Obama, Religious Intolerance and Mahatma Gandhi

Obama’s recent statements invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s name while preaching about religious intolerance has led to furore over social media with some of them even trying to politicize his statements. A closer look at his statements shows that he has not taken the name of any particular religion or political party and hence it requires an analysis from a neutral perspective.
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Since Obama is preaching like a philosopher and has invoked the name of Mahatma Gandhi, we shall try to look at this from the perspective and context of the Mahatma himself and find out his views & opinions about religions, religious intolerance, religious belief etc.

Contrary to the popular misconception, Mahatma Gandhi was not just a freedom fighter, but also great religious leader, reformer and philosopher who never hesitated to praise or discredit aspects of any religion. Although Gandhi revered all religions, he never hesitated to admit that he was a proud Sanatani Hindu.

However, Gandhi was always concerned with 3 types of religious intolerance that was (and still is) rampant.
1) Religious bigotry
2) Religious mockery
3) Religious conversions

Let’s look at each of the above in detail.

1) Religious bigotry:
This is the form of religious intolerance where a religion considers itself as superior (or the only true faith) and rest of the religions as inferior. Gandhi was not only shocked but deeply disappointed with the teachings of such religions which instilled bigotry and intolerance among its followers. In fact, the Mahatma had openly condemned such religious intolerance several times openly. Following are some of his statements on the same.

Also, he refused to accept that there can only be one “true savior” as the following statement indicates.

2) Religious mockery:
This is the form of religious intolerance where a religion mocks at the belief system of another religion. Gandhi was shocked with this form of intolerance where even reputed leaders of religious institutions had mocked belief system like idol worship in Hinduism as “gross form of worship”. The Mahatma never hesitated to slam such mockery and such was the extent to which he was disturbed that he even went on to call those religious leaders “arrogant & ignorant” for being so intolerant towards others’ views & belief.

3) Religious conversions:
This is the form of religious intolerance where a religion not only mocks at another religion & discredits its faith, but also goes to the extent of using exploiting helpless & the poor into accepting this religion by either luring them with money or force. Mahatma Gandhi was a staunch critic of conversions and had fought against it throughout his life.
There was even an instance in which the ever-peaceful Mahatma was outraged when he found that Christian missionaries had exploited a famine situation to turn the whole area into conversion camps and even demolished temples.

Regarding re-conversions (the controversial process of “ghar wapsi“), Mahatma was always in favor of re-admitting repentants back into their original faith.

Coming back to the original topic of Obama & Gandhi, whether Obama’s statement was intended towards any particular group, community, govt or nation is not the focus of this article. The only purpose of this article is to analyze Mahatma Gandhi’s views on the topic of religion, religious belief & religious intolerance. With this understanding now, it is left to the reader to interpret Obama’s invocation of Gandhi in the context of religious intolerance.

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