“Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi . . . You are no followers but fellow students, fellow pilgrims, fellow seekers, fellow workers.”
M. K. Gandhi


Mahatma Gandhi, Apostle of Nonviolence: An Introduction

by John Dear

Book cover illustration courtesy John Dear; johndear.org

When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, the world hailed him as one of the greatest spiritual leaders, not just of the century, but of all time. He was ranked not just with Thoreau, Tolstoy, and St. Francis, but with Buddha, Mohammed and even Jesus. “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth,” Albert Einstein wrote at the time.

Gandhi’s legacy includes not just the brilliantly waged struggle against institutionalized racism in South Africa, the independence movement of India, and a ground-breaking path of interreligious dialogue, but also boasts the first widespread application of nonviolence as the most powerful tool for positive social change. Gandhi’s nonviolence was not just political: It was rooted and grounded in the spiritual, which is why he exploded not just onto India’s political stage, but onto the world stage, and not just temporally, but for all times.

Gandhi was, first and foremost, a religious man in search of God. For more than fifty years, he pursued truth, proclaiming that the best way to discover truth was through the practice of active, faith-based nonviolence.

I discovered Gandhi when I was a Jesuit novice at the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. My friends and I were passionately interested in peace and justice issues, so we undertook a detailed study of Gandhi. We were amazed to learn that Gandhi professed fourteen vows, even as we were preparing to profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I added a fourth vow—under Gandhi’s influence—a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi had done in 1907. My friends and I undertook our own Gandhian experiments in truth and nonviolence, with prayer, discussions, fasting, and public witness, followed by serious reflection. My friends and I returned to Gandhi as a way to understand how best to respond to our own culture of violence.

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Non-Violence in the Early Church

by Corey Farr

St. Moses the Black, a patron saint of nonviolence, 4th century CE; courtesy Orthodox Peace Fellowship; incommunion.org

The intent of this paper is to survey the attitudes of the early (pre-Constantinian) church towards violence, military service, and martyrdom and bring them into dialogue with contemporary US-American evangelical views and practices. I will examine this both in terms of the more passive and prohibitive critiques of culture and the more “active” affirmation of the merits of martyrdom. In doing so, I would hope to show that the church had not only the negative/passive witness of refusing to engage in violent acts, but also the positive/active witness of being willing to accept and even embrace violence done to themselves – in a way that is less pathological than it sounds – in imitation of their cruciform king.

As a long-time believer in nonviolence, I must admit that I was surprised to see the overwhelming evidence in favor of this position in the early church. Of course, I knew that there has always been a precedent for this belief throughout history, all the way back to the first century. That much, at least, I had learned from John Howard Yoder. (1) What surprised me was the wealth of quotes from patristics that spoke in no uncertain terms on the topic. My hope is that by doing this research and sharing it with those who are interested I might further reinforce and open opportunities to share my own Anabaptist inclinations with those in my generation who are burnt out, tired, and disillusioned with status quo evangelicalism ad nauseam. I remain an evangelical, despite my qualms with the stereotypes, because they are my people and I love them dearly – to misquote Luther, “Here I stand, and I can do no other.” But I do believe we have much to learn from the early church. For example, Jonathan Gorry notes that church fathers such as Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, who will each be featured in this paper, called for “pacifying forms of social engagement.” (2) Given the divisive and polarized political unrest among evangelicals today, such responses “can serve as useful antecedents for the regeneration of 21st century Christian critiques of state sovereignty.” (3) My prayer is that this paper shed a little light on those antecedents, thus lending credence to modern iterations of Christian nonviolence by demonstrating how in touch they are with the roots of the faith.

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Book Review: Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India

by Joseph Geraci

Dustwrapper illustration courtesy Knopf; aaknopf.com

There is an old Indian saying that could very well have been intended for Gandhi:  “There’s no one more difficult to live with than a saint.” As portrayed in Joseph Lelyveld’s biography (1) Gandhi was indeed a difficult “saint”, husband, and father. He told his wife and children many times that community came first, and often lived apart from them, sometimes for years on end. His vow of celibacy (brahmacharya), he writes in his Autobiography, was taken in agreement with his wife, after he had already decided on it. When his second son Manilal wanted to marry, as Joseph Lelyveld reports, Gandhi was quite “crotchety” about it, inveighing that he could not “imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of man and woman,” not precisely the sort of remark one would hope a father would make to a son anticipating a wedding night. The eldest son, Harilal was unstable, alcoholic, and was accused of embezzling. In the 1930s he converted to Islam, only six months later to reconvert to Hinduism, as if torn between defying or pleasing his father. Gandhi surely must bear some responsibility for his son’s dysfunction.

