or elsewhere, and if your prayers to God to change my heart are genuine, God will change my heart. What Christianity, according to my interpretation of it, expects you to do is to pray to God to change my heart. Duty is a debt. Right belongs to a creditor, and it would be a funny thing indeed if a devout Christian claimed to be a creditor.

 

M. You have objected to Christian propaganda on the ground that Harijans are illiterate and ignorant. What would you say of propaganda amongst non-Harijans?

 

G. I have the same objection, because the vast mass of people of India would not understand the pros and cons of Christianity better than a cow. I repeat this simile in spite of the fact that it has been objected to. When I say 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-Harijans masses can understand no better than Harijans. I would take you to Segaon and show you that there is no distinction, so far as capacity to understand such things is concerned, between Harijans and non-Harijans. Try to preach the principles of Christianity to my wife. She can understand them no better than my cow. I can, because of the training that I have had.

 

M. But we do not preach any 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.

 

G. Oh yes, you do say that. But when you say I must accept Jesus in preference to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, 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. Even the blind who do not see the rose perceive its fragrance. That is the secret of the Gospel of the rose. But the Gospel that Jesus preached is more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel of the rose. If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ need any agent.

 

M. But then your objection is to the commercial aspect of the Christian propaganda. Every true Christian will agree that no baits should be offered.

 

G. But what else is Christianity as it is preached nowadays? Not unless you isolate the proselytizing aspect from your educational and medical institutions are they any worth. Why should students attending Mission schools and colleges be compelled or even expected to attend Bible classes? If they must understand the message of Jesus, why not also of Buddha, Zoroaster and Mahomed? Why should the bait of education be offered for giving education (sic)?

 

M. That was the old way, not the modern way.

 

G. I can cite to you any number of modern examples. Is not the Bishop of Dornakal a modern? And what else is his open letter to the Depressed Classes of India? It is full of baits.

 

M. He represents a type of Christianity which I do not approve. But where there is no compulsion to attend the Bible classes, and only education is given, what objection is there to educational institution run by Missions?

 

G. There is a subtle kind of propaganda when you expect students to attend Bible classes.

 

M. As regards hospitals, I think philanthropy without the dynamic(s) of some religious teaching will not tell.

 

G. Then you commercialize your gift, 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?

 

M. But leave alone these. I think I can cite instances of exceptionally fine people who attract people to them by the example of their lives.

 

G. I too can cite such instances. Andrews is one such. But they are exceptions.

 

M. But then you must judge Christianity by its best representatives, and not the worst.

 

G. 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, even as you may not 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. All I want them to do is to live Christian lives, not to annotate them. I have come to this view after laborious and prayerful search, and I am glad to say that there is a growing body of Christians who accept my view.

 

M. Then, I should be obliged to hear from you your attitude to the personality of Jesus.

 

G. I have often made it clear. I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all begotten sons of God, but for each of us there may be different begotten son of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God.

 

M. But don’t you believe in the perfection of human nature, and don’t you believe that Jesus had attained perfection?

 

G. I believe in the perfectability 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. And then in this matter I have a theory of my own. Being necessarily limited by the bonds of flesh, we can attain perfection only after dissolution of the body. Therefore God alone is absolutely perfect. When he descends to earth, He of His own accord limits Himself. Jesus died on the cross because he was limited by the flesh. I do not need either the prophecies or the 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 multitude being 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. I raised a relative’s child from supposed death to life, but that was because the child was not dead, and but for my presence there she might have been cremated. But I saw that life was not extinct. I gave her an enema and she was restored to life. There was no miracle about it. I do not deny that Jesus had certain psychic powers and he was undoubtedly filled with the love of humanity. But he brought to life not people who were dead but who were believed to be dead. The laws of Nature are changeless, unchangeable, and there are no miracles in the sense of infringement or interruption of Nature’s laws. But we limited beings fancy all kinds of things and impute our limitations to God. We may copy God, but no He us. We may not divide time for Him. Time for Him is eternity. For us there is past, present and future. And what is human life of a hundred years but less than a mere speck in the eternity of Time?

