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Old 08-31-2001, 12:41 PM   #1
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Missionaries, Evangelism, Christianity, et al. (An Introspective)

Okay, before I get into it I want to say a few things. First, I know some of you have relatives who are missionaries, so please please please don't take this personally. I'm sure they are all very well-intentioned and good people. God rewards the pure of heart. Secondly, my opinions are apt to change, and if anyone has read a very long debate I've started, I do tend to modify my belief system ever so slightly. Even St. Paul admitted to being a slight bigot, so do understand that with me. Even I, in my best intentions, am not infallible. So, if you cannot accept these terms, if you cannot accept criticism of a bane of Christian (and, consequently, world) history, then don't read further.

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I seem to be a pariah amongst Christians here. I've gotten criticism for my pro-homosexual posts, first off. Yes, I often think that they are my earliest legacy in this forum, and, honestly, if it weren't for my half-assed reading of Zoomerang96's (that's deathbear to you newbies) original homosexuality vs. Christianity post, I would never have even registered likely.

Secondly, I've been attacked for my generally scathing criticism of fundamentalism, but that's inherent to my own Roman Catholic background. In fact, the Church made their own scathing attack on fundamentalism in 1987, which turned out to be far more attacking than anything I've stated. I do believe I've since moderated, as fundamentalists now have a virtual face, instead of being a nameless class of people I've never met (I also never met a fundamentalist until I was in college, but they only perpetuated my stereotypes). Of course, as conservatism is apt to say, 'Love the sinner and hate the sin.' I do reserve this adage now in my judgment of them.

Yet, even in my own religion, I've been a pariah of a different sorts. Of course, it seems to be a long-running joke that most people who grow up in Catholic schools generally becomes some far-left, agnostic radical lush; and with me going to 13 years worth of them, I can say that that is true in many instances. I can't even count on my hand--or even 10 friends' hands--the number of people I know who have fallen out of the Church for various reasons, whether it be a conflict over transubstantiation, birth control, pre-marital sex, or--my biggest contention--the ridiculousness of much of the Catholic tradition. However, it was the inevitability of living in an overwhelmingly Protestant nation: one was bound to be confused by the conflicting messages, and, almost as if it were a programming default, they shut off.

I, of all people, probably have as much of a reason, if not more of a reason, to shut off as well. Honestly, it's hard being intellectually-inclined, while still being religious. One cannot be blind to the obvious conflictions between the Bible and science, but, interestingly enough, I reconciled the two from the beginning, as the Catholic Church has, more so than many other Christian sects, made it very easy to believe in both--i.e., that you can believe in evolution if you believe that God was the one who created the evolutionary process. Of course, where I get mad is when I run into more fundamentalist Christians who try and tell me I have to choose between the two. I, of course, just shove them aside, politely, yet forcefully; but one cannot ignore the fact that not everyone is brought up like how I was, and even I have to remind myself of that in my times of misanthropism. So, what does one do when they are told explicitly that they have to choose between a restrictive creationist model and a well-held, well-respected (but not perfect) evolutionary model? Of course, they then mention that anyone who chooses evolution is "weak in faith" and will rot in hell; and, henceforth, they begin to spout some rhetoric in a lunatic tone, with a few disparate, out-of-context Biblical passages. Unfortunately, this is the reality of Christianity to those who have little background in it, and I cringe when I see yet another one of my fellow man forever turned off to, essentially, a very beautiful and deeply philosophical religion, if you actually take the time to research it.

Yet, here I am, some gay leftist political radical intellectual, and I'm probably more religious than ever. I wish I could say I was always comfortable being religious, but, often, I'm not. It's too easy to be discouraged. One moment, you find yourself reconciled, and two seconds later, the Pope calls you 'an intrinsic disorder,' Cardinal Ratzinger--that's the successor to the Inquisition to you--thinks you're to blame for the AIDS pandemic, Justice Scalia rejects anti-discrimination laws because gays are a 'disproportionately wealthy and powerful minority,' Dr. James Dobson--that's Mr. Focus on the Family to you--openly calls you 'anti-family' and 'unfit to be parents' while engaging in long discredited pseudoscience to 'change' people, and how can we forget the likes of Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, (fake) Dr. Laura, Jesse Helms, Anita Bryant, George Bush, Jr., and 2/3 of the State Legislatures?

