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Support Christian missions in Africa? No, but . . . - Comments

PaulinSydney's Avatar Comment 1 by PaulinSydney

Tough question, Richard. Cliterodectomies for the girls and jihad for everyone or the death penalty for gays and HIV for everyone? But never fear - the biggest single foreign investors and donors in Africa are now those godless Commie Chinese. And given they're the only ones who seem to take African issues seriously (well, them and Angelina Jolie), I'm guessing it won't be long before half of Africa is covered in posters of Chairman Mao. Problem solved?

Sat, 07 May 2011 10:50:40 UTC | #624119

danconquer's Avatar Comment 2 by danconquer

Depends on what we mean by 'support'. Everyone should be protected in the face of aggressive acts of persecution and harrassment from their opponents, and that applies equally to christians, muslims and atheists.

While Islam certainly causes more harm than Christianity, in many African states there is not necessarily much practical difference to choose from. It's worth remembering, for instance, that in several countries, christians are actually performing proportionately even more female genital mutilation than muslims do.

And that map really is preposterous! While the north tends to be muslim-majority and the south tends to be christian-majority, to then colour the entire landscape like that (complete with Dad's Army style arrows!) is ridiculously crude. It's like trying to explain the political landscape of Britain with a map that has a line drawn somewhere around the Pennines, colouring the entire bottom half blue and the entire top half red!

Sat, 07 May 2011 10:54:19 UTC | #624122

jon_the_d's Avatar Comment 3 by jon_the_d

The chinese are most likely perfectly happy to stay OUT of local affairs. They just treat it as business, so I don't see them exerting any sort of cultural influence whatsoever.

So, I'm convinced the question is purely Christianity vs Islam. No other alternative.

Although they are both undesirable, islam is by its nature and core beliefs so rigid, and so strict, and so impossible to break free of, and impossible to modernize and make tolerant of other religions and lifestyles, that any african nation that succumbs to a muslim majority and a muslim government, will most likely be stuck that way for centuries, excepting any major global wars or revelations, and the people in those nations will be slaves to its will.

Christianity on the otherhand, already has many more tolerant and modern branches, and even catholicism stands more chance of modernising than islam does. And there's no threats of death and mutilation for leaving the religion or sinning, besides the hatred of homosexuals that seems to be prevalent. And belief in witchcraft in some areas. Although maybe that will subside as Christianity proper actually becomes more dominant, and not blended with local supernatural beliefs.

Basically, I definitely see islam as a rut that they won't be able to get out of, and will be incredibly harsh on any who don't want to follow islamic ways. Christianity, definitely the lesser of two evils in this case, is at least likely to be more tolerant of others, and has nothing preventing it from modernizing, or individuals shrugging off their beliefs.

If it is a 'war' for control of africa, between these two religions, I definitely want christianity to claim as much territory as possible, and I would condone supporting the christian missions competing against islam to achieve this.

For me, christianity in africa would be infintely preferable to islam, for the people of those nations, and for the world as a whole.

Sat, 07 May 2011 11:09:49 UTC | #624127

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 4 by rsharvey

Ayaan Hirsi Ali thinks that we should try to convert Islamic Africa to Christianity too. Her reasoning is that Christianity is open to progress and liberal interpretation. It is true that the Christianity which flourishes in Africa is a pre enlightenment Christianity, and is often morally indistinguishable from Islam, but there could be hope for future progress perhaps at least with Christianity..

Sat, 07 May 2011 11:19:45 UTC | #624129

j_archer's Avatar Comment 5 by j_archer

There are plenty of programs by the religious to air drop and ship over the word of god to the 'godless heathens' of the dark continent. They take donations from believers to cover the cost of these operations.

Heres a thought. How about if organizations working to spread rational ideas and thinking take donations not just to give aid to help improve the physical condition of the developing world, but organize air drops and shipments of Spinoza, Aristotle, Hume and Dawkins to help improve the spiritual and intellectual condition of th developing world. I think it would just as much, if not more, good then new roofs for hospitals.

