Christianity and colonialism

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Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers[1] and acted in many ways as the "religious arm" of those powers.[2] According to Edward Andrews, Christian missionaries were initially portrayed as "visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery". However, by the time the colonial era drew to a close in the last half of the twentieth century, missionaries became viewed as "ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them",[3] colonialism's "agent, scribe and moral alibi."[4]

Christianity is targeted by critics of colonialism because the tenets of the religion were used to justify the actions of the colonists.[5] For example, Toyin Falola asserts that there were some missionaries who believed that "the agenda of colonialism in Africa was similar to that of Christianity".[6] Falola cites Jan H. Boer of the Sudan United Mission as saying, "Colonialism is a form of imperialism based on a divine mandate and designed to bring liberation - spiritual, cultural, economic and political - by sharing the blessings of the Christ-inspired civilization of the West with a people suffering under satanic oppression, ignorance and disease, effected by a combination of political, economic and religious forces that cooperate under a regime seeking the benefit of both ruler and ruled."[6]

Edward Andrews writes:

Historians have traditionally looked at Christian missionaries in one of two ways. The first church historians to catalogue missionary history provided hagiographic descriptions of their trials, successes, and sometimes even martyrdom. Missionaries were thus visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery. However, by the middle of the twentieth century, an era marked by civil rights movements, anti-colonialism, and growing secularization, missionaries were viewed quite differently. Instead of godly martyrs, historians now described missionaries as arrogant and rapacious imperialists. Christianity became not a saving grace but a monolithic and aggressive force that missionaries imposed upon defiant natives. Indeed, missionaries were now understood as important agents in the ever-expanding nation-state, or "ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them."[3]

According to Jake Meador, "some Christians have tried to make sense of post-colonial Christianity by renouncing practically everything about the Christianity of the colonizers. They reason that if the colonialists’ understanding of Christianity could be used to justify rape, murder, theft, and empire then their understanding of Christianity is completely wrong. "[7]

According to Lamin Sanneh, "(m)uch of the standard Western scholarship on Christian missions proceeds by looking at the motives of individual missionaries and concludes by faulting the entire missionary enterprise as being part of the machinery of Western cultural imperialism." As an alternative to this view, Sanneh presents a different perspective arguing that "missions in the modern era has been far more, and far less, than the argument about motives customarily portrays."[8]

Michael Wood asserts that the indigenous peoples were not considered to be human beings and that the colonisers was shaped by "centuries of Ethnocentrism, and Christian monotheism, which espoused one truth, one time and version of reality."[9]

Age of Discovery[edit]

The convent of San Augustin. A mission centre established at Yuriria, Mexico in 1550

During the Age of Discovery, the Catholic Church inaugurated a major effort to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the Native Americans and other indigenous people. The missionary effort was a major part of, and a partial justification for the colonial efforts of European powers such as Spain, France and Portugal. Christian Missions to the indigenous peoples ran hand-in-hand with the colonial efforts of Catholic nations. In the Americas and other colonies in Asia and Africa, most missions were run by religious orders such as the Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans.

In both Portugal and Spain, religion was an integral part of the state and evangelization was seen as having both secular and spiritual benefits. Wherever these powers attempted to expand their territories or influence, missionaries would soon follow. By the Treaty of Tordesillas, the two powers divided the world between them into exclusive spheres of influence, trade and colonization. The Roman Catholic world order was challenged by the Netherlands and England. Theoretically, it was repudiated by Grotius's Mare Liberum. Portugal's and Spain's colonial policies were also challenged by the Roman Catholic Church itself. The Vatican founded the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in 1622 and attempted to separate the churches from the influence of the Iberian kingdoms.

