Friday, February 04, 2005

Conversions - What the Mahatma said

Mahatma Gandhi called religious conversions a fraud on humanity. "If I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytizing". "I resent the overtures made to Harijans." "Stop all conversion, it is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth." Poverty doesn't justify conversion.

(source: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Volume 46. p.110 and Volume 61, p. 46-47 volume 64, p. 37 and 400 New Delhi 1968). For more refer to Mahatma Gandhi on The Christian Missionary Menace - Compiled by Swami Aksharananda).

Gandhi was pained by the missionary work with the Harijans. He said: "Lots of people will come and tell you that your Hindu religion is all wrong, as you are not allowed to go to school or enter the temple. To such people you should say, 'We shall settle accounts with our Hindu brothers; you may not come between us as you may not intervene in quarrel between father and son or among relatives." And you should remain steadfast to your religion...Why should I give up my religion. Hinduism is meant for me and my soul.."

(source: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Volume 26, New Delhi, 1967 p. 8-9).

"This proselytization will mean no peace in the world. Conversions are harmful to India. If I had the power and could legislate I should certainly stop all proselytizing.''

"It pains me to have to say that the Christian missionaries as a body, with honorable exceptions, have actively supported a system which has impoverished, enervated and demoralized a people considered to be among the gentlest and most civilized on earth...."

(source: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Volume 24, p. 476).

Mahatma Gandhi writes: " In the matter of religion I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion; that is, the use of my immediate surroundings in religion. If I find my religion defective, I should serve it by purifying it of defects."

He told the Christian missionaries "it is no part of your call, I assure you, to tear up the lives of the people of the East by the roots."

(source: Mahatma Gandhi's His Life and Ideas - By C. F. Andrews, p. 96).

Gandhi had tried to put the Christian missions in a tight spot by proclaiming that proselytisation was morally wrong and spiritually sterile, if not counter-productive. He had also appealed to the missions to employ their enormous resources for rendering humanitarian services to the poor without any motive for proselytisation.

Further he asks, "How can the conversion achieved through such unethical means be called religious in its true sense?" Mahatma Gandhi once told his friend, the missionary E. Stanley Jones, “Don’t attempt to propagate your faith; just live it."

Gandhi wrote to an American Missionary who claimed that the Christian way is the best of all: "You assume knowledge of all people which you can do only if you were God. I want you to understand that you are laboring under a double fallacy. That what you think 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 a little humility."

(source: Religion and Culture - By S. Radhakrishnan South Asia Books 1994 ISBN 8122200125 p. 64).

He wrote in My Experiments With Truth: "It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian." All religions were equally capable of leading the follower to salvation.

Gandhi said:

"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 theirs for the purpose of proselytising, I would certainly like them to withdraw. Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another.

(source: Foreign Missionaries, Young India, April 23, 1931.)

Gandhi was equally wary of the Church and its missionaries. Writing in Harijan (March 13, 1937) he said: "My fear is that, though Christian friends nowadays do not say or admit it that Hindu religion is untrue, they must harbour in their breast that Hinduism is an error and that Christianity, as they believe it, is the only true religion. So far, as one can understand the present (Christian) effort, it is to uproot Hinduism from her very foundation and replace it by another faith." He took great care to distinguish between his work and that of the Church: "The first distinction I would like to make...between your missionary work and mine is that while I am strengthening the faith of the people, you (missionaries) are undermining it." (Young India, March 1927).