- Published on Thursday, 13 August 2009 01:39
- Written by John Draper
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Missionaries have always held a heroic and romantic place within the Christian imagination. Even today churches regularly collect contributions for the mission field. The reality, of course, is very different. From its very beginnings, Christian missionaries have inflicted tremendous harm on the peoples they "witnessed" to.
In the 16th to 19th centuries, the damage done by missionaries was shared equally between the Protestant and Catholic churches. But now, most of the damage is done by fundamentalist, pentacostal and evangelical protestant sects, mostly from the US, Canada and Europe. Numbering about 80,000 strong these fundamentalist missionaries spread like locusts throughout the world. Their destruction of native cultures, and in some cases actually causing the deaths of these natives, can only be described as a modern cultural and genocidal holocaust.
As an example of 18th century missionaries, let's look at this idyllic island in the South Pacific first discovered in 1757. The first missionaries from the London Missionary Society landed there in 1797, and tried for seven years to convert the natives but were unable to make any headway.
They then discovered that the local chief, Pomare, liked alcohol (distilled by the missionaries) - so much that he became an alcoholic. Addicted to the distilled (holy?) spirit, Pomare agreed to back the missionaries in their work of conversion. Pomare, supplied with western firearms, easily subdued his native opponents. Upon his victory over his rivals, the whole island was forcibly converted in one day.
Then the process of inculcating "Christian virtues" began. Persistent unbelievers, those who refused to be converted, were executed. Singing was banned (except for hymns) and all forms of adornment, flowers or tattoo were disallowed. Of course, surfing and dancing were not permitted as well. The punishment for breaking any of these rules included, among others, being sentenced to hard labour. Within thirty years of missionary control, the population of Tahiti fell from an initial estimate of 20,000 to 6,000.
From Tahiti, the missionaries moved on to the neighbouring islands. They employed the same tactic that had served them so well in Tahiti: they would introduce the local chief to alcohol, made him an alcoholic, convert him to Christianity and then leave it to the chief to convert the locals. After converting the majority the minority that refused to convert were persecuted and sometimes executed. On the island of Raratonga, men were conscripted into the missionary police to help eliminate the remaining idolators. On another island, Raiatea, a man who was able to forecast the weather by studying the behaviour of fish was executed for witchcraft.
This was how the South Pacific was Christianized. Not much different to earlier methods of armed conquest and followed the much criticized methods of the inquisition.
Africa is widely considered to be a missionary success story. Up until a few decades ago, sub-Saharan Africa was widely considered to be the most Christianized place on earth. Kenya, for instance, had 65% of its population claiming to be church-going Christians.
But many of the missionaries' attempts to free slaves and teach them Christianity amounted to no more than changing one form of slavery to another. Given below is an account of how the Holy Ghost Fathers, a missionary group in the second half of the 19th century, went about "freeing" and Christianizing the slaves:
In 1868 the Holy Ghost Fathers chose Bagamoyo as the site of the first mission station on the East African mainland... Their ambition was to build a Christian community of freed slaves. Ransoms were paid to slave traders for the freedom of thousands to slaves. Most of those released were placed in "Freedom Village" on the mission compound, but they soon discovered that their freedom was not absolute. The disciplinary codes enforced by the missionaries were severe, with a rigorous timetable of work, Christian education and prayers. As the baptised ex-slaves grew up, they were married off in batches and resettled under the authority of a missionary priest in a Christian village somewhere inland.
No wonder many later converted to the militant Muslim religion that also taught that the West was evil!
The missionaries in general had little respect for African cultures and regarded their peoples as ignorant savages. One early twentieth century methodist missionary in Umtali, Zimbabwe, wrote of the people he had set out to evangelize: "Heathen and naked as new born babies, and as ignorant as beetles." The solution was simple, educate the children away from their parents and give them western clothing to wear to cover their naked bodies. As another missionary from Umtali wrote in a letter to the US in 1916: "Heathen mothers do not know much, but many boys and girls go to our schools now and are begging to read God's word and write and to take care of their bodies and be clean and dress like the people of America." These "heathen" boys and girls were also given "Christian" names like Kitchen, Tobacco, Sixpence or Bottle.