We wouln't need missionaries to make sure the locals interpret the books correctly, or use valuable funds to build the structures for the locals to then worship the books, or employ experts with their own courts to punish those that act in a way contrary to the way the books say you should act

Sat, 07 May 2011 11:19:45 UTC | #624130

Hammert1me's Avatar Comment 6 by Hammert1me

The continent is an example of what happens when ignorance and fear control everything. Neither. Morally, it's like choosing between Stalin and Hitler. But in this case neither is the more immediate threat to our way of life. They are both fairly irrelevant.

No matter who the west supports, this conflict will go on forever. Support the pro-democracy uprisings in the north, support education, family planning and vaccinations. Disease and poverty are the main causes of death in Africa, not civil conflict. So it would be morally justifable to concentrate on these issues.

Eventually the young will get disallusioned with the whole sectarian system and begin changing or abandoning their beliefs. This is not unprecidented - Egypt, Nothern Ireland and Tunisia are recent examples. France and the USA in the 1700's both adopted secular constitutions after centuries of Bible-sanctioned conflict.

A relevant TED talk:

link text

Sat, 07 May 2011 11:41:38 UTC | #624135

PaulinSydney's Avatar Comment 7 by PaulinSydney

Comment 3 by jon_the_d

The chinese are most likely perfectly happy to stay OUT of local affairs. They just treat it as business, so I don't see them exerting any sort of cultural influence whatsoever

An interesting interpretation of Chinese ambition, and certainly what Beijing would like Washington to think. But whether it is China's intent to exert cultural influence or not, the simple fact remains that China's influence is likely to increase as the amount of aid, investment and expertise (in the form of Chinese development workers) it pours into Africa increases. Imagine for a moment you are an ordinary African living in, say, Botswana. Two groups of foreigners come to your poor village. One group is offering you a handout (free medicine, most likely) and a book you have to interpret in a way that pleases them. The other group offers you training and a job building and operating a railway. In return, they expect nothing except, perhaps, that you learn Chinese. Or imagine you want to be a teacher (China sends the most teacher trainers to Africa). Or anything other than Madonna's adopted child. Money talks, and China is spending more money in Africa than anyone else. While it may not be China's intent to exert a cultural influence (and we may have to disagree about that) I suspect they will nevertheless be exerting a greater and greater influence there in the coming decades.

I also don't see any particular reason to prefer Christianity to Islam. I suspect we only see Isalm as particularly evil is because we are used to ignoring the batshit crazy aspects of Christianity, while the batshit crazy fringe of Islam is constantly emphasised in the West. Both religions cause problems in Africa, neither should be encouraged.

Sat, 07 May 2011 11:57:01 UTC | #624136

jel's Avatar Comment 8 by jel

There are many committed christians living and working as missionaries in Africa and doing good things. A group of them saved my life several years ago (I had malaria and hepatitus and it was an american protestant mission hospital that saved me). There are also many committed muslims doing the same thing. They never got to save my life but I have no doubts that, given the same scenario, they would have done.

The problem with both religions is that there are also many committed missionaries and preachers/imams that are doing very bad things. FGM is something that, while mainly practised by muslims, is also carried out by some christians. The same goes for MGM. There are those christians who go about accusing children of witchcraft and being possessed by the devil, what those poor children endure is horrific.

All in all, I think you have to be very careful about supporting any religion in Africa. It is always best to do as much research as possible before committing any money.

On a better note, not all Africans are theists, even in Uganda.link text

http://www.kaseseunitedhumanistassociation.blogspot.com/

Sat, 07 May 2011 11:57:51 UTC | #624137

Teknical's Avatar Comment 9 by Teknical

". . .could our enemy's enemy be our friend?" What could possibly go wrong? If only history could show us by example . . . .

To a degree some christians have already adopted some atheist scientific evidence and altered their belief system to (conveniently) suit. Would Islam do the same? If being an atheist in the deep south is dangerous, the difficulties and dangers facing an apostate muslim must be virtually insurmountable?

Ballancing the issues, already stated in this forum, the christians may have the edge in a moral debate.