So, to answer foray's statement, "I don't understand why you oppose evangelism when you're a Christian," that is why. So why do I oppose missionaries generally? Anyone can become a 'Christian missionary'--in fact, so could I. I find myself agreeing with Pope John Paul II, who called the non-Eastern Orthodox missionaries in Russia 'vultures.' Anyway, I once ran into a Baptist minister's son, and I asked him how he could support the death penalty. He responded that it was simple: the Old Testament does say "an eye for an eye." I could only laugh to myself, as Jesus directly rebuked that statement in the New Testament. However, just imagine how "wonderful" it would be if a minister's son went abroad to spread "the Word"? Oh it looks so good on paper, but the kid doesn't even know the Bible himself! Then, he goes and he spreads this lie to a bunch of susceptible villagers, and they perpetuate the lie further. That's why I hate it. In 90% of the instances, I directly disagree with much of the missionaries' own theology, due to sloppy scholarship.

Plus, need I mention, missionaries have, either intentionally or unintentionally, caused the ruin of the people around them. The execution of the 16 Afghans is one thing, as I'm sure they've been remedially taught the value of martyrdom, but the destruction of whole cultures and civilizations is another.

In the case of the Yanomano tribe of Brazil, they are a very remote tribe in the Amazon, known for their constant state of warfare. Missionaries did not get a real good hold on these people until the last thirty years, as the Yanomano killed their first missionaries on arrival in the 1950s. However, they did eventually make good inroads. The consequences? The missionaries made them wear Western clothes, as loincloths, apparently, make God angry. Then, the missionaries also made many of them reliant on Western food, hence they don't want to hunt or gather anymore, and now they had to travel north to the government-run "food place." Now the Brazilian government wants to go in, displace them, and probably log their forest. So, we go from a "godless" self-sufficient tribe to a "Christian" government-dependent, future displaced tribe. Whether you like it or not, missionary work is often synonymous with Westernization and ethnocide (the elimination of cultures).

In short, missionaries aren't screened enough. An African Catholic Archbishop was a very bright and shining missionary, until he also embraced Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and got married in a mass wedding. In fact, he just left his wife due to a threat of excommunication, but the people he preached to--whether through words or example--thinks that what he did was okay. Missionaries also don't visualize the consequences of their actions, which, in too many cases, leads to dependence and displacement. In more romantic visions, missionary work is just about spreading the Word of God to the "godless," and if it were just that, I'd have no problem with it. The reality is that there are too many instances of lack of Biblical understanding (the minister's son), personal crusades (the African Archbishop), and ethnocide (the Yanomano).

So now you know where I come from. You can't accuse me of not trying, at least.

Melon

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«Confused by thoughts, we experience duality in life. Unencumbered by ideas, the enlightened see the one reality.» - Hui-neng (638-713)

[This message has been edited by melon (edited 08-31-2001).]
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Old 08-31-2001, 06:18 PM   #2
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melon, I can definitely see where you're coming from. I too came from a strong 'church' background (probably obvious enough since my parents were missionaries ) but I'm going through my own struggles as regards faith and the position it will play in my life. In fact, I have not been to church in over a year because I felt the need to place some distance between myself and religion in order to make a more informed decision, and most of the reason I'm off to Europe this month is to take time to ponder these things and figure out where I will fit in the scheme of life. So please understand that when I disagree with you, it is not out of a spirit of defensiveness or dogmatism. I have yet to solidify where I stand on a number of issues.

However, no matter where my journey ends up taking me and whatever brand of faith I end up with, I have seen much of the world and had some experiences that I cannot deny. So when I disagree with you on some of these points it is because I've lived through these things. I've seen them first-hand and I think I might be able to add something of value to a discussion on the topic.

I've met some of the missionaries that went to those Yanamamo tribes. Indeed I got to know one of the sons of the martyrs that were killed trying to reach them back in the 50s. I would be very curious to know where you're getting your facts and information on as regards that situation because I think if you'd research it beyond the reports of some very biased anthropologists (who, btw, are almost always negative against missionaries and quite often spread some pretty slanted misinformation) you might find that things aren't quite what you think. I cannot comment on the 'loincloth' situation, but I do know for a fact that the missionaries that I know are very opposed to what the government is trying to do and indeed have attempted to help the tribal people fight for their rights. You don't dedicate your life to a place and a people and then try to screw them over. For many missionaries, the place they serve in ends up being more like home than their original country and it would be unthinkable for myself at least to bring any harm to that adopted home.

