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Austin Cline

Africa: Christian Missionaries Making the World Worse

By January 2, 2010

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Churches which send missionaries abroad of course acknowledge that their primary purpose is to convert others to Christianity, but they also frequently present the missionaries as serving a more general humanitarian mission as well: educating, providing medicine, offering technical assistance, etc. In reality, though, there are situations where Christian missionaries ultimately make society and the world in general a much worse place to live -- but it's primarily worse for people like women or gays, whose lives just don't count for very much.

Greg Laden, who has been to this region many time, has some personal observation about the relationship between religion and political culture there:

1) The Missionary Influence is important. Tanzania is far less missionized than the other countries in recent decades, and Rwanda is a bid different, but there is a pervasive religious factor that is Christian, and subsumes the thinking of a goodly part of the population. It is not the case that everyone in the region is a fundamentalist Christian. Many people in East Africa and adjoining regions are Muslim (a Majority if Kenyans, I believe), and many are relatively indifferent to religion. But it is a factor.

2) Many of the human-rights related issues that we see from a Western perspective as being important are more developed in East Africa than a lot of westerners might expect. Women have been in positions of power in the government for years, and there are open movements to fight violence against women and other patriarchal features of human societies. Although there is just as much "inter tribal" (= inter ethnic) crapola in East Africa as there is in Europe or the US, there is also a much better and more advanced understanding of racial issues. In short, there is a progressive attitude regarding human rights. Well, some human rights.

3) In some subcultures in the regions, homosexuality is normal and integrated into day to day life, or ignored. It is not a big deal.

4) At the same time, where the Christian missionized influence is strong, homosexuality is considered to be one of the great wrongs against god. Homosexuality is seen as an abomination, and "abomination" isn't just some quaint word out of the Bible.

Uganda in particular is run by a government that is nearly explicitly Christian and fundamentalist, and there are many ties between the Ugandan government and the church. Many of the internal civil conflicts that have occurred over the last decades or that are going on now are explicitly religious.

Thanks to Eric O for providing a link to this

Religious theists -- and even some atheists -- object when so-called "new" atheist critics allege that "religion poisons everything." Well, even if religion generally does not poison everything, some religions certainly can inject poison into far too many things where they are introduced. This is just one depressing example of such a phenomenon and it's certainly a good reason to object to religions like Christianity. We've got enough problems in America without our petty religious bigotries being spread abroad.

January 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm
(1) Robert says:

Actually women and gays do count for religious groups. If a religious person is interested in their salvation and if God does exist then who is showing more interest. The person feeding the individual for one meal, or the persone ensuring the eternity of their life versus the whisp of time an individual lives their life on Earth?

Additionally on a note in reference to your article on evolution. I think the critical point you missed is that a “theory” in science must be proven without doubt, otherwise it is a hypothesis. Therefore “evolution” is not a theory, but a hypothesis as it is unproven. Fossil gaps would disprove the “theory” just as 1 + 1 + _ = 4. This is a hypothesis. Any number could exist there to either disprove or prove the theory. What evolution really identifies is adaptation and nothing more.

January 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

Actually women and gays do count for religious groups.

The context here is “counting” as full political and social equals who deserve full rights and liberty to act as autonomous individuals. “Counting” as targets for proselytizing is hardly relevant.

who is showing more interest. The person feeding the individual for one meal, or the persone ensuring the eternity of their life versus the whisp of time an individual lives their life on Earth?

Definitely the latter, because my need for a meal now is demonstrable, unambiguous, and real; my need for eternal bliss is not demonstrable, is highly debatable, and even if legitimate there are highly conflicting accounts for how it should be achieved.

If a person has any interest in my well-being, then they should see to it that I have the minimum requirements for a healthy, safe life here and now. Trying to oppress me politically and socially, up to and including creating the conditions for state-sanctioned murder simply because I fail to adhere to their personal religious code, does not help me.

