17. Conversion

C.F. Andrews: What would you say to a man who alter considerable thought and prayer said that he could not have his peace and salvation except by becoming a Christian ?

Gandhiji: I would say if a non-Christian (say a Hindu) came to a Christian and made that statement, he should ask him to become a good Hindu rather than find goodness in change of faith.

C.F.A: I cannot in this go the whole length with you, though you know my own position. I discarded the position that there is no salvation except through Christ long ago. But supposing the Oxford Group Movement people changed the life of your son, and he felt like being converted, what would you say ?

Gandhiji: I would say that the Oxford Group may change the lives of as many as they like but not their religion. They can draw their attention to the best in their respective religions and change their lives by asking them to live according to them. There came to me a man, the son of Brahmana parents, who said his reading of your book had led him to embrace Christianity. I asked him if he thought that the religion of his forefathers was wrong. He said, 'No.' Then I said: 'Is there any difficulty about your accepting the Bible as one of the great religious books of the world and Christ as one of the great teachers?' I said to him that you had never through your books asked Indians to take up the Bible and embrace Christianity, and that he had misread your book - unless of course your position is like that of the late M. Mahommed Ali's, viz., that a believing Mussalman, however bad his life, is better than a good Hindu.'

C.F.A.: I do not accept M. Mahommed Ali's position at all. But I do say that if a person really needs a change of faith I should not stand in his way.

Gandhiji: But don't you see that you do not even give him a chance? You do not even cross-examine him. Supposing a Christian came to me and said he was captivated by a reading of the Bhagawat and so wanted to declare himself a Hindu, I should say to him: 'No. What the Bhagawat offers the Bible also offers. You have not yet made the attempt to find it out. Make the attempt and be a good Christian.'

C.F.A.: I don't know. If someone earnestly says that he will become a good Christian, I should say, 'You may become one', though you know that I have in my own life strongly dissuaded ardent enthusiasts who came to me. I said to them, 'Certainly not on my account will you do anything of the kind.' But human nature does require a concrete faith.

Gandhiji: If a person wants to believe in the Bible let him say so, but why should he discard his own religion? This proselytization will mean no peace in the world. Religion is a very personal matter. We should by living the life according to our lights share the best with one another, thus adding to the sum total of human effort to reach God.

"Consider," continued Gandhiji, "whether you are going to accept the position of mutual toleration or of equality of all religions. My position is that all the great religions are fundamentally equal. We must have innate respect for other religions as we have for our own. Mind you, not mutual toleration, but equal respect."

Harijan, 28-11-'36, p. 330

Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst, therefore, it is a good guide for individual conduct, imposition of that conduct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody else's freedom of conscience.

Young India, 23-9-'26, p. 334