Pharyngula

I ♠ missionaries

If there actually were a god, Cyclone Sidr would have spun through Bangladesh, selectively eliminating all the two-faced scumbag missionaries who exploit the poor in the name of their deity. Chris Mooney cites an example from the Baptist Press:

In the hours before Cyclone Sidr reached the coastal areas of Bangladesh, Southern Baptists and other Christians began praying — aware that the Category 4 storm potentially could usher hundreds of thousands into an eternity without Jesus.

“Last night a lot of people died and entered an eternity of suffering,” Neely said. “Almost none of them has heard a Christian testimony or biblical explanation of who Christ really is. They have never heard the truth about who God really is, who they are in His sight or what God’s plan is to save us from our sin through Christ.”

The title of the source article is also offensive: “Their prayer: that faith in Christ follows cyclone “. That’s looking on the bright side, I guess — all the destruction, the desperation, and the displacement represent marvelous opportunities for the scoundrels and scalawags of religion to move in and harvest souls for Jesus.

I sometimes hear people claim that religion provides consolation to the bereaved. This is a perfect example of the opposite: a manipulative religion used to incite anguish and fear and misery in the minds of survivors.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    You could not be more wrong. We don’t believe it is our job to secure salvation for anyone, and especially, if that’s possible, those who want nothing to do with what “we” are offering. That’s two strikes in one sentence.

    Has it occurred to you that not every Christian is a Calvinist?

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    You could not be more wrong. We don’t believe it is our job to secure salvation for anyone, and especially, if that’s possible, those who want nothing to do with what “we” are offering. That’s two strikes in one sentence.

    Has it occurred to you that not every Christian is a Calvinist?

  3. #3 Ichthyic
    November 20, 2007

    You could not be more wrong. We don’t believe it is our job to secure salvation for anyone, and especially, if that’s possible, those who want nothing to do with what “we” are offering. That’s two strikes in one sentence.

    heddle, speaking for himself, as usual, projects his entire belief structure onto the bulk of xianity at large.

    …also as usual.

    you’re a freak, Heddle, not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but you speaking for xianity as a whole is rather humorous, to say the least.

    FFS, man, what the hell do you think the word “evangelical” as used with “evangelical Christianity” means?

    You seem to forget there are millions of xians who DO in fact think it their duty to secure salvation for everyone, in fact, many think they will go to hell if they do NOT expend effort in such a direction.

    I suppose you never heard of Jehova’s Witnesses either?

  4. #4 Sastra
    November 20, 2007

    “Last night a lot of people died and entered an eternity of suffering … They have never heard the truth about who God really is, who they are in His sight or what God’s plan is to save us from our sin through Christ.”

    I wasn’t raised in any religion, and so the generic, spiritual variation of the God concept I picked up on was one which hadn’t been limited to any particular cultural tradition. Looked at from an open and unbiased perspective, then, I figured that if God existed — and I assumed it did — then it would be equally available to everyone, in all situations, at all times. Moreover, something so vital and significant to the meaning and structure of everything would of course have to be equally appreciated by absolutely everyone.

    “God,” therefore, must really be an indisputable Force, an inescapable Power. Maybe it was something like the feeling of love, or our emotions towards beauty, or life itself — or something else much too important to be missed, ignored, or overlooked. You wouldn’t need to learn about it.

    Since I started out with such a huge conception of God, the view that God had “revealed” “special” “stories” which you HAD to hear about or you’d miss the entire purpose of existence just seemed really, really small. It made no sense, unless you tried to bring your ideas back down to the way a primitive tribe having rivalries with other tribes might think. I couldn’t think of any reason to do that.

    I no longer believe there’s a God, but that was only a matter of analyzing my assumptions carefully and working through. Although I once accepted a veneer of what could be called ‘cultural Christianity,’ I don’t think Christianity itself has ever been a “live option” for me. Or ever will be. I wasn’t raised with it, and that probably makes a big difference.

    This entire mindset where God’s “plan” has to be discovered through a book or through special and very selective revelations is just implausible. The idea that a ubiquitous Fundamental-Force needs to use missionaries or everyone else will miss its “message” is bizarre. For me, God started out too big for that sort of incompetent dicking around, and ended up turning into the natural universe (which, please note, is equally available and appreciated by everyone).