Sat, 07 May 2011 12:23:33 UTC | #624142

Teknical's Avatar Comment 10 by Teknical

'Ballancing the issues, already stated in this forum, the christians may have the edge in a moral debate.'

I meant to specify in a debate supporting either the christian or muslim viewpoint.

If 'divide and conquer' has failed as an option then why are atheists not asking each faith why they think that 'getting into bed' with each other presents no problem for them, and then let them debate the issue?

Ah, but then the cracks would realy start to show . . . . .

Sat, 07 May 2011 12:56:47 UTC | #624148

skiles1's Avatar Comment 11 by skiles1

@ Professor Dawkins:

"...could our enemy's enemy be our friend?"

No sir. I can think of no worse area to support Christianity, than in Africa. For example, here are some articles on the *84% Christian democratic republic of Uganda, where HIV positive people and gender variant people might face death penalties:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/21/ugandan-paper-gay-people-hanged; http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/09/0083101

Although I don't know exactly what you mean by "supporting" Christianity in Africa, there are alternatives. We have the option of supporting secularism in Africa. For instance, Humanist schools in Uganda need our support:

http://www.ugandahumanistschoolstrust.org/; http://ballisticduckphotos.co.uk/uhst2011/

Also, Uganda being so important for the study of anthropogeny, giving Christian Uganda encouragement might result in disaster. I've only mentioned Uganda as one case study, and I only mention anthropogeny as one field of science that is at risk. But there might be nowhere more fatal to support Christianity than in Uganda.

*84%: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html

Sat, 07 May 2011 13:03:02 UTC | #624149

ezcola's Avatar Comment 12 by ezcola

Comment 2 by danconquer :

And that map really is preposterous! While the north tends to be muslim-majority and the south tends to be christian-majority, to then colour the entire landscape like that (complete with Dad's Army style arrows!) is ridiculously crude. It's like trying to explain the political landscape of Britain with a map that has a line drawn somewhere around the Pennines, colouring the entire bottom half blue and the entire top half red!

I do see your point in crudely over simplifying the map and certainly your notion concerning the suggestive arrows. But it seems that the coloring of the map isn't so far off the mark after all...

http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/afrorelg.htm http://www.africanculturalcenter.org/5_3languages_religion.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Africa http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-religion-map.htm

...that being said, the things are rarely black and white and I suppose one of the biggest influencing factors in most African countries is that there are very strong ties to supernatural beliefs in the native culture. This combined with the very low level of education in general makes most parts of africa an extremely fertile ground for any religion and very hard case for atheism/secularism to flourish. Un fortunately, like Dawkins mentioned, there is not much light in the end of that particular tunnel in any short time frame. I guess one the best chances of improving the situation in the long run would be, as Hitchens has often pointed out, the empowerment of women and trying to help with the educational efforts - in other words, secular humanitarian help.

Sat, 07 May 2011 13:17:48 UTC | #624152

jon_the_d's Avatar Comment 13 by jon_the_d

If empowerment of women is what you're after, then islam is not the way.

Much better hope of progress with christianity, even if it is starting very low down.

Sat, 07 May 2011 13:35:57 UTC | #624155

green and dying's Avatar Comment 14 by green and dying

I support the outcome of their actions without supporting their intentions. It may not be the best solution but it doesn't hurt at all for more African Muslims to convert to Christianity. Anything to get fewer people in the world believing the Quran to be the word of God.

Sat, 07 May 2011 13:37:30 UTC | #624156

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 15 by Schrodinger's Cat

The word that springs to mind is expediency. The Christian church, for all its folly, is generally not going round commiting wholesale acts of carnage. And whilst raping choir boys is an evil in itself, on the Richter scale of sheer evilness it ranks well below the heinous acts of Al Qaeda and many of the Islamic fundamentalists. The crimes of Christians are all too human......those of Islam are positively inhuman.

