Gandhi: Saint or Sinner?

When people talk of great spiritual leaders, Gandhi and Jesus are often mentioned in the same breath. Jesus was a great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Western civilization. Gandhi was a great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Eastern civilization—particularly in India.

Christians have long disagreed. Jesus was not merely a man, and Gandhi was not really a great man. Indeed, when you consider the state of India—where Hinduism and Islam have made it home to one third of the world’s poor, where until recently over half of its citizens lived below the poverty line, and where many of its citizens are considered so unclean that their mere touch can contaminate a member of a higher caste—it would be surprising if a Hindu man from this place were not as depraved and inhumane as his religion.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal confirms that Gandhi was not the saint Westerners have assumed. This image arose largely because of his “martyrdom”, followed by Martin Luther King Jr’s ignorant adoption of him as a role model—and fueled by the fact that Gandhi prohibited journalists from publishing anything about him that he had not first extensively vetted and edited.

The article goes into some detail, listing many of Gandhi’s morally questionable actions and attitudes. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s a sampling:

  • Although credited with leading India to independence from Britain, Gandhi actually undermined this effort. Between 1900 and 1922, he ­suspended his civil disobedience at least three times, even though more than 15,000 supporters were in jail for the cause. (When Britain finally did withdraw from India, it was largely motivated by their anti-imperialist Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and the fact that Britain was nearly bankrupt from the war.)
  • Gandhi was dangerously politically incompetent. He ­advised the Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, and wrote a letter to ­Hitler starting with the words “My friend”. He also advised the Jews of Palestine to “rely on the goodwill of the Arabs”. Fortunately for their existence, the Jews ignored him.
  • As well as calling Hitler his friend, Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931. Gandhi praised Mussolini’s “service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and ­Labour, his passionate love for his people.”
  • Gandhi was outstandingly racist, describing “the raw Kaffir” as someone “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and ­nakedness,” and saying of white Afrikaaners, “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.”
  • He was also a hypocrite on many levels. He prevented his son marrying a Muslim despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity. He denounced lawyers, railways and parliamentary politics, yet he was a professional lawyer who constantly used railways to get to meetings to argue that India ­deserved its own parliament. And although he is known for his hunger strikes, his official position was that these were “the worst form of coercion, which militates against the fundamental principles of non-violence” (in which he believed).
  • His views on nakedness and sexual chastity were also belied by his depraved behavior: when he was in his 70s he encouraged his ­17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong ­personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his ‘spiritual quest’, he began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women also.
  • Despite being thought of as a peaceful man, he was vicious and callous. “There will be no tears but only joy if tomorrow I get the news that all three of you were killed,” he once told some of his workers. To a Hindu he once said, “I do not mind if each and every one of the 500 families in your area is done to death.” And he forced Manu, his niece (remember the “nightly cuddles”), to walk through a jungle known for harboring rapists—just so she could retrieve a pumice stone he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, he “cackled” with laughter and said: “If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy.”
  • In 1908 he left his wife for a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,” he wrote to Kallenbach. “The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.” Gandhi nicknamed himself “Upper House” and Kallenbach “Lower House.” The two pledged “more love, and yet more love—such love as they hope the world has not yet seen.”

That’s enough to prove the point. Like Mother Theresa, Gandhi was not a great spiritual leader and humanitarian. He was a cynical and morally corrupt person, just like the rest of us—only given more opportunity to reveal his true nature because of the position and culture he lived in.

17 replies
  1. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hello Serenap,

    It’s idiotic comparing Gandhi to Jesus…

    As this article emphasizes.

    Too bad Jesus was around too long ago, and the catholic church had a couple of millennia to wipe Jesus’ slate clean. Not that they were not done in just a few centuries.

    Are you a student of history, or is this just a manifestation of your ignorance born of taking information from serious scholarly sources such as the Da Vinci Code?

