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Gandhi on Christians: A Study in Bogus Quotation
October 4, 2013 J. P. Holding

Gandhi on Christians: A Study in Bogus Quotation

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I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. – Mahatma Gandhi

 

A Christian can probably expect to get this quote thrown at them at least once in their lifetime, and waved in their face many more. I had it put to me recently, but my experience with this sort of thing immediately led me to wonder — is it real?

 

The evidence at this point seems to be no. I have made it a part time vocation to track down bogus quotations. I do this because too often these quotations are used as conversation-enders in place of substantive argument. Gandhi said you Christians are bad. Gandhi’s an important dude. End of conversation. So let’s see how we track down a bogus quote.

 

The first signal of a problem was that anywhere I found it, no source was given. That’s often a sign that something is being passed around uncritically. Whether online sources or books, no one seemed to have a source for this quote.

 

A second warning was that the quote has been given more than one context. As found on a Wikipedia type of page, one context was this one:

 

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I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it’s not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.

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But another context was also given, and this is the one I most frequently found it in:

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Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most respected leaders of modern history. A Hindu, Gandhi nevertheless admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”

 Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

 Apparently Gandhi’s rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practising law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. And so he decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. “Where do you think you’re going, kaffir?” the man asked Gandhi in a belligerent tone of voice.

 Gandhi replied, “I’d like to attend worship here.”

 The church elder snarled at him, “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”

 From that moment, Gandhi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.

How we treat those others tells people MORE about what we believe, and what following Jesus means to us, than all the fine sermons we deliver.

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 Although it is conceivable that Gandhi had more than one use for the quote, this sort of explanation adheres best only when we have a teaching setting, as with Jesus in the Gospels. It seemed doubtful that the quote was a regular feature of Gandhi’s teaching.

 The third warning — it came when I picked up a copy of E. Stanley Jones’ Gandhi: Portrayal of a Friend. This memoir by one of Gandhi’s personal acquaintances – his name, as you can see, is listed above — seemed to me the most likely place to find this quote if it really existed. The possibilities seemed promising when I noted that one chapter was titled, “Gandhi and the Christian Faith.” It became more interesting when I found that account of Gandhi being forbidden to enter a South African church because he was not white. But the quote was not attached to it.

 As close as it got to the quote was Gandhi saying to Jones, “all you Christians, missionaries and all, must live more like Jesus Christ.” But that’s only marginally close in theme to the original quote.

 So — do we have a bogus quote on our hands? And does it make any difference?

I’ve learned that even when the evidence is this weighty, there is always a slim chance that the quote can be found — although usually attributed to someone else. There’s a hint in that Wikipedia type of source that this is so. It also says:

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I have found no authoritative source for Gandhi saying this. The actual quote is attributed to Bara Dada, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians — you are not like him.” Source – Jones, E. Stanley. The Christ of the Indian Road, New York: The Abingdon Press,1925. (Page 114)

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I haven’t checked out this source; it isn’t readily available to me. But now let’s ask the other question: Does it make any difference?

 It does, to the extent that many of those using the quote are clearly trying to use Gandh’s authority to circumvent real argument and compel a guilt trip, or else deliver some compact lesson on Christian behavior that avoids messy details. They could of course just say the same thing themselves, but when that happens, it loses what little bit of force it had as a “celebrity” quote — and that was the only thing it had going for it.

 But more broadly, the problem is the way quotes like these are used as shortcuts for rational deliberation. In that respect it doesn’t matter whether it is Gandhi, or Charlie Sheen, or Peter Parker who offered the quote. It’s not a way to arrive at the truth — it’s a way to cut off the debate with a slammed door.

 That’s why I consider it so important to dial down on even such seemingly minor issues as these. Under these circumstances, not even the Mahatma deserves a free pass when it comes to misinformation.