Missionary/proselytizing work is not per se a wrongful act of aggression

In This thread about the impending canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the following claim is offered:

I disagree with the last thought.

I don’t think that a significant part of our “mainstream culture” sees Catholic missionary work as distasteful, either, but I suppose that’s a more variably defensible position. But I absolutely reject the claim that some significant number see it as a wrongful act of aggression. I suppose this might be the attitude of some tiny fraction of liberal academia; I admit that the self-styled intelligentsia may well adopt this thinking.

And to whatever extent it can be said as a matter of fact: I don’t agree that Catholic missionary work is in fact a per se wrongful act of aggression.

I don’t know how prevalent this idea is, but to me pairing services for the poor or otherwise afflicted with a proselytizing program is coercive and I look down upon those who do it.

And to a Catholic mindset, seeing to someone’s spiritual well-being is just as important, if not more so, than seeing to their temporal needs.

I think missionary work of any religion is inherently aggressive. That is, the missionary is trying to force conversion to their system of belief, in exchange for help, food or whatever. Or sometimes in exchange for nothing at all, just pressure to convert. Yes, that is aggressive.

Is the article referring to the Catholic church’s 20th century missionary efforts, or its history of missionary work as a whole?

Let me be clearer: I have little doubt that the SDMB population will poll out as “yes, act of aggression.” (Unless it’s Wicca).

But my comment was that our “mainstream culture,” doesn’t in any significant way agree.

It sure as fuck does - if it’s Islam.

And is really the base statement, before the “or even” that qualifies the more radical position. Not necessarily specific to Catholic missions as we know them either, but in general to the effort to set up operations whose objective is to proselytize and convert, especially going into well established long-standing nations and societies with extant strong social and religious institutions. I get a definite feel that outside the actual faith communities that hold evangelism in high priority, our culture has grown less than fully comfortable with the Great Commission. Prolelytizers become seen as an annoyance or a joke or as wasting their and our time.

Which is why I made that position qualified with the “or even” as a subset of the greater group, I myself expect it to be quite limited as well.

My comment was in reference to the critics of Mother Theresa, who would be referring to 20th Century missionary work and in that particular case the critique often laid at her and her order’s feet that they should have focused more on maximizing the utility of actual health care services provided. However there is a certain note in many of the criticisms that leaves the reader feeling that the critic is at least as much upset that any such relief effort be tied in to proselytizing work.

According to the primary definition, no:
hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.

According to (one of) the alternate definitions, yes:
forceful and sometimes overly assertive pursuit of one’s aims and interests.


I hope you would agree such criticism is 100% merited and 0% exaggerated or superfluous.

Why should this not be criticized?

Well, OK, but in my religion proselytizing is seen as extremely offensive. Granted, it is a minority religion (in part because we don’t proselytize) but the notion that everyone sees Abrahamics attempting to convert everyone else as a harmless activity, even if physical violence is not involved, is false.

Even if trying to convert people to Christianity is not a bad thing, it’s not a good thing. Mother Teresa was given money for the purpose of doing a good thing (providing medical care to the sick, and easing the pain of the dying) and she was spending some portion of it on building missions instead while people in her care were going without medicine and painkillers.

In principle, no doubt there are harmless forms of missionary work. If somebody wants to teach me yoga and throw in a bit of Hindu philosophy, I’m not going to object too strenuously.

But in practice, the ideology that missionaries seek to spread is rarely so benign. Prominent examples that spring to mind:

(1) Catholic missionary work has involved deliberate lies to discourage condom use in Africa. It’s particularly despicable that Catholics portray themselves as benevolent aid workers, rather than promoters of harmful superstitious ideology, lending credibility to their lies. Who can say how just how many deaths they are responsible for, but probably hundreds of thousands.

(2) U.S. Christian fundamentalists have been actively spreading their odious anti-LGBT agenda to susceptible parts of Africa, with horrific results.

(3) And for completeness, isn’t the Islamic jihadist agenda pretty much missionary work?

So, yeah, in principle perhaps it’s wrong to tar all missionaries with the same brush, but they certainly have a PR problem so far as I’m concerned.

Well, technically, they probably gave her $$$ expecting her to do both, to evangelize and to help.

The (biggest) problem, as I see it, is that when she (deceptively) failed to do the second, when she evangelized only and did (very very very little) nothing to help, she is not only not criticized, people criticizing her are the ones the “faithful” choose to criticize.

Thanks for summing things up so well.

Well, actually, the biggest problem is all the people who died and/or suffered who died/suffered needlessly.

Proselytizing certainly can be coercive, as many historical examples of “conversion or the sword” illustrate. But it’s not inherently nor always so. And providing service to the poor while also leading them in prayer, or the like, is about as innocuous as it gets.

You’d prefer to provide help to the poor without the prayer? Go right ahead; nobody’s stopping you. In fact, I expect that most missionaries would encourage you.

When the Jehovas come to my door, I don’t see it as an act of aggression. I tell them I’m not interested, and they go away. No big deal. I see it as part of the price/duty I pay for living as a free man in the land of the free.
Anything more intrusive than that, however, would be unnecessarily aggressive, IMHO.

I think you’d be better off pointing to the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses who very aggressively try and proselytize. Muslims, generally don’t.

I personally wouldn’t consider it a form of aggression but lots of people have very negative impressions of both groups due to said behavior.