Monday, June 4, 2012

The Bogus Gandhi Quote


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.

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 (gag) Wiki type page, one context was this one:

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.

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

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.

 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 have my ministry associate Nick Peters continuing to look. 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 Wiki source that this is so. It also says:

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)

That book is available near me, and I will check it out when I am near the library it is in. 

Update: 2/17 -- two readers have affirmed that the quote is correct. One sent me a screenshot of the page.

For now, the second question: Does it make any difference?

It does, to the extent that many of those using the quote are clearly trying to use Gandhi'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.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for looking into this.

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  2. Agreed. I've found the use of this quote...um...irksome, to say the least.

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    1. “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
      ― Mahatma Gandhi
      Regardless of the provenance, the truth is perhaps the source of your discomfort.

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    2. No, Mikey, the real source of the problem is idiots like you who think the truth doesn't matter, because you're out for an obnoxious sound bite instead of the facts. You have a lot of nerve to post something about dishonesty as a defense of dishonesty.

      And in fact, it seems kind of strange that your replacement quote doesn't appear as said by Gandhi any earlier than 1998. What's your source for it, Archie Boy?

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    3. No answer, Archie?

      Well, I found your "quote" -- not really. It's a highly distorted version of something said by Ethel Mannin. I'll be featuring you in an upcoming video as an example of how embarrassing critics like you can be. Congratulations!

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  3. The Ghandi quote may be spurious but the message contained withing both quotes sadly, is not. Interestingly enough, when one searches for "Bara Dada" one only finds articles talking about this quote.

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  4. I have the "Christ of the Indian Road" book in front of me. The above mentioned quote is nowhere to be found on page 114, though there are similarly interesting quotes from Hindus which Jones records there.

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  5. @Jacob: Thanks!! That saves me some travel. :)

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Yeah sure Bradley Bumpkin, that's why they make sure and add credit to Gandhi when they quote it, because they don't use it because he said it. Please. You're just butthurt because a favorite snap line of yours got proved ahistorical.

      You say it is used because it is "correct". Funny how someone so big on what's "correct" doesn't care how incorrect it is to hand it to Gandhi. Guess your obsession with what's correct stops when it defies your persona; obsessions and interests.

      You're the one who needs to grow up -- and that comment is deleted for profanity. Oh yeah, and check your sanitized Jesus at the door: http://www.tektonics.org/lp/madmad.php

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  8. When I see that quote, I am, in any case, reminded of this quote by G.K. Chesterton:

    "Most Christians fail to fulfill the Christian ideal. This bitter and bracing fact cannot be too much insisted upon in this and every other moral question. But, perhaps, it might be suggested that this failure is not so much the failure of Christians in connection with the Christian ideal as the failure of any men in connection with any ideal. That Christians are not always Christian is obvious; neither are Liberals always liberal, nor Socialists always social, nor Humanitarians always kind, nor Rationalists always rational, nor are gentlemen always gentle, nor do working men always work. If people are especially horrified at the failure of Christian practice, it must be an indirect compliment to the Christian creed."

    -February 13, 1906, [London] "Daily News"
    (quoted in Nov/Dec 2014 issue of "Gilbert" Magazine)

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