Anonymous asked a question:
How should I respond to people seeing Christianity as a eurocentric tool for imperialism?? I’m sometimes embarrassed that I’m still holding onto Christianity when it seems like it’s only the “popular religion” that it is today because of its adoption by white westerners and the imperialistic conquests, genocides, physical and cultural displacement, etc. caused by efforts to spread it. I don’t know what to think of this haha. Thanks (for a lot of things i don’t have room to explain here haha)!
Hey dear friend, thank you so much for this question — I believe it’s absolutely important to get this one straightened out, quickly and completely.
First please know: I’m responding as an Asian-American Easterner born and raised in the West, who is fully aware and infuriated by the danger of Western imperialism and the cultural gentrification of “manifest destiny.” In other words, I have every reason to be disgusted by Christian/western/imperialist attitudes. My own country’s history (South Korea) also has a terrible past of being oppressed by particular people-groups that have nearly stamped out my heritage.
There’s no doubt that Christianity has been associated with some awfully terrible injustices. The Crusades, witch hunts, slavery, child abuse, and the early church’s indulgences and cycles of corrupted power are just a few of the detestable atrocities that, whether directly or indirectly, were fueled by religious fervor. We must be held accountable for every single infraction.
When a Christian asks me, “How do I defend Christianity’s history?” — I can only say, “Don’t.” Christianity ought to be the most self-critical life philosophy, always asking the simple question: Is this making us better or worse? We must own up to our past, not avoid it, and if anyone challenges us on how Christianity has been harmful, we must give ground to these righteous accusations. Many people are mad (including me), and understandably so, at how Christianity has danced around its mistreatment of others.
Having said that: I believe the idea of the Christian Imperialist, while obviously holding some credence in very specific instances, is largely a tired, exaggerated myth if we look at the whole picture of Christian contribution.
This perpetuated tale of “eurocentric displacement” is just as eye-rolling as saying “Christians caused the Dark Ages” (they didn’t, in fact they mostly got us through it) or that “Christianity is a white man’s religion / a copy of other religions” (it can’t be both and it’s not either. I’m just downright jaded and perplexed by this lie; it’s a really long game of backwards telephone, and ironically, it’s almost always repeated by white-Western historians who know nothing outside the “educated enlightenment” of their white college professors.
Let’s take my own home country as an example. The Christian faith entered South Korea in the 1920s, at a time when S. Korea was isolated from outside nations, by an American missionary crew that was killed as they left Christian materials to their killers (there are conflicting reports on how this happened, but it’s unanimously regarded that the reverend on this crew was responsible for bringing the Gospel in his expedition, and was indeed killed). This event is far, far and away from “white Christian imperialists” who pillaged villages and burned down huts, which in itself is a preposterous image born of bad Hollywood.
Another example. Hudson Taylor was an European missionary who spent half a century in China. He had studied medicine and brought countless medical supplies to be of practical use, and even dressed as the locals and learned their language fluently. You won’t learn about Hudson Taylor in your regular history books because he doesn’t fit the narrative of “evil white imperialist devil.” And never, ever was there an instance when Taylor demanded someone “get saved” before he offered supplies to them. Missionaries simply never worked on a ratio exchange of confession for provision — yet another Hollywood invention.
One more example. It’s true that particular Western values have infected African and Asian culture, attempting to make them more “westernized” and “updated.” We look at certain African and Asian spiritual practices as obsolete or superstitious, and westerners have often tried to supplant these ideas with a proselytized version of rationalism. However, Christianity generally has no issue with the supernatural. Most African or Asian Christians will tell you that the Christian ethos has more or less respected traditional ethnic values of spirituality, and if anything, have preserved them more than drowned them out. Christianity has made more fulfilled Asians and Africans, not more versions of “western white religion.” Pure westernism tries to get rid of anything metaphysical, but Christianity in its purest form has always co-existed with both science and spirituality. That might sound ridiculous to you, until you actually travel to these places and see it for yourself.
I could go on. I could tell you about how most of our family ethics and moral values today, which we take for granted as “obvious,” come from a Judeo-Christian worldview that was not obvious to a blood-soaked world of the first century.
I could tell you how women and children were objectified and trampled until Judeo-Christian values raised them up to be cherished, treasured, and given proper inalienable rights.
I could tell you how early Christianity actually originated in Africa without a single white person’s help.
I could tell you that my own country, along with Cambodia and Vietnam and China, have a history of imperialistic oppression, none of whose perpetrators were white or Christian.
I could tell you how the religious are often the most giving people-group, and also the most persecuted and killed.
Even apart from Christianity, I could go on about how major world religions have positively contributed in tangible charity, amidst the negative that they have wrought. I could tell you how most of this will make your average scholar kind of mad, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s not deniable.
Yes, I confess that religions have done some evil things, and we must not shy away from our mistakes. Religions have been dragged into wrong movements and co-opted as motivation. Even the examples I have given you are not perfect people who have always gotten it right. I hold myself accountable and responsible for where I have fallen short. But if we’re going to have a myopic nearsightedness about Christianity, then I’m essentially propping up a revisionist history of what Christians have really done. I’m taking a part and applying it to the whole, which is biased and prejudiced. And I’m just so unimpressed with it. There are many, many better arguments against Christianity that have bothered me much worse, and this one is mostly Swiss cheese. I admit that Christianity has gotten it wrong quite a lot, but I celebrate when it’s gotten it right, and I still believe the good has outweighed everything else.