Friday, December 14, 2007

Missionaries and their Reality

Its easy for secular people to dismiss missionaries as either fools or con artists, getting people to follow a government or governments that just seek to enslave or kill them. But that judgment doesn't do justice to the history of missionary work as it relates to colonialism. Its important to understand that these men and women truly believed in what they were doing.

I made this analogy in a couple classes: missionaries in the 1500s thought of themselves as if they were in a lifeboat and all others around them were drowning. Their Christianity was the lifeboat, and the drowning people were the non-Christians who were doomed to hell if they didn't accept Christianity. They felt that if they didn't do everything they could to get the non-Christians into the lifeboat (convert them to Christianity), that was essentially murder. They were complicit in destroying the souls of the nonbelievers. They believed the fate of the world rested in their hands. This explains why they were so vigilant in their attempts to convert people, especially the Africans.

Don't get me wrong-this is not meant to excuse the behavior of those missionaries who essentially said "convert or die." The death and destruction that came from colonialism is inexcusable. But its our job as students of history to understand why they did what they did. The missionaries were dedicated to their cause, so much so that (in many cases) they decided that death was preferable to disbelief.

The other important issue discussed today relates to the comparison of Buddhist missionaries to Christian missionaries. Notice some essential differences: (a.) Era in history-the Buddhist missionaries did their work before 1500, which severely limited their geographic impact (as there wasn't a whole lot of transportation technology available), and (b.) Nature of Monotheism versus Polytheism-remember, Polytheism is not based upon the acceptance of a single God. The Christian missionaries were naturally going to be more aggressive because their reality told them to be so.

Overall, the presence of missionaries throughout history has had an undeniable and massive impact on the world throughout history, and the world as we know it today would be dramatically different if those missionaries did not convert thousands. Who know, without missionaries and evangelism, Mike Huckabee might just be another guy, not the new frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.


Josh Milgrom said...

The christian missionaries seemed so content in converting everyone they could. I really liked the whole christian lifeboat analogy becaue it is true that these missionaries thought that it was their duty to save the lives of all non0christians because they believed that they would die and go to hell instead of heaven because they had not accpeted the teachings of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, the christian missionaries went to huge lenghts in trying to convert as many people as they could. One way where I thought that they completley lied and took advantage of young children where with the missionary schools in Africa. The Christians knew that they would be able to convert some young children if they got the teachings of Christ embedded in them at an early age. The sad part about all of this though is that the missioanries often lief about what they would be teaching in these schools, they often would say that they were teaching basic school subjects so the African children, most of whom ahd not had a proper edication would be convinced by their parents to go. However there was much bible study in these schools that was able to convince many of the children to convert to Christianity. It is just sad to see how the missionarie manipulated these children and practically took away their indigenous bleiefs.

suzanne said...

the whole idea of missionaries believing in what they were doing is just another example of how religion construsts a person's reality. we could go around in circles for years debating weather or not people whose reality it was to convert people were right as opposed to people who believed that converting people took away their automoy, like the author of one of our readings. in the end it seems almost pointless to discuss it because, like so much throughout history, their is no end to the discussion in sight. like mr. moran said what we should be doing instead is teaching people about both sides of the story. In this way people can chose what makes the most sense to them and therefore construst their own religious reality.

lalalalalalallala said...

I agree with SUZY, but I also want to bring up another point. Missionaries and the like really did believe that they were doing this to help people. I'm not talking about the nice missionaries, but the mean missionaries tried to force people into Christianity because they were trying to help them (I am in no way justifying all the atrocities done in the name of religion). The Crusades is included in this too. Pope Urban II started the Crusades because he craved power, but he also made people think that killing "infidels"-or in other words, anyone who isn't Protestant- was "God's Will", and ensured going to St. Peter's Gates through killing.
This concept can even be stretched back to Hitler! He did not hunt down gypsies,homosexuals,Jews, and Bohemians because he was sick, or a psychopath, or a lunatic. He did it because he thought he was doing the right thing and that he was helping everyone out. THIS IN NO WAY JUSTIFIES WHAT HE DID.

I'm Andres Ramirez, and I'm just sayin.