Perhaps I should just use my own experience to give you a better picture of what typical missionary life is like. I was three years old when my family moved to Indonesia. By the time I was six, we were living in a small coastal village at the base of the mountains and my father would hike up to the tribal area that we hoped to work with and meet with the people, get to know them, begin friendships and gain their trust. We didn't move into the area until they invited us to do so and even signed a contract with them in which they stated their conditions (ie. don't touch our women, don't violate these customs, etc.) before doing so. My family and our coworkers spent about five years there studying the unique culture of the people we were living with, learning their language and putting it into written form, teaching them how to read and write in their language, helping with medical needs, developing a clean and efficient water system, and just becoming part of the community. Personally, I can't think of a better way to go about "mission" work because I am very abhorred by the idea of a colonialist and superior attitude. My parents never attempted to condemn or change any of their customs or rituals. Indeed, in our village, women who have had children often go topless and that was never an issue whatsoever. It's their culture, not ours.

Which actually brings me to a disagreement with another of your points. And that is the subject of "ethnocide." Obviously this is a touchy issue. And believe me when I say it is something that most missionaries agonize over. You don't want to destroy a culture of beauty and the social fabric of a community, and you definitely don't want to bring Christianity ala "American culture". God isn't American. And he isn't bound by our particular social mores. But what I've seen happen in the area we lived is not a destruction of the culture but really a fulfillment of it.

To you perhaps these ethnic tribal customs are quaint and mysterious. But if you really live there you find that much of life in many of these areas is based on fear, oppression, and fatalism. My childhood friends lived in fear of the spirits of their dead relatives. Can you imagine thinking about your dead father and instead of being able to cherish his memory being terrified that if you did some random thing wrong (forget to listen to the correct bird-call or offer the correct offering) he would come back to inflict disease and maybe even death upon you? How about having your teeth filed (yes filed, see an iron woodfile to get an idea of how much this hurts) to within a quarter inch of your gums because....well....actually no one really knows why, it's just tradition. Or maybe having the local witchdoctor put ashes and tobacco juice in your raw and infected wound while your leg rots away from gangrene. Is this a good thing? Is it something that should be cherished and preserved? And if you do subscribe to the doctrine of Christianity, would you not want other human beings who are loved by God to at least have the opportunity to choose another life? (Note the word 'opportunity' there because it is a choice, offered to people who usually to date have had NO choices, just a tradition thrust upon them by being born there.) People like my parents obviously think it is important enough to give up a life of security here in the U.S. and dedicate the bulk of their lives to helping these people.

My parents haven't made any money out of this; they've spent their lives in the low-income bracket. They're not famous. In fact, they have to defend themselves against the pernicious lies of anthropologists and so-called experts who are usually the ones that march into a culture with pre-conceptions and are more distateful to most tribal groups than missionaries. (I recall quite clearly when our village was visited by one of these social scientists, my parents opened their home to him and let him stay with us for a few days. He spent time in the village trying to "learn the local customs" and "bond with the natives"...truly a hilarious sight to watch him step all over unspoken rules that can only be learned with years of experience in that particular culture. And then when he came back to sleep at our house, some of the village men pulled my father aside and said something to the effect of..."If this guy is bothering you in ANY way...you just let us know and we'll take care of him." Of course, my dad quickly stuck up for the guy and smoothed things over, but it was an interesting situation. The evil missionary saving the well-intentioned anthropologists' hide. lol.)

But I digress. Fast-forward to today. What is the village like now? Has it been converted into a pseudo-American parody? Not at all. Quite the contrary actually. The people still wear their traditional clothing, they live in the same bamboo houses with thatched roofs, they still sing the ancient songs but they've changed some of the lyrics. They have their own church run by their own people. They make up their own songs in their own language. In fact even the "preaching" is unique...one of several church leaders will get up and talk about a particular part of the Bible, and then it's like an open discussion forum with people in the church chiming in and commenting or asking questions. Hardly your typical "western" church, but very typical of the way they have always managed public gatherings. A few years ago one of the families moved to a neighboring village to share the Gospel with them because they wanted to know the secret of how our area was now so happy and free. And while they were there, the small church community sent this family rice (the basic commodity and the crop that everyone grows) because they wouldn't be able to do their farming while there. I don't know if you've read much about the New Testament church, but I'd imagine it looked a lot like this. Honestly, I have more respect for my Saluan brothers and sisters than many of the self-centered and smug religious people I have met in my time here in the States.

