The Bogus Gandhi Quote

I first made this post in 2012, and since then I've made a sort of mini-career out of tracking down bogus quotes like this one (including a video version below). It's a sort of fun microcosm of the way information is mishandled in the Information Age.

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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.

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? 

Yes and no. A form of it is real, but it was not said by Gandhi.  I was sent a screenshot of the quote and it's source and told by a helpful reader:

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)


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. 

Comments

Weekend Fisher said…
To me, there are some interesting points to the popularity of the quote, independent of whether its attribution is correct. I'll give a parallel example for context: there's a quote, variations on the theme: "The coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco", attributed to Mark Twain. As far as I can tell, that quote has never been definitively sourced to Twain. But anyone who has ever been to the upper California coast in summer may recognize how well it captures the surprise at the expectations compared to the reality, regardless of whether Mark Twain was involved.

The same holds for that quote. Many churches give so little emphasis to being Christlike. Even those who claim to be about changed lives often switch the target to some human measure of holiness and perfection.

Take care & God bless
WF
Joe Hinman said…
I like your point Anne, It;s always great to hear from you.
J. P Holding said…
Then I hope it is agreed that by not properly sourcing it, one reduces one's credibility.
Weekend Fisher said…
Hi Joe

Good to see you. Hope you're well.

Hi J.P. - In a credentialed-and-sourced style of debate there's a place for calling your opponent on a careless attribution -- so long as the material point is addressed too. All things considered, the material point is the bigger one, and the other a technicality if there is an an honest mistake involved.

Though it's interesting to track down some much-quoted material. There's a lot of mis-attributed information floating around on-line. (Who'd have suspected?)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF
Joe Hinman said…
hey Anne good to see you

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