Andres, the point you bring up concerning Pope Urban and the missionaries cannot be considered in a single way. Pope Urban's decision to launch a crusade, is not merely as simple as politics. Because there is no common truth without a direct confession, so you must look at all the different aspects that Pope Urban may have decided upon. Also, you cannot truly consider only one of these options. The things that most likely effected his decision were DEFENDING CHRISTIAN LAND, SAVING MUSLIMS FROM DAMNATION, INCREASE IN CHRISTIAN SUPPORT. Before singling Pope Urban out, you must look at all the aspects both negative and positive, and base them with the standards of his period.
You say that there were mean missionaries and nice missionaries, and most likely based them on your idea of morality. The idea of good and evil are just opinions based around ones own morals. Besides, all of the missionaries tried to convert people (not just the "mean ones"), because it was their belief and task.
You also say that the reasons for the crusades, were just political, but you must remember that there is more to it than just politics, and in terms of him saying that Gods will was to kill non-protestants would send his people to heaven, was not necessarily a scheme to get support, but may have infact been a belief of his.
Furthermore, you relate him to Hitler. Using different morals, every human being and event can be easily related to Hitler and his ideals. Example, George Bush takes away the rights of terrorists and subjects them to torture. Did Hitler not do the same to the Jews?

Finally, you say that Pope Urban's beliefs do not justify his actions. Based on his beliefs, there would be no need to justify his actions. This is because he fealt that his course of actions were correct. You must understand, that right and wrong is merely an opinion that can be thrown around whenever based on moral standard.

I am not saying that any of your opinions are wrong or right, because there is no wrong or right (excepted the will of god), so your opinions are all valid.

Wrong and Right are opinions that evaluate opinions, Funny how that works out.

Your friendly neighbor

lalalalalalallala said...

I based "mean" and "nice" on my morals, its true. But with the word "mean" I meant missionaries that would kill if you did not acknowledge
or believe in the same religion that the missionaries represented. What I meant by "nice" missionaries, was towards the missionaries that did not convert people with force, such as: "Buddhist missionaries would arrive in an area, usually on invitation, and begin teaching those who came to listen to them or translating text into local languages. They usually also tried to find common features with the already established religion rather than oppose it. Buddhist missionary endeavour is therefore usually gentle, unobtrusive and a response to a need rather than the creating of a need."

I agree with you in the aspect of Hitler and Bush. But it enforces the concept which I stated, "atrocities done were done by people that thought they were doing the right thing" (thats the gist of it at least)
So the concept mentioned above could actually be stretched back to anyone who made history.

I'm andres ramirez and im just sayin

Alex Rachlin said...

I'm just going to talk about the difference between the Christian missionaries and the Buddhist missionaries because I feel that is the most important example of showing the significance of missionaries and going about their ways. If i remember correctly, in the homework, I talked about how different the Christian missionaries were from the Buddhist missionaries. The Christian missionaries had one large mindset towards converting the largest mass of people to Christianity. They did it through education and any other way they could. But what was a horrible thought/idea was that they used force as well and they forced people to convert to Christianity by putting bad thoughts through their minds, the largest one being, if you don't convert, then you WILL die. I think it is pretty sad that they had to do this in order to get people to convert. If religion really was something that made every choice for everyone, I think that most people would convert to Christianity considering what the missionaries spoke of. My dad tells me some stories about how when he lived in NYC, there were Christians begging people on their knees to convert to Christianity. This I think is just plain pathetic. I mean it's pretty obvious your not going to say to someone, "Oh, please convert to (religion), and GOD WILL SAVE YOU," and their going to reply, "OH, YES, because some random guy comes up to me and tells me this, I am going to convert to Christianity, the best religion ever, dude." I just think it's really pathetic.
The buddhist missionaries are almost the exact opposite. They allow time for others to convert to Buddhism. Because Buddhism is all about space giving, peace, and freedom, it allows the people to think about the qualities of life, which I think is much better than going about it the way the Christian missionaries did. Anyway, the Buddhist missionaries were smart in going about it this way, in allowing them to think and not HAVE to convert.
Point is, well, you get it I'm sure. Or else I'm going to have to explain it all over again.