Some of the traditions of the past have changed, but it's been on a case by case basis and something that the people themselves have decided upon. They can read Scripture for themselves and discern what is right and wrong, not according to some white man's idea of how things "ought to be done." They make their own decisions on what traditions to keep and which ones to drop. And I think if you truly have an open mind about it, you will have to admit that there are aspects of any culture that can stand improvement and change. Change does NOT have to mean violation or even westernization of a culture and it certainly does not have to mean elimination.

So that has been my experience. The reality of mission work is usually quite far removed from American perceptions of it. Much of what you read in media is written by people who have a bias against missionaries and their judgement is often already passed before they even explore the situation. Are there Christians who are unqualified out there doing mission work? Without a doubt, and that is indeed a shame. But you might be surprised at how much the mission community has changed in the last 50 or even 10 years in terms of training and screening. Most reputable mission agencies wouldn't dream of sending someone overseas who hasn't had both training in theology and in cultural anthropology.

In closing, I would add that since attending college, I have been asked by many in the religious community if I will "be a missionary just like your parents." And my answer is no. Not at least as a career, or at least not right now. I have too many uncertainties and questions that I must answer for myself before sharing my beliefs with anyone. But I've always felt that when it comes right down to it, anyone who possesses a faith in God is in some sense a "missionary" wherever they are. And I don't even think of it in terms of forcing one's religion down another's throat, but in living out the life you were meant to, in loving those that are put into your path, and in modelling the behaviour of Christ in the best way you know how.

On a postscript, melon, I would like to note that I really don't believe that you have to ditch your brain to be a person of faith. Indeed, if God is truth (as is claimed) then it would follow that in pursuing him you can find intellectual fulfillment as well as emotional/spiritual fulfillment. At least, that is my sincere hope. Because that's the journey I am currently on.

-sula
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Old 08-31-2001, 06:50 PM   #3
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Sula, all I can say is..

WOW!!

What an intelligent and thoughtful reply!

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Old 08-31-2001, 10:14 PM   #4
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Please, Melon- I'm sure you're very intelligent but do not refer to yourself as an intellectual. You come off sounding extremely arrogant.

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Old 08-31-2001, 11:04 PM   #5
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No offense, but I've worked very hard to be "intellectual." Is it arrogant for someone to call themselves "athletic"? I will be the first to admit that I'm the furthest from athletic, so I'm not perfect. Furthermore, it's a double standard I refuse to tolerate.

I do not wish to sound arrogant. It was not my intention. If you stick around this forum long enough, you will learn that I can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Choose your fate on this forum wisely...

Melon

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Old 08-31-2001, 11:06 PM   #6
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sulawesigirl4, I greatly appreciate your post, which is thorough, respectful, and intelligent. I admire all three.

I'm quite tired and hungry, so I will respond to it when I can handle it better!

Melon

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Old 09-01-2001, 05:23 AM   #7
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This is sort of an extension of what sula was saying about missionaries actually doing good within rural communities. Here's a recent first hand account from someone I trust, from a church I went to once. The guy who wrote this is a missionary in Papua New Guinea now, and if some of you were to take some time to help pray for blessings, that'd be wonderful.

There were over 300 to 500 people during the 3 days and it was the first
time
in over 20 years that all the clans were represented there under one roof.
This was
significant to the Lord and there was a tremendous time of reconciliation
and forgiveness. God healed relationships and families as well as
sicknesses,
fears, doubt, oppression etc. There were many who testified of God's power
changing them.
During one of the sessions a number of us heard the sound of a powerful
wind, so loud that it was kind of terrifying to me, it came to a crescendo
and then faded away. This happened when the people were praying for each
other. Later many shared about how they had visions, joy, love, peace at
that
time.
On the final day there was discussion about what in their traditional
culture was good and of God
and what powers need to be renounced. This session could have easily erupted
in violence
because of the sacredness of some powers and their faith and dependence on
the practice of
'white' magic. God gave wisdom and opened their eyes. This brought a real
unity, especially when we had to deal with the various spirit power levels
that had to be dealt with in prayer. It is the first time this has been done
and there was
a great sense of victory. Now they are dealing with destroying items used in
spiritism, which are secret and specific to their particular clans.


