Religious Imperialism

The European expropriation of vast areas of the world in Africa and the Americas in the nineteenth century was morally ambivalent. On the one hand, Britain at least had outlawed slavery at the start of the period and the burgeoning population of the old world had to be accommodated somewhere. But on the other hand, one cannot but regret the annihilation of whole tribes of stone age culture that had no answer to western technology and disease. I personally have no time for the sort of cultural relativism fashionable not so long ago and have no hesitation in regarding modern western civilisation to be superior to stone age civilisations – or indeed, medieval ones like Islam. Modern western science, the rule of humane, developed law and the evolved systems of morality and ethics that we enjoy in Britain seem to me infinitely preferable to the alternatives available in earlier eras. But, the gung-ho manner in which western explorers and imperial conquerors swept aside a myriad of ancient, vulnerable peoples has to be deplored. And in particular, I find particularly appalling, the way in which naked greed for land and resources was cloaked not just in cultural imperialism, but in religious imperialism. The desire to convert primitive peoples to the principles of free trade, when they had nothing to trade with but their birthright went hand in glove with a desire to convert those people to Christianity. Why those Victorian missionaries should have regarded their blood soaked, ugly beliefs that had subjected the old world to two millennia of warfare, persecution, and repression, was in any way superior to the beliefs of the peoples they encountered in America and Africa, staggers belief. At least those peoples had an excuse for their weird and fanciful supernatural beliefs; their western oppressors had the benefit of enlightenment reason and science to temper their irrationalites, but just went ahead anyway. I don’t know what must have seemed more ludicrous to these conquered peoples: the claim by westerners to have ‘discovered’ places that the natives had occupied for centuries, or the claim that the Christian divine sacrifice was in some way more ‘true’ than their own methods of propitiating the gods.

It would be nice to think that in the 21st Century, this kind of religious bigotry was long in the past, but unfortunately, it is ingrained in the very bones of Christianity. St Paul said: ‘I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some’, by which he meant that hypocrisy, guile, lies and deceit were all legitimised by the end in view. And whenever the Christian Church today offers help and aid to the poor and disadvantaged around the world, it does so in tandem with the same ghastly missionary intent. After all, the Church has always taught that this life is only a preparation for the next one, and material deprivation now can even be a spiritual blessing in relation to eternity. This is the real objective of all Christian charity: gain the recipients’ trust and gratitude, and then slip them the obnoxious meme of sin and salvation when they are down and defenceless. The odious Mother Teresa was a case in point; as Christopher Hitchens observed: "This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God”.  Personally I will not give to any charity tainted with supernatural agendas – there are plenty of secular ones that need support. And there is one charity that is particularly duplicitous and loathsome in this way – Operation Xmas Child. If this nasty little religious scam makes an appearance in your local school or youth organisation, check it out before you get involved and spread the word:

It is run by an organisation called Samaritan’s Purse, which in turn is run by extreme, fundamentalists who champion homophobia, bigotry, and right wing politics of thenastiest kind. The aid they dispense to people in real material need, funded by people like you and me, is used by them as a lever to peddle their narrow religious claptrap to young people without the education or experience to resist. The shoeboxes themselves are about the most inefficient way of giving aid possible, but the most efficient for winning hearts and minds of the vulnerable. Mother Teresa would be proud.