I have never been in favour of the missionary, although I might myself have been inaccurately accused from time to time of being one (however infrequently this accusation has been launched, it is because of my once fairly fervent defence of the rights of indigenous people against the depredations being made of them in their traditional lands by invading technologists, with their giant dams, reservoirs, roads, engineering, piles of money, and so on).
For this reason I feel it impossible to really feel any sorrow over the death of the American Pentecostal missionary who was so recently killed by a remote tribe on India’s Andaman islands in the Bay of Bengal. He knew he wasn’t welcome when he set foot on their land: in my view he got no more nor less than his just desserts.
To tell you the truth, I would wish that all Pentecostal and most other missionaries, especially Christians, would meet a similar fate. I have chosen Christians for particular imprecation, because they are our lot, if I may use a colloquial expression. They are the guys and gels down at our local churches who are raising money to finance their onslaught on the beliefs of perfectly innocent people who follow different beliefs and practices from themselves. Simply for that, and for no other reason, these missionaries are sallying out around the world when they would be better advised to stay at home working to stop their own parishioners from destroying Earth’s life support systems, which, if continued is it is going on now, in the next few decades will have undermined the possibility of a prosperous, settled style of human life almost anywhere on Earth. One cannot separate this result from the cause, which is that fundamental to our Judeo-Christian belief system is the concept of mankind at the centre of everything, controlling all life for his or her own purposes. There is a task for them, if ever there was one. They should get their God, whoever she is and wherever she might be --- allow me to fantasize for the moment that she really exists somewhere ---- to be busy with that one.
Of course, it is not only Christian missionaries who are objectionable. As we have seen recently, during the uprisings around the world, any religion that worships a God, or several Gods, or even as in some places several Hundreds of Gods, can follow the same destructive purposes, with exactly the same appalling results for human and other forms of life on the Earth. (Exhibit A: the total pollution of the Sacred River Ganges by its perfervid Hindu adherents, who wash, piss, crap, in it, and send the bodies of their family members off into the river on a burning pyre, there to be absorbed by the waters, sometimes accompanied --- although the practice is now illegal, it still exists --- by an adoring widow, strapped into the fire in the hope of achieving a glorious death). I recently saw a film sbout the religions of India made by a friend who once made an excellent film about the Indian workers in the market gardens of British Columbia: and it can definitely be said, on the evidence from that film, that the Hindu religionists are barking mad, ready to kill and maim at the tip of a hat anyone with whom they disagree!
The Moslem variety of religion can be even more disastrous than that of our Christian fanatics. One could hardly expect anything else from a people who are flinging themselves on to the ground five times a day in prostration before their Boss Up There. When given the reins of government, as recently they seized them in Iraq and Syria, they have imposed the most inhumanly brutal government it is possible to imagine, killing and hacking merrily for all manner of unexceptional human actions that in most civilized countries would deserve hardly a slap on the hand. These religious warriors keep the distaff side of the human race under cover-all subjection, and lop off hands, heads, breasts, lips or scalps as their inhumane laws dictate. (This sounds like a root-and-branch attack on all Islam; but I am perfectly aware that most Moslems are peaceable people who can hardly deny that these outlying cesspools exist as a result of their religion. Maybe the cesspools would cease to exist if they would stop flinging themselves to earth five times a day, and admit the right of others to exist.)
And they are not the only ones: in Burma there is a Buddhist monk known as the Venerable W, who has whipped up his fervent followers to murder and pillage among anyone who professes a different faith from this own, especially those of the Muslim faith. This is odd because this religion, Buddhism, is generally supposed to be among the most non-violent of all the major religions. Non-violent my eye: look at what has happened in Indo-China in the last 50 years, nothing but slaughter and more slaughter.
I once had an amusing contretemps with the board of a Jesuit publication whose editor, having previously worked for a leftist magazine for which I wrote from time to time, asked me to write a review of the widely-heralded British film, The Mission, on which were engaged such major talents as Robert Bolt, writer, Roland Joffé, director, and Robert de Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McNally, Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn, stars. This was an account of the establishment of a mission station by the Spanish Jesuits among the Guarani of Paraguay. I used the occasion to denounce the whole idea of missionaries, and to compare the film to a wonderful film by Jules Dassin, his second made in France after his banishment from the United States because of the McCarthy-ite blacklist. It was in the making of this film that Dassin first met Merlina Mercouri, the smouldering Greek actress who played the role of Mary Magdalena in the film, later became Dassin’s wife, and even later a minister of culture in the Greek government, whose untimely death brought an estimated 300,000 people into the streets of Athens for her funeral.
