The (Im)Pure Cussedness of Humankind


The (Im)Pure Cussedness of Humankind

Some notes from Soul Survivor.

from Soul-Survivor--"Mahatma Gandhi" Philip Yancey

In 1983, after I had just returned from India and Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi was released, I wrote a profile of the man for Christianity Today magazine. Although I have received plenty of venomous letters over the years, I was not prepared for the volume of hate mail the article generated. Readers informed me that Gandhi is now roasting in hell, and that even the devil believes in God and quotes the Bible. "So it's Gandhi on the cover this month," wrote one reader. "Who will it be next month, the Ayatollah?" Another called him "a heathen agitator who did more than any other person to undermine the influence of western civilization." A prominent Christian spokesman railed again the magazine for "replacing Jesus on the cover with Mahatma Gandhi!"

Most of the complaints boiled down to one question: Do Christians have anything to learn from someone who rejected our faith?

First, I'd like to remark that it is so lovely to know how many people are aware of the fates of others with respect to their eternal destination. I have not been so blessed and while I continue to hope that I may achieve the destination that God has intended for me, I do not hold out the presumption that I can continue to conduct my life in the way I have been and make it there.

It's ironic that the man who perhaps most dramatically exemplified some of the more difficult teachings of Jesus is consigned to the pit by those who say that he rejected Jesus.

My answer would be that he rejected (perhaps rightfully) Christianity and all of its glamours and charms--including brutal racism in South Africa, the slaughter of innocent thousands in India, and the horrors of the partition--overseen by Lord Mountbatten (though not brought about by him) in the name of His Majesty's Government. Being brought up a Hindu, he expresses the typical Hindu complaint about Christianity--the paucity of incarnations of God.

However, I would argue that Jesus told us, "By their fruits ye shall know them." And I look at the fruits--peace where there was no peace, patience where there was no patience, and entire class of people raised from the lowest of the low to a place only marginally better, but still better, during his lifetime.

I don't know where Gandhi is. As always, I pray that he is in heaven. He certainly has more "right" to a place there than I do. (I know, no one has a "right' to anything of this sort, and all is given by grace--but I am just Calvinist enough to believe that sometimes you can see glimmerings of that grace in a life on Earth--and in Gandhi, I seem some of that.)

Again I say he rejected not Jesus but those who would thrust Jesus upon him. Those who, at the same time, would not allow him to worship in their churches. (Let's give them credit--those who would put down the most horrific regime the world had seen up to that point.)

I think some of the vitriol that Yancey indicates was directed toward Gandhi might have been a result of the fact that he showed how conspicuously lacking Christianity was in the presence of Christ. Would Jesus have approved of racism? Of antisemitism? Of the judgmentalism that pervades much of our daily discourse? Of our need to feel good at the expense of others? Of oppression? Of murder?

On the whole, I think Gandhi got it more right than wrong and as I observe the fruits of violence, I become more convinced that Gandhi, Dorothy Day, to some extent Merton, and always the Quakers and the Mennonites have a firmer grasp of the truth of the matter than many who would support violent resolution of nearly any conflict. Obviously, I am still in a formative stage with regard to thinking about the issue--but every thought pushes me more closely to their viewpoint. (Though not to the extremes of their views. Gandhi's wife died because he refused to allow doctors to inject penicillin that might have saved her due to the violence it would do to her body--one can go too far.)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 14, 2003 7:52 AM.

Mr Gonzalez Reminds Us was the previous entry in this blog.

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