Sunday Sermon: Evangelical Christians show they don’t understand morality. Again.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but for most of the non-European world, the arrival of Christianity was a bad thing. It meant the beginning of centuries of torture, rape, murder, slavery, and genocide across the entire planet. At various points over the last few centuries, some people in the various European cultures came to the conclusion that the ongoing crimes against non-white people the world over might be, in some way, bad.

By the time I became aware of the concept of colonialism, probably in the mid-late 1990s, the people around me uniformly viewed it as a massive injustice. It was a long time before I started to realize that there are people who not only continue to uphold the evil doctrine of Manifest Destiny (more simply described as “might makes right”), but that the exploitation, deprivation, theft, and murder that characterized the creation of colonial empires barely even slowed down in the late 20th century – we just changed how we talk about it.

The “old” attitudes still surface though, on a regular basis. You can see it in the way people like Trump talk about countries in the global South, and in the ease with which America’s alliances with the surviving native tribes are still being violated.

The rise of white supremacy as a dominant economic and political force across the globe was justified both by the claim of white superiority, and by the claim of Christian superiority. Christian missionaries often shaped early interactions with non-European cultures, and death often came with them. For some people, the invading Christians stole children and indoctrinated them to “civilize” them. Others brought slavery, or simple extermination. The tactics of genocide are many and varied, and Christianity was right there for the whole journey.

Today, if this is brought up, I think most white people in America would describe it as something in the past – something we don’t really do anymore. As with so many other “sins of the past”, our obsession with them being in the past, and with “moving forward” seems to have blinded us to the fact that we never actually took the time and effort to really make the case that the activities of the colonial empires were – and are – bad.

That makes repeats inevitable, and so we have the story of a missionary who ignored history, laws, and the wishes of the people living on North Sentinel Island, because he thought he knew better. Because he had to “spread the good news”. Because he didn’t care why they might not want to see him, or listen to the same propaganda of people who have hurt them in the past.

Worse still, a Christian group is trying to get these people charged with murder. The message is clear: No matter what has happened in the past, no matter what the Sentinelese think or want, they must be forced to allow Christian missionaries to come try to convert them. They must be made to submit, because anything less than total Christian dominance is “persecution”.

The Sentinelese learned what many non-Christians have learned over the centuries – it’s often hard to tell a missionary’s “good news” from a threat. If Christians want that to change, they’re going to have to accept that they don’t have a right to push their ideology on people, especially people who have clearly said that they’re not interested. Nobody exists in isolation from history, and nobody has a right to claim otherwise.


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  1. chigau (違う) says

    I think that Christianity was not so good for Europe, either.
    There were plenty of religions in Europe before they went all Jesusy.

  2. quotetheunquote says

    I had never come across that “International Christian Concern” organization before reading the link in the OP … and, in the immortal words of Charles Dickens, “I wish the pleasure had been indefinitely postponed”.

    But I’d bet the farm that a good portion of its membership is composed of conservative, stand-your-ground 2nd – Amendment types, who unflinchingly support the law-abiding citizen’s right to defend his home with lethal force. Wonder how they’d react to some complete stranger, in weird clothes, marching onto their property yelling gibberish at them….

  3. says

    I note that the same people who are ok with closing our borders, and using lethal force to keep out the Wrong People as a sovereign right, do not allow the Sentinalese to enact the same policies.
    All that people say about colonizing and exploitation and such is true enough (and along with Manifest Destiny don’t forget the Doctrine of Discovery, which underlies M.D. Here is one place to find out more:
    However, it’s a “Christian” phenomenon in the same way that the shamanism of medieval Mongolia was “responsible” for Genghiz Khan’s empire; or that “paganism” was responsible for the Roman empire, or Buddhism underlies the persecution of the Rohingya. People act out of greed, fear, racism, or a desire for power, etc., and construct a rationale to justify the evil they do.
    This has happened afresh with the large majority of white evangelicals in modern America who support nativism, white supremacy, militarism, “free market capitalism”, and their current standard-bearer, Donald Trump. (this article by William Saletan introduces fresh evidence from a recent poll:
    Speaking as a christian Quaker, this kind of thing done in the name of Christ is nausiating.

  4. says

    Thanks – I was drawing a blank on the Doctrine of Discovery.

    For the rest, it’s similar to how I often focus on U.S. policy and history – this is a Christian-run empire, that has been using Christianity as a tool of suppression and genocide since before its inception. This is part of a pattern, and the fact that other empires have had different patterns that also involved oppression and murder doesn’t really change that…

    And it’s not like the bible isn’t filled with exceptions to the various rules about good treatment of other people. As long as that’s where people turn for their morality, some people are going to keep doing evil shit because of what that book says. I don’t really see another option, given the claim that the god in question is perfect, eternal, and unchanging.

  5. Dunc says

    And it’s not like the bible isn’t filled with exceptions to the various rules about good treatment of other people. As long as that’s where people turn for their morality, some people are going to keep doing evil shit because of what that book says.

    I’m not convinced that this is true. Sure, they’ll point to the book as justification, but without that option, they’d simply find other justifications. People are going to keep doing evil shit because that’s (part of) what people do. The book is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain that sort of behaviour.

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