The film is based on a Kazantzakis novel, and is centred on a Turkish-occupied Greek village soon after the First World War. A group of desperate, starving people who have been expelled from another village and are wandering the countryside, stop in the hills and appeal to the villagers below them for help, but although the younger members want to help, the elders, worried that it might cost them something, and upset their Turkish overlords, will not hear of it. The principals in the Passion play that they are preparing, are especially imbued with the Christian message of the characters they are playing, from Jesus on down, but the elders are inflexible.
The young man playing Jesus decides he must take matters into his own hands, but he is shot in the church by the character playing Judas, and thereafter the younger players invade the armoury, and take to the barricades against the authorities in a vain but heroic effort to defend the Christian tenets of charity and compassion. As Bosley Crowther, of the New York Times wrote in a favorable review, “Mr. Dassin has constructed a film that is as brutally realistic as the bare, dried-out Cretan town and the stony hills in which it was photographed. It abounds in a daring sort of candor and relentless driving toward its points of allegorical contact in a succession of searching and searing episodes….Dassin has made his picture so truly and sympathetically that it could be a documentary of an occurrence in life.”
I entirely concur with that judgment: the film was so powerful that I still remember its effect after more than half a century has passed. But my comparing The Mission unfavourably with the leftist-tinged film by Dassin did not sit well with the editors of the Jesuit magazine, who, after pondering the matter most seriously, finally agreed to print my review, if I would agree to their printing alongside it a review more acceptable to their general outlook on mission work. Why not? I asked, and so they did. But I never heard from them again: they did not hire me for more work.
If any of my readers would like to pursue the question of missionaries and their effects in South America, I can recommend a couple of books that state the case.
The great English travel writer and shit-disturber Norman Lewis in 1988 wrote a definitive book about their methods and effects called The Missionaries, published by Secker in the UK, by McGraw in the US. But 20 years before, an article of his "Genocide in Brazil", published in the Sunday Times led to the creation of the organisation Survival International dedicated to the protection of first peoples around the world. Lewis later said of this article that it was "the most worthwhile of all my endeavours."
Another great writer --- I’ve never understood why he didn’t get the Nobel Prize, this one --- who approached the same subject through fiction was Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord, published by Viking Books in a paperback in 1991, copyright 1965. A missionary descends into the South American jungle to contact a remote Indian tribe, only to find a drunken North Dakota Indian has found his way into the jungle ahead of him, with hilarious results. This was also made into a feature film in 1991, directed and written by Hector Babenco, also the director of the unforgettable Kiss of the Spider Woman, and starring Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah, Tom Waits and Kathy Bates Anyone with an interest in nature should read some of Peter Matthiessen’s eleven fictional works, as well as his 22 non-fictional, scientific-cum-travel books. Among the fiction I can strongly recommend Far Tortuga, a wonderful dialect account of some fishermen descending along the Caribbean coastline of Central America; and the superb trilogy called Killing Mr. Watson, an account of the killing of an early settler deep in the Florida Everglades, seen from three different points of view. This is a writer who doesn’t try to flatter his readers by making it easy for them: you have to stick at it for a while, but eventually you find yourself, much to your surprise, sucked into the centre of a whole imaginative world. One of the most revealing books about human nature I have ever read is Matthiessen’s Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone age (1982). This is a study of some New Guinea villages two years after they were first contacted from outside. In 1978 he wrote his signature work The Snow Leopard, an account of trying to track down the elusive animal in the Himalayas; in 1983, a complete change of subject, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, is a defence of Leonard Pelletier who has been held for decades in a US prison for a murder he almost assuredly did not commit in the Pine Ridge Indian reservation during the 1970s disturbances there; also a very stimulating book, his last The End of the Earth: Voyage to Antarctica (2003) tells us a great deal about the influences that are paramount on weather patterns around the Earth.