Americas[edit]

Jan van Butselaar writes that "for Prince Henry the Navigator and his contemporaries, the colonial enterprise was based on the necessity to develop European commerce and the obligation to propagate the Christian faith."[10]

Christian leaders and Christian doctrines have been accused of justifying and perpetrating violence against Native Americans found in the New World.[11]

Spanish missionaries[edit]

Adriaan van Oss wrote:

If we had to choose a single, irreducible idea underlying Spanish colonialism in the New World, it would undoubtedly be the propagation of the Catholic faith. Unlike such other European as England or the Netherlands, Spain insisted on converting the natives of the lands it conquered to its state religion. Miraculously, it succeeded. Introduced in the context of Iberian expansionism, Catholicism outlived the empire itself and continues to thrive, not as an anachronistic vestige among the elite, but as a vital current even in remote mountain villages. Catholicism remains the principal colonial heritage of Spain in America. More than any set of economic relationships with the outside world, more even than the language first brought to America's shores in 1492, the Catholic religion continues to permeate Spanish-American culture today, creating an overriding cultural unity which transcends the political and national boundaries dividing the continent.[12]

The Spaniards were committed, by Vatican decree, to convert their New World indigenous subjects to Catholicism. However, often initial efforts were questionably successful, as the indigenous people added Catholicism into their longstanding traditional ceremonies and beliefs. The many native expressions, forms, practices, and items of art could be considered idolatry and prohibited or destroyed by Spanish missionaries, military, and civilians. This included religious items, sculptures, and jewelry made of gold or silver, which were melted down before shipment to Spain.[13]

Though the Spanish did not impose their language to the extent they did their religion, some indigenous languages of the Americas evolved into replacement with Spanish, and lost to present day tribal members. When more efficient they did evangelize in native languages. Introduced writing systems to the Quechua, Nahuatl and Guarani peoples may have contributed to their expansion.[citation needed]

In the early years most mission work was undertaken by the religious orders. Over time it was intended that a normal church structure would be established in the mission areas. The process began with the formation of special jurisdictions, known as apostolic prefectures and apostolic vicariates. These developing churches eventually graduated to regular diocesan status with the appointment of a local bishop. After decolonization, this process increased in pace as church structures altered to reflect new political-administrative realities. [14]

Ralph Bauer describes the Franciscan missionaries as having been "unequivocally committed to Spanish imperialism, condoning the violence and coercion of the Conquest as the only viable method of bringing American natives under the saving rule of Christianity."[15] Jordan writes "The catastrophe of Spanish America's rape at the hands of the Conquistadors remains one of the most potent and pungent examples in the entire history of human conquest of the wanton destruction of one culture by another in the name of religion"[16]

Antonio de Montesinos, a Dominican friar on the island of Hispaniola, was the first member of the clergy to publicly denounce all forms of enslavement and oppression of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.[17] Theologians such as Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de las Casas drew up theological and philosophical bases for the defense of the human rights of the colonized native populations, thus creating the basis of international law, regulating the relationships between nations.

French missions[edit]

The French colonial effort began later than that of the Spanish or Portuguese.

Hawaii - The French Incident (1839)

Under the rule of Kaʻahumanu the newly-converted Protestant widow of Kamehameha the Great, Catholicism was illegal in Hawaii and chiefs loyal to her forcibly deported French priests onto the Artemise. Native Hawaiian Catholic converts were imprisoned and Protestant ministers ordered them to be tortured. The prejudice against the French Catholics missionaries remained the same under the reign of her successor, the Kuhina Nui Ka'ahumanu II. In 1839 Captain Laplace of the French frigate Artémise sailed to Hawaii under orders to:

Destroy the malevolent impression which you find established to the detriment of the French name; to rectify the erroneous opinion which has been created as to the power of France; and to make it well understood that it would be to the advantage of the chiefs of those islands of the Ocean to conduct themselves in such a manner as not to incur the wrath of France. You will exact, if necessary with all the force that is yours to use, complete reparation for the wrongs which have been committed, and you will not quit those places until you have left in all minds a solid and lasting impression.[this quote needs a citation]

Russian Orthodox missions[edit]

Main article: Russian America

Asia and the Far East[edit]

Missionaries such as Francis Xavier as well as other Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans went to Asia and the Far East.

Africa[edit]

Christian evangelists were intimately involved in the colonial process in southern Africa.[18] The Portuguese sent missions into Africa.

In the mid-19th century, Protestant missions were engaged in active missionary work on the Guinea coast, in South Africa and in the Zanzibar dominions. Missionaries visited little-known regions and peoples, and in many instances became explorers and pioneers of trade and empire. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, had been engaged since 1840 in work north of the Orange River.