Now, do you honestly think that this missionary is doing more harm than good by encouraging the people to dispense with their white magic, which, is a large part of their culture?

Also, can we cease to call Christianity or missions a "white man's" thing? There are increasing numbers of Asian missionaries nowadays; Christianity is no longer a white man's religion. In fact, more and more "white people" are shunning it.

Finally, I think that, melon, you use "fundamentalism" too broadly. You give me the impression that anyone who doesn't believe in evolution (or perhaps anyone who doesn't believe in your beliefs) is a fundamentalist and that is not true. I don't believe in evolution either, not because I think the theory disproves a Creator, but because I have read up on why evolution was not possible. That does not make me a fundamentalist.

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Old 09-01-2001, 01:06 PM   #8
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Well, I do greatly appreciate those who have responded so far, mostly because it has helped me realize what I am angry about and what I shouldn't be angry about!

While I do stand by what I wrote, I think if you take off the last four paragraphs (ending with the minister's son analogy), that's what I'm really angry about. The fifth paragraph is probably the most important, especially the last sentence. I mean, it's hard enough being religious as it is, let alone to find that your "fellow Christians" are bigoted against you and will take the effort to make sure that civil laws hate you too and will try to completely disacknowledge your existence.

foray, regarding fundamentalism, creationism was just a prominent example of fundamentalist belief. I know there's more to it, as it is a belief that the Bible is wholly unerrant, even if it conflicts with both history and science. To fundamentalists, it's the historians and scientists who are wrong. Of course, as I have debated in the past, I don't think there is such a thing as "true fundamentalism." Everyone picks and chooses--conservatives choose one spectrum of the Bible, while liberals choose the other--and I often get the ire of fundamentalists when I argue against homophobia at a fundamentalist level.

In the case of evangelism, as I think about it, my opposition is as simple as my angst over Calvinist Protestantism, and I know most evangelists are Calvinists, first of all by their Jonathan Edwards-style of preaching ("hellfire and brimstone") and secondly that Calvinism puts a special emphasis on evangelism. It quite often reminds me of Leon Trotsky's fervor over international communism--he wouldn't have been happy until everyone thought as he did. I just find that kind of perverse, but you are free to disagree.

Regarding missionaries, I do greatly appreciate your post, sula. You did remind me of my own belief to be always skeptical of what I'm taught, as--as much as I hate to admit it--almost all education is propagandistic and biased now. As I think back to my anthropology class and the subsequent films, yes, they were always opposed to missionaries because of ethnocide. Of course, I think this is more of a historical disdain, as I do very much believe you that modern missionaries are more respectful of their cultures than they used to be. In fact, it does remind me of the success of the island of Trobriand off Papua New Guinea. The tribes were incessantly fighting, until the British missionaries came over and taught them cricket, and now they use cricket (albeit, a very customized version full of tribal rituals ["Trobriand Cricket"]) to vent out their competitiveness.

Which leads into the anthropological debate as whether to allow or to stop local customs. Anthropologists, obviously, tend to take a more "hands-off" approach, due to the novelty of it all. Of course, I don't expect missionaries to do the same thing, and in the cases of teeth filing and the witchdoctor's ineffective medicine, I would say that these are clearly cases in which you should interfere; there is no value in these customs. In fact, I often wonder how they come up with them?!

But, what worries me, are the less-than-clear situations. Now this is a subject that will inflame passions, but the big debate among anthropologists is whether to stop "female circumcision." I, like many Westerners, am more apt to say to change it. However, even a villager pointed out the hypocrisy of our own culture--"Why do we circumcise boys, but not girls?" Of course, I do realize there is a great difference between the two, but it does pose the question: what makes some of our customs any more rational and better than theirs?

Then, I look at the harmless customs that conflict with Christianity, primarily a lot of these cultures' bisexual natures. What makes our heterosexual, monogamous-inclined cultures any better than theirs? Of course, you'll say, "Well, the Bible..." but I am inclined to agree with Margaret Mead that it is cultures like these that exhibit what true human nature is, versus what is a cultural construct, no matter how long-running that cultural construct may be. For instance, it was through the Samoans that Mead proved that "teenage rebellion" wasn't genetic, as Freud proposed in the nineteenth century--and was widely believed up through the 1940s. It is also through cultures like these that anthropologists have proposed that man is inherently bisexual, which, one could argue, is God's true will. However, if we interject our Western-Judeo-Christian values around the world, we may lose forever what we could have learned about them, and--more importantly--what we could have learned about ourselves. History may see them as "savages," but I think we still have much to learn from them.

