Friday, January 02, 2009
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.Parris makes an interesting observation here, but he draws the wrong conclusion. In fact, he makes the same type of error Dennis Prager makes on a near-daily basis when he extols what he calls "Judeo-Christian values". That is, he is package-dealing the generally rational, implicit outlook of Western missionaries with their explicitly irrational teachings. As I once put it:
But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall. [bold added]
While we are indeed witnessing a battle of civilizations, this battle is between Western civilization and Islam. Western civilization is in fact a mixture of two traditions: the Greco-Roman and the Judaeo-Christian. Ever since the spread of the latter into the West, there have been periods when that element has been stronger or weaker. ... [T]he lowest point for the Western world was reached precisely when its cultural milieu was closest to being unadulterated Christianity. The Renaissance arose after classical learning was rediscovered in the West and men began using their minds again, rather than subordinating them in blind obedience to the dictates of religious authority.The Christian missionaries are thus transmitting not just their teachings to Africa, but, however imperfectly, rational elements of their native civilization. I further give the angels their due, so to speak, by noting another role of religion here, which Parris seems to be alluding to.
... Prager lumps [together] the virtues of the classical, non-Judaeo-Christian strain in Western civilization [with] his religious tradition. As I just noted, the relative influences of the Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian traditions vary over time in the West. While some might claim that these complement one another, these two strains are actually at odds on a fundamental level. One tradition is based on the epistemology of reason while the other is based on faith. One tradition offers argument and demonstrable achievement; the other authority and misery. Just as Islamic civilization objectively offers nothing in the way of accomplishments, so too would the Judaeo-Christian -- without Greco-Roman rationality to prop it up. [formatting dropped, bold added]
As I have noted here from time to time, religion has, by default held a monopoly on terminology for (and attributed source of) higher emotions, such as exaltation. It also enjoys an undeserved reputation, thanks to the fact that most modern philosophy is nihilistic, as the only coherent worldview that fosters positive values. Both of these facts lend further surface credibility to the notion that Christianizing Africa is its surest path towards civilization.
To be sure, the Christian missionaries may be the best, comparatively speaking, among the various other prominent attempts at helping Africa, but to say this is one thing. To credit faith with rational achievements and a positive, this-worldly outlook is quite another.
Africa needs the same thing any other part of the world needs: Reason. The Christian missionaries foster reason imperfectly and incidentally. That they are as successful as they are at doing so is not because of their faith, but in spite of it. Imagine what truly rational men could accomplish!