According to Heather Sharkey, the real impact of the activities of the missionaries is still a topic open to debate in academia today. Sharkey asserted that "the missionaries played manifold roles in colonial Africa and stimulated forms of cultural, political and religious change." "Historians still debate the nature of their impact and question their relation to the system of European colonialism in the continent."[19]

According to Sharkey, some observers believe that the missionaries did great good in Africa, providing crucial social services such as education and health care that would have otherwise not been available to the Africans. Sharkey said that, in societies that were traditionally male-dominated, female missionaries provided women in Africa with health care knowledge and basic education.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Melvin E. Page, Penny M. Sonnenburg (2003). Colonialism: an international, social, cultural, and political encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 496. "Of all religions, Christianity has been most associated with colonialism because several of its forms (Catholicism and Protestantism) were the religions of the European powers engaged in colonial enterprise on a global scale." 
  2. ^ Bevans, Steven. "Christian Complicity in Colonialism/ Globalism". Retrieved 2010-11-17. "The modern missionary era was in many ways the ‘religious arm’ of colonialism, whether Portuguese and Spanish colonialism in the sixteenth Century, or British, French, German, Belgian or American colonialism in the nineteenth. This was not all bad — oftentimes missionaries were heroic defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples" 
  3. ^ a b Andrews, Edward (2010). "Christian Missions and Colonial Empires Reconsidered: A Black Evangelist in West Africa, 1766–1816". Journal of Church & State 51 (4): 663–691. doi:10.1093/jcs/csp090. 
  4. ^ Comaroff, Jean; Comaroff, John (2010) [1997]. "Africa Observed: Discourses of the Imperial Imagination". In Grinker, Roy R.; Lubkemann, Stephen C.; Steiner, Christopher B. Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History and Representation (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 32. 
  5. ^ Meador, Jake. "Cosmetic Christianity and the Problem of Colonialism – Responding to Brian McLaren". Retrieved 2010-11-17. "According to Jake Meador, "some Christians have tried to make sense of post-colonial Christianity by renouncing practically everything about the Christianity of the colonizers. They reason that if the colonialists’ understanding of Christianity could be used to justify rape, murder, theft, and empire then their understanding of Christianity is completely wrong." 
  6. ^ a b Falola, Toyin (2001). Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies. University Rochester Press. p. 33. 
  7. ^ Meador, Jake. "Cosmetic Christianity and the Problem of Colonialism – Responding to Brian McLaren". Retrieved 2010-11-17. 
  8. ^ Sanneth, Lamin (April 8, 1987). "Christian Missions and the Western Guilt Complex". The Christian Century (The Christian Century Foundation): 331–334. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  9. ^ Conquistadors, Michael Wood, p. 20, BBC Publications, 2000
  10. ^ Gerrie ter Haar, James J. Busuttil, ed. (2005). Bridge or barrier: religion, violence, and visions for peace, Volume 2001. BRILL. p. 125. 
  11. ^ Carroll, Vincent, Christianity on trial: arguments against anti-religious bigotry, p 87.
  12. ^ van Oss, Adriaan C. Catholic Colonialism: A Parish History of Guatemala, 1524-1821. 
  13. ^ Golden, Brenda (2010-08-24). "A Native Take on Terrorism, the Towers and Tolerance". 
  14. ^ Hastings, Adrian, A World History of Christianity, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000, pp 330-349
  15. ^ Bauer, Ralph (2001). Finding colonial Americas: essays honoring J.A. Leo Lemay. University of Delaware Press. p. 35. 
  16. ^ "In the Name of God : Violence and Destruction in the World's Religions", M. Jordan, 2006, p. 230
  17. ^ Hanke, Lewis. (1946) Free Speech in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 26,2:135-149. Page 142.
  18. ^ a b Comaroff, Jean; Comaroff, John (1986). "Christianity and Colonialism in South Africa b". American Ethnologist 13 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1525/ae.1986.13.1.02a00010. 
  19. ^ Khan, Taimur (2002-10-29). "Religion in colonial Africa". Retrieved 2010-11-17.