Sat, 07 May 2011 13:40:21 UTC | #624159

green and dying's Avatar Comment 16 by green and dying

Comment 15 by Schrodinger's Cat :

The word that springs to mind is expediency. The Christian church, for all its folly, is generally not going round commiting wholesale acts of carnage. And whilst raping choir boys is an evil in itself, on the Richter scale of sheer evilness it ranks well below the heinous acts of Al Qaeda and many of the Islamic fundamentalists. The crimes of Christians are all too human......those of Islam are positively inhuman.

Raping children is not justified in Christian scriptures as far as I'm aware.

Sat, 07 May 2011 13:48:09 UTC | #624161

CallumM's Avatar Comment 17 by CallumM

In what sense is Islam an 'unmitigated evil'? Is the Professor now auditioning for a guest shot on Pamela Geller's website for the barking mad and openly hostile? Very few things in this world are 'unmitigated evils': of all the things that might be unmitigated evils, I can absolutely guarantee that a major world religion practiced in a thousand different ways in a thousand different social and cultural contexts is not one of them. The chances of no good at all coming out of such a diverse multiplicity of contexts and forms of practice (that is, of any 'evil' not being mitigated) are almost zero.

I suppose it could be that the Professor is just engaging in baseless rhetoric, dodgy sermonizing and quackish ignorance, but that seems highly, highly unlikely. So I'll put it down as a typo.

Sat, 07 May 2011 14:16:35 UTC | #624169

PaulinSydney's Avatar Comment 18 by PaulinSydney

Perhaps I'm being overly naive here, green and dying, jon_the_d and others who are supporting Christianity, but would you mind explaining why Islam is so self-evidently worse than Christianity? It's not like we have to look a long way back in history to see examples of Christians (and Christianity) involved in horrific violence, oppression of women, other religions, gays and lesbians and other reprehensible acts. Indeed, it's happening in Africa today. Progress in these areas in western societies has happened in spite of Christianity, and often in the face of vociferous opposition from Christians. This "Islam is the most evil religion" trope seems to have become received wisdom on this board, but I just don't see it. I don't doubt, by the way, that Islam encourages violence and oppression, but so, ultimately, do all religions.

Sat, 07 May 2011 14:18:36 UTC | #624170

PaulinSydney's Avatar Comment 19 by PaulinSydney

Comment 15 by Schrodinger's Cat

And whilst raping choir boys is an evil in itself, on the Richter scale of sheer evilness it ranks well below the heinous acts of Al Qaeda and many of the Islamic fundamentalists

The evil of the Catholic Church does not stop at covering up child rape. There still remains the questions of the church's complicity in the Holocaust. And that, green and dying, was justified by scripture.

Sat, 07 May 2011 14:22:39 UTC | #624173

skidmarx's Avatar Comment 20 by skidmarx

the heinous acts of Al Qaeda and many of the Islamic fundamentalists. Would be the responsibility of those Muslims, not all Muslims or Islam itself, unless you can show why the Quran should be balmed for the terrorism and not lauded for tha lack of it from the vast majority.

Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future Seems a tad dismissive of Africans.

Sat, 07 May 2011 14:29:45 UTC | #624177

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 21 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 19 by PaulinSydney

The evil of the Catholic Church does not stop at covering up child rape. There still remains the questions of the church's complicity in the Holocaust. And that, green and dying, was justified by scripture.

But we're talking about what to do now. In my view the only valid approach is a pragmatic one. Islam is clearly a far worse threat to the world than Christianity. I simply don't think we have the luxury of being picky about how we deal with it. Cowpox is not exactly a pleasant diesease, but it makes an excellent vaccine against the far worse smallpox. That is to my mind the best analogy.

Sat, 07 May 2011 14:41:09 UTC | #624178

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 22 by AtheistEgbert

Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy's enemy be our friend?

Richard

I don't think there is a 'we' yet. Atheism is like democratic anarchism, atheists range in all sorts of opinions, from materialism to spirituality, from good to evil. I would like to see a 'we' emerge from chaos.

I am interested in a 'we', a new egalitarianism perhaps, a new narrative for western civilisation to replace the absurd myths of Christianity. But we're not there yet. Nietzsche warned us about the growing nihilism of the west, and it is our own impotence which makes us watch on, as Islam marches forth into the crumbling ruins of our decadent heritage.

