From: Sudhir Architect < >
Pope gets Gandhi wrong
Benedict’s interpretation of Gandhi’s message of non-violence is false.
Gandhi’s non-violence doesn’t stand for a cowardly acceptance of injustice and unprovoked violence. Gandhi viewed proselytisation as cultural invasion and a hindrance to peace
On October 26 this year, Pope Benedict invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s name in an appeal to end “violence against Christians” in Orissa. It would have been ridiculous if only it had not been so ironical. This reminds us of a proverb about pinching the baby and pacifying it.
Reiterating a few facts would be in order. The Pope has chosen wisely when he chose to invoke Gandhi’s name. While Gandhi’s relevance and legacy in contemporary India is debatable, he is still much revered by millions of people. Equally, he is deeply respected in Christian countries because he comes close to the Christ-like figure that those countries are intimately familiar with. Gandhi’s life, and writings and speeches show him to be a moralist in the Christian mould: An overt emphasis on suffering, heartfelt compassion for the poor, and a non-violent fighter against oppression. Yet, he was a self-proclaimed, “proud staunch Sanatani Hindu.” Whatever his understanding of core Hindu philosophical tenets, Gandhi’s attachment to Hinduism was so steadfast that it is touching at different levels. He unequivocally upheld his opposition to all attempts at destabilising Sanatana Dharma. In the August 1925 issue of Young India, he wrote:
“I am unable to identify 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 solace in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount… I must confess to you that when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.
A more assertive proclamation of Gandhi’s firm Hindu moorings is not required. Gandhi rightly recognised proselytisation as a problem and condemned it as fiercely as he upheld Hinduism. He discerned that the psychology that drives conversion is innately flawed and dangerous. We only need to look at a few samples from Gandhi’s copious writings to learn his stance vis a vis conversions:
“Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man?’ (Harijan, January 30, 1937)
“I hold that proselytisation under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least.” (Young India: April 23, 1931)
“If I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytising. It is the cause of much avoidable conflict between classes and unnecessary heart-burning among missionaries…”
And here the Pope invokes Gandhi’s name in utter ignorance of the Mahatma’s stand on Christian proselytisation. Pope Benedict’s message is addressed to all Hindus on the occasion of Diwali (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20081028_diwali_en.html). We are immediately struck with wonder at the sheer presumptuousness of this singular Diwali greeting: The subtle subtext seems to reprimand the Hindus for attacking Christians while completely omitting any mention of the root cause for the communal/social unrest! More fundamentally, the Pope has no authority to interfere in what is exclusively an Indian social problem. In this context, is he prepared to admit that the remote control for missionary activities in India lies in his hands?
The Pope’s message confirms the fact that selective quoting is not merely restricted to media and mischievous rhetoricians. While it self-righteously assumes these attributes to itself, it doesn’t come clean on its own record. Pope Benedict’s predecessor’s triumphant announcement during his 1999 India visit is a good instance. Till date, not one soul in the entire Christendom has condemned his intent to “harvest souls”. One wonders what gives these religious leaders the right to arrogate to themselves such licence. Are non-Christians — in the Indian context, this primarily means Hindus — a harvest waiting to be reaped? It is precisely against this form of mischief that Gandhi raised his voice.
The Pope’s interpretation of Gandhi’s message of non-violence is false. Non-violence in the Gandhian doctrine does not stand for a cowardly acceptance of injustice and unprovoked violence. In that light, Gandhi’s call to oppose proselytisation is — like his freedom struggle mantra — but opposition to any form of oppression. He viewed proselytisation as not just a form of cultural invasion but a hindrance to world peace. At the microcosmic level, he observed how a Hindu family is disrupted if just one member converts to Christianity.
“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. (Harijan, November 5, 1935)
“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 toward peace.” (Harijan, January 30, 1937)
If we observe the social conditions of mostly-poor nations that have been weaned away from their native traditions, Gandhi’s remark becomes clearer. Angola is a Christian-majority country now, but was torn by civil strife for over 27 years.
Religious tensions exist till date between the native Bantu tribal traditions and the ‘Christian network’ of villages. Numerous African countries are torn by strife, thanks to missionary activity. Philippines, the Christian-majority state has mostly lost its native traditions thanks to centuries-long Spanish colonisation followed by aggressive evangelism. Papua New Guinea’s former Chief Justice, an outspoken Pentecostal, urged legislative and other bridles on the activities of Muslims in the country. Although it is home to some very diverse cultures and faiths, 96 per cent of its population is Christian. Its native, animist tradition is all but lost.
The clashes between Christians and followers of native traditions in South Korea still make headlines. Evangelist leaders openly call for political activity against North Korea by accelerating the spread of Christianity. This is not dissimilar to evangelists-backed secessionist movement in India’s North-East States.
This list is just a sample but is sufficient evidence to show the truth in Gandhi’s astute observation more than 70 years ago that evangelical activity poses a threat to peace.
If the present Pope wanted to spread the Mahatma’s words, he should have presented the whole story instead of just a twisted interpretation. Besides, we do not need to take lessons about Gandhi from the Pope. Not at least when the lesson is fraught with frivolity.