  2. Serenap
    Serenap says:

    Good question. But I was referring more to all the bloodshed that led to freezing on the four gospels that we have now. I was also referring to how even the oldest gospels was written well after JC died. I was also referring to how people who still remember weird things about Gandhi are still around to talk about it. Even after Gandhi has been dead for 200 years, we would still have accurate historical records of the strange things he did.

    In Gandhi’s defense, he did not have the internet like you and I do. I would guess he knew about some things only because of heresay and rumors. Also in his defense, who is to say if someone mature had gone and talked to him about going to bed with girls to test his “power of resistance”, and the effect it had on himself and on the girls, he would be quite ashamed. Gandhi was not infallible. He never claimed to be perfect, or divine. From whatever I have known of Gandhi, he would change his mind when he learnt better.

    I am not a student of history. I am an alien from outer space. I guess that gives me the freedom to advice you to focus on the message, and not on the person. Not JC, not Gandhi.

  3. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Yes, UpAndAtom, its too bad modern reporting didn’t exist in ancient times.

    You should come right out and declare what you are actually suggesting.

    Are you suggesting that the reports we do have do not portray accurately Jesus’ moral credentials? If so, then GOOD. Now go and do some history. Back up your claims with evidence – thats what responsible historians do. Just asserting things is a practice for dogmatists who are intellectual wimps and need to cover for their lack of reason. I look forward to seeing your case fall apart.

  4. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Serenap, greetings from planet Earth, where students of history live. I have only one question arising from your last response.

    Why is an alien from outer space referring to (1) bloodshed when the canon was established, (2) the date of the primary sources attesting to the life, death and resurrection from the events themselves, and (3) implying that those historical records about Jesus are inaccurate, when she/he/it is not a student of (earth’s, 1st century Palestine’s) history?

    I don’t really care about Ghandi’s depravity. But if half those things about him are true, and if you really want to uphold him as a moral person, then you have to put up a better defense than that.

    For your amusement, check this out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9eX7URM_hU

    Do visit reality soon,
    Stuart
    :-)

  5. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Serenap:

    Even after Gandhi has been dead for 200 years

    Gandhi died in 1948. If you can’t even get a recent historical fact right, why should we think you have the slightest idea what you’re talking about in regards to the early church?

  6. Serenap
    Serenap says:

    about my implications in (1), (2), (3): Do I need to be a /student/ of history? Let’s say I am.

    I liked the song. Thanks!

    Am I upholding Gandhi as a moral person? To a good extent. I really don’t want to defend everything that Gandhi did… my interest was just in adding context. Did that help? As for calling him a saint? His most vicious critics do, to mock him. And some Hindus in villages do… because they are really not educated enough to not need to worship at all. Do I believe that he has set up enough of a positive example to inspire people even today? Yes! Was he perfect? Far from it! Do I really need to have either the opinion that Gandhi was depraved or that he was a saint? Can’t one use him as an example to inspire themselves do the right thing? I believe they can! He doesn’t inspire me, personally… for reasons that I won’t go into because you don’t know me. He did manage to inspire King and Mandela.

    Coming back to the topic, Gandhi, according to this WSJ blog, asked the Czech and the Jews to adopt non-violence against Hitler. What would Jesus advice?

    The WSJ article was tripe anyway. All I got was the impression that they want to criticize absolutely everything he did. Easy to do that with anyone if you just drop the context. Heck! It’s equally easy to criticize God too.

  7. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Serenap

    As I said, I’m not really interested in Ghandi. But it seems what you are doing here is creating a Ghandi in the image you wish him to be, call this person the “inspirational-and-morally-good-enough-Ghandi,” and not discovering the real Ghandi of history, who was just as immoral as the rest of us humanity (that is, if any of the above is true).

    What I am interested in is Jesus, and your claims (1), (2) and implication (3) which you have not addressed. Yes you do have to be a student of history to offer informed opinions about the life of Jesus. Its a minimal requirement. Why should we take your opinions seriously? Should I take you seriously just because you say you are a student of history? No. In fact, you somewhat disqualify yourself by making these ridiculous claims.

