Monday, April 12, 2010

Gandhi and Grant: Their Philosophical Affinities - Review by Brad Jersak

Barua, Arati (ed.), Gandhi and Grant: Their Philosophical Affinities. Delhi, India: Academic Excellence, 2010).


I recently received a first edition copy of Arati Barua's collection of scholarly essays comparing and contrasting Canada's George Parkin Grant with India's Mahatma Gandhi. The book features contributions primarily from Indian and Canadian scholars and serves to further promote the interfaith dialogue that both Gandhi and Grant modelled and championed.

The book opens (see end of review for contents) with a concise introduction to George Grant by biographer William Grant and a piece on the "Motive for Coincidence between Gandhi and Grant" by Gandhi expert, Ramjee Singh. As the reader proceeds through articles by some top Grantians (Christian, Dart, Emberley, Kaethler, et al), it becomes apparent that the affinities between Gandhi and Grant are neither superficial nor contrived. In spite of their very different backgrounds, their faith-based philosophies led to comparable, independently discovered conclusions and convictions.

Both men were prophets of dissent against the prevailing modernism of their age, critical of the way technology can dehumanize the masses as we lose the capacity for contemplative life and thought. They both opposed modernity's inevitable tyranny through Western imperialism and militarism in their quite different contexts. Gandhi the Hindu and Grant the Christian both embraced a synthesis of contemplative theology, political philosophy, and their public outworking toward a just society. They lived as promoters of nonviolent resistance to moral darkness and opposed political oppression in costly and courageous ways.

Some of the ethnically Indian writers (esp. R. Raj Singh, Arati Barua, and Grant's former collegue, John Arapura) demonstrate their knowledge of and appreciation for Grant, and their desire to introduce him to the Indian scene. Grant never attained the success of Gandhi's international fame as a political activist or modern martyr-saint. But his legacy is that he ran well the marathon set before him as a restless philosophical "seer" who, in his undramatic Canadian way, stands beside Gandhi in announcing that "the emperor [any emperor!]has no clothes!" That Grant did not also meet a similar violent end says more of an accident of geography and political context than any comparative lack of courage (when one considers the Bermondsey air raids).

My joy was made complete as I stumbled onto the appendix where Grant's "Introduction to Simone Weil" of 1970 is reproduced. I don't know what prompted this inclusion, but for those who do not have Grant's Collected Works Vol. 4, this little lecture is worth the price of admission. Weil, like Gandhi, was a great philosopher, activist, and some--not least George Grant--would say a genuine modern saint. This particular lecture contains long excerpts by Weil, testifying to her own unique conversion and faith. What makes Grant and Weil unusual as Christians is their thorough knowledge of and love for the Vedanta, to the degree that Grant described himself as part of the "extreme Hindu wing of Christianity" (and Weil, even more so). What does this mean? I would like to reflect on this statement briefly in closing.


My understanding of Grant's comparison of West and East as it pertains to faith is as follows. For Grant (and Weil), Western civilization is very "will-oriented" across the board. By this he meant Westerners are about willing, deciding, choosing, creating our own destiny, mastering human and non-human nature. As an entire society and era, we ooze Nietzche's will to power. We believe that controlling our circumstances (esp. through scientific knowledge and technology) leads to greater freedom as that which controls us (disease, toil, etc.) is overcome. This type of willing-liberty is expressed in Western Christianity (indeed, derived from it, Grant would say) through the Calvinist-Puritan tradition and lived out in the conquest of the American continent.

Willing comes out strongly in the Evangelical tradition and it's revivalist call to "the hour of decision" (a la Billy Graham), the altar call where we "decide to follow Jesus" and "invite him into our hearts and lives." In that stream, the "moment of salvation," is when I make a decision to be saved by praying the "sinners prayer" or enter the waters of baptism. While that decision may include "surrendering control to the Lordship of Christ," one can see how central the question of will and willing is in the process.

In the East, whether among the Alexandrian Fathers, the Greek philosophers like Plato, or much further east (to Hinduism and Buddhist traditions), the emphasis is less on willing and has more to do with enlightenment. I.e. seeing, becoming aware, awakening, perceiving reality, apprehending ultimate truth, beholding a vision of God. Any human response is preceded by some sort of grace-given revelation, an unveiling of truth, or disclosure of God. The spiritual organ that perceives and receives the overtures of divine love is the heart-mind (nous) rather than the will. At best, we can only wait with open, receptive hearts for the Sun to illuminate our understanding. Even that openness is a work of grace by which God ripens us for love. In Christianity, Paul described this when he prays that God "would give [the Ephesians] a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened" (Eph. 1:17-18).

The contrast between East and West is illustrated by remembering Christ's parable of the prodigal son. The younger of two sons demands an early inheritance from his father, and promptly squanders it on a short-lived binge of hedonism. He soon finds himself reduced to work in a pigpen, coveting the bare corncobs on which the swine are feasting. As Jesus tells the story, in a flash this wayward boy comes to his senses, realizing that back on his father's farm, the servants at least get a square meal each day. He determines to return home to beg his father for a job. Midway through his much-rehersed repentance speech, his father welcomes him home as a full son and prepares a homecoming banquet for him.

The question here is: when was the boy "saved"? Ultimately, his reconciliation with the father (God) is consummated by the welcome he receives, not by his own sincerity or eloquent contrition. But even initially, what triggers his homeward journey? Is it that he decided, made up his mind, determined to make things right? In the West, we seem to frame salvation that way with terms like "repent and believe" I.e. Change your mind ... but how? By an act of the will? Believe ... but how? By deciding to have faith?). An Eastern faith would recognize that before any decision or response, the son "came to his senses," i.e. through the grace of God via the sufferings of life and the enlightenment of the Spirit, the boy woke up, he snapped out of it, he saw the light--a light already there (in God) but now also turned on inside (his heart).

These are generalizations, but I propose that this is what Grant and Weil saw in Plato, in Jesus, in the apostle John and Paul, in the Vedanta and Gandhi. We may not want to make too much of their similarities, but to call them "affinities" is not an overstatement.


1. George Grant: Introduction to his life and philosophy -- William Christian
2. The Motive for coincidence between Gandhi and Grant -- Ramjee Singh
3. George Grant and Mahatma Gandhi: On Pacifism and Technology -- William Christian
4. Gandhi and Grant: Deeper Nationalisms -- Ron Dart
5. Gandhi and Grant on Empire and the Longings of the Soul -- Peter Emberley
6. The Saint and the Professor: Integrating Nationalism and Religious Thought in the Writings of Gandhi and Grant -- George Melnyk
7. Rethinking Democracy and Beyond: In the Backdrop of Gandhi's views -- S.R. Bhatt
8. Gandhi, Heidegger and the Technological Times -- R. Raj Singh
9. George Grand and Hinduism -- Ron Dart
10. The New Sociological Imagination, Jnana Yoga and the web of life: Gandhi, Grant, Mills, Pierce -- Johannes Bakker
11. Were Mohandas K. Gandhi and George Grant Neo-Luddite Nationalists? -- James B. Gerrie
12. Grant and Gandhi: A Live Interview with Mrs. Sheila Grant -- Arati Barua
13. George Grant on Order and Creativity -- Andrew Kaethler
14. Secularism: A Gandhian Perspective -- Geeta Mehta
15. George Grant and his Lament for a Nation: With a Special Reference to M. K. Gandhi's Hind Swaraj: A Comparison -- Arati Barua
16. Gandhi's Idea of Nation in Hind Swaraj -- Anthony Parel
17. Gandhi's Economic Philosophy -- Joseph Prabhu
18. A Tribute to Dr. George Grant -- John Arupura

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