Sat, 07 May 2011 14:58:28 UTC | #624183

green and dying's Avatar Comment 23 by green and dying

Comment 18 by PaulinSydney :

Perhaps I'm being overly naive here, green and dying, jon_the_d and others who are supporting Christianity, but would you mind explaining why Islam is so self-evidently worse than Christianity? It's not like we have to look a long way back in history to see examples of Christians (and Christianity) involved in horrific violence, oppression of women, other religions, gays and lesbians and other reprehensible acts. Indeed, it's happening in Africa today. Progress in these areas in western societies has happened in spite of Christianity, and often in the face of vociferous opposition from Christians. This "Islam is the most evil religion" trope seems to have become received wisdom on this board, but I just don't see it. I don't doubt, by the way, that Islam encourages violence and oppression, but so, ultimately, do all religions.

Okay, I will tell you. Islam has very little chance of being reformed in the way that Christianity has been. To understand why, you have to realise that one major difference between these religions is the status of their scriptures. The content of the scriptures is very very similar in a lot of ways, if you are including the Old Testament in Christianity. But the status of the scriptures is very different. The Quran is not just a collection of writings "inspired" by God, or some old laws that God put down that don't apply any more, the Quran is the word of God, every single word, never to be changed, and there is not a way to argue that that isn't true and still be a Muslim, if the word "Muslim" is going to mean anything at all. To compare: the Bible has many human authors, was written in many different time periods, can be translated as much as you like, very easy to ignore bits and reform it. You can still be a Christian and only pay attention to the lovely Jesus bits. Whereas the Quran has one author (and it's an infallible god), was written over the lifetime of one man, must never be altered or misprinted and translation is never as good as the original Arabic. Very very hard to reform a religion whose most basic belief is that the scripture is infallible to this degree. You can't change ANY beliefs.

There are also differences in the actual content of the scriptures. The Old Testament is pretty evil, but I don't remember anywhere there being a direct instruction to men to beat their wives if they are disobedient. Yeah, the Old Testament says stone them to death for not being virgins on their wedding nights but I think it's harder for that to be a cultural norm and would affect fewer women than the 80% of Pakistani women who are abused by their husbands. And it doesn't happen anyway because Christians don't take the Old Testament to be a current set of laws. The Quran also has instructions for war and violence in defence of Islam that are direct instructions rather than just stories of God telling particular tribes to kill others a long time ago. There's no indication that the instructions aren't current. They apply forever.

And that's not even touching the hadith, the reported views of the Prophet (also pretty infallible), where we get instructions on who gets stoned to death, condoning of FGM (or it's not hard to interpret it that way), definite condoning of marriage and rape of young girls, etc. The hadith aren't infallible because they are written by humans, and different forms of Islam consider different hadith to be authentic so there is room to reform and change here but I still think that the reason these views are current, unlike the views in the Old Testament, is a vital part of Islam that you can't change - that the Quran and the Prophet are infallible, Muhammad is the final prophet never to be superseded and the rules apply forever and ever until judgement day.

There's probably more I've forgotten but that's basically why I'd much prefer people to be Christians.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:01:04 UTC | #624184

PaulinSydney's Avatar Comment 24 by PaulinSydney

Comment 21 by Schrodinger's Cat

But we're talking about what to do now. In my view the only valid approach is a pragmatic one. Islam is clearly a far worse threat to the world than Christianity

What to do now? Education and economic development. Two ideas that strike fear into the heart of religious fundamentalists everywhere, of whatever stripe.

