Christian missions as imperialism through schools


The discovery of over 1,000 bodies of Indigenous children on the outskirts of residential schools in Canada came as a shock to many.

But he shouldn’t.

After all, this is just another chapter in the suffering of indigenous peoples at the hands of Western imperialism, which has often used Christianity and the missions as a tool to advance its material interests and spread ideologies in countries. extra-western territories.

The tangled relationship between Christian missionary education and Western imperialism is strong and ancient.

It dates from the mid-16th century when the Catholic Church recognized the usefulness of education in defending and advancing religion during the time of the Counter-Reformation.

Around the same time, the aspiration of the Catholic Church to revitalize the foreign missions corresponded well to the imperialist ambitions of France, Spain and Portugal – in particular the Franciscan and Jesuit missions were operating in a vast area, from the Near -East, then under Ottoman rule. Empire, in the Americas, in the Far East, under the direct diplomatic protection and economic support of the imperialist powers.

In the geographic areas they strived for, they aimed to convert not only non-Christians, but also Eastern Christians, including Greek Orthodox, Assyrians, Armenians, Melkites, and Nestorians. In this, Catholic education has manifested itself as the most effective and convincing means of Christianization, which most of the time went hand in hand with Westernization.

For example, French influence in the Middle East dates back to the late 16th, early 17th century when Jesuit missionaries began to promote French language and culture as well as Catholicism in their schools in Istanbul, Aleppo, Beirut, like many other places in the world.

Consequently, the francization of the Catholic missions, which acted as agents of French imperialism, worsened relations between the local Christian and non-Christian populations and caused internal divisions and estrangement among the indigenous populations. Likewise, the Franciscan Catholic missions, from the beginning of the 17th century, facilitated the expansion of Spanish imperialism in the Americas by teaching the virtues of being “submissive Christian subjects of the Spanish Empire”.

The modern Protestant missionary movement that arose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain and the United States imitated the Catholic method of school evangelism.

In this era of high imperialism, from the earliest stages of their efforts, Protestant missions operated schools at all levels, in all geographic areas where they were present. Many foreign schools in the Middle East, such as Anatolian College in Thessaloniki, Greece, Robert College in Istanbul. The American universities of Cairo and Beirut trace their history back to the 19th century.

By teaching indigenous populations on moral and material supremacy instead of directly preaching Protestantism, mission schools have acted as enthusiastic agents of Anglo-Saxon imperialism throughout the world.

Jeremy Salt rightly points out that missionaries, whether in the Ottoman Empire, India or China or some distant Pacific island, were not only bearers of gospel truth but also came as representatives of the Anglo-Saxon race and more generally agents of a superior Western society. civilization.

At the same time, Edward Said draws attention to the essential facilitating role of missionaries in the expansion of imperialism from Australia to the West Indies by colonizing the minds of local populations in their schools.

The missionary effect on the indigenous peoples of North America is among the most brutal and saddest. For lack of organized states and material sources against the penetration of French, British and American colonization on their lands, they could not prevent their ancestral lands from being stolen by white settlers from across the Atlantic.

The American case is better known because a large amount of scholarship as well as films and television series have been produced on the suffering of Native Americans during the colonization of the land which is now the United States.

On the other hand, the long-standing misery of Canada’s indigenous peoples, perhaps thanks to the country’s success in portraying itself as a peaceful, peaceful and welcoming country without significant national or international issues, has remained underestimated. Promising free and fertile land to white European settlers, Canada attracted waves of immigration during the 19th century.

Having been stripped of their ancestral lands, indigenous peoples were forced to live a limited life on the reserves to which they were forced by the Indian Act of Canada of 1876.

The Act also mandated residential schools for Indigenous children as part of Canada’s forced assimilation by replacing their Indigenous culture and religion with British, French, and Christianity.

Although they were run by the Roman Catholic, Anglican Protestant, United, and Presbyterian churches, the schools were funded and encouraged by Canadian governments.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) estimates that 150,000 Aboriginal children attended residential schools from 1876 to 1996, when the last residential school in Canada closed.

The residential school system significantly weakened Indigenous children by estranging them from their families, denying their ancestral languages ​​and cultures, and exposing many to physical and sexual abuse.

Disconnected from their families and culture and forced to speak English or French, Indigenous students in the residential school system often graduated unable to integrate into their community, but remained subject to racist attitudes in the community. Canadian society in general. But the system eventually succeeded in disrupting the transmission of Indigenous practices and beliefs across generations, as was originally intended.

In addition, the legacy of the residential system has led to an increased presence of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide, which still persist in Indigenous communities.

After establishing a commission to investigate the extension of the consequences of the Indian residential school system and a decision to compensate the victims, the Canadian government is now urging the Catholic Church to apologize for its role.

But that does not dig into the essence of the problem, which is the use of the Christian religion to advance the secular interests of states.

In the Canadian case, the state deliberately and systematically exploited Christianity to colonize the land and minds of Indigenous peoples.

Scapegoat churches, especially Catholic ones, would appear to distort historical facts unless the Canadian government fully accepts its historical responsibility and does much more to restore the pride, land and rights of Indigenous peoples.

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