The missionaries were, of course, part of the oppressive colonial forces in Africa. In an effort to set up a successful mission in what is now Zimbabwe, Catholic Jesuits entered into an alliance with the British South Africa Company (BSAC). Run by Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), the collaboration between the Jesuits and the BSCA would have made any imperialist proud. BSAC needed labour for their gold mines but the native South Africans were not interested. They were self sufficient farmers and thus had no need for the salaries offered for work in the mines. The imperialists hit upon a brilliant idea, the "hut tax", a form of property tax imposed on Africans that must be paid in cash. [It is important to note that white farmers did not have to pay these taxes.] Thus to pay for the tax, the Africans were forced to work. If they failed to pay, they were imprisoned and then sent to work as prison labourers anyway! In return for donation of land and protection from Rhodes, the Jesuit took the role of collecting the hated taxes for the BSAC!
Today the number of missionaries from liberal churches are dwindling, their numbers being taken over by the fundamentalist, pentacostal and evangelical churches. However much like their ecclesiastical forefathers of the previous centuries, these missionaries do not believe the Africans, now largely Christians, are smart enough to keep the faith and churches going. Thus the rallying cries of the new missionaries involve "making Africa born again" or "fighting the forces of secularism" or "battling AIDS". Yet is it obvious that it is not the social or physical well being of Africans that concerns these modern day missionaries. [Left - photo of "daily prayer" - that's going to feed them!]
Armed with US$250,000 from the Southern Baptish Convention, Dr. John Goodgame, an American missionary in Uganda, launched a most unusual campaign against AIDS. Rather than using the money to provide healthcare or medicine, the money was used to purchase and distribute 100,000 Bibles with sheets pasted onto them giving selected Biblical passages to read. Some of these passages are predictable exhortations against adultery and other such "carnal" pleasures.
Yet, just as 150 years of Christian missionary activities failed to prevent poverty, under-development, famine, apartheid and civil wars in Africa, it is unlikely that these new evangelical missionaries will be a force for any good there.
India and Mother Teresa
In India too, the success of Christian missions have been limited to the marginal groups: the untouchables, the hill tribes and the "Anglo-Indians" (Indians with mixed parentage). Some missions in India had tended to concentrate on proselytizing through the provision of social services to the poor and needy. While this is certainly a better method than the ethnocidal methods of the fundamentalists, it should not be forgotten that these social services in general play a subserviant role to theology. The mission once headed by Mother Teresa (1910-1997) is a case in point.
Born in Albania in 1910, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, became a nun and a missionary to India. She subsequently changed her name to Teresa. Her work among the poor in Calcutta attracted the world wide attention culminating with a Nobel Peace Price in 1979. Yet her work has been criticised as not one based on the alleviation of suffering but on the morbid theological celebration of pain and suffering. Christopher Hitchens outlined these rather disturbing facts in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995):
- Dr. Robin Fox, editor of the medical journal The Lancet, visited Mother Teresa's operation in Calcutta in 1994. He reported that he was very "disturbed" by what he saw. There was little anesthesia to be seen and a near total neglect of medically sound diagnosis. Why were not the sisters given proper training in simple diagnosis as well as in managing pain? Because according to Dr. Fox, Mother Teresa "preferred providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism."
- Mary Loudon, a volunteer in Calcutta, had even worse things to say about Mother Teresa's operation. She reported seeing in the Home for the Dying more than a hundred men and women all dying and not been given much medical care. Pain killers used do not go beyond aspirins. The nuns were rinsing the needles used for drips with plain tap water. When Loudon asked them why they were not sterilizing the needles, the reply was simply they had no time and that there was "no point". She also recounted the case of a fifteen year old boy who was dying because of a treatable kidney complaint. All that was needed was a cab fare to take the boy to a proper hospital. But Mother Teresa's peons refused to do so, for "if they do it for one, they had to do it for everybody."