  8. C. Wendt
    C. Wendt says:

    While I agree that Gandhi can properly be criticized and should not be put in the same category as Jesus, I do wish to defend him against some of the attacks being put forward here:

    1. Gandhi called off his early liberation campaigns because some of those involved were turning violent, and he opposed the use of violence. Furthermore, I think it is rather silly to argue that, on the whole, he undermined the independence movement rather than helping it because he suspended his own independence campaigns.

    2. Some of the actions you reference here merely represent the consistent application of Gandhi’s belief in strict nonviolence- and I am not altogether certain the radically-nonviolent Jesus wouldn’t have agreed with Gandhi on these issues.

    3. It is possible to be critical of institutions such as railways and parliaments without believing they should not exist, or else that they should never be used so long as they do. I also believe that his lawyer days were well before his later (experience-based) denunciation of lawyers.

    4. It was acknowledged even by those who criticized the endeavor and maintained thoroughly by the women involved that Gandhi truly did not commit any sexual impropriety during their little sleep-overs; in fact, Manu said that it had never even occurred to her that there was something sexual about the business, given the nature of her relationship with her great uncle. Gandhi was, by all inside accounts, genuinely celibate, to the point that he was upset when experienced involuntary ejaculations.

    5. Likewise, your suggestion that Gandhi “left his wife for a man” in a sexual sense is false.

    It is true that Gandhi held some racist views (though I think this is reasonably forgivable in context). I had not heard of the calloused words you cite in the second-to-last bullet point, but if genuine, those do look legitimately condemnable.

    So, would Gandhi measure up to the standard of God incarnate? Not at all. Was Gandhi a man with many admirable qualities who said and did many admirable things, and to whom we may look for a positive example in some important departments? I think so.

  9. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I am not altogether certain the radically-nonviolent Jesus

    Jesus was in no sense radically non-violent. Bearing in mind that Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, and that God ordered numerous bloody military campaigns against infidel nations in the Old Testament, I’d say that Jesus is pretty comfortable with violence (in the right context).

    Re [4] and [5], that’s just an assertion in lieu of an argument. Why should I believe you over a recognized historian, and indeed the words of Gandhi himself?

  10. C. Wendt
    C. Wendt says:

    To address your two points in order:

    1. I admit that this is a point of potential tension in the Bible, but if we focus on the words and deeds of Jesus himself while on Earth, I think things will look quite a bit different from what you ascribe to him- in fact, far from advocating the killing of infidels, he rebukes his disciples for even suggesting as much (Luke 9:54- “And when James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.”). He rebukes Peter for using violence against a Roman soldier who was arresting him, offering up the memorable- and relevant- words, “Put your sword back in its place, for they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.” He instructs his disciples not to use force against an aggressor, but to turn the other cheek when struck. The degree of commitment to non-violence exhibited by Jesus within the New Testament is radical by virtually any standard.

    2. What do you mean by “a recognized historian and the words of Gandhi himself” in response to my points 4 and 5 (which were about the sexual implications made in the article)? I said that, although he did engage in some rather odd activities (naked sleepovers and whatnot), which he viewed as tests of his celibacy, Gandhi “committed no sexual impropriety” with the women in question, which is most certainly the case according to Gandhi himself, and the many people who were there and were aware of these activities (note that Gandhi lived in a primitive ashram with many other people and slept in an easily-accessible area with no privacy or locked doors)- including the ones who were critical of Gandhi for them- agreed that he did not do anything to the effect of copulating with his sleeping partners. Gandhi described a brahmachari (which he aspired to be) as:
    “One who never has any lustful intention, who, by constant attendance upon God, has become proof against conscious or unconscious emissions, who is capable of lying naked with naked women, however beautiful, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited”

  11. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I admit that this is a point of potential tension in the Bible

    Lol, how very generous of you. In fact, there is no tension. In the passages you cite, violence is clearly inappropriate. In Luke 9:54, the ESV Study Bible puts it nicely: “Jesus rejects the suggestion of James and John (“tell fire to come down”), for his ministry at his first coming is not to bring judgment (cf. John 3:17), and not to compel people to follow him through threat of immediate punishment, but to bring the free offer of the gospel (cf. Matt. 11:28).”

