another atheist commends Christian missions

No video this time, but a quote from British columnist and atheist, Matthew Parris of the Times (UK) who writes from his experience of growing up in Malawi and recently revisiting. He's convinced that Christian missionaries are needed in Africa for the well being of Africans. Is he racist? Or is he observing the difference between a theology of pantheism and monotheism? But he isn't calling for Muslim expansion in Africa. So it's not just monotheism that changes the world. Perhaps its the Holy Spirit, something Parris has no language for since he denies a God, moreso a God in three persons, a Triune God, who sends his Spirit to abide with his people.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

For all the grief that Christian missions is blamed for, perhaps the final outcome is indeed better than if cultures had not been engaged. I'm thinking of Samson Occom and the praying Indians of New England.


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