Gandhi’s attitude towards nonviolence also has its contradictions. If from the beginning of his career as a lawyer in South Africa he was committed to nonviolent resistance, that is, satyagraha, persistence in the truth, he also in South Africa held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the British militia, if as a noncombatant. He famously wrote, “Where there is a choice only between cowardice and violence I would advise violence.” And later he was also to say, “I would risk violence a thousand times rather than the emasculation of a whole race.” Lelyveld questions whether Gandhi’s numerous satyagraha campaigns had any lasting effect. His attempts to change the plight of the untouchables, his efforts to prevent the division of India and violence between Muslims and Hindus, were largely unsuccessful. Many scholars have argued that satyagraha was only one of many factors that led to Indian independence. Was the idea of nonviolence a greater achievement than any result?

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Pacifist Communities in Britain in the Second World War

by Andrew Rigby

Peace Pledge Union poster courtesy hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk

If we got, say, a million voters actively insisting that they’ll never take part in any war,
the Government would have to begin to take notice
.” Dick Sheppard. (1)

Such was the optimistic hope and political strategy of Dick Sheppard, the founder and moving spirit of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), writing in 1936. His faith in the possibility of creating a pacifist movement of such a scale that no government could afford to ignore its influence was not totally unfounded at that time. The PPU had a membership of over 118,000, with some 300 local groups in existence, and a weekly newspaper (Peace News) with sales of approximately 6,000. The origins of the PPU date back to October 1934, when Sheppard published his Peace Letter requesting people to contact him who shared his pacifist determination to renounce war and never support or sanction another one. The burgeoning growth of the PPU in those pre-war days, as the New Statesman observed, lay in its appeal “not only to the convinced absolutist pacifist but to the large number of people with only slight political knowledge but with a recent realization of the fearful imminence of war, who are fascinated by the direct simplicity of the crusade.” (2)

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Beginning with Witness: An Interview with Mark Johnson

by Nathan Schneider

Peacebuilding illustration courtesy myzimdialogue.com

Preface: Mark Johnson was Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (2007-2013), an organization that stood in opposition to two world wars and helped foster the civil rights movement’s ethic of nonviolence, in addition to being an early advocate for interfaith dialogue. Under his leadership, the FOR learned to find a place for itself amidst the proliferation of institutions—both religious and secular, governmental and civil—that claim the mantle of making peace. The interview was conducted in December 2009. Please see the notes at the end for further information and acknowledgments. NS

Nathan Schneider: Since its founding, how has the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) been involved in promoting peace around the world?

Mark Johnson: The Fellowship of Reconciliation began in 1914, when an English Quaker and German Lutheran agreed that they wouldn’t let the emerging war separate the fellowship they had established. A year later, one of their mutual friends, John R. Mott, invited them to form an organization at a conference in Long Island, and there, in 1915, the FOR was established. The early work, which helped frame FOR’s efforts through the Vietnam War era, had to do with the right to conscientious objection.

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Why Lawyers Fear Love: Mohandas Gandhi’s Significance to the Mindfulness in Law Movement

by Nehal A. Patel

Book jacket art courtesy mkgandhi.org

“As regards lawyers, the position is worse still. Have they overcome their infatuation for law-courts? … Have the lawyers realized that justice should not be costly? … Lawyers have not yet overcome the allurement of fat fees and, in consequence, the cost of justice continues to be counted in terms of gold and guineas … justice cannot be sold.”  M.K. Gandhi (1)

ABSTRACT: Although mindfulness has gained the attention of the legal community, there are only a handful of scholarly law articles on mindfulness. The literature effectively documents the Mindfulness in Law movement, but there has been minimal effort to situate the movement within the broader history of non-Western ideas in the legal academy and profession. Similarly, there has been little recent scholarship offering a critique of the American legal system through the insights of mindfulness. In this article, I attempt to fill these gaps by situating the Mindfulness in Law movement within the history of modern education’s western-dominated worldview. With this approach, I hope to unearth some of the deep challenges facing a mindful revolution in law that are yet to be widely discussed.