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    How about the creation accounts in Genesis (1:1 to 2:3 and 2:4 to… where does it end… let’s say 5:32)? Which one is the later addition?

    Tacticus

    Read that name again.

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    How about the creation accounts in Genesis (1:1 to 2:3 and 2:4 to… where does it end… let’s say 5:32)? Which one is the later addition?

    Tacticus

    Read that name again.

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    No, Dave[,] Heddle may be wrong, but he’s not a troll.

    What Dave? I didn’t say he was a troll (Jason Failes just above your comment did). He clearly isn’t.

    Tacitus, according to Christian theology Hitler isn’t in hell, he was a christian and accepted Jesus as his savior so he’s in heaven -

    That depends on which Christian theology you mean! You are referring to the Lutheran concept of salvation by faith alone. Catholicism picks another bible quote which states that salvation comes by faith and good works. In the complete absence of good works or repentance… fill in the rest. (…And then throw it away again because you don’t know what acts of mercy God may have performed.)

    You would think if the bible was the inerrant word of god he would have thought far enough ahead to make mistakes or misinterpretation impossible.

    Sounds logical.

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    No, Dave[,] Heddle may be wrong, but he’s not a troll.

    What Dave? I didn’t say he was a troll (Jason Failes just above your comment did). He clearly isn’t.

    Tacitus, according to Christian theology Hitler isn’t in hell, he was a christian and accepted Jesus as his savior so he’s in heaven -

    That depends on which Christian theology you mean! You are referring to the Lutheran concept of salvation by faith alone. Catholicism picks another bible quote which states that salvation comes by faith and good works. In the complete absence of good works or repentance… fill in the rest. (…And then throw it away again because you don’t know what acts of mercy God may have performed.)

    You would think if the bible was the inerrant word of god he would have thought far enough ahead to make mistakes or misinterpretation impossible.

    Sounds logical.

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    cited by Christians as an example of how terrible it would be if there wasn’t a Hell where punishment was meted out for despicable people.

    <culture shock>

    We really know nothing of them other than that they are there serving and that they pray for the people.

    We don’t even know what they mean by “serving”, do we?

    Can you pack any more mischaracterizations of Christian theology into one sentence? Hitler saying he accepted Christ does not make him a Christian. Hitler even sincerely believing what he said, if he did, does not make him a Christian. There is no such thing in Christian theology as salvation by sincerity.

    Depends on the denomination. Again.

    If you want to say that only Calvinists are Christians, why don’t you simply do that? It would save us all a lot of confusion.

    for the genesis creation stories the fundy street preacher i was discussing with on saturday claimed the second one was an indepth version of day 6 of the first.

    Doesn’t work. Doesn’t remove the contradictions.

    How do you pronounce the symbol in the heading?

    Maybe don’t. Maybe interpreted as a heart that is turned upside-down (and maybe impaled).

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 20, 2007

    cited by Christians as an example of how terrible it would be if there wasn’t a Hell where punishment was meted out for despicable people.

    <culture shock>

    We really know nothing of them other than that they are there serving and that they pray for the people.

    We don’t even know what they mean by “serving”, do we?

    Can you pack any more mischaracterizations of Christian theology into one sentence? Hitler saying he accepted Christ does not make him a Christian. Hitler even sincerely believing what he said, if he did, does not make him a Christian. There is no such thing in Christian theology as salvation by sincerity.

    Depends on the denomination. Again.

    If you want to say that only Calvinists are Christians, why don’t you simply do that? It would save us all a lot of confusion.

    for the genesis creation stories the fundy street preacher i was discussing with on saturday claimed the second one was an indepth version of day 6 of the first.

    Doesn’t work. Doesn’t remove the contradictions.

    How do you pronounce the symbol in the heading?

    Maybe don’t. Maybe interpreted as a heart that is turned upside-down (and maybe impaled).

  11. #11 heddle
    November 20, 2007

    Jason,

    Re: Luke 19:27: Yes, taking a verse from the end of a parable and using it as if Jesus were speaking about himself, literally, is top-notch scholarly work. Well played! After all, it is consistent with all those times when Jesus, not speaking in parables, instructed the disciples to kill infidels.

    I wonder about the inanity of writing “Hitler is a TRUE Christian.” From any perspective, it’s dumb. Not only is it, to the extent that such a thing is possible, demonstrably false, it makes atheists look stupid. It’s like arguing that the Finish school shooter was a “TRUE evolutionist.” Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    And you wonder why atheists think religion is not only false, but monsterous…

    I don’t wonder about that at all, it’s rather obvious.

    David Marjanovi?, OM

    (What is OM?)

    If you want to say that only Calvinists are Christians, why don’t you simply do that? It would save us all a lot of confusion

    Because it would be a mischaracterization of Calvinism which teaches that God will have mercy upon whom he have mercy, Calvinist or not. I would say that Calvinism represents accurate Christian theology–but no surprise there, everyone thinks they are right. I don’t know of anyone who holds opinions they think are incorrect.

  12. #12 Sastra, OM
    November 20, 2007

    We’re not necessarily criticizing the missionaries themselves, as people, but the role and the concept. Even within the structure of religion, there are some problems.

    Here are two propositions:

    1.) Sometimes, salvation is a matter of luck.

    2.) No missionary ever ‘saves’ or converts anyone who wouldn’t have been saved/converted anyway, without them.

    Seems to me it’s one or the other. The first one runs into the problem of God being unfair, arbitrary, and far from omnibenevolent. It also makes God’s presumed goal of saving as many people as possible dependent on the whims and failures of human beings — which then gets into conflicts with omnipotence. Bad planning.

    But if it’s the second one, then exactly what are the missionaries doing? Performing some sort of pointless dance routine just so they can demonstrate to God and themselves how willingly they go through motions He demanded for no reason?

    Again, it doesn’t really make sense.

  13. #13 Sastra, OM
    November 20, 2007

    alison wrote:

    I call missionaries cultural rapists for the simple reason that they are in a foreign non-Christian country to convert the populace.

    And the same criticism of cultural imperialism is often directed towards scientists, doctors, human rights activists, and educators who try to “convert” people in foreign countries to give up their superstitions, dogmas, ignorance, bigotry and pseudosciences for something which works better.

    Persuasion is not, in and of itself, a form of force. A person’s “culture” should not define them, box them in, and trump their individual ability to choose something else. After all, you could say that Dawkins’ book has “torn families apart” by convincing some people to give up their religious views. That harms our American culture, where the majority believe in God!

    Pick a horse and ride it. Atheists can’t criticize missionaries simply for trying to change people’s religious views and then get huffy when they’re criticized for the same thing. If a person’s religion is a sacred, special part of their identity which needs to be left alone as it is, then atheists should sit down and shut up when it comes to discussing God. I don’t think so — and I’m not going to change and go all mimsy if I find out we’re talking about people of other races or countries. That wouldn’t be being “sensitive” — it’s being condescending.

    Now, the product the missionaries is selling, and the tactics they use to push it — that’s fair game.

  14. #14 coathangrrr
    November 20, 2007

    And the same criticism of cultural imperialism is often directed towards scientists, doctors, human rights activists, and educators who try to “convert” people in foreign countries to give up their superstitions, dogmas, ignorance, bigotry and pseudosciences for something which works better.

    And sometimes the charges are true. Sometimes those groups of people are guilty of cultural imperialism, but they generally are guilty when they go there on false pretenses, like helping the poor, when they have other true motives.

    Persuasion is not, in and of itself, a form of force.

    These people don’t use persuasion, they use the fact that the international economic system benefits the United States and thus allows them to push their beliefs on people who reside in countries which are harmed by global economic institutions. These groups pray on the threat of death under which poor peoples live in the modern world. They use that threat to force people to listen to their nonsense, like homeless folks who have to sit through a sermon to get free food.

    A person’s “culture” should not define them, box them in, and trump their individual ability to choose something else. After all, you could say that Dawkins’ book has “torn families apart” by convincing some people to give up their religious views. That harms our American culture, where the majority believe in God!

    A culture does in fact play a huge role in defining who we are as people, despite the odd insistence from a lot of Americans that it doesn’t, something I chalk up to our “individualist” culture. But thats not the point, the point is that saying missionaries are cultural imperialism is not to say that people shouldn’t be able to choose something else, it is to say that people shouldn’t use international inequities to spread their beliefs. This puts Dawkins squarely outside such a critique as he certainly does not use inequities as a means of spreading his belief, he simply argues forcefully for what he thinks.

    Now, the product the missionaries is selling, and the tactics they use to push it — that’s fair game.

    Exactly, and missionary work is a tactic. The problem is not that they are trying to change people’s minds it is how they are trying to change peoples minds. I as an atheist can try all I want to convince people I’m right, but when I start using coercion to do so I become the bad guy.

  15. #15 frog
    November 20, 2007

    Sastra: “Pick a horse and ride it. Atheists can’t criticize missionaries simply for trying to change people’s religious views and then get huffy when they’re criticized for the same thing.”

    But I don’t “attempt to change people’s religious views” in some imperialistic sense; I don’t “evangelize” in a missionary sense. Most atheists don’t – we don’t have an organized missionary movement. We try to convince others of our point of view, while they try to convince us of theirs – I don’t know any dogmatic atheists, where atheism is an article of faith (does that even make sense?).

    What missionaries do is convert others, with a dogmatic belief in their own rightness. They don’t go among a tribe with an open-mind, to exchange ideas, but with the stated goal to convert them. Their rightness isn’t a philosophical understanding, but an article of faith – there is no counter-argument. The faith is first. Even the strongest atheist lacks that. Does Dawkins say that he couldn’t possibly be wrong, or convinced otherwise? That he has faith in his atheism? He simply says that his arguments are stronger than his opponents.

    So missionaries: in general, cultural imperialists. Atheists – no cultural imperialists that I know, even though there’s an exception to everything. It’s perfectly fair to criticize missionaries for attempting to positively destroy other cultures as a principle of their religion.

  16. #16 Sastra, OM
    November 20, 2007

    coathangrrr wrote:

    The problem is not that they are trying to change people’s minds it is how they are trying to change peoples minds.

    I agree. Forcing the poor to listen to sermons in order to get food is exactly the sort of tactic which needs to be criticized. Ditto on hoping a disaster will make people more desperate and “receptive” to heavy-handed proselytizing.

    frog wrote:

    The approach of a missionary (and most Christians) is completely insincere (whether or not they sincerely believe their own BS). Their goal when they do “missionary work” is not a sincere exchange of ideas to help both missionaries and missionees to ascertain the nature of reality, but a by-any-means-necessary no-hold-barred evangelism.

    And this is where I would criticize missionary work for tactic and the product it’s selling — dogma. As you point out, there’s no search for consensus here or attempt to find objective truths. They’re indoctrinating.

    But I still hesitate to call missionary work “cultural imperialism” because of how it “rips apart the fabric of society,” as alison put it. I think there’s sometimes a tendency to confuse a basic respect for differences in other cultures with a desire to keep these cultural differences rigid and fixed — and keep the individuals in them pure and ‘uncontaminated’ by outside influences. People do that with religion — combine “respecting religion” with “respecting culture,” and I worry about endorsing a mindset which sees people as fulfilling roles — and religion as one of those roles. Trying to change the minds of people in foreign countries is then offensive in itself, regardless of whether it’s through rational argument (as in science or atheism) or dogmatic propaganda, threats, and bribes.

  17. #17 frog
    November 20, 2007

    Sastra: But I still hesitate to call missionary work “cultural imperialism” because of how it “rips apart the fabric of society,” as alison put it.

    The difference is that missionary work intends to destroy all differences. That’s not an unfortunate side-effect of the work, but it’s intended consequence – to convert people to the one, universal view, and eliminate all other view points. Arguing quantum physics may undermine Islamic belief in the absolute knowledge of god, but the point in advancing modern physics is not to destroy Islam and replace it with “Modern Physicism”. Physics isn’t anti-religion, it’s simply religion failing in the argument.

    So it’s not that trying to change peoples’ mind is offensive, whether they’re foreign or not. That’s not what makes it cultural imperialism, in a rational way. It depends on the arguers. If the approach is one of equality, then it’s just an argument between individuals and communities. But if it’s specifically designed to absorb your opponents, if it’s an extension of aggression rather than a sincere dialectic, I think that’s what people mean by cultural imperialism.

    We shouldn’t be afraid to identify by name these kinds of aggressive, destructive, amoral behaviors. That’s the weakness of naive tolerance – a tolerance for the intolerant. The kinds of insincere dialectics that I constantly see from Christian and other kind of missionaries and trolls should be called out. You can’t win against them, so what’s the point in being polite with them?

  18. #18 coathangrrr
    November 20, 2007

    I think Sastra point is not that missionary work is not bad, but that the reason that it is bad is not because it “rips apart the fabric of society.”

    I think there’s sometimes a tendency to confuse a basic respect for differences in other cultures with a desire to keep these cultural differences rigid and fixed — and keep the individuals in them pure and ‘uncontaminated’ by outside influences.

    I totally agree. And I think that the idea that cultures, or any culture that didn’t come from Europe, is somehow static is definitely an aspect of traditional colonialism. Also the idea that each culture is somehow monolithic. Like all of India is Hindu and that all Hindus worship the same god(s).

  19. #19 frog
    November 20, 2007

    And my point is that missionary work is bad because it intends to rip societies apart. I think Sastra doesn’t take it far enough, from a timidity to look at the underlying intentions and morals. Sastra is correct enough to look at tactics, but is overly “fair” to missionaries. Even if they used completely “fair” tactics, their goals obviate any “fairness”, because the whole thing is a ruse.

    So, we agree it’s not that it’s bad because it “rips apart the fabric of society”, but I disagree with the statement “missionaries [are] simply for trying to change people’s religious views”. Missionaries are trying to destroy those societies and replace them with new ones, not cooperatively create a new society. This is a flaw of in liberalness – the tendency to withhold judgment on underlying goals and instead focus on process. Fair rules are insufficient if one side considers the rules simple as an expedient.

  20. #20 coathangrrr
    November 21, 2007

    I think Sastra doesn’t take it far enough, from a timidity to look at the underlying intentions and morals. Sastra is correct enough to look at tactics, but is overly “fair” to missionaries.

    I think you are mistaking a critique of the reasons that the missionaries are condemned with a critique of them being condemned. Without trying to put words into Sastra mouth I’d say that the point was not to be fair to missionaries but to point out that not all people who do things that “rip societies apart” are cultural imperialists. That said, I am certainly not defending missionaries, I think that missionary work is and has been historically a horrible thing. I think you are mistaking a critique of the reasons that the missionaries are condemned with a critique of them being condemned.

  21. #21 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 21, 2007

    (What is OM?)

    OB is the Order of the Benedictines. OM is the Order of the Molly.

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 21, 2007

    (What is OM?)

    OB is the Order of the Benedictines. OM is the Order of the Molly.

  23. #23 frog
    November 21, 2007

    coathangrrr: “I think you are mistaking a critique of the reasons that the missionaries are condemned with a critique of them being condemned. Without trying to put words into Sastra mouth I’d say that the point was not to be fair to missionaries but to point out that not all people who do things that “rip societies apart” are cultural imperialists.”

    I think you’re interpretation of Sastra is correct (until Sastra corrects us), but you’re interpretation of my critique is wrong. I’m not implying that Sastra doesn’t condemn missionaries – Sastra was quite clear on that. What I do think is that Sastra’s critique end at means and doesn’t include ends. The end goals of missionaries demands a criticism of them that extends to their means; means that would be justifiable with different ends are not justifiable with the obvious goals of missionaries. To repeat, you may not be a cultural imperialist if the end of result of your actions is to destroy a society; but if you goal is to destroy a society, your means can be critiqued as cultural imperialism.

    In serious matters, the ends are essential to judging the means. Recall the incident at Coventry in WWII, where the British allowed civilians to be bombed by the Germans in order to hide their ability to decrypt German messages. If that had been done as part of a war that the British had initiated to conquer the Germans, it would have been a monstrosity; but as a defensive tactic, it was unfortunate and sad, but necessary and therefore justifiable.

    There is no universal system of laws that can judge actions free from the goals of the actors. If I’m friends with a Niugini native, and in our personal discussions about science I undermine his faith in his culture, or he undermines mine, that is not imperialism. We are equals and neither one set out with the stated goal of destroying the other’s culture. But the same incident, in the context of my being a missionary who is being funded by an international organization to specifically destroy other cultures, is completely different; the goal is wrong, and the means used to reach that goal are wrong (having personal discussions regarding reality) because of that goal.

    Sastra’s point appears to be that one should be careful about condemning means that you yourself use, for different ends; my point is that you shouldn’t be too careful, when the context of those goals completely alter the relationship of the participants. Power matters.

  24. #24 heddle
    November 21, 2007

    David Marjanovi?, OM

    OB is the Order of the Benedictines. OM is the Order of the Molly.

    Ah, I see. Thanks.

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