As is so often is the case, Christian proselytizing and political colonization worked hand-in-hand to whitewash into submission almost two millennia of native culture.
One of the more normal but not actually normal things that I remember doing as a kid was stressing about how many people I talked to about Jesus. The guy was pretty clear when he issued ‘The Great Commission’ to his apostles post-resurrection. “Go and make disciples of all nations”, he said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” To this point most of what Jesus had said was focused on taking care of other people and not being an asshole, but now he is giving pretty specific instruction to go everywhere and share the good stuff he said with others so that they too can become followers of Jesus.
Hawaii was a pretty sleepy place until the late 1700’s when rich white folks took notice of it’s enormous agricultural value, as they tend to do. The Hawaiian people are believed to have first settled there somewhere around 2,000 years ago, and for much of that time there was very little contact between the Hawaiians and the rest of the world. Their proximity to absolutely nothing makes this believable as it wasn’t so easy to get around until the last handful of decades. In fact, Hawaiians were so unaccustomed to seeing other people that when British ships appeared on the horizon in 1778 they thought they were “trees moving about on the sea”. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but the Brits were initially believed to be gods, so they took what they wanted and treated the natives very poorly until the Hawaiians eventually were able to fight and kill the bad guys in pretty gruesome fashion. Good for them, shouldn’t have been standing there. That was pretty much the last time the natives would have the upper hand though as the diseases left behind by the Europeans almost completely annihilated the remaining inhabitants of the island. This story repeats itself again and again throughout history just with different island names.
Worse than the diseases though, these British colonizers literally put Hawaii on the map, and that led to it being a port of commerce and eventual settlement by folks from all over the world. I’m telling this story because after the violent Europeans came the missionaries, who had read tales of heathens and savages in the Hawaiian islands who desperately needed to be converted to Christianity. As these stories were passed around New England, about two hundred well-meaning Presbyterians set out on the seemingly endless journey to reach the pagans with the good news of a white version of a Middle Eastern Jew whose ghost once told them to do exactly this type of thing.
Many of these missionaries were successful in imposing their strict moral code upon the Hawaiian people whom they had described as “covered with every abomination”. While they were there sharing their own moral code these religious colonizers also noticed that sugarcane seemed to grow pretty well on the island and that there was plenty of fertile volcanic soil on which they could probably make some pretty good money. Jump ahead a few decades and US Navy ships were coming ashore to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy and put the Dole Pineapple guy in charge so that sugar and fruit farmers wouldn’t have to pay import tariffs to get their goods from the islands to the profitable American marketplace. As is so often is the case, Christian proselytizing and political colonization worked hand-in-hand to whitewash into submission almost two millennia of native culture.
Semi-related but the US History teacher that I had my freshman year of high school told my class with a straight face that Columbus came to America specifically to reach the natives for Christ. Pretty neat, what a guy! He should probably get his own holiday for that kind of selflessness.
Fast forward to the year 1999 and there is a group of private school children spreading out across the narrow strip of sand in Deerfield Beach, Florida with tracts and pamphlets trying to spread the good and important news of the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. Imagine a 12 year old kid in Airwalk shoes and a Five Iron Frenzy t shirt approaching you as you’re trying to enjoy a day at the beach to say “Do you want to pray this prayer so you can go to heaven instead of hell?” Afterwards we regrouped to share the number of souls each of us helped saved that day. To the best of my memory I think I only got one. Barely enough to pay the rent on a studio apartment in the sky. This idea to send the kids out into the world to try to convert people was well supported by the Bible and thousands of years of violent colonizers claiming that they were doing good instead of pillaging and plundering. I had yet to develop any real understanding of world history at that point outside of what I was learning in my Christian textbooks.
We, as conversational human beings, share things that are important to us all the time. Be it music or movie recommendations or books we’ve read or how much a new diet has helped our mood, etc and so on… This is good and important, but we talk about those things because we are actively enjoying and benefiting from them. We proselytize the things that benefit us because we want the people we care about to also benefit from them. I believe this is also the case for many people who find peace and freedom in their religion, but unless their actions back up what they believe, their stated beliefs are almost completely inconsequential.
Living in a blue county in a very deep red southern state means that there is a weird paradigm in the comments sections of my local news outlets. Any time my preferred TV news station tweets something about our current president or any of the left-leaning Democrats campaigning for the opportunity to be our next president, the replies are flooded with MAGA chuds doing their best Ricky Gervais impression by typing ARE YOU OFFENDED and GET OVER IT #MAGA on their home desktop computers with broken caps lock keys (I’m assuming). On a recent article about Trump donating this Q3 paycheck to something a guy with an American flag in his name and an avatar photo taken in the front seat of a pickup truck replied with NO DEMOCRAT HAS EVER DONATED HIS PRESIDENTIAL SALARY HAS HE? I’LL WAIT…. I try not to take the bait but this one was too easy so I foolishly said “Yeah actually JFK did and also Obama donated over $1mm during his presidency” and the immediate reply why OK BUT WHERE DID OBAMA GET A MILLION DOLLARS?! Some of these folks have such malignant self-inflicted brain damage that they can’t consider for a minute that anything outside of their own narrow Breitbart talking points might be even remotely true. The punchline to this story of useless twitter debate is that I eventually wished the guy well and told him to keep doing the lord’s work, as kind of a cue to cut it out, and he came back with one final reply that read “OH DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH MY JESUS NOW TOO?!”
This fucking guy probably fires up his computer every morning to take to the internet to defend his deeply held beliefs that are also probably completely incompatible with how he lives his life. For a lot of people their faith seems to be more of an accessory that exists to establish their own authority in whatever else they say. Challenge these folks and eventually they will resort to “the bible says” and then that’s it- they’re in redneck nirvana. Mission accomplished, the boys at the gun shop are going to get a kick out of how hard he owned these godless libtard snowflakes on twitter dot com.
This is obviously an extreme example, but the point remains that the beliefs that you espouse are only as valuable as the life with which you back it up. It’s possible that hordes of (for lack of a better word) millennials are leaving the churches in which they grew up because they see a declaration of faith by words and a dark underbelly of bullshit beneath it.
There are good churches and there are good people in bad churches, the church in these examples is doing some heavy lifting as a term to cover all faith-based power structures. The lines between genuine, enacted faith and blanket terms that make people feel good about doing whatever they want can be easily blurred. Unless the things that people say are supported by the things they do, what they claim to believe is wholly inconsequential.