Arun Shouries Articles

Premises and their Inevitable Consequences | May 25, 2008

Premises and their Inevitable Consequences
Arun Shourie

On January 2nd, 1937 a Professor of Philosophy from Poland, Krzenski came to see Gandhiji. Krzanski told Gandhiji that Catholicism was the only true religion.

“Do you therefore say that other religions are untrue?” Gandhiji asked.

Krzenski: “If others are convinced that their religions are true they are saved.”

Gandhiji: “Therefore, you will say that everyone would be saved even through untruth. For you say that if a man really and sincerely believes in what is as a matter of fact untruth, he is saved. Would you not also hold, therefore, that your own way may be untrue but that you are convinced that it is true and therefore you will be saved?”

Krzenski: “But I have studied all religions and have found that mine is the only true religion.”

Gandhiji: “But so have others studied other religions. What about them? Well, I go further and tell you that religion is one and it has several branches which are all equal.”

Krzenski: “I accept that no religion lacks divine inspiration but all have not the same truth, because all have not the same light.”

Gandhiji: “It is an essentially untrue position to take, for a seeker after truth, that he alone is in absolute possession of truth. What is happening to the poor astronomers today? They are changing their position every day, and there are scientists who impeach even Einstein’s latest theory.”

Krzenski: “No. But I have examined the arguments in favour of other religions.”

Gandhiji: “But it is an intellectual examination. You require different scales to weigh spiritual truth. Either we are all untrue — quite a logical position to take — but, since truth does not come out of untruth, it is better to say that we all have truth but not the complete truth. For God reveals His truth to instruments that are imperfect. Raindrops of purest distilled water become diluted or polluted as soon as they come in contact with mother earth. My submission is that your position is arrogant. But I suggest to you a better position. Accept all religions as equal, for all have the same root and the same laws of growth.”

Krzenski: “It is necessary to examine every religion philosophically and find out which is more harmonious, more perfect.”

Gandhiji: “That presupposes that all religions are in watertight compartments. That is wrong. They are always growing. Let us not limit God’s function. He may reveal Himself in a thousand ways and a thousand times.”

Now the Professor switched on to the next question viz., that of fighting materialism.

Gandhiji: “It is no use trying to fight these forces without giving up the idea of conversion, which I assure you is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth.”

Krzenski: “But I have a great respect for your religion.”

Gandhiji: “Not enough. I had that feeling myself one day, but I found that it was not enough. Unless I accept the position that all religions are equal, and I have as much regard for other religions as I have for my own, I would not be able to live in the boiling war around me. Any make-believe combination of spiritual forces is doomed to failure if this fundamental position is not accepted. I read and get all my inspiration from the Gita. But I also read the Bible and the Koran to enrich my own religion. I incorporate all that is good in other religions.”

Krzenski: “That is your goodwill.”

Gandhiji: “That is not enough.”

Krzenski: “But I have great respect for you.”

Gandhiji: “Not enough. If I were to join the Catholic church you would have greater respect for me.”

Krzenski: “Oh yes, if you became a Catholic, you would be as great as St. Francis.”

Gandhiji: “But not otherwise? A Hindu cannot be a St. Francis? Poor Hindu!”

Krzenski: “But may Take your photograph?”

Gandhiji: “No, surely you don’t care for materialism! And it is all materialism, isn’t it?” (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 64, pp. 203-4)

Gandhiji’s acuity and wit! On the other side, the trap the dogma of certainties lays for its adherents.

For the position that Krzenski was articulating is the standard position, it is the ineluctable position that every adherent of a revealatory, milleniar- ist religion must take.

The premises of such religions — of Christianity, of Islam, of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism — are that there is one Truth; that it has been revealed to One Man — the Son of God Jesus, the Messenger of God Mohammed, the Culmination of Philosophers Marx; that it has been enshrined by him or on his behalf in One Book — the Bible, the Quran, Das Kapital; that this text is very difficult to grasp and, therefore, one must submit to and be guided by One (external, overarching) agency — the Church, the Maulvi, the Party.

Now, as the millennium shall come only when, but immediately when all accept the Revelation, it is the duty of the agency – of the Church, of the Islamic rulers and maulvis, of the Party – to see that everyone sees the Light. If even after The Light has been shown to a person, he refuses to subscribe to it, he must be put out of harm’s way.

For, in that circumstance, the man is not merely harming himself, he is coming in the way of the mandate of God, of Allah’s Will, or as in Marxism a Utopia.

The presumption Gandhiji was nailing in that representative conversation follow necessarily from these premises: there is no salvation outside the Church or the Faith or Party — the poor Buddha, with all his compassion, just cannot be a St Francis.

What must be done also follows inevitably from those premises: the Church must convert, Lenin and Mao must export the revolution, Khomeni must export the revelation. These are inescapable responsibilities.

The Results

Conversions have, therefore, been going on for 2000 years. They have been proclaimed to be an essential of Christianity, a duty of every Christian. They have become one of the principal preoccupations — in some cases, as with the evangelists, the principal business of the Church.

An incredibly vast organisation has been built up, and incredibly huge resources are expended to save souls.

It costs “145 billion dollars to operate global Christianity,” records a book on evangelisation. The Church commands four million full-time Christian workers, it runs 13,000 major libraries, it publishes 22,000 periodicals, it publishes four billion tracts a year, it operates 1,800 Christian radio and TV stations. It runs 1,500 universities, and 930 research centers. It has a quarter of a million foreign missionaries; and over 400 institutions to train them. And those are figures from a book published in 1989 — since then these has been the surge in Eastern Europe and Russia.

And the numbers are indeed impressive. Europe and North America are almost wholly Christian. 97% of the population of Latin America, 92% of Phillipines, 36% of Africa, 32% of South Korea is Christian.

Are they — either the continents or the converts — closer to the spiritual? Is their conduct better?

Such were the questions that Gandhiji asked the missionaries about the ones they had converted in India. The questions are as telling in regard to converts the world over…

Also, the sudden jumps in the number of adherents during famines and other privations testify to the use to which such times were put.

Swami Vivekananda admonished the missionaries in the harshest language for the means they adopted, for the use to which they put the people’s despair: his Collected Works are full of his extreme fury on these counts…

A polish student brought a photograph to Gandhiji and asked him to autograph it. There is a school run by Catholic fathers, the student explained, “I shall help the school from the proceeds of the sale of this photographs.”

Returning the photograph, Mahadev Desai records in his Diary, Gandhiji said, “Ah, that is a different story. You do not expect me to support the fathers in their mission of conversion? You know what they do?” “And with this he told him…”, records Mahadev Desai, “the story of the so-called conversions in the vicinity of Tiruchengodu, the desecration and demolition of the Hindu temple, how he (Gandhiji) had been requested by the International Fellowship of Faiths to forbear writing anything about the episode as they were trying to intervene, how ultimately even the intervention of that body, composed mainly of Christians, had failed, and how he was permitted to write about it in Harijan.”

“He, however, had deliberately refrained from writing, in order not to exacebrate feeling on the matter.” If the Harijans had awakened to matters of the spirit and had acquired the ability to assess these things, he told the student, “I would bless them for voluntarily embracing Christianity.”

But that is not what is happening. He went on to recall how the weakness of his own son had been used by persons to convert him to Islam. “The young man could see the deep pain with which Gandhiji was speaking”, Mahadev Desai records. “He did not press him to give the autograph and took his leave.” (Collected Works, Vol 63, pp 47-8)

The Observer
February 4, 1994

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