- Susan Sheilds, who worked for almost ten years as a member of Mother Teresa's order, subsequently left the movement because of the atrocious negligence she witnessed there. The order's obsession with poverty means that the nuns and volunteers works under conditions of austerity, rigidity and harshness. Due to Mother Teresa's fame, Ms. Sheilds reported that the charity had around US$50 million in their bank account in the US. The donations kept pouring in, yet little of these were used to procure medicine or to provide better health care for the suffering. The nuns were rarely allowed to spend money on the poor they are trying to help.
- To Mother Teresa, like all other missionaries, spiritual well being over-rides everything else. As Ms. Sheilds reported, "Mother Teresa taught her nuns how to secretly baptised those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a 'ticket to heaven'. An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then to pretend she was just cooling the person's forehead with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa's sisters were baptising Hindus and Muslims."
Perhaps a poignant summary of Mother Teresa's mission can be seen in a story recounted by herself. A dying man was in terrible pain. She told him "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you." To which the man replied: "Then please tell Jesus to stop kissing me."
It is in South America that the missionaries are at their most destructive. During the conquest of the "New World", beginning in the 15th century, Catholic priests and friars, accompanied the invading armies of Spain and Portugal. All kinds of coercive methods were used to subjugate and evangelize the Indians. The Indians were exploited, enslaved and made to work for the settlers in return for protection and religious instructions. A total of up to 15 million Indians were reported to have died due to such brutality.
The major damage done in modern times are by fundamentalists evangelical groups. The two main sects that have major activities in South America are the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and the New Tribes Mission (NTM).
The very name, Summer Institute of Linguistics, suggests an attempt at deception, of concealing their missionary activities. To the South American governments, the SIL presents itself as lingusitic investigators of the many languages of the native tribes of the continent. Under this cover, its 3,500 missionaries conduct their goal of converting the natives. It's founder William Townsend defends this patently dishonest method by asking the rhetorical question: "Was it honest for the Son of God to come down to earth without revealing who he was?"
Founded by Paul Fleming, the NTM today boasts of 2,500 missionaries in 24 countries worldwide. More conservative and ardently fundamentalist than the SIL, the NTM has a pronounced policy of recruiting young evangelists of limited education. Their lack of sensitivity for these native tribes can be seen in some of their descriptions of them. The natives are referred to as "naked savages" by Jean Johnson, the widow of a young NTM missionary, in her book God Planted Five Seeds . How do these sects, and others, spread the word of God? Do they learn the language and then preach? Do the natives then, by virtue of hearing the "Truth" with a capital "T", automatically become Christians? No. The methods employed are devious.
One method, as explained by Victor Halterman, of the SIL, involves cutting off the natives from their source of livelihood. This involve a few distinct steps; in the words of Halterman himself:
When we learn of the presence of an uncontacted group, we move into the area, build a strong shelter-say of logs-and cut paths radiating from it into the forest. We leave gifts along these paths-knives, axes, mirrors, the kind of things the Indians can't resist-and sometimes they leave gifts in exchange. After a while the relationship develops. Maybe they are mistrustful at first but in the end they stop running when we show, and we get together and make friends.
As the author and journalist, Norman Lewis, explained in his book The Missionaries: God against the Indians (1988), the gifts are placed in such a way that at the end the Indians become far removed from their sources of food and game. It is then that the gifts are stopped. Halterman continues:
We have to break their dependency on us next. Naturally they want to go on receiving all these desirable things we've been giving them, and sometimes it comes as a surprise when we explain that from now on if they want to possess them they must work for money. We don't employ them but we usually fix them up with something to do on the local farms. They settle down at it when they realise there's no going back.
That work at the "local farm" oftentimes amounts to slavery was (indirectly) admitted by Halterman when he mentioned that "abuses" sometimes occur.