And why is Islam so clearly a worse threat than Christianity? Sure, a group of lunatic fringe Muslims managed a some successful terrorist attacks. But so did the IRA, the ETA and, in America, many lunatic fringe Christians. And the Catholic Church's reluctance to deal with it's complicity in the Holocaust is deeply troubling. Those who do not acknowledge history are at the greatest risk of repeating it.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:01:04 UTC | #624185

Poe78's Avatar Comment 25 by Poe78

Unmitigated evil? Really? Ok, this is it. Richard Dawkins, I used to look up to you, but now I see that you have finally lost it. You are apparently nothing more than a hateful human being, no better than the followers of the religions you are against.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:02:41 UTC | #624186

SourTomatoSand's Avatar Comment 26 by SourTomatoSand

I am rather surprised that Prof. Dawkins would suggest it at all, even to say no. The virulent anti-gay sentiment in Africa is a product of Christianity, for the most part, as are many of the faith-healers who claim to be able to cure AIDS. Then there are the Christian terrorist organizations in Uganda, which even employ child soldiers. No one seems to be concerned with spreading liberal developed-world Christianity in Africa; they are spreading the worst kind of fundamentalist, medieval doctrine. Christianity in Africa has very little resemblance to the kind of benign faith that could be considered an ally against Islam.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:04:32 UTC | #624187

skiles1's Avatar Comment 27 by skiles1

Comment 20 by skidmarx :

unless you can show why the Quran should be balmed for the terrorism and not lauded for tha lack of it from the vast majority.

http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Themes/jihad_passages.html; http://www.al-islam.org/short/jihad/; http://www.quranicstudies.com/louay-fatoohi-books/jihad/jihad-in-the-quran-third-edition-book-details.html

Terrorism is just one issue. One could also list Koranic verses which seem to promote wife beating and female genital mutilation, for some other examples. And a basic internet search could likewise find evidence for those.

There's virtually no end to the evils Islam, if it's appropriate to list the Koran as a source for Islamic ideologies, at all. Those Muslims who don't bind themselves to the interests of the Koran, are either diluted by humanistic instincts or influence, or read the Koran differently. That said, there's nothing to prevent one from reading the Koran however one likes, beyond the propaganda of those who themselves engage in sectarianism by denouncing contradictory interpretations of the Koran as evil.

I disagree that Christianity is somehow preferable to Islam, from any standpoint - atheistic or otherwise. Perhaps we don't suffer daily violence in North America at the hands of Christianity, but violence at the hands of Christianity in Africa is daily. And there's no safe way of outguessing that North American Christianity wont descend to the state of African Christianity. So it has to be addressed using that analogy.

Religion makes it our business to address religion. This is not something we want to do. But religious fundamentalism in national and local laws affect everyone. Violence done in the name of religion happens daily and affects everyone, too.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:24:51 UTC | #624190

Alan Canon's Avatar Comment 28 by Alan Canon

I joined a local Episcopal Church (US branch of the Anglican Church) as an out atheist a few years ago to help support their full inclusion of LGBT persons. The rector of the parish I joined is Lucinda Laird, an alumna of John Shelby Spong's Newark diocese, and a self proclaimed "post-Christian"

The parish sent a medical mission to Sudan, and, knowing the doctors and other volunteers, I would be willing to bet that there was zero proselytization.

As Richard has said, if all faith-heads were like the people I met at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Louisville, there would be far less need for our militant atheism. Many of them really were kind, thoughtful, skeptical and rational, and though I've moved on and am no longer active with them, they really did exemplify human goodness.

Reading that Richard retains some nostalgic fondness for the Church of England, I can report that t?most liberal portion of the American branch of the "Queen's own church," especially as 'an inoculation against more virulent forms of the disease", get a major pass from my atheist self. There are far bigger fish to fry.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:35:05 UTC | #624194

maria melo's Avatar Comment 29 by maria melo

**Looking at the "territorial dominance maps" and great empires in history, that seems to me that every man must have an Alexander´s the Great complex. (I ´m reminding the logotip of my own faculty with the territorial landmark of spreding christianity, a real monument stood there...) I usually see it like that.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:48:43 UTC | #624201

Fouad Boussetta's Avatar Comment 30 by Fouad Boussetta

I'm not sure myself, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali would do just that, if you follow her interesting argument in her latest book "Nomad". She suggests howevver, quite reasonably, to only support the more progressive strands of Christianity.

Sat, 07 May 2011 15:48:55 UTC | #624202