I think the critical point you missed is that a “theory” in science must be proven without doubt

I didn’t “miss” it because that is simply false. No scientific theory is “proven without doubt” and I challenge you to find a single citation that states the contrary.

Therefore “evolution” is not a theory, but a hypothesis as it is unproven.

This is also false. Evolution is both a fact and a theory. It is a fact the evolution occurs; evolutionary theory is the explanation for how and why it occurs.

You should read some science texts on both evolution and on the scientific method generally.

January 2, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(3) tracieh says:

>who is showing more interest. The person feeding the individual for one meal, or the persone ensuring the eternity of their life versus the whisp of time an individual lives their life on Earth?

And yet, on AETV we are consistently told that atheism minimizes the value of life/this life. When we respond that actually it is afterlife religions that minimize this life, we’re told we’re just so wrong. And then I see quotes like the one above, and want a t-shirt with that on it, so I can hold it up every time a Christian tells me their religion makes this life valuable.

No, the next life is valuable–this life is just the filter to get you to the next, “real” life. This is a mere blip on the eternal radar, a prelude to the only thing that really matters. It’s OK if people “in this life” starve to death–as long as I saved them in the afterlife. Where is this guy when I’m on the line with the caller claiming religion endows this life with value?

January 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm
(4) BlackSun says:

The worst outrage committed by Christianity in Africa is the branding of children as witches and the charging of exorbitant fees to “exorcise” them. People who can’t afford the fees have been known to kill their own children, pound nails into their brains or leave them outside to die of starvation or from being attacked by animals.

Austin, I know you’ve covered this. But it’s an outrage that can’t be repeated often enough. I think one of the reasons religions are focusing so intently on the third world is because so many people in the developed nations are wise to their tricks. With all the problems Africa has to overcome, they just plain don’t need another several generations of religion. Instead of replacing tribal religions with Christianity (which is like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire), what they need to do is to defeat their superstitions altogether and become a continent of reason.

Tai Solarin has lead the way. Now all they need to do is follow.

January 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm
(5) MrMagic says:

So called Christians are some of the most ignorant concerning the Bible. I am not a Christian not out of ignorance but due to the fact that I have studied the Bible (religiously) and it makes no sense. No rational person can harmonize all the conflicting issues in the Bible. White Christians who invade the global south with their brand of religion are nothing but the front line of imperialist designs. The proof of this is in history.

January 3, 2010 at 1:07 am
(6) The Sojourner says:

This is a reprat of a previous comment I made in regard to the recent Ugandan laws regarding gays. This is what Christianity has wrought. I repeat this here because it’s relevant, not because I’m lazy:

More “Christian Love”, I see. This, is, of course, a horrendous idea. Do the words “Final Solution” sound familiar? What are they doing differently, then the Nazi’s did when they began the Holocaust? What next – gay concentration camps and gas ovens? Does no one see what is developing here?

How it is that religion can make humans so blinded is beyond me. I know this is a cliche, of sorts, but “slippery slope” comes to mind. How can a civilized western world remain silent when such blatant evil is going on? The religious right should be called the religious wrong!

Can we afford to ignore this too, because gays are a hated minority by some ignorant segments of society? So are atheists, think about it. Are atheists next? How about all non – Christians?

Oh, you will say, that could never happen. Don’t be so sure. No one believed the Holocaust, until it was too late. Remember this…?

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I know, dear readers, many of you have seen this. That does not make it any the less relevant. Any time bigotry and hatred raise their ugly heads, terrible things can happen. Just because they claim their “doing God’s work” so they’re justified, WATCH YOUR BACK! How many of you can see how our world is being ravaged by the sick minded zealots of all persuasions?

This really sets my teeth on edge. It is a horrendous concept to contemplate. When it’s considered perfectly acceptable to apply this twisted logic, legally, to any minority, what have humanity and human rights become?

A thought came to me, I think because of this, and other religion-based atrocities. I’m thinking of making it my signature quote. Another reason to be an atheist.

