Was Gandhi humble?
There’s been some discussion in the blogosphere lately about whether Gandhi is in heaven. I won’t recreate that debate here. But I would like to address some of the attitudes behind the interaction. A key issue is humility.
Many people think Gandhi was a very humble man. And these same people present themselves as humble. They use phrases like, “How can we know for sure…” or “Who are we to say that….” or “I think we need to remain agnostic about…”
They fail, however, to acknowledge that Jesus was far from vague about heaven and hell. Some of Jesus’ most definitive proclamations were about the afterlife. In fact, in all of scripture, the clearest and harshest descriptions of hell come from the mouth of Jesus.
There is such a thing as false humility and we need to recognize it – in others and in ourselves.
At the risk of demonstrating the exact opposite of humility, by promoting my soon-to-be-released book, here is something I wrote in my chapter on humility:
“False humility seems to be growing in its frequency in our tolerance-obsessed world. Most people assume that anyone who would insist there’s only one way to heaven must be arrogant. Conversely, anyone who sees all religions as equally valid must be, by definition, humble. But listen to these self-proclaimed humble people for a while and you’ll detect the intolerance of tolerance and the pride of open-mindedness.
I once read a collection of speeches and writings by Mohandas Gandhi, all centered on his thoughts about Christianity. It was amazing how many times he told his hearers he was a humble man. After a while, it grew almost comical. I found myself wondering, “if you’ve got to keep telling us you’re humble, it might not be true.”
Many Christians exalt Gandhi to near saint-like status. But they need to reconsider their admiration. He misquotes Jesus and reinterprets standard Christian doctrine and then dismisses it all as something impossible to believe in. Consider just one instance when he freely admitted his unorthodox views of the faith.
“The message of Jesus, as I understand it, is contained in His Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole, and even in connection with the Sermon on the Mount, my own humble interpretation of the message is in many respects different from the orthodox. The message, to my mind, has suffered distortion in the West. It may be presumptuous for me to say so, but as a devotee of truth, I should not hesitate to say what I feel.”
Gandhi has many disciples in our world today and I’m not just talking about the ones who acknowledge him as their model. His spirit of false humility permeates and dominates our culture. The presumptuousness of those who think they understand our faith better than we do, attempt to convert us to a brand of religion that never seeks to convert anyone, and insist their post-enlightenment, western, secular faith is not narrow, needs to be unmasked. Not far below its surface lies a very narrow, intolerant, zealous form of religion. It is anything but humble.
The antidote, however, is not some form of Christian haughtiness, common as it may be. Just because we have the truth does not entitle us to swagger.”
I welcome your comments.
 Robert Ellsberg, ed. Gandhi on Christianity (Maryknoll, NY.: Orbis, 1997), 19. See his many other claims to humility on pages 23, 31, 35, 37,43, 52, 53, 55, 61, 70, and 102.