Terrence J Rynne, Gandhi and Jesus: The Saving Power of Non Violence

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Terrence J Rynne, Gandhi and Jesus: The Saving Power of Non Violence, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2008, 228 pp.

If, like me, you are intrigued and challenged by the title of Terrence Rynne's book, you will not put it down until you reach the end. It is well written, a good read and an excellent introduction for anyone new to the subject of either Gandhi or non-violence. It is well documented, so scholars can follow up references and use the book as a useful guide to the many books the author has read. No wonder Desmond Tutu, Stanley Hauerwas and Arun Gandhi have warmly commended Gandhi and Jesus: The Saving Power of Non Violence. Still, it was Arun Gandhi's tribute that jarred with me: "an outstanding study of two great people and their message". Can we really compare Gandhi and Jesus? Can we describe them as "two great people" and say no more? The only way to answer that question and be fair to the author is to read the book.

The strength of this book is its clear exposition of Gandhi's teaching on non-violent action, of satyagraha, which is at one point defined as firmness in a good cause. The reader will learn that much more is involved than passive resistance, i.e. simply accepting what comes to you and not retaliating. Non-violent action is not about being the victim and it is not a strategic of weakness. The reader may come to see, and this is the author's hope, that this is not only the teaching of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount but is also the way of Jesus, his life story, and therefore our Christian way also.

Gandhi was not a Christian and Rynne's careful study of Gandhi's own life and thought helps us see why. Christians' failures to practice what Jesus lived and preached is the main reason why Gandhi could not become a Christian: "I do not hold with the system that you [Westerners] have set up based on might." Gandhi could not understand how bishops could support slaughter in the name of Christianity. He also found much to inspire him in his own Hindu faith. His openness to insights from other traditions and his wide reading of varied authors from Carlyle to Tolstoy, plus his experience of living in different cultures, help explain why a well-read man is so widely read by others.

Gandhi understood Jesus better than most Christians but not all Christians. There is an excellent discussion in Gandhi and Jesus of four Christian thinkers who Gandhi deeply influenced. One is C.F. Andrews, Gandhi's great missionary friend and interpreter. Another is Walter Wink, famous for his studies of power and the powers whose evils need to be named and unmasked. A third is John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite ecumenical theologian and the fourth is Bernard Haring, a Roman Catholic moral theologian. …

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