Vol.65 p.79-82 (Harijan, 17-4-1937)

Hudli
April 17, 1937

Our Partial Sight

 

The reader will remember Rajkumari Amrit Kaur’s letter(1) to me published in these columns some weeks ago. She received on it, some time ago, a letter from an English friend. She sent it to me to read. It contained so much that was good that I asked for permission to publish the relevant portion. This she readily gave and copied it for me. Here are the passages:

 

I have been meaning to write to you ever since I read in Harijan your fine letter to Mr. Gandhi. I want to tell you how very much I feel with you about what you said with regard to missionary work and to thank you for saying it in your own way to a man like Mahatmaji. When I was in India, first as a very undeveloped girl thrust into a C.M.S. (Christian Missionary School) atmosphere, very many years ago, I felt that the approach of the missionaries to the people of India was all wrong and I had lonely times of being up against the whole system and yet not exactly being able to formulate my idea or talk to others with any chance of being understood. I was also set wondering if we as British people had any right to be ruling India, and I remember expressing this in those early days and being firmly dealt with. But ever since those days as my thought life has developed I have been getting to feel that fundamentally the whole position of the British in India was wrong and that the missionaries as a whole were sharing in the superiority complex of those who ruled. I am regarded, I know, as a real black sheep in missionary circles. So I can thoroughly sympathize with criticism that I am sure you have met with from those quarters. But what you said needed saying by someone who was a Christian and who yet saw a different way of sharing her faith with others. And it makes all the differences when someone like you who is known and has a position in the country says these things.

 

We sing in our Churches in England that grand hymn, whose words I expect you know, written by that inspired blind poet George Matheson:

Gather us in; we worship only Thee
In varied names we stretch a common hand;
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit land;

Gather us in.
Each sees one colour in Thy rainbow light,
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven,
Thou art the fulness of our partial sight,
We are not perfect till we find the seven;

Gather us in.

 

Anyway it is a step beyond ‘From Green Land’s Icy Mountains’! But I sometimes wonder if the people here who sing this realize its implications.

 

Vol.65 p.96-97 (Harijan, 17-4-1937)

May 1, 1937
Harijans on Begar*

The newspapers have given publicity to the threat of certain Harijans in certain villages to transfer their allegiance to the Christian Missions seeking to wean them from Hinduism under promise of better treatment, and especially freedom from began(1) to which they are subjected by savarna Hindus. It seems that representatives of the Hindu Mission and of the Harijan Sevak Sangh visited the aggrieved Harijans and got the savarna Hindus to promise better treatment. The storm has abated for the time being. I do not know what would have been the gain to the Missions concerned if the Harijans had gone over to their fold and how far the Harijans could have been claimed as bona fide converts. This I know that such proselytizing efforts demoralize society, create suspicions and bitterness and retard the all-round progress of society. If, instead of wanting the so-called conversion as the price of better treatment, Christian Missions co-operated with Harijan sevaks in their effort to ease the burdens of Harijans, their help would be welcomed and the evolution of society would be hastened.

 

But I write this more to awaken savarna conscience than to criticize the Mission methods brought to light. The system of forced labour exacted by petty land-owners from Harijans and other classes called backward is almost universal in India. The petty landlords are mostly Hindus. Harijans and others can legally resist forced labour. They are slowly but surely being awakened to a sense of their rights. They are numerous enough to enforce them. But all grace will be gone when savarna Hindus impotently resign themselves to their merited fate. Better surely by far if they will recognize their duty of regarding Harijans as blood-brothers, entitled to the respect that belongs to man and to receive due payment for services voluntarily performed.

 

It is the privilege of Harijan sevaks, no matter to what organization they belong, to befriend Harijans, to study their condition in detail, to approach savarna Hindus and show them as gently as possible what their duty is towards those whom they have treated as outcastes of society and deprived even of legal rights.

 

From the papers before me I further find that in Ode and some other villages in Gujarat the savarna Hindus take from Harijans who dispose of their dead cattle half the hide. This is unlike the usual practice of allowing the Harijans to own the dead cattle they remove. In some cases Harijans not only retain the dead cattle they remove, but receive a payment for the labour of removing carcasses. The matter demands more investigation and fair adjustment. If Harijans were better treated and if savarna Hindus had no horror of dead cattle and had no superstitious laws of pollution, they would learn the art of flaying the dead cattle and turning every part of the carcasses into wealth, both to the benefit of themselves and the Harijans whom they may invite to help them in the process of disposing of their dead cattle.