    In the case of the Romans arresting Jesus, there is even less warrant for violence, since (1) they were lawfully arresting Jesus and (2) Jesus himself had already told his disciples this had to happen, and that resisting it was akin to helping Satan.

    Stop trying to make the Bible say whatever you want it to say.

    He instructs his disciples not to use force against an aggressor, but to turn the other cheek when struck.

    If you’re thinking of Matthew 5:38ff, you’re going to have to exegete that passage, rather than just make blanket assertions. It isn’t saying what you think it’s saying.

  12. Tom Joad
    Tom Joad says:

    “if we focus on the words and deeds of Jesus himself while on Earth, I think things will look quite a bit different from what you ascribe to him”

    It seems to me, Bnonn, you should be demonstrating a point in the bible where Jesus advocates violence. You pretend like the Holy Trinity is one in a literal sense, but then there would be no Jesus, there would just be God. Arguing with someone for saying Jesus was non-violent by saying God was violent in the Old Tes is a pretty thin line to dance on. Most Christians (for theological or plain logical reasons) reject or at least do no embrace the God of the Old T. It sounds like you are either advocating violence, pretending that Jesus advocated violence, or claiming that Jesus was not radical in his non-violence. None of that seems particularly appealing.

  13. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    You pretend like the Holy Trinity is one in a literal sense,

    Dude, you do understand basic Christian theology, don’t you? God is one in substance; three in person. He is not divided in purpose. Whatever God commands, Jesus commands.

    Arguing with someone for saying Jesus was non-violent by saying God was violent in the Old Tes is a pretty thin line to dance on.

    Since this is an internal critique of Christianity, no, it really isn’t thin ice. Take Hebrews 1:3: “He [that is Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

    Most Christians (for theological or plain logical reasons) reject or at least do no embrace the God of the Old T.

    Lol, do they really? You seem to love drawing sweeping conclusions about Christians based on nothing but your opinion and one or two people you once knew. Unfortunately for you, by definition no basically educated Christian rejects “the God of the Old Testament” (as if he were a different deity).

  14. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Some basic theological mistakes here Tom Joad,

    You pretend like the Holy Trinity is one in a literal sense, but then there would be no Jesus, there would just be God

    God is one in a literal sense. That is orthodoxy. Look to the first council of Nicea (325) and the Creed of Constantinople (359) for ratification of that affirmation. And the “Holy Trinity” is identical with “God.” God and Holy Trinity are basically synonyms in the Christian tradition.

    “Most Christians (for theological or plain logical reasons) reject or at least do no embrace the God of the Old T.”

    That is false – most Christians do embrace the God of the Old Testament. Actually, its heresy to claim that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament. This heresy is called marcionism and was condemned very early on by the likes of Tertullian. This view has disastrous theological consequences which keep it radically non-orthodox, including it entails a denial of the incarnation of Christ. And again, there are no logical problems with affirming that God has one nature and has a plurality of persons.

    Aside from that, it doesn’t seem to me that Jesus was radical in his non-violence – at least by today’s standards. (1) When he drove people out of the Temple, the people being driven out must have believed he was capable of violence. And we see in this instance that Jesus is not at all opposed to at least the threat of violence to achieve his good purposes. (2) He never spoke out about Roman ethical standards when they doled out punishment – to him in particular but to others as well. Surly if he was radically non-violent he would have said something about crucifixion. (3) He is pictured as a warrior king riding in on a war-horse, soaked in his enemies blood in Revelation. (4) He has the same nature of the God the Old Testament who judges the nations by using the swords of other nations as instruments of his judgment.

    That said, I do think Jesus was radically non-violent for his time. And he does, after-all, own the title Prince of Peace.

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