The effects of missionaries on cultures (RELS 348)

For this last RELS 348 blog assignment I decided to look into the impact that missionaries have on different cultures. I was inspired to research this ideology after I read an article about the story of Gary and Siham Jasmund, reported by Sue Mason. The discussed family had given up all their belongings in order to open their own foundation, South Lyon, in 2009 that spreads the word of God in many regions around the world. Their work, however, was concentrated in Africa, especially in the region of Northern Ghana, for around six years. They have achieved a high level of religious experience after Siham felt the need to learn about God more than just one day of the week (on Sunday). Being a missionary was not new for Siham as she began doing missionary work in 1998 when she visited Gambia. By 2005, her family had more than 30 short mission trips to 11 countries around the world. They have left the financial aspect of their dream in the hands of Jesus, by selling their house and moving to Gary’s brother’s house. They also helped with “Hurricane Katrina relief and church renovations“. After that, the family moved to Ghana where they worked “with orphans, child trafficking, widows and the poor”. They helped with the building of churches and schools. The couple discovered that one of the issues there was lack of education. This is why the two started teaching the locals how to deal in business situations and have also opened a ministry responsible for donating goats to widows. Gary, in the meantime, is looking to complete his higher education in theology. When they are asked why they do all this work, they reply that this is their mission assigned by Jesus who loves the people, as the wife explains that “he uses” them and that they are “his hands and feet.” As part of what we have learned in one of the classes, we discovered that Africa is one of the main places on Earth where missionaries have found ways to prosper and succeed changing the local belief and cultural systems. In the early years, missionaries in Africa did not exist. One of the reasons was that the locals had their own belief system. Additionally, it was believed that the local African population did not have souls that need to be saved. That idea took a different turn as the missionaries discovered that this claim was no longer true and began converting the religion of the African natives. Since the conversion involves one changing one’s personal views, I decided to look at this topic of missionary work through a negative perspective (I admit that there are positives sides but I will not discuss them here). In my opinion, missionaries are one of the greatest ways that influence cultures in ways that stomp on already established belief system. For example, missionaries look at other cultures as less worthy and incapable of living their lives properly. This is why sometimes through violence or through ways that offer support in exchange of one’s local cultural views, a person and even groups change purposefully their beliefs. I believe that one should be able to look at religions as if one is in a supermarket. As a customer of a supermarket, that person should be allowed to choose a product (religion), not because of its shiny packaging, table of contents, or caloric value, but because one feels that this product (religion) is what would actually help one to transcend and matches one’s worldview. Thus, one may precisely make a decision about oneself rather than being “bribed” or forced to believe in a different religion. Another person who shares this opinion is James Axtell (1) who claims in “The Invasion Within” that the idea of missionaries is to “destroy and condemn what they found” even despite in cases where Jesuits adopted the lifestyle of the locals and then tried to change their perspectives. As Carol Berg also adds in his “Missionaries and Cultures” on page 30 (2), missionaries around the world reject anything that is pagan and unworthy of respect. This is how it becomes apparent that missionaries’ work, in its origins, is aimed towards attracting people to change their religion rather than actually helping others. According to Irwin in his book “For Lust of Knowing” (3) that idea of religious and cultural conflicts that involve missionaries is the translation of the Quran by Catholics to aid the conversion of people. In conclusion, the main goal of missionaries is to attract people by using methods that generally disrespect the cultural and religious values of the natives rather than help them. These are the same strategies that the Jasmund family uses to push their beliefs onto others.

(1) Author: James Axtell – Book name: “The Invasion Within” – Published by New York – Page 279

(2) Author: Carol Berg – Article name: Missionaries and Cultures – Published by: Catholic University of American Press – Published in Journal: U.S. Catholic Historian 1993, Volume 11, Issue 2 – Page 30

(3) Author: Robert Irwin – Book name: “For Lust of Knowing The Orientalists and Their Enemies” – Published by the Penguin Group – Page 104

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