Another method, aptly called "manhunt" by Lewis, involves the missionaries going out, sometimes in motorized vehicles, hunting for natives to integrate them into reservtions set up for missionary work. The NTM, for instance, went on such a manhunt in Paraguay. Five missionized natives were killed in one such manhunt. Those unconverted natives were taken to the NTM camp in Campo Loro. Within a short while, according to Survival International, all had died of new diseases they had no immunity to. Stung by criticism, the best reply the NTM 's Director in Paraguay could muster was: "We don't go after people anymore. We just provide transport."
A final element needs to be added. As Lewis wrote:
The unimportance of a comfortable earthly life, weighed in the balance against the threat of eternal punishment in the next, inspires many missionaries to gather the souls at all costs, often with disregards for the welfare of the converts' in this world.
Surely the (uninformed) believer may assert: these natives would be allowed to leave if they do not accept the preachings of the missionaries. Surely that would be the Christian thing to do. But that is not the case. Take the following eye witness account by Norman Lewis in a missionary camp in Paraguay:
I followed him [Donald McCullin-the photographer from The Sunday Times] into the hut and saw two old ladies lying on some rags on the ground in the last stages of emaciation and clearly on the verge of death. One was unconscious, the second in what was evidently a state of catalepsy...In the second hut lay another woman, also in a desperate condition and with untreated wounds on her legs. A small, naked, tearful boy, sat at her side...The three women and the boy had been taken in a recent forest roundup, the third woman having being shot in the side while attempting to escape.
But the worst of the mission linked atrocities happened in Brazil. Granted that the main culprits of the genocide were functionaries of the grossly misnamed Indian Protection Service, the missionaries were at least partly responsible for these. In the 1980's the Brazilian attorney general's office began an investigation into the atrocities committed by the agency over a period of thirty years. It's findings were shocking.
Many native tribes were hunted, murdered and some to the point of extinction. Some of these include:
- Munducurus tribe: reduced from 19,000 strong in the 1930's to 1,200
- Guaranis tribe: reduced from 5,000 to 200
- Cajaras tribe: from 4,000 to 400
- Cintas Largas: from 10,000 to possibly 500
- Tapaiunas: completely extirpated
- Other tribes were reduced to only a few (one or two!) individuals and some by only a single family.
These peoples were culled by various means by greedy landrobbers who wanted to developed the untapped natural wealth of the Brazilian rainforest. Some of the methods include:
- The Cintas Largas were attacked by dropping dynamites from aeroplanes.
- The Maxacalis were given alcohol and then shot down when they became drunk.
- The Nhambiquera were killed in huge numbers by machine gun fire.
- Two Patachos tribes were exterminated by giving the unsuspecting Idnians smallpox injections.
- Some of the Indians were murdered by presenting them with food laced with arsenic and formicides.
The above does not exhaust the creativity of the murderers but should suffice to show the almost unparalleled cruelty that were visited on the Indian tribes.
What have all these got to do with the missionaries? The Brazilian newpaper, O Jornal do Brazil had this to say:
In reality those in control of these Indian Protection Service posts [where the majority of the atrocities had taken place] are North American Missionaries...
This was confirmed by the Brazilian ministry of Indians. Thus, in essence, the missionaries allowed the atrocities to happen. As Lewis remarked:
Despite the law of every civilized country...that those who witness...a crime without denouncing it to the authorities are held to be accessories to the crime, there is no record to be found of any such denunciation [by the missionaries].
As the newspaper O Globo reported: "it was missionary policy to ignore what was going on."
Of course the missionaries were not only passively supporting the genocide of the Brazilian natives. They played active roles in many of the atrocities. One missionary persuaded 600 Ticuna indians that the end of the world is taking place and they will only be safe on a ranch. On that ranch the Indians were made slaves and tortured.
Thus was the power of Christian love in the Brazilian jungles.
Edited from this article: www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/mission.html Also provides many references for the facts cited. Original article has more on Asia and on South America.