Thursday, November 06, 2008


I'm feeling challenged by Gandhi these days. I posted a couple days ago about watching the 1982 movie "Gandhi" last weekend, and he's still much on my mind. I actually decided to incorporate him into my Religion & Society paper, so I've been doing some research on him and his methods, his philosophy, etc. I think he wasn't a Christian in a similar way to me--I try to follow Jesus but I'm not willing to ally myself with the ideology of the Christian church as it has been built up since then, an ideology that legitimates injustice through gender and social hierarchy, not to mention the church hierarchy's supposed monopoly on access to God (in denominations other than Quaker). I'm more of a Christian than Gandhi was, because he didn't necessarily believe Jesus was a child of God any more than any of the rest of us, but I think Gandhi did a lot better job of following Jesus than I do, so I guess we're even! I think being a true Christ-follower has a lot more to do with living like him than professing him with our mouths.

What's challenging me most about Gandhi is his refusal to compromise. I think I've fallen into an uneasy acceptance of what our culture tells us that compromise is inevitable. Gandhi said no, I'm not going to compromise just because it seems to be easier or more comfortable, or because the ideal seems impossible. He spoke out against the injustice that occurred against his own people because of the Indian people's habit of buying cloth from British manufacturers. He could have just continued wearing the fabric and tried to just fight the injustice of the landowners forcing Indians to produce indigo which was no longer bringing them a high enough profit to cover the costs of their food and rent, but that would have been only half the battle.

I avoid the problem altogether by not knowing where my clothes come from. But of course, this doesn't completely avoid the problem when I actually listen to my conscience. If someone told me, "Clothes from this company are produced unjustly," I wouldn't buy clothes from them. But what if all clothes are produced unjustly? Am I willing to make the sacrifice of having to figure out how to make my own clothes? Or am I too stuck in my own routines and goals, my own thoughts about what I'm too good to spend time doing (if I'm completely honest with myself)?

And of course that's just the tip of the iceberg, because then there are issues of food production and transport, transportation in general, and even the fact that I'm legitimating the hierarchy of an educated elite by participating in higher education.

At the same time, I think it's important for people to do what they're good at and what they enjoy--for the sake of others. That's why we live in societies. We can share the labor so that each of us has to do less, or at least has to do less of what they're not gifted at. But does anyone really want to take away my garbage or clean the public spaces I use? Do they do that because they're gifted at it, or because the structure of our society leaves them no choice?

How can one decide to not compromise? It seems so overwhelming. I think probably Gandhi came to his conclusions gradually--but if one implements living truthfully when one recognizes a truth, and then add something else when it's recognized, it's probably a lot easier than when one lets them all pile up and not be dealt with (like cleaning house...). And Gandhi recognized that it cost his friends a lot for him to live in poverty, so is that really a good model? Perhaps he was creating his own hierarchy, that of those who were able to live without compromising the truth in their life, and those who supported them.

But if everyone lived like he did, no one would have to be rich enough to support them, because everyone would be doing their part for the good of all, and there would be enough to go around. It only cost his friends something because they thought of those things as belonging to them.

So, does living a consistent life require a whole-life change, cold turkey? Or is it OK to compromise for a while and gradually add acts of faithfulness to the truth we already know?

1 comment:

Barry Clemson said...

No one lives a life without compromise. No one can fight all worthwhile fights all the time.

What Gandhi did was to pick some areas where he didn't compromise.

The real question, IMHO, is where do we compromise and where do we stand firm without compromise?

The short answer is that we must be led by the spirit and that in those areas that are central to our personal calling, we should not / can not compromise.

This means that two equally committed followers of Jesus may well compromise in different areas and, equally, refuse to compromise in different areas.

By the way, I enjoyed your discussion of the issue.