Blog Archive


Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why would Gandhi reject Jesus?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about why mixing belief systems is dangerous. The post stemmed from an article in the Vancouver Sun that held up Mahatma Gandhi as "one of the most famous people to openly promote mixing religions." 1 But, I don't think Gandhi's mixing of faith helped him. In fact, I think it may have caused him to miss the central message of Christianity.

In An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi discusses his various interactions with people of faith, his study of religion, and how it shaped his nonviolent resistance. He recounts in some detail his different conversations with Christians, and the impressions they made. He states the primary message of Christianity did not resonate with him:
One of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
You cannot understand the beauty of our religion.

From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It Is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness Is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:

If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. 2

The Miscommunication of Christianity

Most Christians might believe that the Christian did a decent job of sharing the gospel. However, I think he rushed it because he first didn't find out what Gandhi already believed about humanity and sin. Gandhi's Eastern background made certain assumptions about sin, the nature of God, and of human beings that are incompatible with Christian teachings. He tells us a bit later:
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept… From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.

I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me. 3
Gandhi was raised a nominal Hindu, but also had an understanding of Jainism. In both faiths, the law of karma applies and is inescapable. Good deeds are a credit to one's karmic account while bad deeds are a debt. One's own choices and actions are wholly responsible for the good or bad karma held against you. Therefore, the eastern mind would understand all sin as something someone can avoid by one's own power.4 Jainism specifically teaches that one can remove all their bad karma and become God. In fact, in Jainism the only Gods that exist are those humans who've rid themselves of their karmas5.

Given this background, one can see how the Gandhi's understanding of Jesus and the atonement would be confused. His explanation of his rejection makes perfect sense in an Eastern worldview, but completely misses the point of western theology.

Just reading the Bible won't help

Prior to this encounter, Gandhi writes that a friend challenged him to read the Bible. Because he had no background whatsoever with the Christian story, it didn't go well:
I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.6

Again, this isn't surprising. We understand that the story of Adam and Eve sets up the concept of man as a fallen creature, one incapable of being perfect on his own. The teaching is emphasized when Adam and Eve seek to don fig leaves for themselves but they're shown to be inadequate.

Let Gandhi's story serve as a caution to Christians today. We are living in a post-Christian culture and while the assumptions may be different, the gospel message may be just as foreign to Western secularists today as it was to Gandhi then. When you share your faith, you should assume nothing. Ask people what they believe about sin, justice, and God. Ask them if they think human beings can ever be perfect. Find out what they understand so you can provide the proper context for the biblical message. That's when true communication will happen.


1. Todd, Douglas. "In praise of mixing religion and world views." Postmedia Network Inc. 2014. Web
2. Gandhi, Mahatma. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Reprint of the Public Affairs Press, Washington, DC, 1948 edition). 107.
3. Gandhi, 119.
4. Huston Smith in The Religions of Man (New York: Harper Collins, 1986) writes, "This idea of karma and the complete moral universe it implies carries two important psychological corollaries. First, it commits the Hindu who understands it to complete persona responsibility. Each individual is wholly responsible for his present condition and will have exactly the future that he is creating." Pages 101-102.
5. "Liberation (Moksha)." Jainism Global Resource Center. Accessed 7/24/2014.
6. Gandhi, 68.


  1. I would say, let Gandhi serve as a caution to Christians today that when you embody the teachings of Jesus, you may starve, be beaten, ridiculed, misunderstood, alienated, be poor.....Gandhi lived more like Christ than any Christian I have ever seen (with my own eyes), and yet here we are cautioning other Christians to his story. Hmmm...seems as though it should be the other way around. Also, as far as Gandhi's issues with "if God could have sons, all of us were sons." Are we not "children of God?" I don't see any issue with his logic here. And this: "If Jesus was like God, or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself---" Seems as though his perspective is consistent with many great Christians:
    It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . .
    —C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

    . . . the Spirit and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory."
    —St. Paul, Rom. 8:15-17

    1. Not all of us are sons of God. In John 1:12, it says that “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” This makes only Christians have the right to be called the sons of God (however painful or offending it may sound to others).

      In your reference on the book of Rome 8:15-17, remember who he was talking to. He was talking to fellow Christians. Start the reading from verse 1 where he preached first Jesus and called the people brethren.

      "If Jesus was like God, or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself" – I also don’t have a problem with believers being gods. But I cannot agree with his words “… could be God himself. I may be a god but a much, way, way lower than Him. I cannot be God himself.

      I may be made as a co-inheritor and co-worker, but I cannot be equaled with Jesus. Much more with the Father.

  2. They (those who love him) are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers.
    —St. Paul Rom. 8:29

    God became man, so that man might become God.
    —Early Christian Proverb

    I am the vine, you are the branches.
    —Jesus, John 15:5a

    For the Son of God became man, that we might become God.
    —St. Athanasius, De inc

    God said to this hairless monkey, "get on with it, become a god."
    —C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

    "the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God"
    —St. Irenaeus, Adv Haer III 19,1

    I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works.
    —Jesus, John 14:12

  3. Souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes . . . abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, highest of all, the being made God.
    —St. Basil the Great, On the Spirit.

    (God) said that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him-for we can prevent Him if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.
    —C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 174-5

    Let us applaud and give thanks that we have become not only Christians but Christ himself. Do you understand, my brothers, the grace that God our head has given us? Be filled with wonder and joy—we have become veritable Christs!
    —St. Augustine of Hippo

    The Only-begotten Son of God, wanting us to be partakers of his divinity, assumed our human nature so that, having become man, he might make men gods.
    —St. Thomas Aquinas

    In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.
    —St. Paul, Ephesians 4:13

    Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade. . . . we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.
    —C. S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle, p. 85

    A seed of God grows into God.
    --Meister Eckhart

  4. My first response to the above may be found here:


Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X