 

Vol.65 p.159-60. (Harijan, 1-5-1937)
* Begar: Forced labour without any wages.
 
June 5, 1937
Shameful if True: The Methodology of Conversion

 

Thakkar Bapa sends me the following statement which he received during his recent tour in the Nizam’s Dominions’.

 

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. Then 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.

 

This happened on two occasions. On the third occasion, the Secretary of the District Committee and friends visited them and told them that they could preach their religion as they wanted to, but they should not wound the feelings of the people by repeating unpleasant things which were not true. The local police then stopped the proceedings fearing there might be breach of peace in the place.

 

If it is true, it stands self-condemned. I would like the Mission concerned to investigate the complaint and throw light on it.

Vol.65 p.277-78 (Harijan, 5-6-1937)

Wardha
June 19,1937

How They Convert and Need For Introspection

 

Thakkar Bapa had his attention drawn to the so-called conversion to Christianity in Shahabad District. He thereupon called for a report on the statements made to him. The following is the report made by the local Harijan Sevak Sangh.

 

In the district of Shahabad, about 40 years ago, a Methodist Episcopal Christian Mission was established at Arrah (U.P.). Through its efforts a large number of Harijans, numbering about three thousand, were converted to Christianity upto the year 1931. Last year a Roman Catholic Mission appeared on the scene. Since then, the activities of both the Missions have increased. Enquiry has revealed that they have been successful in getting some new Christian converts from the Rabidas (Chamar) community amongst whom their activities are mainly confined. Roughly their method of work may be described as follows:

 

After having visited the village and 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.

 

As their work is scattered throughout the thana in the remotest villages, the present enquiry could not be exhaustive. The one remarkable feature of these recent conversions is that they take place en masse. Whenever a village Harijan leader accepts the new faith almost all belonging to his clan follow him. In all cases of conversions new or old, not a single instance can be found in which the acceptance of the new faith was due to any religious conviction. The reasons, therefore, of conversions may be roughly described as economic or socioeconomic. Generally, the Harijans have to submit to a number of unjust exactions and to suffer from humilitating treatment which are now resented by them. Those of the new and the old who are still continuing as nominal Christians are willing to return to Hinduism if their grievances are removed. Their grievances as disclosed during the enquiry are briefly indicated below:

 

1. They are forced to labour for their maliks(l) and other caste Hindus of their villages at about half or even less wages than they would get for the same kind of labour in other villages.

 

2. They are forced to labour for their maliks and other caste-Hindu villagers on occasions of marriages and deaths in their families on almost no wages.

 

3. They are charged six annas per year family as mutharfa (house rent).

 

4. They have to pay Re. 1, Rs. 2 and Rs. 3 or Rs. 4 for the hide of every dead cow, bullock or buffalo respectively to their owners if they fail to deliver a corresponding number of pairs of shoes to them.

 

5. Their wives are paid only four annas for a male or two annas for a female child born in the house of the caste-Hindu villagers where they have to work as midwives during confinement, and even these payments are not regularly made.

 

6. They are forced to work for their masks and caste-Hindu villagers even at the sacrifice of their own agricultural needs or when they are ill or engaged in their social or religious functions.

 

7. The levy of the chowdikari(2) tax on them is generally excessive.

 

8. They are not allowed to draw water from wells used by caste Hindus.

 

9. They are not allowed to enter temples nor are Brahmin priests available to recite religious kathas at their houses.

 

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 individuals 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 ancestral faith even when they do. The moral is obvious. Let us make every discovery, such as the one made in Shahabad, an occasion for greater self-purification, greater dedication to the Harijan cause, greater identification with the Harijans. It should result in the local Sangh collecting more workers than it has for doing on the one hand service among the Harijans and on the other 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.

 

Vol.65 p.316-18
Note:   1. Literal meaning ‘owner’.

2. Security.
 

December 4, 1938
Discussion with John R. Mott:

 

Dr. Mott wondered if the world, including the world of missionaries, had advanced since they had last met.(1) He was going to preside over the deliberations of the International Missionary Council meeting in Madras during the month, and he wanted to share with Gandhiji the plans of the meeting, and wanted Gandhiji’s “intuition and judgment on things to be discussed at the Convention.”

 

He said: “This is a unique Convention 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? Is there not a clearer recognition of these evils?

 

Gandhiji: 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 to give solitary instances of men here and there, but they do not count. Right conviction to be of use has to be translated into action.

 

John Mott: Take the first question, viz., that of the Communal Award. Has there been no progress?

 

G. No progress at all.

 

J.M. I have been studying the manuscript of the life of K.T Paul, to which I have been asked to write a foreword. Don’t you think there has been an advance since his time? The attitude of the Roman Catholics is hostile, but what about Protestant Christians?

 

G. If Protestant Christians are all one on this question, they can have the Award changed, so far as they are concerned. But there is no solid action in the matter.

 

J.M. I did not know that they could have an exception made in their behalf.

 

G. They can.

 

J.M. Take the next question. Is not taking advantage of people’s disabilities being avoided now? I must say I was terribly pained to read of the McGavran incident and greatly relieved to know that the misunderstanding has been cleared up.

 

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 to say 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.

 

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. I understand. Without action no decision is anything worth. This lesson was burnt on my mind even as a student when Foster’s great essay on the Decision of Character helped me more than anything I had read.

 

G. I assure you you will find confirmation of what I say. I would say that there is not even concrete recognition of the danger of taking an undue advantage of people’s disabilities. They will never give up what they call the right of mass conversions.

vJ.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 conversions called by another name.

 

J.M. That is strange. How can groups or families be converted en masse? Conversion in my family for instance came first with my father, then my oldest sister, then youngest sister, then I. It is an individual matter, a matter entirely between one and one’s God.

 

G. So it is. On this matter of untouchability, I may tell you that for years I could not carry conviction to my own wife. She followed me willy-nilly. The conviction came to her after long experience and practice.

 

J.M. In dealing with the holiest of things we should use the purest methods. But you will pardon me if I reiterate that I am hopeful of the tide having turned. Discerning Christian leaders to my knowledge are not only thinking of these things keenly but sincerely addressing themselves to fostering right practice. On the third question of the wise use of money I see signs of encouragement.

 

G. But it is a virtue of necessity. The Indian Christians are thinking aloud and of doing things themselves. They are talking of their own responsibilities and saying, “Thank God, American money can’t come.”

 

Then came a rather long digression on the wise and unwise use of money. The topic had engaged their attention on the occasion of the last visit too and Gandhiji had put the matter most forcefully when he said:

 

G: “I think 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 that He will one day have His vengeance.”

 

J.M. How may the missionaries and Christians in general help in constructive activities like the village industries movement, the new educational movement and so on?

 

G. They should study the movements and work under or in co-operation with these organizations. 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. Some have frankly said that they do not believe in the village movement or the education movement as they are conducted by the associations you have named. They evidently believe in industrialization and the western type of education. And the missionaries as a body perhaps fight shy of movements not conducted wholly or predominantly by Christians.

 

If I get in my activities the hearty and active co-operation of the 5000 Protestant missionaries in India, and if they really believed in the living power of nonviolence as the only force that counts, they can help not only here but perhaps in affecting the West.

 

Vol.68 p.165-70.

Note: Dr Mott visited in 1936; also a flying visit to Ahmedabad in 1928.

 

Segaon
24 December, 1939
What is Neutrality?

An American missionary writes:

 

Are you and the Congress generally neutral in regard to which religion a person belongs to? I believe the Congress claim to be neutral, but my contention is that they are not.

 

Your friend, the late Prime Minister of Madras, sent a wire of congratulation 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 the Congress leaders of Thana District. So this plainly shows that the Congress leaders favour Hinduism.

 

Under such a Government what chance would the small minority of Christians stand when ‘puma swaraj’* is given, to be monopolized by the Hindu majority? Are they to be placed at the mercy of anti-Christian leaders? Will it be possible for the Congress Government to be impartial and neutral in religious matters as the British Government has been? If not, we certainly would not hail it as a blessing.

 

Gandhi: 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 over another. But I should see nothing wrong in Hindus congratulating those who having left them may return to their fold. I think that the Christians of free America would rejoice at the return to their ancestral Christianity of Americans of the slums - if there are any in America - temporarily calling themselves Hindus under the influence of a plausible Hindu missionary. 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 forsaken. The missionary friend errs in regarding the Congress as a Hindu organization. It has on its roll perhaps three million men and women. Its register is open to all. As a matter of fact it has on it men and women belonging to all religions. There is no reason why Christians or Muslims should not capture the Congress. It is true, however, that a national democratic Government will represent the majority of Hindu voters in the aggregate. But owing to unequal distribution of population in the various provinces, Bengal, Punjab, Frontier and Sind have a preponderance of Muslims, as the other provinces of Hindus.

 

I hold that it is wrong to look at the question from the narrow sectarian standpoint. The only true standpoint is national. Therefore the American missionary seems to me to labour under a threefold mistake when he mistakes a natural joy for want of neutrality, regards the Congress as a Hindu organization, and views India as divided religiously into parts hostile to and suspicious of one another But economic and political aspirations of all the communities are surely the same except that the privileged ones will find their privileges melting in the sunshine of freedom. It seems to me to be wrong to import religious differences into a political discussion. Common law should prevent any injustice.

 

Vol.71 p.52-53 (Harijan, 30-12-1939)
* Complete independence

 

January 6, 1940
Discussion with Christian Missionaries

 

(A Professor:) Will you under swaraj allow Christians to go on with their proselytizing activity without any hindrance?

 

(Gandhiji:) No legal hindrance can be put in the way of any Christian or of anybody preaching for the acceptance of his doctrine.

 

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, I can say is that you should enjoy all the freedom you are entitled to under the law today.

 

M: 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?

 

G. As I wrote in Harijan, you do not seem to realize that Christians are today enjoying privileges because they are Christians. The moment a person here turns Christian, he becomes a Sahib log. He almost changes his nationality. He gets a job and position which he could not have otherwise got. He adopts foreign dress and ways of living. He cuts himself off from his own 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.

 

The visitor admitted the truth of Gandhi’s remarks, but assured him that whatever might have been the case in the past Christians as a class no longer wished to retain any exceptional privileges.

 

Another missionary friend recalling Gandhiji’s well-known objection to the prevailing proselytizing practices chimed in: “Why may not I share with others my experience of Jesus Christ which has given me such an ineffable peace?”

 

G. Because you cannot possibly say that what is best for you is best for all. Quinine may be the only means of saving live in your case but a dangerous poison in the case of another. And again, is it not superarrogation 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.

 

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. I have not hesitated, therefore, to recommend to my Christian friends a prayerful and sympathetic study of the other scriptures of the world. I can give my own humble testimony that, whilst such study has enabled me to give the same respect to them that I give to my own, it has enriched my own faith and broadened my vision.

 

Gandhiji’s interlocutor was silent. “What would be your message to a Christian like me and my fellows?” the professor finally asked.

 

G. Become worthy of the message that is imbedded in the Sermon on the Mount and join the spinning brigade.

 

Vol.71 p.79-80 (Harijan. 13-1-1940)

Segaon
February 24, 1940

Clear Injustice

 

The Secretary of the Seng Khasi Free Morning School, Mawkhar, Shillong, has sent a circular letter to those who are concerned in matters educational and has favoured me also with a copy. I extract the following from it:

 

The British Government gave education grants to the Christian missionaries for spreading education among the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills District. The missionaries printed the textbooks for schools according to their liking and choice. They translated the Bible into Khasi language and made it a textbook for schools. Some pure Khasi gentlemen started the Seng Khasi Free Morning School as early as 1921, with a view to preserving Khasi national culture. The Deputy Inspector of Schools, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, desired us to follow the curriculum prescribed by his department. I agreed to accept the curriculum provided that those books written or compiled by the missionaries are not included in the curriculum of the Seng Khasi School The Deputy Inspector of Schools did not recommend this school for a grant from the Government on the plea that the curriculum was not followed in the school. It is a matter of great regret that the Deputy Inspector of Schools compels this schools to teach missionary books and frustrate the very object with which it was established.

 

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 should be remembered that the school has been in receipt of a grant from Government. It is not clear why the question of the missionary books has now cropped up. It is to be hoped that the school will not be deprived of the grant because of the Secretary’s very reasonable objection.

 

Vol. 71 p. 218-19.

Seagram
March 12, 1940

Discussion with a Missionary

 

(Q.) Could you tell me the things one should avoid in order to present the gospel of Christ?

(A). Cease to think that you want to convert the whole world to your interpretation of Christianity. At the end of reading the Bible, let me tell you, it did not leave on my mind the impression that Jesus ever meant Christians to do what the bulk of those who take his name do. The moment you adopt the attitude I suggest, the field of service becomes limitless. You limit your own capacity by thinking and saying that you must proselytize.

 

M. I see what you mean. We have been cumbered by creeds and manmade things. We feel that we should be in a place where all barriers have broken down.

 

{Gandhiji instanced a few Christians who, he said, saw the central fact that, if they wanted to live this Christian life, they should literally follow the words: “Not he that sayeth ‘Lord, Lord’, but he that doeth His will.”}

 

M. You are living a guided life. Could you kindly tell me your experience of guidance?

 

G. I do not regard God as a person. Truth for me is God, and God’s Law and God are not different things or facts, in the sense that an earthly kind and his law are different, because God is an idea, law Himself. Therefore, it is impossible to conceive God as breaking the Law. He therefore does not rule our actions and withdraw Himself. When we say He rules our actions, we are simply using human language and we try to limit Him. Otherwise He and His law abide everywhere and govern everything. Therefore, I do not think that He answers in every detail every request of ours, but there is no doubt that He rules our action, and I literally believe that not a blade of grass grows or moves without His will. The free will we enjoy is less than that of a passenger on a crowded deck.

 

M. Do you feel a sense of freedom in your communion with God?

 

G. I do. I do not feel cramped as I would on a boat full of passengers. Although I know that my freedom is less than that of a passenger, I appreciate that freedom as I have imbibed through and through the central teaching of the Gita that man is the maker of his own destiny in the sense that he has freedom of choice as to the manner in which he uses that freedom. But he is no controller of results. The moment he thinks he is, he comes to grief.

 

Vol. 71 p. 320-21 (Harijan, 23 -3 -1940)

Sevagram
June 3, 1940

Missionary Education in Assam

 

Shri Thakkar Bapa writes:

 

I have seen your notes in Harijan of 9th March and 18th May regarding the grievance of the Secretary, Seng Khasi School, Shillong. The Secretary has been running the school with great zeal and without any grant from the Government. That the Christian Missions have been working in Assam with the sole view to convert the hill tribes to Christianity with the help of the Government grants is very apparent from the Quinquennial Education Report of the Assam Government for the Year 1932-37 as submitted by Mr. G.A. Small, Director of Public Instruction. In his review of the report he wrote in April 1938, (p.63): “The general policy at present is for Government to take over the responsibility for education from the Missions as early as possible. While acknowledgment must be made of the debt owed to the Missions for their work as pioneers in the field of education, it must also be recognized that the Missions have interested themselves in education solely with the object of Christianizing the children... The Governments of the past have definitely neglected the hill areas and it is only recently that they have recognized at all their responsibility in the matter. The question of the policy to be adopted in the Lushai Hills is still under consideration. In the Mikir Hills Government schools are being opened and arrangements are being made for the production of Mikir text-books in Assamese character.”

 

This but confirms what I have already published in these columns. One only hopes that things will be better managed now.

Vol. 72 p. 123 (Harijan, 15-6-1940)
 

July 20, 1940

Discussion with Emily Kinnaird

 

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(1) 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 delivery our message with greater ease and far better effect. He is our salvation, and without receiving Him in our hearts we cannot be saved.

 

G. So those who accept the Christ are all saved. They need do nothing more?

 

E.K. We are sinners all, and we have but to accept Him to be saved.

 

G. And then we may continue to be sinners? Is that what you mean? You do not, I hope, belong to the Plymouth Brothers(2) do you?

 

E.K. No, I am a Presbyterian.

