Friday, December 18, 2009

Missionaries, part 1

The Samurai (Reprint) (New Directions Classics)
I'm currently reading The Samurai by Shusaku Endo. The book follows the lives of a Spanish missionary in eastern Japan and a poor samurai caught up in the political manoeuverings of his domain's councilmen. The missionary, Velasco, is driven by an overzealous ambition to become Bishop of Japan, and plans a trip to Nueva Espana and then to Spain with some Japanese envoys and merchants in the hopes of establishing a trade treaty in exchange for full missionary rights for Spain. The novel recounts some very interesting historical events, the details of which have unfortunately been lost over the last few centuries.

I have read two of Endo's books (Silence and The Samurai) and they both deal with missionaries in Japan. The other day, while reading The Samurai, I was suddenly struck (actually restruck) with the realization that I am thoroughly against missionary work. In fact, I loathe it. I find it shameful, xenophobic, classist, racist, and baseless.

There are two cases to examine when considering missionary work. The first case assumes the religion being sold is valid. The second assumes the opposite.

The second case is easiest dealt with. In The Samurai, Velasco is expounding the Roman Catholic faith. If Christianity is false, then men and women embarking on missionary work throughout the world is an absurd waste of resources. Since, in general, most religions are exclusive, a given Christian missionary happily believes that while his or her work is worthy, that of all the "other" missionaries is not. Of course, in this scenario, all of the work is worthless. Even more damning and unforgivable in the second case is that the proselytized are torn from their native beliefs and culture for absolutely no reason.

The first case, although highly unlikely, supposes that a particular religion is in fact true. In the case of Christianity then, we are meant to believe that God revealed "himself" to a few people in a very localized area, ignoring all of the other humans on the planet. His plan then being that over more than 2000 years, his word would be preached to, taught to, and forced upon the rest of the world in an eons-long struggle. How much easier it would have been had the all-powerful one made himself known to all nations at once, or at least on successive days? Perhaps in a few weeks, the whole world would have been happily Christian, Jesus wouldn't have died, and we would no longer have Easter. I think it would have been more than a fair trade.


Sean O'Hagan said...

It is horribly ironic that in my vain attempt to make pennies via Google Adsense, there are ads for missionary work below my post damning missionary work. Oh well.

Jonathan said...

Catholicism is a deep religion, and the Bible is an inexhaustible storehouse of wisdom. Currently I'm reading the Gospel of John. It is by turns wondrous, wise, and surprising. You should check it out sometime!

Sean O'Hagan said...

Hi Jonathan!

There is also a lot of wisdom in The Analects of Confucius. And yet by various means (both aggressive and not) Christian missionaries have tried to supplant Chinese beliefs (or lack thereof) for centuries. How can Catholics claim to be right, and the rest of the world wrong?

I have been an atheist for about 25 years now, and there is no hope of conversion here. :)

I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on any of the various "God doesn't exist" books that are popular recently.

Jonathan said...

I haven't read God Is Not Great or the other books. I did see an interesting YouTube video on Hitchens' book by an eloquent Catholic speaker, Fr. Robert Barron. If you're curious, it's at (4 mins).

Sean O'Hagan said...

Watched that video. Not bad. I can't remember how much of the book contained those kinds of arguments. It may seem like a lot because he goes through most religions (including Buddhism) and demonstrates examples for each. However, there's quite a bit more substance to the book than that.

I have a video for you to watch. Hitchens examining the last 100,000 of Homo Sapiens. Quite short.

Jonathan said...

Watched it. Not bad either. It does seem peculiar that God waited a long time before revealing himself, and doing so to a small nation. Then again, reality has many peculiar things about it—rarely is it smooth and obvious.

Sean O'Hagan said...

True, reality can appear to be peculiar. But, at every turn we are discovering the 'hows' and the 'whys'. Things become more understandable every day.

I'm always a bit stunned by the religious arrogance of people of faith. When people say the word "God", what god are they referring to? There are quite a few out there. Are they really claiming that the other 'x' billion people have got it all wrong? I just find that way of thinking incomprehensible.

Whereas all believers (regardless of faith) state that theirs is the one and true God (or at least that their particular God exists), atheists refuse to make such inherently contradictory claims. We may also be arrogant, but not in a "Hey we're special" kind of way. In one of his talks, Hitchens says that, in a sense, we are all atheists. We no longer believe in Zeus, Juno, Ra, ... and the list is long.

Sean O'Hagan said...

In any case, this is all besides the point. My post was on missionary work. I just saw two Mormons biking down the road here in my wife's hometown in western Japan. I wasn't too happy with that.