“The insidious destruction of humanity by religion is tantamount to genocidal massacre.”
(my own quote)

January 3, 2010 at 1:10 am
(7) The Sojourner says:

Of course, the word in the first sentence is “repeat”.

January 4, 2010 at 8:42 pm
(8) Lauren Sheil says:

As A Christ-Follower (not a Christian) I couldn’t agree with you more.

Christianity is a religion created by power hungry men that has little if nothing to do with what Christ actually taught.

Religion does poison everything. Christ mission was to expose and tear down the religious fundamentalists of his day (Pharsiees) not to create a new religion.

January 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm
(9) The Sojourner says:

@Lauren Sheil:

I’ve got news for you. As a Christ follower, you are a Christian!
You are a Christian believer. That’s right, you are following the religion as much as any Christian. Call it what you will, you cannot escape that fact. Someone who believes in Christ and his teachings is a CHRISTIAN! Surprise! The “True Scotsman” lives!

January 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm
(10) John Hanks says:

Good Catholic missionaries are a lot like peace corps workers. They never talk about God or religion.

January 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm
(11) Gayla says:

What Robert misses (among probably thousands of things) is that Mt. 25 says that Christ COMMANDED that the hungry be fed, said that not doing so was equivalent to leaving HIM unfed, and that THIS is why people go to the place prepared for Satan and the demons.

It’s endlessly fascinating that some people constantly preach a supposedly complete gospel ABOUT Christ, while rarely or NEVER (in some cases) mentioning what Christ COMMANDED. Talk about intellectual (as well as moral) hypocrisy!

Not that I disagree with what others on this thread have said about the hopeless contradictions in the Bible.

But ALL “CHRISTIANS” should be agreed on this, if nothing else! Because it is one of the few things that the New Testament is unequivocal about!

“And isn’t it ironic … Don’t you think?”

August 12, 2013 at 10:44 am
(12) Wanda Kirkpatrick says:

If you are a true Christian, then it shows. It tells you in the BIble to obey God’s commandments and word. It also tells you to help the poor. Some people do not know how to read the Bible, or they would not be so ignorant about it. We are to bring people to the lord for salvation and God’s Love. That’s right, I said God’s Love. God loves everyone no matter what race, nationality, livestyle, etc. He does not want anyone to be lost. That’s why there are true Christians who try and tell or show people that there is only one God, our Creator and loves us. Research the BIble a little more or talk to a true Christian and you decide for yourself. If you decide there is no God, then that is your decision. Everyone can make decisions the right one or the wrong one and I choose to go down the right path to my Lord and Creator, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour. I pray you all choose the right path as well. God bless. Open your eyes and see. It is the end times for sure.

September 3, 2013 at 5:15 pm
(13) JTL says:

@ Wanda Kirkpatrick: “It is the end times for sure.” Well, I don’t know how old YOU are, Wanda, but people have been proclaiming that it is the end for an awfully long time now. I’m not a believer in your Christ, however, your own book states that no one knows when the world will end (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7, etc.). Please be clear about this: I believe nothing about your book or your god, it is YOU who make these claims. Feel free to back your claims up with real evidence. Your book is not evidence of anything as it has no credentials. You believe in fairy tales of which there is no evidence. Your book states that the end is near, but no one will know when the end is near. So, which is it? I help the poor, yet I do not believe in your god. Helping the poor does not make me a Christian. You speak of your god’s love. According to Christianity, your god loves you so much that he will send you to Hell (which doesn’t exist, by the way) if you don’t do exactly as he says. That’s love? That sounds more like a threat to me. It is YOU that needs to open your eyes. I hope that one day you can be free of the chains in which the slavery of Christianity has bound you.

September 10, 2013 at 6:02 am
(14) Grandpa In The East says:

Wanda says, “If you are a true Christian, then it shows. True, true. Those of the walking dead, have a certain “air” about them.

Too bad your one life is so wasted on fairy tales.


The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud.–H.L. Menken.

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