 

G. But you talk like some of the Plymouth Brothers I met long ago in South Africa.

 

E.K. Yes, I am afraid you were so unfortunate in the Christian contacts you formed in South 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 then gave a graphic account of his contact with a number of Christians in those early days, ending up with the intimate contact with F.W. Meyer. He asked Lady Emily:

 

Do you know F.W. Meyer?

 

E. K Oh yes.

 

G. Well, then, let me tell you that it was F.W. Meyer who after a long talk with me asked the other Christian friends to let me alone. He said to them that I was as good as converted, and that I did not need any formal process of conversion. But of course that did not satisfy them. And old A.W. Baker, who must be much 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.

 

E. K. But you do think of those Christians, Mr. Gandhi, even at this distance of time.

 

And she wondered why we were so obtuse as not to see what was so obvious to her - the outstanding superiority of the message of Christianity to any other message. The Bible had been translated into several hundred languages, and the heathen in the remotest parts of the world, who knows not a syllable of English, was agreeably surprised to find God’s message delivered to him in his own dialect.

 

G. That proves nothing.

 

E.K. And then, whereas fifty years ago there were so many hundred thousand Christians in India, there are today ten times as many.

 

G. Again that proves nothing. But why all this quarrel about labels? Cannot a few hundred thousand Indians or Africans live the message of Christ without being called Christians?

Vol. 72 p. 297-99 (Harijan, 4-8-1940)
Notes: 

1. Emily Kinnaird and Gandhiji. She was 86 and Gandhiji addressed her as mother.

2. Non-conformist sect founded by J.N. Darby. They recognize no orders of ministers and receive into communion all who acknowledge Christ.
 

October 1941
What Jesus Means to me

 

Although I have devoted a large part of my life to the study of religion and to discussion with religious leaders of all faiths, I know very well that I cannot but seem presumptuous in writing about Jesus Christ and trying to explain what He means to me. I do so only because my Christian friends have told me on more than a few occasions that for the very reason that I am not a Christian and that (I shall quote their words exactly) “I do not accept Christ in the bottom of my heart as the only Son of God”, it is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of His teachings, or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that man has ever known.

 

Although this may or may not be true in my case, I have reasons to believe that it is an erroneous point of view. I believe that such an estimate is incompatible with the message that Jesus Christ gave to the world. For He was, certainly, the highest example of one who wished to give everything asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am sure that if He were living here now among men, He would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard His name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which He was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one’s neighbour as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one’s fellow-men.

 

What, then, does Jesus mean to me? To me He was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had. To His believers He was God’s only begotten Son. Could the fact that I do or do not accept this belief make Jesus have any more or less influence in my life? Is all the grandeur of His teaching and of His doctrine to be forbidden to me? I cannot believe so.

M.K. Gandhi

Modern Review, October 1941; (Vol. 75 p. 69-70).

June 7, 1947

Discussion With A Philippino And Missionaries

 

Every individual and every nation should search their hearts far more seriously than they do today. Instead of thinking of strife and competition and wealth, we should cultivate family-feeling, strive for self-purification and spread love and a sense of brotherhood. That alone can be called an ideal state in which men can lead a really ‘human’ life and get opportunities to cultivate perfection in every sphere. Today even in our own country anarchy is reigning. The fault is not wholly ours. We have been suppressed as slaves for a hundred and fifty years. 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 such 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. I can cite you numerous instances like these to show how far we have been bled. And when the blood has disappeared, only the skeleton remains. That is our plight today, but I am full of hope that we shall regain our health in a few years and a revitalized India will make missionary bodies also reorientate their outlook and activities.

Vol.88 p.95-96.

Rawalpindi
July 31, 1947

Interview to the President, Punjab Student Christian League

 

Replying to a question by the President of the Punjab Student Christian League, Gandhiji said:

 

Foreign missionaries will not be asked to quit India. Indian Christians will be free to occupy high official positions in the Indian Dominion.

 

Asked if non-Christians in the Indian Dominion would have freedom to embrace Christianity, Mahatma Gandhi said he would be guided in this connection by the rules and laws framed.

 

Christ came into this world to preach and spread the gospel of love and peace, but what his followers have brought about is tyranny and misery. Christians who were taught the maxim ‘Love thy neighbour as thy self,’(1) are divided among themselves.Hindustan Times, 3-8-1947, Vol. 88 p.471-72