Anyway, I do enjoy how this debate is going. Thanks for keeping it intelligent and civil.

Melon

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Old 09-01-2001, 02:29 PM   #9
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the zoomerang of old and the zoomerang of now are two different people melon. ive learnt a few things along the way, just for your own information.

by the way, i read that post i made, its like a year old. honestly looking back, as hard as it may seem, i did not mean offence. and i certainly dont now, so please just forget that thread. it was a complete and utter failure, and a mistake. i apologize to anyone i offended.
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Old 09-01-2001, 04:55 PM   #10
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...Hmmmm..."Intellectual", eh???


Which reminds me of a quote I once heard:

"The only person more foolish than the one who thinks he knows everything, is the person who argues with him!"

In the words of one Forrest Gump, "And thats all Ive got to say about that!"

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Old 09-01-2001, 06:20 PM   #11
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We had a similar discussion about this on a Tolkien board...the question there being whether we are denying the indigeneous people the opportunity for choice ...the kind of opportunity we take for granted in the West. If you are raised a Christian in the West...and desire to change and become a house cat worshipper...you may. You may read about it...visit the locale cat house and ask questions. Why should people who live in a jungle village be denied this same freedom?
How do we know a man from a tribal village may not look at the sunset and wonder if perhaps their might not be something more than his tribe's traditions...and that the old ways are not really his ways...???
We like to keep these people in a bubble because it makes *us* feel good...but is it really good for them?

We went back and forth on this...some wondering if they should not be exposed to different ideas until they had reached a certain level of civilization and education...ok...but who are we to decide what they should be exposed to...and what they should not? The big supreme 'white father'?

We never did resolve it...although some went with go to the village and do your good works and build a church for yourself and your workers...if the indigeneous people wish to join you...they are welcome....

I am Cherokee..and the missionaries who came to them learned the Cherokee language...went to jail for them...and some even went on the trail of tears. They acted like Jesus (perhaps one of the few times in history when they did it the right way! Christianity was not all that different from their traditional religion (they believed in one supreme being...and had a trinity and a mediator between this world and the next...it was a wolf and not a person but the concept was the same) They accepted Christianity as an extentsion of their own believe and called the missionaries 'messengers'. The Cherokee seem to be perfectly happy with it...although some still follow a form of the old faith...I do not regret the missionaries coming to my people...

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Old 09-01-2001, 08:12 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by Trash Can:
...Hmmmm..."Intellectual", eh???
Why is this all of a sudden such a supreme problem? So I think I'm smart...big whoop. It's really none of any of your guys' business what I think of myself.

Yeah, I know it's PC to denigrate yourself nowadays, and be sickeningly modest, but I don't beat around the bush. I have always been direct and honest with you people, and if you can't appreciate it, I'm sorry.

But I see that everyone here wants the charade, so how's this:

"I'm really dumb. Really. I know nothing. I'm stupid, and you're the one really smart. Really. I only pale in comparison to your magnificence."

"Oh, thank you."

"You're welcome."

Melon

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Old 09-02-2001, 03:31 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by Zoomerang96:
the zoomerang of old and the zoomerang of now are two different people melon. ive learnt a few things along the way, just for your own information.

by the way, i read that post i made, its like a year old. honestly looking back, as hard as it may seem, i did not mean offence. and i certainly dont now, so please just forget that thread. it was a complete and utter failure, and a mistake. i apologize to anyone i offended.
It's water waaaaaaay under the bridge, so don't worry about it! I know you've changed. But think about it, if it weren't for that post, I'd never have registered, and what an empty forum this would be without little old me?

Okay, now I am sounding arrogant. I'll stop before it gets worse.

Melon

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«Confused by thoughts, we experience duality in life. Unencumbered by ideas, the enlightened see the one reality.» - Hui-neng (638-713)
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Old 09-02-2001, 07:13 PM   #14
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melon, first thanks for taking my post in the spirit in which it was given. I wish I had the time to fully respond properly now, but alas I am about two days away from my departure for Europe and I'm in the office right now madly finishing up work. Once I leave, I shall have extremely limited to no net access for several months. In any case, I'll just make a few comments.

It's funny in a way that I'm even involved in this thread. In the year that I've been on the forum, I've rather avoided any real mention of what my parents did or why I grew up in Indonesia. And the reason for that is because I have not wanted to be labelled or stereotyped. I want to be taken at face value and not put into a box based on my background. Something that I'm sure you can relate to. However, I felt the need to speak up and provide a bit of input to what is often a very misunderstood situation.

Your concerns regarding changing or eliminating cultures is a very real one - one that most missionaries nowadays are aware of and actively try to minimize. The problem of course comes (as you've pointed out) in the less obvious situations of what is a good change and what is a bad change. It takes a great amount of wisdom and sensitivity to feel out the boundaries, and of course all people are ethnocentric to a degree. No matter if you're a missionary from Norway, the U.S., Guatemala, or Japan. It is an intrinsic part of our natures to have an affinity for the culture we grew up in and to be slightly suspicious or critical of those that are different. Of course, just because that is a natural tendency does not mean it has to rule one's behaviour, but becoming aware of it is crucial, imho. A missionary that is aware of this is probably much more likely to be more thoughtful and cautious when faced with the plethora of cultural clashes that are a part of daily life. Those that are unable to appreciate diversity are often quick to retreat to their bower of safety..."XYZ is wrong because we don't do it like that in the U.S.A" or even "XYZ is stupid." In the light of God's embracement of all peoples, tongues, and nationalities, this attitude is also not a very "Christian" one and the missionary that indulges in it is probably rather weak in their understanding of what it takes to be a follower of Christ.

So where does that leave the poor missionary struggling along in a remote jungle...constantly running up against situations that are not spelled out in the Bible or in any anthropology textbook? Well, what I saw in my parents and other missionaries around us was an awareness of weakness and a sense of humility and willingness to learn. As I said before, God is not American. The Bible should not only be applicable to American culture. (Especially since it's not even "English" in origin to begin with ). It takes a good deal of wisdom to be able to ferret out what is Biblical and what is cultural. And this struggle is one that missionaries are bound to succeed and fail in on a regular basis. I think that missionaries who spend their time translating the Bible directly into the foreign language probably have a rather good "check" because all they are translating the Bible itself and not the host of Americanisms that we seem to add to it here. (btw, the hows of this process is good fodder for a whole other thread, but I'll just inject this disclaimer...translation is NOT Joe Blow missionary taking out his trusty KJV or NIV and just translating word for word. There are scores of checks and cross-checks and finding out what the best way to express different metaphors and images are in another language. For example, try to explain the concept of a "lamb as white as snow" to a tribal group that has never seen either lambs nor snow.)

I guess my point is...missionaries are humans just like anyone else, and they should be given the same amount of understanding as we would give anyone else. They are not special emissaries of God placed on a pedestal for their righteous deeds...they are not evil imperialists hell-bent on cultural destruction. They are men and women just like you and I. It's not an easy job; most often it's thankless, financial suicide, misunderstood, and not at all glamourous. But I'd have to say that the value of human life and souls is without price, and I feel grateful to have been a small part even if just as a child observer.

I realize that this is not the most well thought out post, but as I said before...I'm under a lot of harried stress currently, so you'll have to forgive me. If you'd like to discuss the issue further or want any feedback on particulars, I can always be reached by email at sulawesigirl@yahoo.com

-sula

p.s. Regarding female circumcision, I would unequivocably and vigorously disagree that it is acceptable in any way shape or form. To my understanding it has been used as a tool to enslave women, to ensure that they receive no pleasure from the act of sex (something that I've always thought was created by God to be a joy to both parties), and to keep them "faithful". The comparison of it with male circumcision does not hold up in my opinion. The latter has traditionally been thought of as the symbol of a covenant between the individual and God and does not carry the connotations of dominance as does female circumcision. At least, that's how I see it.
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Old 09-02-2001, 07:19 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by melon:
[
"I'm really dumb. Really. I know nothing. I'm stupid, and you're the one really smart. Really. I only pale in comparison to your magnificence."

Melon

[/B]
I've been telling people I'm a moron and an idiot for months now, but they're not fooled. Everyone knows that I am actually a genuis and above you all!

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