In Part I, I introduce the current mindfulness movement in American society. In Part II, I summarize the current Mindfulness in Law movement and the treatment of “Eastern” thought in modern education. I also describe the three levels of change discussed in academic literature: individual, interpersonal, and structural change. In Part III, I discuss how Mohandas Gandhi exemplifies all three levels of change. In Part IV, I offer critical appreciation of the Mindfulness in Law movement by highlighting Gandhi’s insights on structural reform. I conclude that a mindful application of Gandhi’s thought suggests that satyagraha be incorporated into a constitutional framework, thus making legally protected speech out of forms of public-state dialogue that are traditionally “extra-legal” and used disproportionately by marginalized populations.

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The Lonely Scholar Who Became a Nonviolent Warrior:
Gene Sharp (1928-2018)

by George Lakey

Portrait of Gene Sharp courtesy goodnewsmagazine.se

Once again I rang the bell at the brick row house in East Boston where Gene Sharp lived. When he opened the door I said proudly, “Today I drove here instead of taking the T.”

“You drove?” he said in mock horror. “Man, are you trying to get yourself killed? Haven’t you heard about Boston drivers? They show no mercy, especially toward Philadelphians!”

That was the Gene Sharp I knew, always loving to find a joke in the moment. So, I was sad to hear the news that he passed away on Sunday at the age of 90. (January 21, 1918-January 28, 2018)

When I had him speak at Swarthmore College he put on his distinguished scholar persona, adding the English accent he’d learned while studying at Oxford. When one of my students asked a particularly penetrating question, Gene, at the time associated with Harvard, peered over his glasses and said, “Hmm, it appears to be true: Swarthmore students really are brighter than Harvard students.”

Even though he charmed my students, he also relished the role of contrarian. Not easy, if your life mission is to bring into the mainstream an area of study previously on the intellectual margin.

I was 21 years old when I met him. I was studying sociology at the University of Oslo. One of my teachers there who knew of my interest in the peace movement said that I might like to meet someone at the university who was researching Norwegian nonviolent resistance to the German Nazi occupation in World War II.

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The Mahatma, Il Duce and the Crucifix: Gandhi’s Brief Encounter with Mussolini and Its Consequences

by Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi in Fascist Rome, 1931; courtesy alamy.com

After the second Round Table Conference (RTC) in London, (1) Mahatma Gandhi had to embark at the Port of Brindisi in Southern Italy en route to India. He decided to spend a few days in Switzerland as a guest of Romain Rolland, and then stop in Rome on Saturday, December 12, 1931, in order to meet Pope Pius XI. The note in his diary of December 12, states:

Arrived in Rome at 8.30 in the morning. Received letter to the effect that the Pope could not receive me. Three of us stayed with General Moris, the others in a hotel. Went to see the Vatican [Museums] in the afternoon. At 6 o’clock Mussolini. (2)

Barely a year earlier, Gandhi had shot to international fame due to the extensive American press coverage of his Salt Satyagraha. (3) He was on the cover of Time Magazine on two occasions within a span of ten months: first on March 31, 1930 and again as ‘Time’s Man of the Year’ on January 5, 1931. (4) His fame preceded him even in Europe. Whether at Villeneuve, Milan, Rome or Brindisi, people flocked to see ‘St. Gandhi’ in his strange attire. (5)

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Guest Editorial: Martin Luther King, Jr. and “The Year of Nonviolence or Nonexistence”

by John Dear

Poster art courtesy paceebene.org

It was early 1968. Since the previous spring Martin Luther King, Jr. had been pursuing a course that for many was unthinkable. He had deliberately connected the dots between the movement for civil rights and the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, and had paid the price. He was roundly criticized by the Johnson administration and the media, as well as by people in his own movement. From the right he was attacked for having the gall to question US foreign policy. From the left he was lambasted for losing focus and not keeping his eyes on the prize.

He even got it from a childhood friend who stopped by the house one afternoon to vent. “Why are you speaking out against the Vietnam War?” he carped. King put aside his customary oratory. “When I speak about nonviolence,” he patiently explained, “I mean nonviolent all the way.”

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Ahimsa: The Way of Nonviolence

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

Sufi Saint Pacifying the Animals; c. 18th century Persian miniature courtesy dharmadeen.com

Editor’s Preface: We have previously posted a compilation of Gandhi’s writings on satyagraha. Through these, and by using quotes from his work at the top of our Home page, collected under Quotes & Sources, we hope to provide focal points for discussion, if not statements of doctrine. Please also see the notes at the end for a comment on the texts, and acknowledgments. JG

Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of the humans. Man lives freely by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity. (MM, 49)

The first condition of non-violence is justice all round in every department of life. Perhaps, it is too much to expect of human nature. I do not, however, think so. No one should dogmatize about the capacity of human nature for degradation or exaltation. (MT, V, 344)

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi