Mahatma Gandhi And The Hypocrisy Of Christians
by Daniel Owino Ogweno
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How could Mahatma Gandhi—yes, him, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948), of all the people—miss the point while trying to distance himself from Christianity? How could the intelligent Gandhi engage a logical fallacy and fail to detect its futility? No wonder the Bible says that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. “He [God] catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Cor. 3:19, NIV).
A logical fallacy is an argument which uses bad reasoning but may not be detected because of its deceptive coherence. The argument is logical because it makes a lot of sense but it is fallacious because the essence of logics is wanting. In most cases, logical fallacies are not easy to detect, or if detected, it is tricky getting a counter argument to neutralise them.
At one time Gandhi said: “We must become the change we want to see.” That was brilliantly put! What Gandhi was saying is that we may not ask people to change when we have not ourselves set the example to lead the way of change. Why then didn’t he use the same principle and attitude to become a Christian? Although Hindu, he had a very close connection with Christianity and admired Jesus very much, often quoting from His favourite ‘Sermon on the Mount’ chapter in Mathew 5–7. It was realistic to expect him to be a follower of Christ on that basis, but he was not. When asked why he was not a Christian, he responded: “I will become a Christian when I meet one.”
A missionary, E. Stanley Jones, met with Gandhi and asked him, “Mr Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.” He added: “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”
What did Gandhi imply here? Gandhi was saying in other words that he knew what Christ stood for but he was missing it in His followers. The question then is: Why didn’t Gandhi become the change he wanted to see in Christianity?
How could he possibly fail to understand that if he was to become a Christian, he wasn’t doing so ‘for Christians’ but for Christ whom he confessed to admire? He was not becoming the follower of Christians; he was becoming the follower of Christ.
The logical fallacy on which he latched his excuse was in this wise: I don’t want to be a Christian because Christians are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is characterized by the failure to match one’s words with actions. If we look at it this way, then Gandhi was just as hypocrite as the ‘Christians’ he was accusing. Otherwise, he could have found it a perfect opportunity to practice his own counsel: Be the change you want to see. He could have followed Christ as a path-finder of change and by so doing show ‘Christians’ how Christ should be followed. By making the excuse, he missed it. He exposed the downside of man where intelligence doesn’t necessarily insulate one from manifestations of double standards. This is the bane of mankind; everybody, him as well as those ‘Christians’ he wasn’t impressed with, (I am included) is struggling. The only difference is that some are struggling to do right, others are struggling to hide the wrong they do.
He may have admired Christ, but he seemed to have missed some of the charms and gems of what distinguished Christ from the rest. Christ had taught that we should love our enemies. When he maintained, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians; your Christians are so unlike your Christ”, Gandhi showed that he never liked Christians to the extent that one could be excused to conclude that he hated them altogether. Otherwise, how could he allow ‘Christians’ to stop him from following Christ whom he loved? Christ is not judged by Christians, rather, Christians are judged by Christ.
And how could such a wild generalization be justified?—there must have been ‘genuine’ Christians whose shortfalls, at any rate, could be mitigated by the fact that no human being is perfect. And is it true that Gandhi never met one true Christian?
But as he castigates Christians, he also admits the imperfection of human beings of which Christians are part. He advises against generalization, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” It couldn’t have been a daunting task for the smart Gandhi to observe that some ‘drops of dirty Christians’ could be expected in the ocean of Christianity. Again, it is clear here that Gandhi contradicted himself when he went against his own counsel regarding generalization.
Note to the reader: This piece is not meant to play advocate for the ‘hypocrites’. Hypocrisy remains rebukeable. The idea here was to point out that the hypocrisy of some Christians is not an excuse enough to prevent anyone from following Christ.
This article is an excerpt from the book Mistake God Never Made: Confronting The Burden Of The Origin And Fronting The Hope Of Destiny
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Well said. I have always been bemused by the hero worship of Ghandi by people, especially Christians. Recent biographies show that the real man wss not what he was portrayed to be.