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September 2008

With PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas

Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Esai: Sub ko Mera Salaam

Dear PMG:

My son never had much interest in religion. He grew up in our Hindu household, and tolerated our traditions without being much involved in our rituals or ceremonies. He had no antipathy either, because he always respected my wife’s staunch faith in Hinduism, being deeply attached to his mother. He was merely indifferent, and I thought he would outgrow his apathy. But after going to college, he seems to have taken a great interest in Christianity. His mother is concerned that he is being converted by acquaintances. He protests and tells us that his interest began in a History of Religions class and grew when he read about Bobby Jindal’s and Barack Obama’s faith. Since I myself am not deeply religious, I don’t really have a position on this matter that is threatening to divide our family. But I would like to help my wife and son retain their loving relationship.

Dear Friend,

“It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world’s progress toward peace ? Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man?” (M. K. Gandhi, 1937)

Each of us evolves in our intellectual and spiritual lives. Sometimes people even evolve in their political lives, with Republicans becoming Democrats and vice versa. This is a natural result of maturity. Our life experiences help us to grow into a way of life that cannot be defined simply by who our grandparents were. So it is understandable that your son may have discovered in Christianity some important tenets of life that will help him be happy and serve his community. Sometimes this learning comes from inside the classroom as he has indicated, and sometimes from outside.

Friends can be quite influential in shaping one’s worldview. But a line has to be drawn when friendship becomes a form of proselytizing. What true friend would tell your son that his own religion is superior? Isn’t this the same as suggesting that your son’s heritage is inferior, and thus implying that your son is a lesser person? I do not know the reasons behind Obama’s or Jindal’s choice of faith, but I’ve not heard them denigrate the religions of their ancestors. Indeed, they seem to have made those choices by free will. And choice is a fundamental part of the postmodern condition.

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