It remains one of my favorite movies. I was just listening to a clip of the soundtrack of "The Mission." What I remember loving about that movie is that it showed the complexity of missions work, rather than just dismissing it entirely, which I find is often what our present day secular culture does, when looking at the work of Christian missions historically. The film showed the missionaries as people who cared deeply about the people they were trying to reach, while economic and political forces raged against the good that they were trying to accomplish. I ask myself the same sort of questions about secularism today. Should secularism be equated with consumerism? Are the values of secular consumerism and the honouring of economic principles above the needs of people responsible for current environmental degradation and oppression of the poor? Should we dismiss secularism entirely due to our current society's failings in these areas? Or, does secularism itself possess better qualities or values, than the secular backdrop of the political and economic forces of our own time? I know that not everything that came out of European contact with aboriginal peoples around the world was good, let that be acknowledged, and I would never try to say otherwise. But I think we do aboriginal people a disservice when we think of them only as passive recipients in that cultural transaction. It was a meeting of two sophisticated cultures, we learned from them, they learned from us. Unfortunately, the economic and political forces that resulted in the degradation of aboriginal peoples continue to shape their brokenness to this day. But it's not simple, because even our own modern languages for example, are very much a product of Christian missions and transmission of the Bible into the languages of the common European peoples, in order to reach them. Education and health care in much the same way, are very much tied to the history of Christian missions. It's too simple, to say we should simply dismiss missions as entirely oppressive.
It is also not accurate for our contemporary secular culture to segregate the history of Christian missions as separate from their own "progressive" history. Why is it, that secularism likes to equate science and technological "progress" for example, with secularism, and equate religion as being anti-science or anti- progressive, while at the same time blaming Christianity for anything negatively associated with said technological progress? Like guns for example, over the killing efficiency of bows and arrows. Now, would that be secular progress or Christian oppression? How can it be, to say it is only one, when the dates and locations are the same? lol. Europe to world, post Columbus. Anyway, what I'm trying to get at here, is that the history of secularism and "progress" if you will, is very much aligned with Christianity historically. I've said it before, but it can be argued that much of modern science came out of a monotheistic worldview. We have a lot in common, secularists and Christians, as much as neither side wishes to admit it. Many of our values are the same. Our roots are the same. So, here's the question, why is it that when secularists push for human rights around the world, alongside Christians, delivering clean water and educating mothers, the secularist is seen as progressive, while Christian missionaries, often doing the same work, are seen as oppressive? The reality is that when secularists assume the value of human life and the rights of the individual, they fail to realize that the rights of the individual are rooted in the value of the individual human soul, as taught by Christians for centuries before on the same soil. And that is why we must be careful, are we criticizing historical Christianity, or are we criticizing political opportunism and greed that finds oppressors where and when it can.
The funny thing to me, is how I find myself living in a culture where Christian missions are very politically incorrect, my name is mud, and yet the same culture demands conformity on any number of issues. Where does this leave us? As has been said to me, "Margaret, you don't have the right to tell them that they are wrong," while at the same time the same person would have no problem telling me that I am wrong. That someone like Franklin Graham is wrong to send missionaries to the middle east, but then why is it not also wrong to demand that I adopt the ideology of political correctness, or the middle east for that matter? Here's what I say, that having a culture as we do, thank goodness, in the western world, where we're free to argue and tell each other that we're wrong is far superior to the alternative. And what is the alternative? What does the alternative look like? It looks like an Easter musical at a local church, but it is not, it is the body of a Christian convert in the middle east, newly crucified, or the burned bodies and torched churches of Christian minorities in predominantly Muslim countries. Today. Or more positively, religious freedom looks like the glow in the eyes and the beauty of a smile, of an untouchable in India, because she is no longer being blamed, at least by someone, for her oppression. Religious freedom is the foundation of a free society, let's not criticize that. Let's have a good discussion, and let us continue to advocate, as secularists and as Christians, for the rights of people here and around the world, for freedom of conscience, for the right to disagree, and if we wish, the freedom to change our mind.
Thanks for listening,
M. A. Harvey
Here's a few clips from "The Mission."