Gandhi and Christianity

Christianity has become the world’s largest religion. It is also the third largest religion in India. On the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, let us look what Gandhiji thought about Christianity and religious conversions.

Gnadhi and CHristianity.j
Gandhiji was born in a Hindu family, that is, in an atmosphere of religious tolerance. His father and mother visited Shiva and Rama temples and would send Gandhiji there too. Jain monks would often visit his father and had discussions with him. Gandhiji’s father also had Parsi and Muslim friends. Gandhiji’s first encounter with Christianity happened when he was in high school in Rajkot. He writes, “Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experience”. His dislike of Christianity deepened when he heard about the doings of a well-known Hindu convert. It was the talk of the town, he continues, that, “when he was baptised, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes and that thenceforward he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef and drink liquor and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard the news that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity”. [1]
He had developed an eager interest in Christianity by the time he read the Bible for the first time. Towards the end of his second year in England, he read The Song Celestial (English translation of the Bhagvad Gita) and The Light of Asia (English translation of Life of Buddha) by Sir Edwin Arnold. He also read Madame Blavatsky’s The Key to Theosophy which disabused him of the notion fostered by missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition. Gandhiji could not read through the Old Testament of the Bible copy sold to him by his Christian friend. He read the book of Genesis and disliked reading the book of Numbers. The New Testament had a different impression of him, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to his heart. [2]
During his stay in South Africa, Gandhiji had an opportunity to experience the Christian theology. Mr. A.W. Baker, the attorney of Gandhiji’s client in Pretoria was a lay preacher and one of the directors of the South Africa General Mission. He took Gandhiji to the Wellington Convention of Protestant Christians. This convention helped Gandhiji to make up his mind about Christianity. He said that he accepted Jesus as a martyr, as an embodiment of sacrifice and a divine teacher, but not as a perfect man ever born. The pious lives of Christians did not give him anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. Gandhiji thought that philosophically, there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. He said that it was impossible for him to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions. [3]

Gandhi on christianity_1& 
After he took the command of the freedom movement in 1920, Gandhiji watched the working of Christian missions from close quarters. Gandhiji’s views on religious conversions were published in Harijan under the heading – ‘Deploring Conversions’. He said, “Conversions are but one small result of a disease. Remove the cause, and the conversions will cease, as also many worse results”. [4]
In his speech delivered at School of Indian Languages, Darjeeling, for missionaries serving in India, he said, “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 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”. [5]
From his Bihar notes he expressed that Christian missionaries have been doing valuable service for generations but their work suffers because at the end of it they expect conversion of people to Christianity. He said that it would be very nice if the missionaries rendered humanitarian service without the ulterior motive of conversion. [6]
Gandhiji clarified his views on the role of foreign missionaries in India by saying that the missionaries should confine themselves purely to humanitarian work and should not use such activities for proselytization purposes. He said that India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another. He termed the purpose of proselytizing under the garb of humanitarian work as unhealthy. He further said that he was aware and had read a missionary report saying how much it costs per head to convert and the presentation of budget for the ‘next harvest’. [7]
With the rising number of religious conversions under the cloak of humanitarian aid, the recent amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) and the cancellation of FCRA licenses of a few NGOs for indulging in religious conversions, are in accordance with Gandhiji’s views on Christianity and religious conversions, and serves as a reminder to us about the importance of spreading awareness about the rampant conversions across India.
1. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 39, Page 32
2. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 39, Page 61
3. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 39, Page 112
4. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 60, Page 327
5. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 27, Page 205
6. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 28, Page 295-96
7. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi – Volume 46, Page 28