Christianity and colonialism

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Christianity and colonialism are often closely associated because Catholicism and Protestantism were the religions of the European colonial powers and acted in many ways as the "religious arm" of those powers. According to Edward Andrews, Christian missionaries were initially portrayed as "visible saints, exemplars of ideal piety in a sea of persistent savagery". However, by the time the colonial era drew to a close in the last half of the twentieth century, missionaries became viewed as "ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them", colonialism's "agent, scribe and moral alibi."


  • The white man is very clever. He came quietly with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
  • Today, I rebel against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced it has distorted the message of Jesus. He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered through many media, and when it had the backing of a Roman emperor, it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day.
    • Mahatma Gandhi. Harijan, 30-5-1936
  • The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame in any age of the earth.
  • The religions whose theology is least preoccupied with events in time and most concerned with eternity, have been consistently less violent and more humane in political practice. Unlike early Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism (all obsessed with time) Hinduism and Buddhism have never been persecuting faiths, have preached almost no holy wars and have refrained from that proselytizing religious imperialism which has gone hand in hand with political and economic oppression of colored people.
  • Missionary activities… which became so prominent a feature of European relations with Asia were connected with Western political supremacy in Asia and synchronised with it. ... It may indeed be said that the most serious, persistent and planned effort of European nations in the nineteenth century was their missionary activities in India and China, where a large-scale attempt was made to effect a mental and spiritual conquest at supplementing the political authority already enjoyed by Europe. Though the results were disappointing in the extreme from the missionary point of new, this assault on the spiritual foundations of Asian countries has had far-reaching consequences in the religious and social reorganization of the people...
    • K. M. Panikkar. Asia and Western Dominance: a survey of the Vasco Da Gama epoch of Asian history, 1498–1945. p. 15, 314
  • The treaty clauses, in fact, wrote the ultimate doom of Christian activity in China. To have believed that a religion which grew up under the protection of foreign powers, especially under humiliating conditions, following defeat, would be tolerated when the nation recovered its authority, showed extreme shortsightedness. The fact is that the missionaries, like other Europeans, felt convinced in the nineteenth century that their political supremacy was permanent, and they never imagined that China would regain a position when the history of the past might be brought up against them and their converts. `The Church', as Latourette has pointed out, `had become a partner in Western imperialism.'
    • Latourette quoted in K. M. Panikkar. Asia and Western Dominance: a survey of the Vasco Da Gama epoch of Asian history, 1498–1945.
  • In 1454 he (Prince Henry the Navigator) received from the Pope Nicholas V the right to all discoveries up to India. The Bull, which is of fundamental importance and is the first of three which determines the Portuguese monopoly in the East, is quoted below:...‘We, after careful deliberation, and having considered that we have by our , apostolic letters conceded to King Affonso, the right, total and absolute, to invade, conquer and subject all the countries which are under rule of the enemies of Christ, Saracen or Pagan, by our apostolic letter we wish the same King Affonso, the Prince, and all their successors, occupy and possess in exclusive rights the said islands, ports and seas undermentioned, and all faithful Christians are prohibited without the permission of the said Affonso and his successors to encroach on their sovereignty. Of the conquests already made, or to be made, all the conquests which extend to Cape Bajador and Cape Non to the coast of Guinea and all the Orient is perpetually and for the future the sovereignty of King Affonso.’
    • Papal bull by Pope Nicholas V. quoted in K. M. Panikkar. Asia and Western Dominance: a survey of the Vasco Da Gama epoch of Asian history, 1498–1945.
  • The Catholic Church of India started taking shape when Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) proclaimed two Bulls on June 18, 1452 conferring upon the “king of Portugal and his successors full authority to invade, conquer, subdue and subject all kingdoms and territories of the unbelievers, and to reduce these peoples to perpetual subjection as a sign of the triumph of the Catholic faith over its enemies.” He followed it up by another Bull on January 8, 1455 authorising “the king of Portugal und his successors to found in all these provinces conqured or yet to be conquered, churches, monasteries and other usage, and to convey thither ecclesiastical Person whether religious or secular or members of the recognised mendicant orders.”... On June 21, 1481, Pope Sixtus 1V (1471-1484) confirmed all the privileges given to the king of Portugal and his successors by the previous Popes. He added that "Spiritual power and authority from Cape Bojador and Nam as far as the Indies belongs to Portugal in Perpetuity,”” Finally, Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) issued the famous Bull, Inter Caetera on June 28, 1493, dividing the World between Spain and Portugal. In this arrangement, India fell to the share of Portugal, along with the whole of Africa, South East Asia and the Far East... Under the Padroado or the right of patronage granted by the Pope to the king of Portugal, “Portugal would exercise control over the dioceses, and this included keeping a watch on the finances provided for this purpose by the crown.” The king of Portugal was to appoint the bishops. The Pope was to confirm the appointments.
    • Goel, S. R. (1986). Papacy: Its doctrine and history. 58-59
  • European Imperialism and European Christianity were twins. It is difficult to say whether the flag followed the cross or the cross followed the flag.
    • Ram Swarup, Meditations. Yogas, Gods, Religions (2000)
  • The trading explorer, the missionary, the concession hunter and the soldier follow each other with methodical certainty.
    • Osborne, In the Land of the Boers: Or, The Other Man and Myself [3] also in : Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. ISBN 9789385485121
  • Although the missionary went to the foreign field to win soul for Jesus, the result of his labours also meant the extension of commerce. Trade would follow the banner of the Cross as readily as it would the Union Jack, the stars and stripes or any other national emblem and usually it cost a good deal less.
    • Rev. Dr. Mactarish head of the Presbyterian Church, in Christian Missionaries in South Asia, Dr. S. Massey.Sumit Enterprises, 2007 , in The Modern Review, vol 33 Prabasi Press Private, Limited, 1923. in : Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. ISBN 9789385485121
  • “Rightly or wrongly the East has come to think of Christianity as part of the political game of the West. In religion, it talks of ‘going about doing good’: in politics this takes the form of ‘ruling others for their good’.” “Before the Christians went to Africa, the Africans had lands but no Bibles: now they have Bibles but no lands……… Hence the Fast concludes that the political method of the West is first to send missionaries, then traders and then gunboats to deprive the helpless peoples of their lands and to take possession of their natural resources.” “Is it any wonder if, with such knowledge of western penetration, the East becomes distrustful of the professed philanthropy o the Christians, turns hostile to a religion which has let itself be used by foreign powers for political expansion and grows more and more suspicious of the real mission of the missionary?”
    • Dr. Kumarappa in Readings in Sociology. Wilson Dallam Wallis., 1935. in The Modern Review, vol 41 Ramananda Chatterjee 1927, in Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. ISBN 9789385485121
  • Inevitably, then, large-scale missionary effort became involved with colonialism and commerce. In Asian and African eyes it was inextricably involved. As the century progressed, Indian intellectuals, for instance, came to see Christianity as nothing more than an epiphenomenon of western political and commercial expansion.
    • Johnson, Paul - History of Christianity-Touchstone (2014). quoted in Goel, S. R. (1986). Papacy: Its doctrine and history. 112.
  • Yet here again, the western mind was not unanimous, or even quite sure of itself. Officially, the British empire, for instance, was not a proselytizing organization. The proclamation which replaced the East India Company by direct British rule began: ‘Firmly relying ourselves on the truth of Christianity, and acknowledging with gratitude the solaces of religion, We disclaim alike the right and the desire to impose Our convictions on any of Our subjects. . . .’ This prolegomena was only agreed after much argument. Again, the 1854 provision of state aid to Indian schools, from which missionary establishments chiefly benefited, was defended by Sir Charles Wood, first Viscount Halifax, with notable ambivalence, on the grounds that ‘it will strengthen our empire. But. . . even if the result should be the loss of that empire, it seems to me that this country will occupy a far better and prouder position in the history of the world, if by our agency a civilized and Christian empire should be established in India, than if we continued to rule over a people debased by ignorance and degraded by superstition.’
    • Johnson, Paul - History of Christianity-Touchstone (2014).
  • Historian Steve Newcomb writes about what came to be known as the Christian Law of Nations , which
    asserted that Christian nations had a divine right, based on the Bible, to claim absolute title to and ultimate authority over any newly 'discovered' Non-Christian inhabitants and their lands. Over the next several centuries, these beliefs gave rise to the Doctrine of Discovery used by Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland – all Christian nations. 9
    • Newcomb, Steve. 'Five Hundred Years of Injustice: The Legacy of Fifteenth Century Religious Prejudice'. Indiginous Law Institute. quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.

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